Kauai: Sleeping Giant West Trail

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Kauai’s Nounou Mountain, commonly known as Sleeping Giant, has a special way of treating you to a new experience each time you venture there.

From a distance, at the right angle, and with a little imagination, the mountain looks like a human figure on his back. There are a few legends, but generally they feature a giant who was harassing local villagers. Hiding rocks in fish and poi, they tricked him into having his fill. Lulled to sleep by his heavy meal, the giant hasn’t risen since.

Fortunately, you can rise to him and enjoy some excellent views, both on the way up and from the top at 1000+ feet. The West Trail, one of my favorite Kauai hikes, has two public access points. The best one is at the end of Lokelani Road (use house number 5708 for navigation), where there is a small designated parking area.

The trailhead always seems to smell of bug spray, though I’ve never found mosquitoes to be a problem (unless the day is unusually still). About half the trail is well shaded but, as always when you hike in Hawaii, wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring water.

This trail is fairly steep, but it’s shorter than the other Nounou trails. To minimize impact, stick to the path and avoid shortcuts you may see people have started taking. Although not flagged, the trail has mile markers and is easy to follow on the way up.

At the highest point on the official trail, there’s a large grassy area with sheltered picnic tables. You’ll have great views over Wailua Homesteads and to the mountains beyond, including Waialeale. With your back to the Homesteads, you’ll see a small bench down a short path to the right of the picnic tables. Sit for a few minutes in this peaceful spot and enjoy the ocean view. There used to be a quirky prayer mailbox, which added to the air of tranquility here, though it’s gone now.

Walk directly back toward the Homesteads side and you’ll see a path to your left. Follow that and you soon come to a sign marking the trail end. Some people choose to continue past this sign for the 360 degree views from the top. If you decide to continue, proceed with caution and at your own risk.

On the way down, I’ve seen people get confused about which way to go at one point in the Cook Pine forest. See the photos below for markers that will help keep you heading in the right direction. See you out on the trail!

Take a break on the Respect Bench and enjoy the ocean view…

…or in the large clearing at one of the sheltered picnic tables. From there, you get a lovely view over Wailua Homesteads to the mountains beyond. The prayer box has disappeared.

This spot is reached by going past the end of the state trail. Pretty sweet view from up here, but (again) proceed with caution and at your own risk. Some clambering up rocks is required – if you’re afraid of heights, you probably won’t enjoy this. Anahola’s Kalalea Mountain in the distance.

A short side trail on the way down leads to several pukas (holes). Some come with a view; others act like frames (nature as art).

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On your way down through the forest of Cook Pines, be careful to stay on the West Trail. When you see these two boulders, walk between them and follow the trail straight ahead and down. Don’t take the path that goes off to the left of this spot – it will bring you down to the Kuamoo Road trailhead (far from where you left your car).

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See that little mile marker in the ground? (The printed side is facing people coming up the Kuamoo Road Trail.) This is where you do NOT want to turn left if your car is parked at the head of the West Trail. Happy hiking!

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