A blog about outdoor adventure and Vanlife

Reports from Kauai- Hiking the Okolehao Trail (advanced version)

The traditional ‘Okolehao trail is a nice hike in the jungle that is featured in many guidebooks.  The trail is an access road (to service the powerlines that run across the ridge) for the first three quarters of a mile.  After passing under the powerlines the access road becomes a trail and becomes more interesting as it winds through the jungle and forest.  The trail officially ends at a nice viewpoint of Hanalei Bay.  It’s a nice trail, with a nice viewpoint.

But it’s after the official trail ends, that the ‘Okolehao trail becomes an epic adventure worth writing about.

Disclaimer and Warning

It’s unlike me to put a warning and disclaimer in anything that I write about.  The entire TahoeSux blog is devoted to outdoor adventures that carry risk.  It’s up to the individual to do their own risk assessment.  Having said that, the “advanced version” of the trail is quite strenuous and potentially dangerous.  Here are my warnings for the awesome, epic, and totally worthwhile second half of the ‘Okolehao trail.

Don’t do the second, more advanced version of the hike if:

  • You considered the first half difficult.  The first half is a walk in the park compared to the second half.
  • If you have any fear of heights or vertigo.  Portions of the trail are a little over a foot wide along a volcanic spine with a drop on both sides (awesome!).
  • You absolutely need the fixed ropes to get up and down.  Some of them are sketchy and rotting, and not to be relied on until you’ve seen what they are anchored to.
  • You aren’t comfortable clamboring up and down steep (near vertical in parts) sections of trail in slippery mud via roots and rocks.
  • You have to talk your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife into the hike.  Don’t bring anyone who isn’t stoked to be there.
  • There is heavy rain. Parts of the trail are slick even without rain.

The Kauai Revealed guidebook has this to say about the second half of the trail: “nasty, scary, hard core, and death-defying make that a must-miss alternative.”

Epic Adventure

Enough of the serious stuff- the second half of the trail is freaking awesome!!  (It’s also easily doable for fit, strong, athletic, confident people).  Exactly the sort of adventure we came for.  Okay, so we were dirty, sweaty, and scratched up at the end, but smiling and stoked to stumble on an epic adventure.

H- pointing at the peak while paddling Hanalei Bay- It's the highest one behind town (with the V shaped notch).

We did the traditional hike, only having heard rumors about fixed lines running up to the peak behind Hanalei town.  When we got to the end of the official trail, we quickly found the first rope a bit down the trail.  The first fixed rope wasn’t a big deal, and not even really necessary.  Indeed the first half mile after the Aloha bench meandered up and down along the spine of a ridge with a few steep spots.  Then the trail turned sharply upward and began a steep, muddy climb along a narrow spine, through waist-chest high foliage.

The Aloha Bench overlooking Hanalei Bay marks the end of the trail for most, and the beginning of an epic adventure for some.

The fun begins! One of the first of the fixed lines along the spine of the ridge.

A couple of quick notes.  First, this isn’t a good trail for flip flops.  A good pair of trail runners or hiking boots are highly recommended.  Some people may want to bring long pants for the scratchy foliage.  Ferns don’t sound scratchy, but believe me, they are.

Trailside flowers

Wading through ferns along the spine of the ridge.

Muddy, steep rope sections. Fun! (H is somewhere in the picture near the top).

Check out the photo below.  See the centipede?  It’s about 8″ long.  H almost put her hand on it.  The pic also shows one of the the fixed ropes and how some of them are attached- tucked under a root in the ground.  Check the anchor points and condition of all ropes before you put your weight on them.  This isn’t an officially maintained trail, and the risk you take is your own.

Descending through the roots

Lots of trail toads!

And the occasional big spider

Epic views all around

Sometime during the hike I realized that H had been quietly singing “Bungle in the Jungle” for the last half hour.  It was stuck in her head.  Jungle themed songs were stuck in her head.  Next came “Welcome to the Jungle,” and then “George of the Jungle.”  I’m pretty sure some Harry Belafonte was in the mix too.

H on the spine of the ridge- the ferns mask the width of the trail. It's 12-18" wide before falling away sharply on both sides.

One of the many views from the top

Views everywhere you look! (The trailhead is at the bottom near the taro fields)

At the top of the climb there are trees planted in a triangle.  We took a few pics, and headed back down.  The views on the way down were epic too.  At some point I had the realization that I was dressed like Kermit the frog (green shirt, green shorts)!  I’d picked entirely the wrong wardrobe for pics in the lush greenery of Kauai.  Perfect camouflage though.  Half an hour later, I realized that it was St. Patricks Day!!!!  I wasn’t a fashion nightmare after all. I was a suave fashion genius, unconsciously bring Irish cheer to the slopes above Hanalei.  What’s more, H was unconsciously sporting green too!

Family photo. Green on green on green. Good thing it was St. Patrick's Day!

According to my Garmin Forerunner, the vital stats for our hike were:

  • 6.29 miles round trip
  • 3,038 feet of elevation gain (and loss)
  • Peak elevation of 2,302′
  • 1,100 feet of elevation gain in the last 0.5 miles to the peak!

The payoff, of course was in the journey and epic views.  Despite the warnings of the guidebook, this was a must-do hike, and we’d do it again.

How to get there

Just past the single lane bridge across the Hanalei river (between Princeville and Hanalei), take Ohiki road inland for about a mile or so.  The trailhead bridge will be obvious on your right, immediately across the street from a dirt parking lot (it’s the only pedestrian footbridge across the creek).

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Categorised in: Kauai, Trails

10 Responses »

  1. Terrific photos. Love the post.


  2. Thanks for the kind words. We had a blast, and I’m happy to share (and, more importantly, encourage other fit outdoorsy people to check it out for themselves). I have a new post on hiking Waimea Canyon scheduled to publish 4/3/12. Another cool, off the beaten path adventure.


  3. Way cool pictures. Looks like it was fun. If you need a ‘quick fix’ for Hawaii – please visit our blog at http://www.mainlandkamaainas.com or our FB page!


    • Thanks for the kind words. We had a blast, but too short a time. I checked out your blog too. Great stuff. We’ve now been to all the the major islands, and each has a flavor of it’s own. When we visited Maui, we brought our bikes and rode many of the obscure roads, and up Haleakala from the ocean. Fun day. On Oahu, we go primarily to surf.


  4. Loved the post! It described the trail and what to expect along the way exactly. I hiked this today and had no idea what I was getting into – what an awesome surprise! Epic hike and I finished dirty, sweaty, scratched up and loving it. I’ll be going back again. Glad you two enjoyed the adventure just as much. 🙂


  5. Loved the post! It described the trail and what to expect along the way exactly. I hiked this today and had no idea what I was getting into – what an awesome surprise! Epic hike and I finished dirty, sweaty, scratched up and loving it. I’ll be going back again soon for another go. Glad you two enjoyed the adventure just as much. 🙂


  6. I am visiting from out of town. Hiked this trail not to the peak but a bit past where it officially ends. I turned back because I was alone never been there before and running out of time and was a little scent he’d out. Could not find much on it until this blog. Take his warnings to heart. This is a serious trail. I was amazed at it’s epic quality. I will be heading back up when a little better prepared. Good resource on this blog.


    • Thank you! It was one of the highlights of the trip. You need to be really strong and fit and comfortable with nearly vertical trail in spots. This trail was more difficult than many 10+ mile mountain hikes.


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