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Cliff Hiking Kauai, Hawaii

Cliff Hiking Kauai, Hawaii
By Candyce H. Stapen

In Hawaii, a destination known for its lush landscapes, Kauai features some of the stateís most spectacular views. One of our favorite ways to sample the scenery is by hiking Kauaiís green cliffs. Both the Na Pali Coast State Park and Kokee State Park deliver memorable walks, free for the looking.

According to legend, the towering green Na Pali Cliffs shelter the bones of ancient Hawaiian kings. Hike even a portion of the Kalalau Trail--an 11-mile clifftop path--and you sense the power of these ancient mountains with their secluded caves, skydiving waterfalls and dramatic sea views.

You donít have to hike far to get a grand view. From the trailhead at Keíe Beach, itís a half-mile climb past wild orchid and kukui trees to the first lookout, a windswept patch of sand and sea. Press on for another mile-and-a-half and you reach Hanakapiai Beach, an isolated and sandy cove at the base of the cliffs. This is a good place to pause and picnic, but donít swim here. Riptides and unpredictable surf make wading dangerous.

A permit is required to hike two miles or more along the cliffs. Only the hearty--and extremely physically fit--should attempt to hike the entire trail (roundtrip 22 miles). Most hikers making the complete out-and-back route pack in their own provisions and camp overnight (permit required). The weather here is notoriously fickle--sunshine giving way to thunderstorms with almost no notice--and services remain non-existent.

Near Waimea Canyon, Kokee State Park offers a variety of trails. Some border yellow ginger bushes and sandalwood trees. Others wind through groves of koa and lehua trees. Some trails are not far from roads and others penetrate the parkís wild interior, the vast Alakai Swamp.

The swamp--one of the largest high-altitude wetlands in the world--is a wilderness reserve. On one hike we passed through a muddy bog, where the waterlogged soil kept the luhua trees (recognizable by their spindly, red flowers) at a dwarfed height of only three feet. Normally the trees reach 20 feet or more. We returned along the Pihea Trail, a path that leads through groves of lehua trees laced with hanging vines.

After a day of hiking, if you want to pamper yourself with another of Kauaiís treats--luxury resorts, consider these three: St. Regis Princeville, Westin Princeville Ocean Resort & Villa and Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.

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