Hiking the Wai Koa Loop Trail

The Wai Koa Loop Trail, located on the north shore of Kaua’i, is an easy five-mile (or less) hike where lush scenery abounds, and the only hazard is mud, and even that is seasonably variable. Generally, all trails on Kaua’i are wetter this year than they were in 2014 and 2015, and flash flooding has closed a few trails more frequently.

The Loop trail begins on the back lot of Kauai Mini Golf & Botanical Gardens, on the west side of Kuhio Highway (HI56) at Kilauea. You are required to sign a release and acknowledgement form before hiking this trail the first time because you will be walking on private property through a working mahogany plantation and several smaller family farms. You can sign online or at the gift shop & cafe when you arrive (where you can also rent bikes to ride the trail). Parking is located in the backlot beyond the gift shop using the sign on your right as a guide, or if you’re hiking on a Saturday, the farmers’ market on your left.

loop trail and ana'ina park sign
A Signpost Ahead

The trail will be evident from your parking spot, and the welcome (E Komo Mai!) sign by the fence at the trailhead. It isn’t really what I’d call an intermediate level trail, but otherwise heed the posted advice.

Welcome Sign at the trailhead.
Take nothing but photos; Leave only footprints.

Initially, the trail drops down into mixed deciduous and evergreen forest and the trail undulates from dry to wet to dry through cultivated and volunteer species.

Dry Pathway through Giants
Dry Pathway through towering Norfolk Island Pines

Around the Norfolk Island Pines grew the Kilauea Woods.

Kilauea Woods
Kilauea Woods

After a rising turn to the left, mahogany groves appear, first at left…

Uphill to the mahogany groves
Uphill to the mahogany groves

…then at right where another sign explains the significance of this plantation.

Wai Koa Plantation
Wai Koa Plantation

After the first mile, you will come to the loop junction. From here, you may go two miles around to the right through the community gardens, past Kauai Fresh Farms, and the Kalihiwai Lagoon to the Stone Dam Lookout, or take the shorter one mile path on your left past paddocks with grazing horses and the Guava Kai Orchard to the Stone Dam Lookout.

Although I previously enjoyed the long way around, being on a tight schedule, I chose the shorter path to the Old Stone Dam. After breaking out of the mahogany plantation, I was treated to this view of the West Makaleha (‘to look about as in wonder’) mountains.

Looking Southwest along Horse Lover's Lane
Looking Southwest along Horse Lovers Lane

Past the muddy ruts, the trail turns sharply left, and about halfway to the next bend you will see this lone tree and boulder. Beyond that, Mount Namahana (‘the twin branches’),  is nearly centered in your view of the West Makaleha Mountains.

Mount Namahana in the Distance
Mount Namahana in the Distance

Following this short jag, the trail bends sharply to the right near the Kahiliholo Stream, which you may hear as you turn the corner even though it is neither visible nor accessible from this junction.

Farther along this last leg, I noticed a well-groomed clearing that I had not seen before, and my curiosity was rewarded by the sight of two old footbridges over irrigation ditches and a glimpse of Kahiliholo Stream (which flows into Kilauea Stream).

bridge over an irrigation ditch
Bridge over an Irrigation Ditch

Since the water was carrying a heavy sediment load it was not spectacular, but still sounded sweet as it meandered down over rocks and rills.

stream between rills
Stream between the Rills

I suppose I should mention that this is not officially a feature of the loop trail, and most importantly, that I wish I had brought along mosquito repellant as it would have made it much easier to stand still and take better photographs.

up to the Wai Koa Loop Trail
Back to the Wai Koa Loop Trail

At last, the dam…

old stone dam
Old Stone Dam

However, there’s a great deal more than the dam to see here. Lush gardens and earthworks fill the drainage area below the dam.

historical marker at the lookout
Historical marker at the Lookout

The gardens, scattered around several footbridges, include ti (ki) plants, and the most fragrant ginger that I have ever found.

outflow from the gardens
Outflow from the gardens
Ti Plants and Footbridge
Ti Plants and Footbridge













fragrant ginger
Fragrant ginger

Drainage from the gardens enters Kahiliholo Stream immediately downstream from the old bridge piers that supported the crossing of the former Kilauea Sugar Plantation Railway, one of the first on Kauai.

Kahiliholo Stream and Railway Bridge Piers
Railway Bridge Piers across Kahiliholo Stream

Steps have been installed on the approach to the dam…

steps to the dam
Steps to the Dam

…and at the top of these steps, a warning. (Hiking stick at left is only there so I would not drop it below or above the dam.)

danger sign

Usually, you can find a picnic table or two above the dam, and the trail loops up and back toward the gardens from here. Picnic tables are also available at the lookout. A rope hanging over the reservoir looks tempting as well, but there is a stern “brown water” warning below the dam, so I heartily agree, “Don’t Even Try It!”

railing along the path to upper gardens
Pathway to the Upper Gardens

Two varieties of bamboo grow in the upper gardens.

passage through bamboo
Passing through Bamboo
lighter variety of bamboo
Lighter Variety of Bamboo

The upper garden is also home to a smiling Buddha.

smiling buddha
Smiling Buddha

Owing to the lateness of the hour, 10:39, I had to say ‘aloha’ to the dam and high-tail it back to the trailhead, where my charges were awaiting a ride home.

goodbye to the dam
Aloha, Dam

I made the two-mile return stroll in 57 minutes (only 6 minutes late), and guidebooks say allow two hours for the entire five-mile hike. However, if you are out to see the sights, as I usually am, rather than trying to score distances, I would recommend allowing at least three hours for the full hike; more if you intend to stop and eat along the way. Actually you could make a day or more of it, visiting nearby Common Ground, Banana Joe’s for a frozen banana frosty, the Chocolate Tour, Kong Lung Market Center in Kilauea Town (including the Kilauea Bakery), the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, and three beaches: Anini, Kalihiwai Bay, and Secrets.


6 thoughts on “Hiking the Wai Koa Loop Trail

  1. I know where we’re going next time! This looks like such a beautiful hike, I will probably take quite a bit of time taking pictures. I’ve never worried about mosquitoes, but I guess I’ll bring repellent next time. Thanks for the lovely tour!


  2. Great tour. I appreciate all the links to other attractions. It would make a wonderful one or two day trip


  3. It was a nice and easy,albeit muddy,walk. We started out at day break to avoid the scorching sun and had a great quiet and peaceful morning walk. Bring a bottle of water and mosquito repellant


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