Sleeping Giant – Nounou Mountain
Upon leaving Lihue and heading north on Kuhio Highway, you will cross over one of Hawaii’s few navigable rivers, the Wailua River. The river is a great source of pleasure for vacationers and locals alike, from paddle boarding, to kayaking up the calm waters to hidden water falls, or even the rush of carving behind a boat on a wake board or ski’s.
Lying just north of the river is Nounou Mountain, (known as The Sleeping Giant, due to its unmistakable profile). This mountain range is not long in length but beautifully frames in the rural and relaxed community of the Wailua Homesteads. There are three trails that differ entirely in form and viewpoint. Just for clarification purposes, don’t be mistaken that the shorter distance in length make for an easier hike. The Giant has some tricks up its sleeves.
Option 1: The Kuamo’o – Nounou Trail
View from the top of Sleeping Giant. This is looking east and south towards Lihue. Wailua River below. Photo by Adrian Sear
Kuamo’o Road is the light just north of the Wailua River, and prior to the trail head you can stop in at the scenic overlooks. On the right of the road is the picture perfect Opaeka’a Falls. It is deceiving in relation to height. The falls cascade over 150′ to the pool below. Cross the road and you’ll get a great view of the Wailua River. This vantage point is overlooking the Hawaiian Village below and is home to more kayaking and historical information. This is also the location for the filming of the 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie, Outbreak.
The Kuamo’o – Nounou Trail head, starts directly off Kuamo’o Road at approximately 300′. Look for an open field on the right, after the two mile marker. Homes will be bordering it and lining the path that you are about to travel on. There is usually ample parking on the shoulder. As with any hike on Kauai, if the mosquitos have a taste for you, bring repellent. The Kuamo’o – Nounou Trail is one that will venture you along the shaded canopy of the Nounou Forest Preserve. It meanders up and down a little but is not vigorous in nature.
About a third the way into it, you will get to a nicely set picnic area. On a clear day, this can offer a magnificent view across the homesteads and straight into the majestic Mount Wai’ale’ale Crater. If you continue onwards, you will venture into two large groves of Norfolk Pines. Their tall and straight trunks were utilized for European sailing vessel masts many years ago and were planted on Kauai for this specific purpose. At this point, you have joined up with hike option number two. You can either turn around, or start the steep ascent. You’ll gain no more than three hundred feet on this easy trail and the return back is just as enjoyable,
Option 2: The West Trail
View from Sleeping Giant. This is facing north towards the Anahola mountain range where you can see the outline of King Kong. Photo by Adrian Sear.
This one starts out at the end of a very nice residential area on Lokelani Road. This road is accessed by driving beyond the Kuamo’o Trail head and making a right hand turn on Kamalu Road Hwy-581 (Wailua Country Store on the corner) and skirting the range to the northern end. Make a right on Lokelani and park at the end of the street. Be forewarned. This trail is the shortest but most definitely the steepest way up. If you are looking for a quick burst of intense cardio, this will be a perfect match for you.
In a short 3-4 minutes, you will meet up with the junction of “Option 1” and head steeply up into the Norfolk Pines. From here the trail switches back and forth steeply and reaches yet another trail junction, (this one with the joining of Option 3). Stay right and keep climbing. Shortly after, you will reach a very nice and shaded picnic bench. Great ocean and inland views are found here. For those who are sure footed, the trail climbs up some technical sections to the top. Great rock outcroppings and open ended caves are within this area and make for a great find. Definitely watch your step up here, as it’s quite a ways down. On a clear day, you’ll have views from Kong Mountain by Anahola, to Wai’ale’ale to the West and Lihue to the South. Directly below you will be the meandering Waimea River and Kapaa Town. Top elevation is 1,241′
Option 3: The East Trail
View from Sleeping Giant – facing west, Wailua homesteads and Wai’ale’ale. Photo by Adrian Sear.
This one starts out at an elevation of 200′. You reach this Trail head by heading inland on Haleilio Road. This is the next light after heading north past Kuamo’o and adjacent to the Shell Station. Look for a parking area on the right hand-side, as you approach the base of the mountain. This route is best done in the early morning or afternoon. It starts out at an elevation of 200′.Sunrise can be an amazing event along this East facing trail. In the mid-afternoon, the sun is usually on the other side of the mountain and keeps you shaded up most of the ascent. Even though this is the longer of the two climbs to the top, it is far less steep than the previous option. At about the 90% point. you will join up with Option 2. Go left and you are almost there. If you go all the way, it’s almost a 1000′ gain.