The Epic Honopu Ridge Hike – Kauai, Hawaii

A short, steep, rocky, Uluhe fern covered trail, leads to one of the best views of the Na Pali Coast, far away from any tourists. You’ll be standing on the top of a dirt ridge, thousands of feet above the sea, looking down steep ridges – a creation millions of years in the making. It’s an unforgettable sight and truly makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. 

Location:

The Honopu Ridge Trail is located at the top of the Koke’e State Park on the island of Kauai. It might be daunting to find at first because it is not marked, but using the Maps.me app or Google Maps will guide you to the correct location. Otherwise, shoot for the Awa’awapuhi Trail (it is marked on the right side of the road with a sign and you will see the parking lot), and keep heading upwards (towards Kalalau Lookout) till a slight left bend on the road begins to take you downhill. As soon as the hill starts to go up again, the parking will be on your left. It looks something like the photo below – with a big Koa tree branches hanging in a little dirt pocket. Make sure to pay the $5 parking fee at any of the other designated lookouts, if you are a visitor.

Trail Information:

Time: 3-4.5 hours

Elevation Gain: 1,500 to 2000 ft.

Difficulty: Moderate-Semi-extreme

Description: A narrow Uluhe fern covered trail with epic views of the Na Pali Coast. Go as far as you’re comfortable with. The trail gets narrower and narrower, so at some point you will call your limits. Plus, it’s the uphill back to the car that will test your strength. Every step farther down, means coming back up at the end.

For about 40 minutes you’ll be walking through the forest. Some of this forest path is wide and muddy, other parts will turn into Uluhe fern-ville. It’s a mix of all sorts of plants, but Uluhe stays in the mind after you finish the hike. These native plants grow so quickly and swallow the trail in a few weeks, so you’ll likely be fighting to break open the trail with your legs. You’ll want to bring a pair of long hiking pants, and perhaps even a long sleeve t-shirt. 

Since the landscape is so diverse, it’s hard to give a complete description of the first part of the trail. You’ll meander over fallen logs, wind through strawberry guava trees, and walk down onto the narrowing ridge – generally following both pink and orange markers. Then, at around 40 minutes into the hike, you’ll have descended enough to begin to see a clearing. The mountains will show up just like this below. By that point, the trail is quite easy to follow.

This day had amazing weather. It had just rained in the morning, so there was no view then, but it cleared later. That’s when I started hiking – at around 2pm. But don’t be bummed if you are socked in the clouds and can’t see anything. If you give the mountains enough time, it will likely clear. I’d say on mountains like these, 30 minutes is a long enough window to give you a good chance at seeing something (It might not clear up completely). But, it’s also good to know that the clouds will likely burn off as the sun sets in the west. Making for a great sunset on the Na Pali Coast. It’s my guess the afternoon clears. 

The last 30 minutes of the hike down the ridge goes in and out of the forest. It’s exciting to see the mountains pop out of the tree line. You’ll know you’re getting close when the trees and bushes are not as tall. 

On the lower section, you’ll be completely out in the open. This is about an hour into the hike. That’s when the views start to become magic.

Just a few feet on the side of the trail, and you’ll have a view like this.

This is probably a good point in the story to note that my photos are all taken with a Polarizer. I’m using the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens on this hike and it has a 77mm thread. The best model of Circular Polarizer for this thread size is the Marumi DHG 77mm Super Circular Polarizer PL.D. It has better reviews than the Hoya or Tiffin Brands, and has excellent value for its price point. By using the circular polarizer, you cut the glare off of the lighting. It immediately saturates the colors and makes them all pop – like the blues down below. It’s equivalent to sunglasses for your camera. You can see a list of polarizers and thread sizes here.

Ok now to resume. I don’t usually have fear when I hike, but on some parts you just get too big of an adrenaline rush. Here’s how narrow the path becomes. Thousand foot drops on either side. It’s when you know you feel alive.

Then, after walking the last narrow sections, you can take a break at this viewpoint. You’ll know it when you see it, because the trail cuts leftward, away from the sea. It gets pretty gnarly after this section.

This is the best spot to hang out (I put pants back on after I cooled down).

Any photo you take here will turn out amazing. Since I did this hike solo, I just set up the tripod and fired away. I was stoked.

After spending an hour at the bottom, it was time to head back. I would aim for about an hour and a half to two hours for the climb back up. You might need to rush faster if the sun is setting. It gets dark in the last part of the forest really quickly. 

Making my way up, I took one last look on this beautiful view. Honopu Ridge might be the best hike I’ve done thus far.

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