The Alakai Swamp Trail is one of the most sought after hiking trails in Kauai. This trail takes us through the highest elevation swampland in the world – The Alakai Swamp. Also popularly known as the Alakai Wilderness Preserve, Alakai swamp is a wet forest characterized by shallow bogs, formed due to heavy rainfall in the Waialeale plateau. The record amount of precipitation on Mount Waialeale drains directly into the Alakai swamp filling it with mud and water.
You may wonder what’s so great about hiking a shallow bog filled swampland? Well, that’s not all to it. Beautiful rock formations, dwarf rainforest, variety in biodiversity, scenic spots along the way and the amazing Kilohana lookout in the end, make this trail a very special one.
There are two ways to access the Alakai swamp trail. One way is via the pihea trail originating from the Puu O Kila lookout in Kokeé State Park. Another way to access the trail is through the Napali Forest Reserve. This is a beaten path which you can either walk down or drive a 4×4. The hike through pihea trail has awe-inspiring views and offers an overall experience.
Pihea- Alakai Swamp Trail
This trail is roughly 5.5 Kms long, with the initial 2.5 km stretch marking the pihea trail. The pihea trail ends at the swamp, where it intersects with the alakai swamp trail. Take a left at the intersection to hike the rest of the distance all the way to the Kilohana vista.
Along with stunning views of the Kalalau Valley, the Puu O Kila lookout also provides a glimpse of the alakai swamp, which stretches all the way to Mount Waialeale summit. As you start from the lookout, you will be led down a path filled with beautiful rock formations.
This is the strenuous portion of the hike with steep elevations that demand a certain level of physical fitness. As you continue down the dirt path, you’ll pass through through the dwarf rainforest whose beauty is magnified by the piercing sun rays. You can hear birds chirping and this serves as a good opportunity for rare Hawaiian bird sightings and photography.
After the vista and a short downhill stretch, you will reach the boardwalking portion of the trail. The boardwalk takes you to the pihea- alakai swamp trail intersection where you should take a left to continue on the alakai trail. This path gradually leads to a small stream which can be crossed by stepping over the rock supports.
After about half a mile from the stream crossing you’ll reach the Alakai Wilderness Preserve. This portion of the boardwalk is flat and plain with cloudy skies. There are scenic spots to cherish along every turn.
Continue another half a mile to reach the Kilohana overlook. After all the mud and sweat, you will finally be greeted by an absolutely mind blowing view of the Wainiha Valley, crescent shaped Hanalei Bay and the Kilauea lighthouse, waiting to enthrall you. If the sky is cloudy, you can rest on the benches, have refreshments and wait patiently for the clouds to clear.
Though not extremely difficult, this is not an easy hike either. The trail is often muddy and slippery because of wet weather. Hiking during dry weather makes the journey much easier as the trail will be clear.
Before beginning the hike, make sure you stop at the Kokeé Museum to pick up a trail map and also find information on identifying different bird species. The map will help you in areas where the signage are damaged.
When to start the hike
The best time to start the hike is early in the morning, preferably around 7 am. This way you will encounter less traffic on the trail and will also be able to find a parking space at the Puu O Kila lookout.
Pihea trail in itself is an awe-inspiring hike and you will see that most hikers come back after completing the pihea trail stretch. So, if you are planning to complete the entire Alakai swamp trail stretch, make sure you have the entire day planned out for this activity. It takes about 4 to 5 hrs for round trip depending on weather conditions, your physical fitness and the amount of time you choose to spend on the trail.
Mornings are usually cloudy and filled with mist. As you progress through the trail, the sky becomes clear and this will increase your chances of having a clear view of Kauai’s scenic north shore from the Kilohana lookout.
- Hiking boots as the trail is muddy and slippery.
- First Aid Kit as hikers are prone to cuts from wild ferns.
- Right attire
- A walking stick to provide stability and support.
- Trail map to help with the directions
- Enough food and water if you are planning to do the full hike. You can rest on the benches at Kilohana Lookout.
- Check the weather report before starting the hike- This will help you prepare for wet weather.
- Check with Kokee lodge and museum officials before you begin the trail.
Seldom will you find a trail that promises scenic views both at the beginning and at the end. Starting with a glimpse of the massive Kalalau valley from the Puu O Kila lookout, you will come back from the hike with a cherished memory of Kauai’s north shore.
This trail is for people who are physically fit, have the right attire and ample time. There is no guarantee of the view from kilohana lookout because of erratic cloud conditions. But the scenic views along the trail and will make up for your effort. You will return with a level of satisfaction and fulfillment that can only be experienced.