Are you looking for a short, scenic, and memorable Kauai hike for your next trip? The half-mile trail to Makauwahi Cave Reserve is quite the journey. It goes along the rugged coast, by a stream, and down to a tunnel you have to crawl through! There’s even a small tortoise sanctuary nearby and a pristine secret beach to relax on after your hike.
We stumbled upon this amazing place when looking for a semi-short activity to fill our morning on a quick island hop to Kauai from Oahu. If you aren’t scouring Google Maps for cool points of interest and trails before a trip, this is your sign to start! However, the reviews are often hit or miss with how helpful they are.
We almost didn’t go to the cave because we were worried the road was too rough based on what previous visitors noted, but it was only really bad in the last portion. (More on that later and why we recommend NOT driving that far.) Overall, it is a super fun adventure that is worthwhile! However, it is unfortunately not an accessible trail for all since you do have to crawl on your hands and knees to get into the cave.
About Makauwahi Cave Reserve
I can honestly say I’ve never been to a natural place quite like Makauwahi Cave Reserve. It is a beautiful little oasis tucked into a limestone cave – Hawaii’s largest! It is also a rich fossil site where many archaeological specimens have been found. Due to the unique chemistry of its sediments, pretty much everything that fell in it over the last 10,000 years was preserved. This has included fossils, bones, seeds, and more.
This area is also focused on the conservation of native species. A short walk away, there is even a great little tortoise sanctuary! These turtles are used to help manage the plant overgrowth in a natural way.
The reserve is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (but be sure to check the hours before you go because the entry does have a little gate they lock). The reserve also has a guide offering free educational tours. If you’d like to learn more about this unique place, that is the way to go! A donation of $10 per person is recommended to help with their efforts.
Getting to the Makauwahi Cave Trailhead
Many previous visitors made the road sound like a car-eating monster in their Google reviews. While I wouldn’t recommend taking the road that forks off the main road, the gravel road leading up to that really isn’t too bad.
To get to the start of the Makauwahi Cave Trail, take Poipu Road east past the Hyatt Hotel and continue on to the CJM Stables sign where you will turn right. (There is a gate that prevents you from going straight onto private property.) Once you turn right, the road is gravel and has some potholes to look out for, but it wasn’t too bad when we went.
As you near the stables, you’ll see a fork in the road and a sign pointing left for Makauwahi Cave. I DO NOT suggest turning up this dirt road unless you are in a four-wheel drive vehicle or have higher clearance. It is very rough and has big rocks that can damage your vehicle. Parking along this road also looks hectic. We drove up for about one minute before turning around.
We suggest parking off the side of the road just before the turn to go down closer to the start of the Makauwahi Cave Trail. There is room for about 4-5 cars in that spot and it is easy to get in and out (although still a little bumpy). From here, it only adds about six more minutes to the walk and it is a whollllle lot less of a hassle!
Highlights of This Super Unique Kauai Hike
The Makauwahi Cave Trail is really spectacular. In the first half of the trail, you stroll along a stunning coastal path up above a gorgeous beach with lush mountains off in the distance. Soon you descend down into a valley and walk along a serene stream. There are plenty of signs to help keep you on the right route!
Next you get to experience the really fun part: the whole in the rock wall. Close to the end of the trail, you’ll see a hole in the wall with some padding underneath it to make crawling through a little less uncomfortable. This is the entrance to Makauwahi Cave. It’s not a very big hole – I’m 5’3” and I still had to get all the way on my hands and knees. But it is just a short section that you have to crawl through!
However, once you are in the cave it is totally worth it! This is such a cool spot to explore. To learn more, hop in on one of the free guided tours, Or just wander around and take in the unique views of the massive limestone cave walls paired with tall palm trees and a hidden paradise oasis feel.
After the hike to Makauwahi Cave (and crawling back out), there are some great other stops to make this outdoor adventure a little bit longer! Just over the little bridge you passed on your way is a tortoise sanctuary where you can see large and very old tortoises lounging in the sun. We really enjoyed getting an up-close look at these ancient creatures.
If you follow the stream down to the ocean, there is also a lovely little secluded beach that is way less busy than the ones with nearby parking lots. Once back at the top of the trail, you can go over to the coastal side and get some great views of the crashing ocean below (just be careful near the edge!). We spotted some sea turtles and even had some Nene (Hawaiian Geese) fly over us.
This area is truly amazing, with so much to offer! We highly recommend adding it to your list of must-see places in Kauai.