Hike on the Phihea and Alaka’i Swamp Trails, Kauai

After a rainy false start on Tuesday, my sister, J., and I left on Wednesday morning on the road up to Koke’e/Waimea Canyon. We caught a few fine views of the grand Waimea Canyon before reaching the end of the road. Pu’u o Kila Lookout would have offered jaw dropping views of water cut canyons and the ocean, but instead it was blanketed in clouds.

Our hike was 8 miles round trip. The first leg was 1.8 miles along the Pihea Trail. From there, another 2 miles along the Alaka’i Swamp Trail would take us to the Kilohana Lookout. The Alaka’i Wilderness Preserve, popularly known as Alaka’i Swamp, is a wet forest located on a plateau near Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest spots on Earth. Although the preserve is home to alpine bogs, it is not a true swamp.

Our hike basically started inside a cloud. I was pissed because it obscured wonderful views, but it created a moody atmosphere. The trail was muddy, wet, and full of dripping ferns and moss. There was more moss and of greater variety than I’d ever seen before.

Much of the hike was made easier by a narrow, mesh-coated boardwalk that had been installed in the 90s. Walking on the boards created a hypnotizing rhythm and reminded us of how impossible the hike would have been without them.

During the walk, I dreamed up plans for massively-nerdplayer videogame called “Alaka’i”. Four different settlements of people would fight over a centrally located swamp similar to the landscape we hiked through. The terrain would be harsh, forcing players to stick to the safety of the wooden boardwalks. Unfortunately, this would leave them open to ambushes and other issues. Each settlement would have it’s own specialties that passed down to its players. Those from the mountains would be good at clearing paths, those from the arid hills would be good at digging, those from the plains would be good at hunting, and those from the swamp would be savvy in the muck.

But I digress…

The route.


Tall waterfall in Waimea Canyon.

Click image for a 3000px wide panoramic of Waimea Canyon.

Inside the clouds at the trailhead.

Me, a little peeved by the clouds.

Cloudy road.


Shafts of light.

Muddy and foggy.

Misty trail.

More misty trail.

I took a piss overlooking a tense hillside of ferns and underbrush.


Unfurling fern.

Moss covered tree.

The boardwalk starts.

More boardwalk over the mud.

Blue balls flower.

Trail foam.

Misty trail.

Vine featuring leaves that look tied on.

Blue skies.

Large bank of moss.

Wet, hairy tree.


An endless set of stairs.


A toppled tree exposes it stump.

Crossing a creek.

Ferns along the trail.


Pooled water among roots.

The descent.

Sister and mossy tree.

The Alaka’i Swamp is an otherworldly plateau of stunted trees and muck. The water is blood red.

Broken boardwalk.

A misplaced step.

Red water.

Stunted plants.




After 4 miles of hiking, we made it the lookout. What would have been a wonderful view, all we saw was fog. Crap.

Another fern.

Crossing the creek again, this time with the help of a pole.

Clear skies over the forest.

Canyon wall.

Heading back to the hotel.

The hike took around 5 hours, and was a little grueling on the way back. I daydreamed about the scenery and tried not to focus on the never-ending climbs ahead.

About a mile from the trailhead, we came upon an older woman being helped by a lanky asian fellow. The woman’s arm was in a makeshift sling because she had tripped and likely broken her arm.

There was enough sun to get me very close to burnt. But by the following morning, my ruddy skin gradually changed to a healthy tan.

After a half of day of sitting at the beach it was time to head home. After one short flight to Honolulu, a few hours of playing cards outside in the airport’s Chinese garden, and a 7.5 hour sleepless overnight flight, we were back in Dallas. The city was a stark contrast to tropical paradise: cold, rainy, grey, and bleak.

It was time to put my socks on, let my tan fade, and daydream of playing and having fun on an island in the sun. Hey, hey.


IZ express what I feel


The pictures are so great! Make me wanna go hiking.

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February 1st, 2010. Categories / Kauai

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