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Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail – the Underrated Hike on Kauai You Need to See

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!

mahaulepu trail kauai picture of blue ocean red rocky coastline mountains with blue sky
Stunning views while hiking the Mahaulepu Trail 😍

This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, see my disclosures.

When you think of hiking on Kauai, you might think of hiking the NaPali Coast or hiking the Waimea Canyon. As someone who’s hiked both, they are really great options.

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! 🙂

deepest blues in Hawaiian islands at Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Can’t get over how blue the water is in Hawaii!

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. This island and this trail is actually one of my favorite warm winter getaways, since it has nice weather all year long.

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.

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

shipwreck beach Kauai
View of Shipwreck Beach from above the trail

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

conquering the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Admiring the gorgeous coastline on 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

shipwreck beach hike at mahaulepu heritage trail
The half-way point at 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)

Heiau on Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Sacred Heiau along Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

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!

Read next: What to Pack for Hawaii (Everything You Need for an Unforgettable Vacation)

Maha’ulepu Beach

Mahaulepu beach
Views of Maha’ulepu Beach from the trail

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

south shore Kauai coastline
Taking a break along the Maha’ulepu Heritage 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!

Related posts:
Stunning Kalalau Trail – Hiking the First 2 “Easy” Miles
Packing for a Day Hike: 20+ Essentials You Need to Take With
Hiking Waimea Canyon Trail

Best Snorkeling Kauai – 10 Beautiful Beaches You’ll Love
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    Tuesday 13th of June 2023

    W hiked to Ha'ula Beach on this trail! Wprth the trek. What we don't know and areare looking for info on is the gigantic rings of rock circles in front of a small pebble beach. We assumed they were sacred and didnt walk between. So ypu know the history?


    Wednesday 21st of June 2023

    Glad you liked the trail! It's so amazing. I don't know the exact history of that spot, but it's definitely a sacred spots for the Hawaiian culture, and an area that deserves respect.❤️


    Sunday 1st of November 2020

    Wow, lovely post. Love the pictures and the landscape.


    Sunday 1st of November 2020

    Thanks Demi! Hawaii is the best with the most gorgeous coast!


    Sunday 1st of November 2020

    I would love to go on this hike, the views look incredible!


    Sunday 1st of November 2020

    It's so beautiful, Krista! Thanks for hanging out on the blog today :)

    Lisa Shehan

    Saturday 31st of October 2020

    Lovely views! I visit the Big Island every year and love discovering underrated trails with great views like this!


    Saturday 31st of October 2020

    Yes Lisa! So much fun to find those fun trails, and hiking Hawaii is unmatched by other destinations. :)


    Saturday 31st of October 2020

    What an incredible hike! The scenery looks phenomenal. Thanks for the great guide!


    Saturday 31st of October 2020

    Sure, Hannah. Hope you get to visit Kauai and hike the trail someday :)