Backcountry Off Trail Climb Hike Kauai Photography

Nu’alolo Trail – A Test on Many Fronts With Reward

The Nu’alolo Trail on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is a high demand high reward eight mile round trip hike.

From a categorization standpoint, the hike can move from being demanding or challenging to one of high risk for injury or worse based on:

  • Weather conditions (current and recent past).
  • Fitness and health of the hiker.
  • Use of proper equipment and clothes by the hiker.

The Nu’alolo Trail can be completed with low risk and yield the highest possible reward, if you are in good health, experienced hiking in heat and or cold on a trail with change in elevation, in possession of good trail hiking stick(s) with a point, have micro-spikes or something cleat like to place on your boots or shoes, and have clothes to adapt to changing weather conditions  To hike this trail any less prepared than suggested, materially increases the likelihood of journey that might have reward but is at best a miserable encounter – offering possible injury.

Note: As a point of context, for this Post at least, I am travelling the trail for a photographic shoot.  This includes carrying 40+ lbs. of gear on my back.  A great deal (if not all) of the mental and physical dilemma I encounter does not occur if I leave this bag in my truck.

The Reward

The views and surrounding environment afforded from mile 3.x of the trail to Lolo Point (mile 3.77) and beyond are stellar. Stellar might be an understatement.  There might be equals in the world, but none better.  It is best to reach this location later in the day.  If you want remarkable photos and soak in the sounds of song birds heard no where else in the world, this means sticking around to the last hour of sunlight and finishing the return travelling in the dark. If you are up to the task and equipped correctly – I strongly encourage this approach.

In View

From Lolo Point (and further out the ridgeline).  The Nu’alolo Valley sits below you.  At the end of the canyon is a waterfall dropping almost 2,000 feet.  Looking up the coastline is Nu’alolo Kai Beach, Alapi’i Point, Puanaie Point and the Queens Bath.  There are no hiking trails to or on these locations.  Up beyond are the surf spots of Honopuwaiakanaka and Kalalau.  The world renown trail to Kalalau is accessed from the north side of the island.

The Route

I would love to say the route is a piece of cake. Given the likelihood of Kauai’s highly variable micro-climate – the trail will always be wet for lengths of time.  Luckily, if rain has not occurred recently, the trail will likely be much drier and more navigable towards the end.

The route out is almost all down-hill from the trailhead – 1,683 feet to be exact (from 3,819 feet to 2,165 feet).  The start includes an uphill for the first 1/4 mile from the trailhead. The route out includes an ascent of 138 vertical feet.  The ascent involved in the route out feels materially more than 138 vertical. So be prepared for having to perform a fair amount of quick bursts uphill. None of the vertical portions of the downhill portion are daunting – that is until weather becomes a factor.

When planning, keep in mind the return involves 1,683 feet of vertical gain in 3.77 miles will need to be covered.

The Trail-bed

The bed of the trail is highly varied. 

Sections from mile .5 to .75 and mile 1 to 1.25 are often water-logged mud baths measuring up to a few inches below the ankle.  This is because these portions are not located on a ridge but in a valley type setting.

There are a number of sections that are level and easy to hike upon.

There are a number of downhill sections that if wet, are nothing short of slippery slides.  Most of these sections have well embedded foot-holds that are ankle to shin high in depth.


The hike can include a venture on to the Nu’alolo Cliff Trail and Awa’awapuhi Trail.  Taking in all three sections will cover 11+ miles.  Their inclusion offers additionally variety of terrain and foliage.  The experience is exceptional.  Technically, taking all three is not a full loop as the Awa’awapuhi Trailhead is located 1.5 miles away from the Nu’alolo Trailhead.  With some planning, car shuttle and awareness of time – all your desires can be realized.

All of these trails are highly subject to closures.  Therefore check on conditions and status before travelling.  For the most up-to-date status go [here].


The Nu’alolo Trail Hike is located on the Na Pali Coast on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii in the United States of America.  The hike travels through the Ku’la Natural Area Reserve of Kokee State Park.

The trailhead is located near mile marker 17 on route 550 in Kokee State Park.  Route 550 starts at the north end of the town of Waimea and travels up the Waimea Canyon over 3,800 vertical feet from sea-level to the trailhead.



One Reply to “Nu’alolo Trail – A Test on Many Fronts With Reward

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *