Hike the Alakai Swamp Trail on Kauai

It's called the Garden Island for good reason. Kauai, Hawaii is a veritable Garden of Eden, and no wonder - it's home to the Wettest Spot on Earth. One way to explore this tropical paradise is to hike into the uninhabited interior. The Alakai Swamp Trail is one such hike, popular among both tourists and locals. Starting on the west side of the island, it traverses the swamp that covers much of the interior of the island. A boardwalk is built over the bogs to make this trail possible. The trail ends on a ridge overlooking the north side of Kauai, and the beautiful Hanalei Bay appears beneath the mist as a small dent in the coastline.

To get to the Alakai Swamp Trail, you must drive from Waimea on the west side of Kauai up through Kokee State Park, a wilderness preserve covering 4,345 acres. There are 45 miles of trails of all difficulties throughout the park. Because of the cooler temperatures, the amazing flora and fauna, the beautiful scenery, and the remoteness, Kokee State Park is a great place to get away from it all and see a different side of Hawaii.

Alakai Swamp Trail Stats

The Alakai Swamp is the highest swamp in the world, sitting near the peak of Mt. Waialeale, which happens to be the wettest spot on earth. This area receives about 460 inches of rainfall a year. The Alakai Swamp covers about 20 square miles.

Hiking distance from Pu'u o Kila: around 8 miles, round trip

Hiking time: depends on your pace, about 4 to 6 hours, but start in the morning

Difficulty: strenuous

What To Bring

  • water
  • sturdy footwear, such as hiking boots
  • waterproof jacket
  • food
  • sunscreen
  • trail map
  • cell phone
  • camera

A markerAlakai Swamp -
Alaka'i Wilderness Preserve, Kilauea, HI 96754, USA
[get directions]

Queen Emma's Trek

In the days of Hawaiian royalty, Queen Emma took a legendary excursion through the Alakai Swamp. This was in the year 1871, long before a boardwalk was built. She took one hundred attendees with her, a half-mile caravan including musicians and hula dancers. After a long and difficult trek to Kilohana Lookout, the queen and her retinue returned to Waimea for a celebration luau, but her guide is said to have sworn never to return to the swamp. Today, Queen Emma's journey through Alakai is celebrated by the annual Emalani Festival, or Eo e Emalani I Alaka’i.

History of the Alakai Swamp Trail

Crossing the interior of Kauai, the Alakai Swamp Trail was originally built to facilitate Army communications during World War II. The military wanted a backup communications line in case the Japanese took over Lihue. Remains of the poles can still be seen.

In the 1950s, construction began on a road from Kokee all the way to Ha'ena on the North Shore. With labor provided by prison work crews, this attempt failed, with the obvious reason being the impassable bogs of the swamp.

Kalalau Lookout

Driving through Kokee State Park is an adventure all in itself. As you gain altitude, the road winds up between panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Ni'ihau and of the Waimea Canyon. At the end of the road is the famous Kalalau Lookout. A parking lot and restrooms make this a convenient stopping place before you head off for the trail. Kalalau Valley is the largest valley on the Na Pali Coast, and until 1919, this valley was actually inhabited. Today, the only way to reach Kalalau Beach is either by boat or by the trail that starts on the North Shore. The lookout over the Kalalau Valley is spectacular. It is usually chilly and wet, providing the ideal climate for big bushes of hydrangea flowers.

view of the Kalalau Valley
view of the Kalalau Valley | Source
white and yellow hydrangea
white and yellow hydrangea
beginning of Pihea Trail
beginning of Pihea Trail | Source

Pu'u o Kila Lookout

A dirt road which leads past the Kalalau Lookout will bring you to Pu'u o Kila Lookout. Sometimes this dirt road is closed due to chronic potholes, in which case you will have to hike the extra mile. Pu'u o Kila Lookout also offers spectacular views of the Kalalau Valley and of the interior. This is the trail head for Pihea Trail. The first part of the trail follows the cliff until you reach the forest. Fog is a common occurrence here, so be careful not to get to close to the edge of the cliff - it's hundreds of feet to the bottom!

stunning scenery surrounds the trail
stunning scenery surrounds the trail | Source
mist and fog
mist and fog | Source
fog covers the ocean view
fog covers the ocean view | Source
fiddlehead ferns
fiddlehead ferns | Source

Pihea Trail

The simplest way to get to the Alakai Swamp is by following the Pihea Trail. The first part of this trail is red volcanic dirt. (A word to the wise: don't wear white.) Because of the constant moisture and frequent rainfall, the trail is often muddy. Watch your step here, because it can become quite slippery. The rain also causes a great deal of erosion, so to be safe you'll want to be sure to stay on the trail.

Although clouds are usually covering the view, sometimes they clear enough for you to see Mt. Waialeale in the distance. This is the interior of Kauai, the wettest spot on the planet, and an almost impassable wilderness. The Alakai Swamp Trail is one of the best ways to get an interior view of Kauai.

the red dirt trail can become muddy and slippery when it's raining
the red dirt trail can become muddy and slippery when it's raining | Source
fog often covers the view
fog often covers the view | Source
view of Mt. Waialeale
view of Mt. Waialeale | Source

The trail eventually finds its way into the forest, which builds elven arches over the trail. Here you will see slender trees and lots of moss. The world begins to fade away in the stillness of the forest.

through the forest
through the forest | Source
the quiet forest
the quiet forest | Source

Pihea-Alakai Crossroads

After you hike 2 miles on the Pihea Trail, you will come to the crossroads. Here you will turn onto the Alakai Swamp trail to continue your way to Kilohana Lookout. The trail here is mostly made up of a boardwalk. The wood is starting to decay, so watch your step. The hills are made up of boardwalk steps, which can be the most strenuous part of the trail.

at the Pihea-Alakai crossroads
at the Pihea-Alakai crossroads | Source
following the boardwalk trail
following the boardwalk trail | Source
one of the most strenuous parts of the trail is the stairs
one of the most strenuous parts of the trail is the stairs | Source

The Stream

A steep descent down the valley brings you to a peaceful stream, which eventually runs into Kawaikoi Stream. After the stream, the trail ascends up the other side of the valley, leading into the swamp at the top.

cross the stream
cross the stream | Source

Alakai Swamp Trail

Once you reach the top of the incline, you will come to the vast stretches of the Alakai Swamp, which covers 9,000 acres and has an altitude of 4,000 feet. Covered in bogs and mud holes, the swamp has an eerie atmosphere, reminding one of the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings. Don't wander off the boardwalk! Only scrub bushes and small plants grow up here. Look for the vibrant flame-colored ohi'a flowers.

a boardwalk traverses the Alakai Swamp
a boardwalk traverses the Alakai Swamp | Source
crossing the swamp
crossing the swamp | Source
walking through the bogs
walking through the bogs | Source
ohi'a flowers
ohi'a flowers | Source

Kilohana Lookout

At the end of the Alakai Swamp Trail is the Kilohan Lookout, which is perched on a ridge, looking down thousands of feet into the Wainiha Valley down to the north shore of Kauai. Clouds often obscure the view, but if you're patient enough to wait, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of Hanalei Bay.

waiting for the clouds to lift at Kilohana Lookout
waiting for the clouds to lift at Kilohana Lookout | Source
the fog is lifting...
the fog is lifting... | Source
Kilohana Lookout - view of Hanalei Bay
Kilohana Lookout - view of Hanalei Bay | Source

Kauai is an incredible place to explore, and the Alakai Swamp Trail is only one of the many adventures to be had in this tropical paradise.

verdant mountainsides
verdant mountainsides | Source
keep an eye out for interesting birds, like the pheasant
keep an eye out for interesting birds, like the pheasant | Source

Have you ever been to Kauai?

  • Yes, I live there.
  • Yes, but only on vacation.
  • No, but I would love to go!
  • No, doesn't interest me.
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Comments 8 comments

romper20 profile image

romper20 4 years ago from California

Absolutely stunning hub Rose. I haven't made it to the Alakai Swamp Trail yet although i have been to Hawaii. This hub inspired me to want to visit! Thanks again.


Scribenet profile image

Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Hi Rose...Hawaii must be one of the places on earth that is as close to paradise as one can imagine! Your pictures are stunning...I can feel the fog!


carcro profile image

carcro 4 years ago from Winnipeg

Wow, those are great pics, I would love to hike through the Alakai swamp trail on day. Thanks for the info! Voted Up!


Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

romper20, the Alakai Swamp is like no other place in Hawaii. You definitely should visit it!


Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Scribenet, thanks for your visit! So many people do describe Hawaii as paradise - it really is quite beautiful, and the photos don't even do it justice :)


Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

carcro, thanks for the rating! I'm glad you enjoyed this glimpse into Hawaii!


Michelle 4 years ago

These are gorgeous photos Rose and what an adventure, there is so many different things to see, all of which are beautiful.


Rose West profile image

Rose West 4 years ago from Michigan Author

Hi Michelle, thanks for visiting :) I love this trail, because it is so different and beautiful - there's always something new to notice.

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