Hiking Through Kauai’s Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve

alakai swamp trail in kauai island, hawaii
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Hiking Through Kauai’s Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve

When discussing Hawaii’s geographical features, Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve and its swampland is probably not the first thing to come to mind.

But just as the islands are home to most of the planet’s climate zones, they’re also home to a wide range of Earth’s ecosystems. From barren deserts to grasslands to tropical rainforests, Hawaii is home to a staggering variety of natural environments.

Among them is the Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve, known commonly as Alakaʻi Swamp, high in the Kauai mountains. Located in Kokee State Park, Alakaʻi is technically a bog rather than a swamp, as it is not fed by a river or lake. At an altitude of well over 4000 feet, the Alakaʻi “Swamp” is the highest in all of Hawaii. Many consider it the highest bog (or swamp) in the world.

Centuries of Preservation

In the Hawaiian language, alakaʻi translates to “guide” in English. A guide is precisely what you would have needed to traverse the area before a boardwalk was installed in the 1990s. More than $500,000 was allocated for improvements to the trail in 2016. But Hawaiians have been maintaining Alakaʻi long before it became a wilderness preserve. During pre-contact Hawaii, the trail was made more accessible with fern logs and tree branches. But they inevitably succumbed to the swamp.

The first major improvements to the trail were made to accommodate Queen Emma in 1871, who traveled it with an entourage of over 200 courtesans, hula dancers, and musicians. 

A Hawaii swamp within the clouds

Your Hike Through Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve

Even with modern improvements, the Alakaʻi Swamp Trail remains difficult. Plus, straying from the boardwalk could land you in waist-deep in the swamp’s muck. 

But, if you embark carefully and thoughtfully, you’ll be able to enjoy unique wildlife and scenery while taking in the fresh mountain air of Kauai. 

The trail offers the chance to find rare native bird and plant species. It is the habitat for the endangered Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird (Moho braccatus), among others. The Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve Trail has long been a favorite journey of birding and botany enthusiasts from around the world.

The Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve and the various trails within it reward intrepid trekkers with stupefying views that include the fabled Hanalei Bay (of Puff the Magic Dragon fame), Kalalau Valley, the Na Pali Coast, and the Pacific Ocean that stretches (seemingly forever) to the north. Mount Waialeale, among the rainiest spots on the planet, is visible on clear days.

Know Before You Go

The Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve Trail is challenging. It’s a 7-mile round trip, with its difficulty changing with weather conditions. Hikers are well-advised to bring proper rain gear, including boots, plenty of snacks, and ample drinking water.

While Kokee State Park offers many trails for novice hikers, the Alaka’i Swamp Trail is for experienced hikers who are prepared to handle 400 feet of elevation change. Because of the remote location and challenging terrain, traffic on the trail is most often light. Hikers exchange smiles and greetings as they pass, enjoying a shared experience among seekers of Hawaii’s hidden beauty.

Where to Find This Great Kauai Hike

Where to Find Alakai Swamp Trail

To find the head of the Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve Trail, you’ll take the Waimea Valley Road to its end. There, you’ll discover the beginning of the Pihea Lookout Trail. The swamp trail breaks off from the Pihea trail about a quarter-mile before the Pihea Lookout (which offers spectacular views when not socked in by clouds).

Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve: A True Escape to Nature

Kokee State Park and the Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve are among Hawaii’s most cherished and protected natural environments. There are campgrounds and comfort facilities within Kokee State Park, but not within the Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve. It is truly a raw experience of Hawaii’s natural beauty, far from the resorts and beach houses of Poipu.