It’s one of the best hikes in all of Hawaii. Hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai is a relatively easy trail with incredible ocean views nearly the entire way. It’s a must-do on the island of Kauai!
However, each time I go to Kauai this is the trail I choose to repeat. It’s stunning!
This guide goes over exactly what to expect and what to bring hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. But just know this: it’s going to be a highlight of your trip, I’m sure of it! 🙂
Where is the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail?
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is on the south shore of Kauai, in the Poipu area. Generally this part of the island has nicer weather with less rain and more sun than the rest of Kauai.
And those ocean blues are gorgeous in the sunshine!
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail begins at Shipwreck Beach and goes along the rugged coastline.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail Map
How far is the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail?
The full trail is out 2 miles and back 2 miles. That’s if you want to go all the way to Maha’ulepu Beach. This trail is so beautiful you can actually just do part of it if you’re on a time crunch or have more of the island to explore.
Related read: Your Perfect Kauai Itinerary (Exactly What to Do)
How to get to the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail?
Start at Shipwreck Beach, near the Grand Hyatt Kauai. There’s a small parking lot at the beach and some overflow parking just up the hill.
Park here and walk down to the beach. As you walk to the beach, on the left side of the shore you’ll see several spots to hop on the trail.
Pro tip: get to the beach early to get a parking spot! It’s a popular area for surfing and can fill up quickly.
What to bring on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
This is a gorgeous and relatively easy hike. There are a few things to bring that may help enhance your experience on the trail.
- reusable water bottle that keeps water cold
- hat and sunscreen (make sure you only take reef-safe sunscreen!)
- athletic shoes/water shoes
- towel and swim gear if you want to swim at Maha’ulepu Beach or Shipwreck Beach
Just a note about the shoes. The first time I took the trail I wore athletic shoes. I’ve also worn comfortable water shoes because of the wet nature of certain parts of the trail. That allowed me to hop in and out of the water with no problem!
These are my favorite water shoes on Amazon. I’ve literally taken them all over the world and they’ve lasted many years.
Okay, enough chatting. Let’s get to the trail!
Maha’ulepu Beach Trail: the first stop
The first thing to see when you start the trail is the view of the coast and Shipwreck Beach. Starting from the beach, you can opt to take a steeper part of the trail towards the cliff, or stay on the main trail and circle back towards the lookout point.
There you’ll get your first glimpse of the deepest blue water ever. The cliffs are so cool to see. Just make sure you follow the recommendations and stay away from the edge!
The first time I hiked this trail I saw cliff divers. They’re a bit crazy in my opinion!
Related read: Top 20 Kauai, Hawaii Beaches that Promise Amazing Views
Best views on this side of Kauai
Then from there you have options. You can walk along the cliff which provide the best ocean views. If you want a more direct route, you can find the path a bit more inland, where you’ll get peek-a-boo views of the ocean.
I’ve hiked this trail multiple times, and I prefer taking the scenic route on the way out and the faster route on the way back. This is one of the best hiking trails for beginners, so you’ll have great views and a good time regardless of which route you choose.
There are many spots along the way for photo ops and gorgeous views of the coast in both directions. I’ve also seen sea turtles from the cliffs each time I’ve hiked the trail.
Pro tip: There’s not much shade on this trail. So the few times that you see trees, consider stopping for a water break and to reapply sunscreen.
The 1/2 way point on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
About a mile into the trail you’ll come to a flat area that’s sort of like a beach. It’s a fun spot to explore the tidepools and take a break hiking. You get a great view of the rugged cliffs up close, which really look spectacular against the deep blue ocean.
This is about the half way point. If you have other plans for the day you could stop and turn around here.
Up next: ancient religious structure on the trail (Heiau)
This next part of the trail gets interesting! You’ll pass a culturally significant religious structure, called a Heiau. I could feel the energy shift as we hiked past this point.
Just make sure to stay on the trail to be respectful of the native Hawaiian culture.
Following the Heiau, the trail actually hops onto a golf course. It’s only a few feet off the water, and you’ll get beautiful views of the inner island from here. The trail used to be right on the cliff, but erosion and landslides moved it a bit inland for safety.
Passing the golf course, you’ll walk through a heavy brush for awhile before getting to Maha’ulepu Beach. Stay on path and watch where you step here too, as you’re going through nesting area for endangered birds.
The beautiful views of the coast are so stunning here!
If you’re in it for the day, you can head on down to Maha’ulepu Beach for some quality beach time. The waves and surf can be very strong here, so only go in the water on a calm ocean day.
Maha’ulepu Beach is actually one of the top spots on Kauai for wind surfing.
Taking the Maha’ulepu Trail to the Makauwahi Cave
As a bonus activity, you can opt to see Hawaii’s largest limestone cave. It’s not directly on the trail but you can veer off a bit just before Maha’ulepu Beach. The Makauwahi Cave Reserve is an archaeologically important site for the island of Kauai.
It’s a sinkhole cave where ancient fossils, Polynesian artifacts and over 10,000 years of sediment has been discovered. The Makauwahi Cave Reserve operates as a non-profit and has limited hours. Check them out if you want to add this stop to your day.
What to expect on the trail
The Maha’ulepu area is one of the last undeveloped natural areas on the island of Kauai. So there are no services. In fact, the only spot for restrooms on the trail are at Shipwreck Beach. Plan accordingly!
The trail is described as easy, but there are areas of sharp rock so close-toed shoes are recommended. It reminds me of these easy Oahu hikes– can be done on a whim but so much better with the right gear!
It’s dog-friendly! On our last trip to Kauai we even brought a dog on the trail with us. We adopted a dog for the day through the Kauai Humane Society and took her on a field trip. It was a blast!
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail – a Kauai favorite
Now that you have an idea of what to expect at the trail, are you ready to go?
This trail is one of my favorites in all of Kauai, and it’s one that I highly recommend to any beach lover and adventure seeker!
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