The Nounou Mountain Trails comprise three trails. They are all inland in the mountains above Wailua and zigzag over Nounou Ridge, the Sleeping Giant.

Mountainous landscape of Kauai near the Wailua River. Photo © Sheri Armstrong/123rf.

Mountainous landscape of Kauai near the Wailua River. Photo © Sheri Armstrong/123rf.

Nounou Mountain East Trail

Many feel the nearly four-mile round-trip Nounou Mountain East Trail is the prettiest of the three and can easily take up most of the day if you take your time enjoying views and lunch. The trail is rather tough but can be done by a fit family and sees a nearly 1,000-foot elevation gain while hiking.

The east side of the trail begins off of Haleilio Road. The trailhead leads to a series of well-defined switchbacks. It continues with an incline through lush forest providing some shade. As you walk along, look for flowers and guavas and passion fruit, and feel free to enjoy some. At the half-mile mark there is a fork; be sure not to go to the left here. It’s dangerous, as are most side trails on this hike. At the 1.5-mile marker the west trail intersects, but stick to the east trail. Farther along at the main fork in the trail, take the left path, which leads to a picnic table, shelter, and bench. Take in the views because they’re wonderful here. At the table, where you hopefully enjoyed a meal, a trail goes south up to the giant’s head and face. The view is truly amazing!

However, as gorgeous as this part of the trail is, it’s what locals would call gnarly. It goes across the giant’s throat, up the head, and is dangerous, narrow, and steep. But for the truly adventurous folks, the view is one of the biggest rewards you could ever get. So, the picnic table is a good idea for the end of this trail unless you are fearless. If you proceed, you’ll walk along the spine of the mountain with deadly drops of hundreds of feet on each side. From the face, you’ll be treated to an amazing all-around view. To get here, drive 1.2 miles up Haleilio Road. Parking is by the 38th pole on the right, which has a sign indicating it is pole 38.

Kuamo‘o-Nounou Trail

The Kuamo‘o-Nounou Trail is about two miles one way and is tough, but suitable for a fit family. The trail begins with a wooden bridge over the Opaeka‘a Stream. From here you veer left gradually at an incline. It takes about one hour each way and sees about an 800-foot elevation gain or loss depending on which way you’re going. This trail is steeper than the east trail. The end of the trail intersects the west side trail. About three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead is a shelter on a perch with great views of Kaua‘i’s highest point, Kawaikini, Wailua Homesteads, and views to the northwest. At the 1.8-mile point it begins the decline to the west trail. You can usually see waterfalls if it’s been raining. To get here, head up Kuamo‘o Road, after Opaeka‘a Falls. There is a pasture on the near corner of Maile Street on the right side and a home on the far corner. You’ll see the Nounou Trail sign.

Nounou Mountain West Trail

The Nounou Mountain West Trail is 1.5 miles and one hour each way. A little shorter and less steep than the east-side trail, the west trail has more shade, provided by tall pines, and meets up with the Kuamo‘o Nounou Trail after about a half mile in. The trail ascends faster than the others, making it quite a workout. Keep going and you’ll meet up with the east-side trail and then have access to the incredibly dangerous trail to the summit and giant’s head.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.