Hiking Kauai’s Alakai Swamp Trail


Alikai_Stairs_Kauai_Heidi_SiefkasAll right, I know exactly what you’re thinking after reading the headline above.

I didn’t come to Hawaii to check out a swamp!

Also …

What would I find fun about an adventure in a swamp?

As it turns out, quite a lot. The Alakai Swamp Trail is a true aloha hiking adventure full of eye candy for nature lovers. Its namesake “swamp” isn’t a true swamp, but a misty high elevation native rainforest and bog system near the plateau of Kauai’s perpetually damp Mount Waialeale. The 8-mile roundtrip trail (which includes a brief connecting hike on the Pihea Trail) offers multiple unforgettable lookouts and birds galore. Both trails are part of the Na Ala Hele Trail and Access System, a collection of state-managed treks found throughout the Islands.

To get to the Alakai Swamp Trail, you’ll have to hike a stretch of the Pihea Trail first. You’ll find the trailhead for the Pihea Trail at the Puu o Kila Lookout at the end of Waimea Canyon Drive/Kokee Road in Kokee State Park.

High-elevation view of Kalalau Valley near the start of the Pihea Trail.
Photo by Heidi Siefkas.

The Pihea Trail begins with a descent of a mogul-filled hillside of thick-packed red clay and mud. It then leads to an amazing panoramic lookout with high-elevation views of verdant Kalalau Valley and the beautiful Napali Coast far below on one side, and the Alakai Swamp on the opposite side. It’ll be difficult to watch your step and take in all of the breathtaking views at the same time. My suggestion? Take a break from the ever-slippery trail to simply bask in the utopian scenery as well as listen for mountain goats.

The Pihea Trail intersects the Alakai Swamp Trail after about 1.75 miles. The next phase of the adventure begins shortly thereafter as the Alakai Swamp Trail becomes a boardwalk, constructed to protect the swamp area’s fragile ecosystem and ease passage through it. For the remainder of the hike, you’ll continue on both wooden stairs and the metal grate-covered planks of the boardwalk. Even with the protective grates, the stairs and boardwalks are perpetually slippery given the swamp environment so be careful when trekking.

Traversing the Alakai Swamp. Photo by Heidi Siefkas. 

When the path passes an abandoned telephone pole, you’re only minutes away from the Alakai Swamp Trail’s end and the last of its heavenly vistas: the Kilohana Lookout. The panoramic view from the lookout encompasses a breathtaking portion of Kauai’s north shore, including Wainiha Valley, Hanalei Bay, Princeville, Makua (aka Tunnels) Beach and Lumahai Beach. It’s a unique vantage point of the island you’ll only see on the Alakai Swamp Trail hike.

Wainiha Valley, viewed from the Kilohana Lookout, with Hanalei Bay and Princeville visible in the distance. Photo by Heidi Siefkas.

I suggest packing a lunch for your Alakai Swamp Trail hike. Once you’re back at the start of Pihea Trail again, you’ll want to head a mile east on Waimea Canyon Drive/Kokee Road for a post-hike picnic at the Kalalau Valley Lookout. You’ll find a public restroom where you can clean up, and a grand view to enjoy with your lunch (Spam musubi? POG juice? Macadamia nuts for snacking?).

My Alakai Swamp Trail Tips:

  1. Get started early. With an 8-mile roundtrip trail like this one, you will want to have ample daylight for your hike.
  2. Prepare for wet conditions. Bring a waterproof camera, sturdy waterproofed hiking shoes and a rain jacket or poncho. Also, pack sunblock and lots of water.
  3. Avoid wearing white or anything you don’t want stained. The dirt and mud here are red, thick and will stain.

NOTE: Before you set out on Pihea Trail, Alakai Swamp Trail or any Kokee State Park or Waimea Canyon State Park trails, be sure to check with the staff at Kokee Lodge for detailed directions, trail maps, and information on trail and stream conditions and weather. Do not cross any park streams during rainy weather due to the possibility of flash flooding.


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