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Napali's Attic: A hike to the Kauai coast's Kilohana Lookout

Inquiring about trails we could complete before dark, we were told that the often mist-covered Pihea and Alakai Swamp trails, which lead to Kilohana Lookout, were in perfect shape due to a recent dry spell. If we were up for a quick-paced, eight-mile round trip, this was the hike for us. Suddenly, we had a plan.

A four-mile drive beyond the museum on Kokee Road took us to end-of-the-road Puu Kila Lookout, near the trailhead for the Pihea and Alakai Swamp treks. Starting at sea level in Waimea town on Kauai’s dry, sunny west side, Kokee Road winds skyward for 19 miles, straddling the edge of Waimea Canyon early on before ending near the 4,200-foot elevation of Kokee State Park.

Hikers navigate most of the Alakai Swamp Trail by way of a boardwalk.

A state-posted sign at Puu Kila, which overlooks pristine, much-photographed Kalalau Valley, points out Mount Waialeale. Its 5,148-foot summit eight miles southeast of us, Waialeale boasts average annual rainfall of more than 450 inches. Kokee’s forests get about 70 inches of rainfall annually, much of it concentrated between October and May. Daytime temperatures at Kokee range from 45 degrees Fahrenheit in January to 68 degrees in July.

The day of our hike was one of the good ones, weather-wise: warm, T-shirt temperatures, light trade winds and mostly clear views of the landscape and skies.

Pihea Trail begins as a wide path, dotted with glittering, crushed granite. The trail then traces a back rim of Kalalau Valley for a half-mile before meandering into a forest of ohia trees flecked with bristled fiery-red lehua blossoms. Lucky for us, the afternoon’s dry weather meant no slippery patches on the clay soil that soon dominated the path. Navigating the scores of dried-out footholds in these climbing areas even wound up being fun.

The boardwalk begins a mile or so into Pihea Trail and spans a patchwork of ever-slick spots. Two sets of sturdy wooden staircases ease our travel through steep descents and ascents. Pihea Trail ends at gurgling Kawaikoi Stream, where the path leading to the wide-open wetlands of the Alakai Swamp Trail begins.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
The Daytrippers: A day hike on Kauai's Napali Coast.
Kauai’s Napali Coast trail and Kalalau Valley closing for two months, Sept. 7
Kauai’s breathtaking Crater Hill hike to reopen. Here's a sneak peek.

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