Waves crash, free and wild, against the cliff face. In the distance, a whale crests then crashes back into the sea. The trade winds carry the sweet scent of coconut and rain. One of the best things about visiting Kauai is being outdoors, and what better way than hiking one of the beautiful trails? Of course, a hike with toddlers or young kids is not always the easiest endeavor. If you’ve ever read Lonely Planet Kauai, you may be concerned too about the safety of a lot of the trails. Enter Mahaulepu, a kid-friendly hike in Kauai. It has everything you need for a fun family outing on the Garden Isle.
Where Is the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail?
On the southeastern tip of the island just outside of Poipu, you will find Shipwreck Beach. The aptly-titled beach sports some impressive waves, often seals or sea turtles, and shares the sand with the Grand Hyatt Kauai. To get to Shipwreck Beach, drive down Poipu Road and pass the Grand Hyatt to the end of the road. You will find a public parking lot. To find the entrance to the Mahaulepu trail, just keep walking down the beach towards the cliffs and away from the hotel. The trail is not marked, but it’s pretty clear you’re going the right way. You may not know when you’ve gotten to the actual Mahaulepu Beach, but just keep going as long as it’s enjoyable.
There are actually two ways to go. One is through the woods and is more shaded. The other leads along the cliffs and offers spectacular views. I like going up along the cliffs and back down through the trees.
Why is this a good kid friendly hike in Kauai?
First of all, the trail is beautiful and not too physically challenging (helpful if you’ve overindulged on mai tais and malasadas). In addition, you really can see the geologic history of the island in the terrain along the rugged coastline here. Read more in this article from Hawaii Magazine about the living museum along the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail.
Since it’s also near the Grand Hyatt, you can stop there afterward for a drink and to visit the parrots in the lobby.
How difficult is this kid friendly hike in Kauai?
One of the best things about this is the terrain is beautiful, ancient, and not too challenging. It’s a fairly easy 2 miles in and out. Most of it is sun-exposed, so try to pick a time early in the morning.
Because of its accessibility, it has a good share of traffic. Because of the structure of the trail, though, you can easily find your own space.
What would be a good age range for this hike?
Because part of the trail (the scenic part) borders the cliffs, I highly recommend you bring a backpack or carrier for any kids who might wander or need to be carried. Older kids who can walk for a while should be just fine, especially as it’s relatively level and there are plenty of tidepools and geologic formations to explore.
In reference, we hiked this trail once with our daughter when she was 13 months old. We had her in a backpack baby carrier, and had a great time. This past year, I hiked the trail by myself. One, we do not have a hiking backpack that would fit a 3-year-old; and 2, I knew she would not walk more than about 20 feet by herself. If/when we go back to Kauai, I think we would definitely take her back on this hike.
Any special considerations?
- This hike is easily accessible from the south and eastern shores of the island, but if you’re staying on the North Shore, it’s a bit of a drive without combining it with another activity. Kilohana Plantation is touristy, but they have several kid-friendly activities. Poipu itself has a wonderful Baby Beach, and plenty of restaurants.
- There are no facilities on the trail itself. Because it is located next to the Grand Hyatt, you can visit the shops there if you need to buy bottled water or want to splurge on a breakfast buffet.
- Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.
- Shipwreck Beach has waves that can be very overwhelming, so swimming is mostly recommended for strong swimmers. The sand is lovely for sand castles, though.
- You may see people cliff jumping. I don’t recommend this. Obviously, these are not people with young kids, but it may inspire some good parent-child “safety” discussions.
Kauai has a lot to offer families with young kids. It still feels wild but approachable. You can feel that mix on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.
What are your tips for hiking for kids? Any great trails you would recommend?