Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

The Sleeping Giant - A long short hike on Kauai

Sleeping Giant from the road Sleeping Giant (Nonou) Elevation: 1,281′ Mileage: 2 (I went 6)

Each state that I visit has its own flavor, but Hawaii truly is unique among our states. While still in the United States, it has its own culture and scenery. And, of course, I squeezed a hike in.

I've been to Maui, the Big Island, Oahu, and this time it was Kauai. I've known people who vacationed and honeymooned here and complained or left early, because they got bored.

I cannot fathom why. There was so much to see there. There was Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Bay, plantations and botanical gardens. Every day was an adventure and we saw something new and amazing. If we were childless or if our daughter was older, even more activities were possible.

While taking pictures of the scenery, I enjoyed the area, but I really felt like I was doing recon.

While researching hikes to do while on this family vacation, I of course looked upward to the highest peak on the island. It turns out that this peak is Kawaikini. And it turns out that to get to this peak, I would have to travel through the wettest spot on the planet, the Alaka'i Swamp, which gets roughly 40 feet of rain a year. And it turns out that a local San Diego chocolate milk-chugging hiker, who tends to hike fairly fast, completed it in 17 hours.

OK. So I wouldn't be doing that hike. But I couldn't resist stealing glances at the mountain during my vacation. Most of time, it was shrouded in clouds, undoubtedly receiving some of the annual 40 feet. But twice on the trip, the clouds parted, revealing the peak that so few get to summit. I found myself scouring the ridge lines, dreaming of attempts to recreate the paths of ancient Hawaiians, dreaming of the chance to come back here and tackle the thick swamps above.

But for now, I am committed to forcing myself to relax and enjoy the island from the point of view of a near 3-year-old, which turned out, as expected, to be a blast.

I won't sum of a weeks worth of vacation in this post, but suffice it to say that we all had a great time. I will, however, talk about my hike up the Sleeping Giant.

Sleeping Giant Trailhead

Trail Along the Easement

Knowing I didn't have far to go, I woke up later and drove to the trailhead, which is either near utility pole 11 on Lokelani Road or at a trailhead along Kamalu Road (581). It had rained the morning, but not too hard. The trail was bound to be muddy, but it was to be expected. I immediately encountered trees and plants unlike anything in San Diego. Following some instructions I found online, I hike along the trail until I came upon a picnic bench. All signs indicated that I was on the right track. It wasn't until I started completely circumnavigating the mountain and descending the other side that I realized that I had to have missed a trail junction at some point. I returned to the picnic benches on the south side.

Muddy Trail through the trees

The View from Low on the trail

Luckily, I came across another hiker, from Seattle, who stated that he hiked the mountain in total darkness to take some medium format picture of the sunrise. He also sat in the cave up top for a while before heading down. He told me to go back the way I came and look for a grove of pine trees and then head up the mountain towards the summit. It turns out the turnoff to get to the peak was only about .20 miles from where I parked the car. Excited to finally be gaining elevation, I ran up the trail between the trees and was soon sucking air along steep switchbacks (they DO exist in Hawaii!). Before long, I was at a small flat area that had a couple of covered picnic benches and a small bench that looked over the ocean. I followed the trail through the trees and emerged on a ridgeline where I had to do some occasional fun scrambling. I got to the top and enjoyed the amazing view.

The trail through the pines - Turn left here and go up

Panoramic view from the top of Sleeping Giant

Since I am familiar with most of the topography down here in San Diego, it was nice to look around and see completely. new terrain. Once again, I wanted to be back with my family, so I started running down the trail. I felt energized to be hiking in Kauai and was hopping from rock to rock and speeding down the trail, when it wasn't too muddy. I passed some obviously acrophobic hikers who were having issues with the ridge portion of the hike, but I really found nothing exposed at all along the trail. But I've had more experience than most. I really wouldn't let that stop you from trying. Some trip reports online overstate the exposure on this trail, when it is really easy and safe.

The worst sufferer turned around about 200' from the top. I tried to let her know that she was almost there, but I could sense her anxiety and didn't push it. Again, I've had more exposure experience than most, but her acrophobia must have been pretty severe.


In no time at all, I was back to my car. The total round trip of the hike to the top ended up being 2 miles, but I had hiked over 6. It was a great hike, however, and I got to see toads and, of course, chickens. Another great hike in the tropics.

My roundabout way of summiting Sleeping Giant

Bonny, White, The Thimble, and Ysidro - Peaks 58 and 59 - What a difference weather makes

Enjoyed some Ice Cream on Kauai