A trail lined with paperbark trees and springy moss is buried in Kauai’s backcountry, and those are just two of the treasures awaiting hikers.
Moalepe Trail starts in pastureland at the intersection of ‘Olohena Road and Waipoili and it connects to Kuilau Ridge Trail after three miles. Kuilau Ridge Trail originates near the Keahua Arboretum.
Many begin the adventure at the Kuilau Ridge trailhead, which presents a somewhat challenging hike with a payoff in breathtaking views as the trail climbs up out of the arboretum.
Know before you go
- 2.1 miles before it turns into Kuilau Trail
- Medium Difficulty
- Expect Muddy Conditions
- Bring water, sun and mosquito protection
- Birdwatching, Dogs on a leash, hiking
Moalepe Trail doesn’t trek uphill as steadily as the Kuilau trail, which starts on the other end of the valley and meets up with Moalepe. It meanders through tall grass dotted with wild orchids and passes by evidence of cattle ranching before reaching the paperbark grove.
Ohia is in full bloom in mid-June, and as the trail climbs onto the ridges Kauai’s forest birds serenade hikers with their multitude of melodies. Bees add their own hum to the chorus as they pollinate lilikoi and thimbleberry flowers.
The trail weaves through albezia trees and switchbacks through the jungle’s leafy ferns before it opens up to ridge views on both sides, with the ocean contrasting the heavy green foliage in the distance.
Another quick dive into the jungle takes hikers to the halfway point of the hike: a footbridge, nearly hidden in the midst of wild ginger. Mosquitoes are thick, but with the right protection it’s a great place to pause for a break.
Just a bit further, though, is a steep trail to the top of a small waterfall — another great place for lunch, if you’re willing to brave the bugs. It’s a slippery decent to the top of the falls, and that piece of the trail can be dangerous for novice hikers.
Shaded picnic tables about half a mile past the end of Moalepe Trail also provide a great spot for lunch. The breezy meadow has views for miles and is the meeting point for those who take on the hike from opposite ends.
Hikers taking on the entire trail, from the Keahua Arboretum to ‘Olohena Road, will be walking about seven miles. Some people leave their cars in the arboretum and schedule pick-ups with friends at the end of the road, and others simply hike pieces of it.
And that distance is pretty much the same any way you slice it.
The unique trail is a favorite for locals and for their dogs and a place where friends meet for a morning hike and let their kids play while they enjoy the scenery from the meadow.
Whether it’s a curious cattle egret, a flighty dragonfly or the neighbor from across the valley, there’s always a friendly face in Moalepe.
Remember to always check conditions before you go play outside. Be safe out there and have fun!
This article first appeared in The Garden Island Newspaper, published July 5, 2017. Photos by Jessica Else.