Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is located on the southside side of Kauai in Poipu. The hiking trail takes you from Shipwreck Beach all the way to Maha’ulepu Beach. It offers a scenic coastline that has beautiful views of the ocean, limestone cliffs, tide pools, sand dunes, an ancient historical site, and the Makauwahi cave reserve.
This 2-mile trail (one way) is by far one of the best hikes in Kauai that we did. It’s not as long (2 hours round trip) or as difficult (easy to moderate) as other trails and still gives you the beautiful views that most people come to expect on Kauai.
This hiking guide with helpful photos covers everything from where to start, what you can see along the way, and tips that will make hiking the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail even better.
Tips For Hiking The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
If you’re staying in Poipu as we did, Shipwreck Beach is probably anywhere from a short 5 to 10-minute ride from you. When you get to Shipwreck Beach, you can park in the two public parking lots. Keep in mind that parking is limited, so when it gets full you can also park on the side of the street.
The trailhead for the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail begins near the entrance of Shipwreck Beach. Be on the lookout for it since there doesn’t seem to be a sign pointing to it. Make sure to bring your phone or a handy map to help guide you if you need it.
But to make things simpler for you, here is a picture of where it starts based on where I’m standing:
One helpful piece of advice is that there are multiple paths you can walk on, so there really is no set path you have to take throughout the entire trail. As long as you continue going northeast toward the direction of Maha’ulepu Beach, you will be going the right way. This confused us quite a bit, but as we saw more than one clear trail, it became quite obvious that’s how it was intended.
I encourage you to wear tennis shoes during the hike even though at some parts it’s sandy since it can also get rocky. Don’t wear flip flops. Bring a backpack full of water, snacks, sunscreen, and bug spray along with you.
Take more water than what you think you may need since being out in the sun for most of the trail will make you quite thirsty and wear plenty of sunscreen. We put on sunscreen again after finishing the first part.
You should have some sort of head covering since you’re exposed out in the sun. There is very little shade, especially if you choose to walk along the coastline trail like we did. We didn’t bring a hat, and it’s not something we would forget to bring again.
Bring a swimsuit in case you want to go swimming at either of the two beaches. Maha’ulepu Beach was a bit calmer than Shipwreck Beach and didn’t have as many strong waves.
Even though the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail starts at Shipwreck Beach and finishes at Maha’ulepu Beach, you can technically do it either way. However, it’s much more difficult to get your car near the other end than it is to simply park in the public parking at Shipwreck.
Although if you’re staying near that area, you are still welcome to park at the Makauwahi Cave Reserve Area and hike to Shipwreck Beach. Then head back to where you started if that route is easier for you.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail Hike
As you walk towards Shipwreck Beach, you can see surfers riding huge waves in the distance. When you walk towards the sand, you will see two paths. One of the paths leads straight ahead into the beach, and the other path is located on the left side. We assumed the path on the left slide was the trailhead for the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail even though there was no distinct sign anywhere (as seen in the photo with me above).
As you take the path on the left side, you start to walk along Shipwreck Beach and will probably see a lot of people sitting and swimming at the beach. After only a few minutes, the initial path takes you up some cliffs where you can see a beautiful ocean view with waves crashing into the rocks below.
Apparently the sea cliffs here are a popular area for cliff jumping. That would explain why there are warning signs explaining the dangers behind it. It’s not something we were planning to do either way.
Throughout the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, we got to experience walking on different environments, from sand dunes to rocks, limestone cliffs, and red soil. Since you’re out in the sun a lot, it can get hot but you can walk closely along the oceanfront to feel a cool breeze.
The incredible views are well worth experiencing the heat, and you can reward yourself later with a swim at the end of the hike once you reach Maha’ulepu Beach. It feels refreshing to walk along the beach with your feet in the shore. We waited until we were back at Shipwreck Beach for a refreshing swim and boogie-boarded with the big waves.
During the hike, you also come across a historical site that represents a secret religious area called Heiau. The ancient structure is known to be a “fishing temple” made up of rocks all around the area where green lichen grows on them.
It was a place for worship for Hawaiians, where they would provide fish offerings to their gods to help ensure they would get abundant amounts of fish in the future. There are signs placed around the historical site that warns you to not walk on the platform, or else you’ll be penalized.
Don’t touch the site, and respect the local customs and culture by staying on the path as you walk along the Heiau structure.
Later in the hike, we saw the Poipu Bay Golf Course on the left-hand side while walking up a hill. It’s a beautiful golf course with very green grass and I can’t think of a place with better scenery for a round of golf.
