Awakening Kauai’s Sleeping Giant on the Nounou-East Trail

The Nounou Trail, commonly referred to as the Sleeping Giant Trail, served as my introduction to hiking in Kauai. We reserved the second day of our Kauai trip for this particular hike, however, we didn’t know whether or not we would be able to do it because of the island-wide flash flood warnings that were issued the day before. Not letting the weather get in our way, we decided to check out the trail anyway after first getting our fill of pancakes at Eggbert’s. The risk paid off, and we were rewarded with stunning views of the coastline, Wailua River, and Mount Waialeale.

There are three different ways of tackling the Nounou Trail. You can take either the east route, west route, or the Kuamoo-Nounou route. We decided on the Nounou-East route, because the trailhead was closest to our hotel. In fact, if you find yourself on vacation in Kapaa, then the Nounou Trail will make for the perfect outing since it’s located right in your backyard.

The Nounou Trail is well maintained. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Nounou Trail is well maintained. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

We did notice some erosion. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

We did notice some erosion. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel checking out his Canon 7D. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel checking out his Canon 7D. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Comparing it to Oahu’s trails, I’d have to say that the Nounou Trail is partly like the Kuliouou Trail and partly like Olomana, albeit a much easier version of Olomana. The first half of the trail consists entirely of switchbacks that will have you cutting through ironwood and guava trees. You’ll continue on this portion of the trail for roughly two miles until you reach a picnic table. They have mile markers, in 0.25 mile increments, that you will pass as you work your way up. The picnic table area is known affectionately as the “Giant’s chest” and marks the end of the first half of the hike. Guidebooks will often say that this is where most people should stop and only the more adventurous should continue.

The views from the start are very nice! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The views from the start are very nice! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Even Joel thought the view was nice. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Even Joel thought the view was nice. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Eventually, you reach a very nice scenic lookout. It makes for a great place to snap a photo. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Eventually, you reach a very nice scenic lookout. It makes for a great place to snap a photo. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Beyond the picnic table marked the start of the short, yet very fun, second-portion of the trail. From here, you’ll begin to work your way up the chin and nose of the so-called “Sleeping Giant.” This is the ridge portion of the hike, meaning that for a very short amount of time, you’ll be exposed to sheer drops to both your right and left sides. In order to reach the chin of the Giant, you’ll need to do some minor rock climbing, similar to the first wall that you encounter en route to the first peak of Olomana. Though, I’d have to see that this wall is a tad bit easier. Once you pass the first wall, you’re treated to sweeping views of Kapaa Wailua. It was beautiful when we were up there. I’m not sure what rain they were talking about!

Respect Kauai. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Respect Kauai. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Many people will decide to stop at these picnic tables. More adventurous types can continue up to the Giant's chin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Many people will decide to stop at these picnic tables. More adventurous types can continue up to the Giant’s chin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Pass the chin, you’ll find a faint, but steep trail that will lead you to the nose of the Sleeping Giant. It’ll probably take less than 5 minutes to get from the chin to the nose. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with a 360 degree view of Kauai, with Wailua on one side and Mount Waialeale on another. In fact, despite the clouds, we could see multiple waterfalls flowing from Mount Waialeale (see photo below).

Although the view from the top of the Sleeping Giant was impressive, the hike itself was a bit underwhelming. I would have preferred the ridge portions to be a little longer, to at least prolong the adrenaline rush. However, the views are nothing to complain about. And the bit about the trail beyond the picnic table being only for the adventurous and daring types, is, in my opinion, a little overstated. If you find yourself at the picnic table, try the rest of the trail out. If there’s something you think that you can’t handle, then turn around. Overall, a short hike with incredible views. And because you’ll finish in probably less than four hours (we did it in three), you’ll still have lots of time to do another activity or sightseeing afterwards.

[UPDATE: The East Nounou Trail now has a metal “End of Trail” sign located between the chest and chin sections of the hike (just after the picnic tables). I believe it was installed there to further deter hikers from going any further, even though the trail is still very climbable till the forehead. The sign doesn’t mention fines or legal notices. -Thanks to EH reader Rodney B. for the update]

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo.

The higher you go, the better the view. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The higher you go, the better the view. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Getting up to the chin is fun. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Getting up to the chin is fun. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Standing on the chin of the Sleeping Giant on the Nounou Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Standing on the chin of the Sleeping Giant on the Nounou Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Checking out Wailua. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Checking out Wailua. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Joel on the chin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel on the chin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Coty on the chin. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Coty on the chin. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Giant?! Pfft. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Giant?! Pfft. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Making our way up the Giant's nose. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Making our way up the Giant’s nose. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Can you see Coty? Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Can you see Coty? Photo by Joel Sabugo.

When you get to the nose of the Sleeping Giant, you get a nice view of Mount Waialeale in the distance. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

When you get to the nose of the Sleeping Giant, you get a nice view of Mount Waialeale in the distance. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

A nice man asked if we wanted our photo taken. We said yes!

A nice man asked if we wanted our photo taken. We said yes!

Total Distance: 4.4 miles

Total Time: 3 hours roundtrip

Nounou (East) Trail Tips:

  • Those wanting to get more out of this hike will want to follow the trail that goes past the picnic table. This extended trail will bring you up to the Giant’s chin and nose.
  • Bubba’s Burgers in Kapaa is a great place to go for your post-hike meal.

Directions to the Nounou (East) Trail: Located in Kapaa Wailua, this trail begins where Haleilio Road ends. To reach the trail, go on Highway 56. You will then turn inland on Haleilio Road at the traffic light. The road begins to curve towards the end. Look for the parking lot to your right. The trail starts at this parking lot, which is adjacent to the Department of Water pump site beside Haleilio road in Wailua Houselots.

This is where you'll park your car. The trail is just to the right of this lot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This is where you’ll park your car. The trail is just to the right of this lot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.