Rent a bike on Kauai's Coconut Coast in the town of Kapaa, and you can ride the paved trail along the ocean for 2.5 miles through town. The bike path will take you to a myriad of beaches, resorts, shops and hidden swimming holes. You'll also get a fantastic view inland of Kauai's largest town.
Off in the distance, you can make out Mount Waialeale. The dormant volcano is usually shrouded by clouds as it is the rainiest place on earth, and it's stunning to imagine that all that rainwater flows out of its crater to carve Hawaii's only navigable rivers back to the ocean.
But if you focus on a mountain a little bit closer, just inland from Kapaa town, you'll be staring at the Sleeping Giant. You'll likely be able to make out the hulking giant's chin right away. An ancient trail named Nounou takes you to the top of this oddly shaped mountain, and, if you use your imagination just a little bit, and you can see the giant sleeping on his side.
On the top of the Sleeping Giant's head, you'll find a cave. Enter it, and you'll be sitting inside Kauaui's most beautiful east coast vista point. You'll have sweeping views of Kapaa town below, the sparkling blue waters of the channel between Kauai and Oahu, and the whole east-facing scene makes for an absolutely stunning sunrise.
It's just a short drive to the Nounou Trailhead from the Coconut Coast town of Kapaa. Simply take the Kuhio Highway north out of Lihue for about eight miles before turning inland on Haleilio Road. The road bypasses Kapaa town, and, as it makes a big bend, you'll see telephone pole #38 on your right. This is where you'll find the trailhead for the Sleeping Giant and a small dirt parking lot.
Hawaii is an incredibly safe state. In fact, you're less likely to be a victim of a crime on Hawaii than you are on the mainland United States. But you should take some precautions when parking at a trailhead due to petty theft, and parked rental cars are prime targets. Make sure there is nothing of value in your car, and you may even want to leave your doors unlocked and your windows down to show would-be thieves there's nothing to steal. Just make sure it’s not going to rain.
The trail starts easily enough. It's relatively level, and you'll meander through a comfortable little forrest full of ironwood and guava trees. The pink strawberry guavas drop from the trees to smash on the ground which puts a uniquely sweet fragrance in the air. You might even want to pick a super-sweet fruit for yourself, but this invasive species of plant is becoming a nuisance on the island. In fact, the government has paid locals to go into the wilderness to cut these trees down.
About three-quarters of a mile into the woods, the trial will begin to climb the Sleeping Giant. You'll hit some rocky switchbacks, and this is where the trail gets moderately tough. You'll then burst out onto the top of a plateau after climbing up a lava rock ridge where you'll find a three-way fork in the trail. Make sure to stay to the left.
You'll soon hit another two-way fork, but both paths lead to the same place. The right trail is a bit easier. Both forks will converge at a cleared picnic area on the Giant's chest, and you'll have great views of the Coconut Coast below. Feel free to take a breather at the picnic table to enjoy a drink and a snack before heading up the rocky ridge to the summit.
The trail gets a bit more difficult past the picnic tables as you'll be ascending the Giant's head on a spine made of lava rock. But, if you take your time and mind your step, you'll get to the top in no time. This is where you'll find a unique little cave on the top of the Giant's head.
The entrance to the cave leads downwards. It'll lead you down into a small room with an open wall facing the ocean. You'll be able to sit here out of the sun while enjoying views of the Wailua River, Waipoli, Kapaa and the sparkling blue channel between Kauai and Oahu.
The vista opening of the cave faces due east which makes it the perfect spot to take in the sunrise. You'll have to get to the trailhead in the dark, so make sure to bring a flashlight, but you'll likely have the early morning cave all to yourself. It makes for an enviable social media pic, and the early morning start just might suit your jetlag.
When you're done drinking in the view, it's time to go back down the way you came. Remember to stay right at the three-way fork in the trail to get back to the parking lot below. The hike is only two miles and is rated as moderately difficult, but you might find yourself sweating quite a bit in the tropical heat.
There isn't much exposure to the sun during this hike, but it is still crucial to put on sunscreen before the hike. The tropical sun is much more powerful than anticipated, and you might get burned while enjoying the view.