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

Emerging from the sun-streaked forest, we’re surrounded by the ankle-deep, murky water of the Alakai Swamp. The swamp, on elevated flatlands above Napali, is vegetation-packed, but my nose detects only fresh, almost-fragrant air. No swampy stench here. I manage to avoid stumbling off the boardwalk by keeping my eyes focused on the path ahead of me, stopping on occasion to survey the profiles of nearby ridgelines and summits.

Assembly of the boardwalk and stairs began in the early 1990s, but that did not mark the first time a trail had been blazed through the area. During World War II, the United States Signal Corps strung a backup telephone line through the bog to connect Kokee with Waimea on Kauai’s west side and Hanalei further northeast. Some of that telephone line’s weather-beaten poles still rest alongside the final stretches of the Alakai Swamp Trail.

Long before any trails were in place, hunters, botanists and others explored these wetlands as well. Even Hawaii’s Queen Emma made the arduous trek. On a January day in the early 1870s, perhaps much like this one, an entourage led the queen’s way to Kilohana Lookout with a makeshift path of fern-covered logs.

Finally at the breathtaking trail’s end, we are met with jaw-dropping views of velvety Wainiha Valley and crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay from the Napali Coast’s highest reaches. Taking in the natural splendor before me, I have no doubt that the plucky Queen Emma, known for her ardent love of the Garden Isle, must have been equally pleased with the view before her.

Bonus? Even with ample time at Kilohana Lookout, we make it back to the trailhead with daylight to spare.

Pihea Trail, Alakai Swamp Trail and Kilohana Lookout

Kokee State Park, end of Kokee Road • www.kokee.orgwww.hawaiistateparks.org

Photos by Todd M. Tripp

(This feature was originally published in the September/October 2012 issue of HAWAII Magazine.)

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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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