The Sleeping Giant hike is, in my opinion, one of the best day hikes on Kauai. The Sleeping Giant, or Nounou mountain, is located within the Nounou forest reserve and is west of the towns of Kapaa and Wailua. If you look at the mountain from the highway you can see what looks like a sleeping giant ( you will head up towards his head and chin.)
There are 3 paths leading to the top – one on the east side, one on the south side and the easiest one is on the west side. I am going to take you up the south side path – my personal favorite. This is a 6 mile round trip hike – it is mostly on a gentle slope until the last .75 miles – then watch out … it will go from moderate to strenous as you achieve your biggest altitude gain at the end. I guarantee that the view at the top will take your breath away, that is to say, once you have gotten your breathing back under control. As always, I recommend to go slowly, enjoy the journey and bring water!
Directions to the trailhead.
You will find the trailhead about .7 miles past the Opaeka’a falls turnout on Kuamo’o road. You will find the trailhead on the right hand side of the road right next to a big field (sometimes used for farmers markets). There is no parking lot so just park on the side of the road and you will see the sign for the trailhead before the houses begin.
Your path will begin through a tunnel of trees that will bring you to a bridge and the true beginning of the path. Almost the entire way will be in the shade (which is a blessing, especially if you get a late start).
You will wind through bamboo groves, strawberry guava bushes and further up the mountain you will go through a gorgeous grove of Captain Cook pines. These pines were planted in the islands to be used as masts for ships – nowadays we can enjoy their massive straight lines and that sweet scent of warm pine.
Once you arrive at the pine grove you will see a big boulder – this is where the west path and the south path intersect. Be sure to go uphill here to head to the top of Sleeping Giant. Keep this spot in mind for the way down as well so that you don’t end up at the wrong trailhead. When you arrive here you have .75 miles to the top so take a deep breath and remember to enjoy the beautiful nature surrounding you! This will be the most difficult part of the hike … remember you can do anything for 1 mile!
You have arrived.
Once you get to the top you will see a bench with the words RESPECT etched on it. Sit here and enjoy the view, you are actually sitting in the hole in the Sleeping Giant’s chin when viewed from below. This is an amazing spot to relax, grab some water and congratulate yourself on making it. There is also a covered picnic table up here so it’s a great place to grab some lunch too.
You can end your hike here or you can go about .25 miles further. The next section is a ‘closed’ section of the path so you should only go if you a) are a little crazy b) are not afraid of heights or scrambling up some rocks and c)are steady on your feet. If you answered yes to all of these proceed at your own risk … you will be heading onto the Sleeping Giant’s face – when you get to the top if you head right you will be on his forehead and left (the more precarious side) you will be sitting on his nose. I love going up here to feel the breeze and you have a 360 degree view of Kauai which is a magical experience.
Sitting on top of the world (or Kauai at least).
I like to sit on the giant’s nose and enjoy the moment. For the more adventurous amongst you, there are a couple of wind caves below the giant’s nose (you will see a little path heading there.) I brought my sister up here and she is not particularly scared of heights but she wouldn’t follow me out on the nose so please do remember to be careful! If you slip and fall it won’t be pretty – you are literally on a cliff – so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Enjoy your time up here – I highly recommend bringing some lunch so that you can stay up here for at least 30 – 45 minutes and really soak it in. The entire trip (moderate speed) should take about 3-4 hours depending on how much time you spend at the top. Once you are back at the bottom and are back on the main highway have a look at the mountain and you will see the Sleeping Giant (and the hole in his chin where you sat) and you can be proud that you made it to the top and had another off-the-beaten path experience on Kauai!
This post is not meant to be an official trail guide or map. It is a starting point for your explorations. Please always check local weather forecasts and trail conditions before starting. Know your limits and be safe!