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Giant Steps: Hiking Nounou-East "Sleeping Giant" Trail on Kauai

The climb up Nounou Mountain, also known as "Sleeping Giant," is dotted with vast ocean and coastal views)

Scan the rugged, leafy hills that are the backbone of Kauai’s east side on the drive between Wailua and Kapaa towns, and it doesn’t take long to make out the profile of Nounou Mountain. More famously known as “Sleeping Giant,” its emerald ridgeline resembles a human figure reclining on his back, chest held high and chin jutting toward the sky.

Hawaiian folklore varies as to why the colossus never so much as blinks an eye. In one story, he is a beloved builder of heiau (temples), with fields of kalo (taro) planted in his footsteps, who, after eating too heartily at a lū‘au held in his honor, slips into a deep sleep. In another tale, the big guy is something of a pest, his slumber foisted on him by fishermen who trick him into eating snooze-inducing rocks tucked into super-size servings of fish and poi.

Standing at the base of Nounou on a sunny spring day, gazing at the giant, however, I’m opting to think of him as a kindhearted gent who wouldn’t mind my hiking companion and me ascending almost 1,000 feet along the Nounou-East trail, which levels out at his chest.

On an island known for its multitude of breathtaking nature trails, many of them lengthy and challenging daylong adventures, the Nounou-East trail may be one of Kauai’s most popular for its brevity and location. At just two-miles long, the trail’s vistas are accessed quickly, allowing visitors to easily fit a few hours of pleasant hiking into their schedules. Additionally, its trailhead is less than 10 miles from Lihue Airport.

Nounou-East is one of 34 trails and roads on Kauai administered by Na Ala Hele, Hawai‘i’s statewide trail and access system. If you’re looking to reap dazzling scenic rewards for taking on a difficult hike, the Nounou-East trail is hardly in the same league as the plunging sea cliffs and deserted white sand beaches of the Na Ala Hele system’s 11-mile Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s majestic Napali Coast. However, by this morning’s end, I find Nounou’s payoff wonderful just the same.

The Sleeping Giant trail begins with a soft-on-the-feet path zigzagging through stretches of fragrant ironwood pines and guava trees. Less than a half-mile into the hike, my companion has already stopped several times to photograph stunning views of Nounou Forest Reserve mauka (inland) and Wailua Bay makai (seaward). Instead of finding contentment strolling casually and enjoying the foliage shimmering in light tradewinds, I’m itching to pick up the pace. I can’t help it.

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