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The Honopu Ridge Trail

A hike on an unmarked, unmaintained trail to an amazing view of Kauai’s Nāpali Coast

On September 11, 1992, a category 4 hurricane named Iniki struck the Hawaiian island of Kauai, killing six people and causing billions of dollars of damage. According to NOAA, the damage was so extensive that, after a month, power had been restored to only 20 percent of the island. Wind gusts as high as 175 miles per hour stripped the green from the Garden Isle’s lush vegetation. And the Honopu Ridge Trail hasn’t been officially maintained since that day.

Twenty-six years later, I hiked the remnants of the Honopu Ridge Trail to the most amazing view I’ve ever seen. Photos don’t do it justice.

The trail begins in thick forest high up in Kokeʻe State Park. The first views are to the southwest, toward the island of Niʻihau, about twenty minutes into the hike. After about an hour, the first views of Honopu Valley begin. Soon, the trail emerges from the forest, and the drama unfolds from there.

Kauai’s Napali Coast from the Honopu Ridge Trail. November 8, 2018.

As you hike farther down the ridge, more of the Nāpali Coast beyond Honopu Valley comes into view. At the end of the trail, you can see all the way to Keʻe Beach on Kauai’s north shore. You can hear waves crashing against the beaches and rock walls along the coast, 2,600 feet below you. You can also hear helicopters, whose tours are ubiquitous around Kauai. But there were periods of calm between their sorties.

Hidden among the cliffs at the head of its namesake valley, Honopu Beach is virtually inaccessible by land. Watercraft are also forbidden from landing there. (How good of an open ocean swimmer are you?) There aren’t many other places on land with a view of Honopu Beach, but this trail is one of them.

Honopu Beach from the Honopu Ridge Trail. Kauai. November 8, 2018.

I spent two hours at the end of the trail watching the clouds roll in and out of the valleys along the Nāpali Coast. During that time, I saw only one other person, but he didn’t hike down to where I was. Throughout the day, I saw only five other hikers.

The nearby Nualolo and Awaʻawapuhi trails offer similar views from ridges just south of Honopu. But the Honopu Ridge Trail’s solitude and front row view down the Nāpali Coast make it extra special.

Tips, If You Go

  • The trailhead is unmarked, although my GPS tracks below might help you find it.
  • Navigation: The trail was difficult to follow near the very beginning but easy otherwise. I loaded someone else’s GPS tracks into my device before I started on the trail, just in case.
  • Distance: 2.3 miles one-way
  • Elevation: The trail starts at nearly its highest elevation (4,000 feet) and drops approx. 1,400 vertical feet, so make sure you have enough time and energy for the hike back up to the trailhead.
  • Exposure is easily avoided, but the trail drops off thousands of feet on one side near the end of the trail. The dirt is also crumbly. Avoid getting too close to the edge.
  • Temperature: Given the relatively high altitude at the trailhead, be aware that temperatures can drop into the 40s there at night.
  • Clothing: The scratchy bracken branches along some stretches of the trail were overwhelming at times. I recommend wearing long pants, sunglasses, and a hat with a bill to protect yourself from the overgrown sections of the trail.
  • Footwear: If the trail is muddy, traction devices for your shoes are a good idea, but be mindful not to contribute to trail erosion. Walk through the puddles and muddy areas instead of stepping around them.
  • Don’t get shot: The area is popular among hunters, so I wore a brightly colored shirt and draped a neon orange T-shirt over the back of my pack to be safe.
Kauai’s Napali Coast from the Honopu Ridge Trail. November 8, 2018.
Honopu Valley, Kauai. November 8, 2018.


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