As you walk past the golf course, you will see a sign saying, “Please stay on the marked trail,” and the path opens up to a red rocky trail. Begin to walk through this red rocky trail that leads you to some more beautiful ocean views. We did not see many people on this trail which was quite different than when we hiked the Canyon Trail to Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon.
Arriving at Maha’ulepu Beach
There are no signs showing you how to get to the beach, but we saw many cars parked on a dirt road, so we continued to walk past them toward a sandy path.
After walking along the sandy path for around 5 minutes, you can finally see Maha’ulepu Beach. Before you get to the beach, you need to walk across a sand path that’s filled with shallow water.
There doesn’t seem to be an alternate path around it, so you will need to either take off your shoes or make a leap if you’re brave enough. You can see it down below:
I took off my tennis shoes and walked over to the other side. Martin felt a bit more adventurous and decided to try and jump it which he actually managed to do so.
The beach is split up into two parts. There is first a smaller beach protected by rocks around it in the water, and then you just walk a bit more to get to the main beach.
Maha’ulepu Beach was very clean, and I noticed on the right side that the beach was hidden behind a huge rock structure. The huge rock structure stops the huge waves from crashing into the shallower area, which results in calmer waves so kids can play in the water.
Although I probably wouldn’t do this hike with children, the beach is quite family-friendly if you just want to drive to it.
When you go further out past the huge rock, the waves get bigger in size. We saw several people at the beach sitting and swimming in the ocean. Pets are allowed at Maha’ulepu Beach and on the trail as long as you have them leashed. It looks to be quite popular with pet owners as we saw two different people with dogs.
Makauwahi Cave Reserve
One of the unique places you can visit near the end of the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is the Makauwahi Cave Reserve. The cave is close to Maha’ulepu Beach, about 5 minutes or less depending on which side you are coming from.
It’s easy to get to Makauwahi Cave Trail since there are multiple trail signs that tell you which way you need to go. Once you pass that sign, it’s a bit more difficult to hike down the hill to find the actual Makauwahi Cave Reserve. The trail takes you in a circle which we didn’t realize until we made the full circle to get to the cave.
Once you get to the cave, you can see how big and open it is. There are also three palm trees sticking out from the cave with a few tree stump seats you can sit on.
There are free guided tours everyday from 10 am to 4 pm. We were too tired at this point so we didn’t end up doing a tour, but we talked to hikers along the trail who mentioned it was worth it.
Hike Back To Shipwreck Beach
Close to Maha’ulepu Beach, you can see a small ranch stable with horses called CJM Stables. They offer horseback riding experiences through the valley, mountain, and oceanfronts of Kauai. We saw a sign referring to a horse trail near the beach, and it looks like you can go on a horseback ride to Secret Beach with them.
The only reason why we ended up getting close to the ranch was because on our way back, we mistakenly took the wrong path. Instead of going left towards the coastline, we went too far straight into the dirt road. It wasn’t too bad since we got to walk along the ranch and cut across it back to the coast. We took the picture of the square wooden arch above that overlooks the ocean.
Back on the trail, we went a bit more along the coastline to see the ocean. The trail along this part of the coastline wasn’t properly cleared all the way, and there were some sharp twigs and plants on it. Due to this, I’d recommend you don’t walk too much along the coast.
Remember, there are multiple trails that sometimes cut in between one another, but as long as you head back in the same direction to Shipwreck Beach, you will be on the right path.
On our way back, we saw some unique flowers and cactus. You also eventually reach a tide pool with small fish in between. It looked like the perfect place to find mud crabs but we didn’t find any.
After you get back to Shipwreck Beach, it seems like the perfect time to get your swimsuits on and head into the cool water for a refreshing swim. This white sand beach has some great waves to surf and bodyboard on, and there is a ton of space for guests. It was one of my favorite beaches in Poipu and all of Kauai.
The hike took us approximately 2 hours there and back to complete, with one hour in each direction. You can probably cut the time if you really want to, depending on how many stops you make to take photos.
Overall, the hike was pretty easy compared to the Waimea Canyon Trail we did earlier in the week. You get to see some beautiful ocean views, mountains, and beaches.
I would only recommend it for adults since there are no safety precautions if you get near the edge of the sea cliffs. There are many dangerous areas throughout the hike where you can slip and fall if you’re not careful enough along the coast.
If you do plan on bringing children, stay on the trails away from the edge of the cliffs.