Hiking Kauai’s majestic Wai Koa Loop Trail
You'll feel like you're in another world by the end of this trail on The Garden Isle.
A majestic mahogany forest, tranquil lagoons and a secluded swimming hole are some of the treasures found along the Wai Koa Loop Trail, located in the town of Kilauea on Kauai’s lush North Shore. This moderate 5-mile circuit meanders through Wai Koa Plantation, a working farm on 500 private acres. The trail is wide and mostly flat, making it suitable for children and families. Walkers should budget about two hours to complete the loop.
The footpath offers views of Mount Namahana, a landmark of Kauai’s northern skyline, as well as several quaint picnicking areas.
The trail takes you through the largest mahogany forest in the United States. The trees are planted in neat columns, creating the visual illusion of a tunnel between each row of timber. The wild roosters and chickens for which Kauai is famous roam freely throughout the forest.
The trail has gorgeous views of Mount Namahana, which means “the twin branches” in the Hawaiian language. It is also the name of one of the wives of King Kaumualii, Kauai’s last independent ruler. Namahana’s peak towers 2,600 feet over the plantation, which is nestled between two rivers: the Kalihiwai River and the Kahiliholo Stream that feeds into Kilauea River. At one time, both rivers were abundant with shrimp and shellfish.
Kauai’s North Shore is home to the wettest spot on earth, so be prepared should it start to rain. Portions of the trail can be muddy during periods of heavy rain. During these times, sneakers, hiking shoes or other close-toe footwear are preferable to slippers. Most of the trail is unshaded, so it’s wise to wear a protective hat and sunscreen. Bug spray is also recommended for maximum comfort.
The trail can be walked, jogged or biked. Mountain bike rentals are available near the trailhead at Namahana Cafe for $25 for up to six hours, the ideal rate if you’re spending the day here.
Anywhere you park yourself to catch your breath promises to be a tranquil setting. There is a shaded pavilion as well as bench seating available near the trail’s midpoint — all great options for reading a book or enjoying a picnic lunch.
The Kilauea Stone Dam is the trail’s crown jewel. The historic dam was completed in 1880, during the height of the sugar plantation era, to help connect farmers to water. Today it’s a lush and peaceful place to enjoy a picnic, meditate alongside a giant Buddha statue or cool off with a swim in the water that gathers above the falls. This serene oasis is one of Kauai’s hidden treasures, and the lifeblood of the farming operations across the plantation.
The trailhead is located at Anaina Hou Community Park, off of Kuhio Highway near Kauai Mini Golf and Botanical Gardens. A waiver for trail use must be signed and filed at Kauai Mini Golf. There is ample parking at the community park, as well as trail maps and mountain bike rentals. The trail is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.