The Nounou East Trail (Sleeping Giant) at the Nounou Forest Reserve in Kapa'a, Hawaii (Kauai) is a difficult 3.5-mile out-and-back hike that leads to the top of the mountain, out to a ridge nicknamed the "Giant's Nose" that features 360-degree views above a 3-sided cliff face. The hike also includes a ledge that features views from mountain ridge caves just below the "Giant's Nose". Hikers will get many different views of Kauai including the dramatic northern Moloa'a mountain range, views of Wailua, Hawaii directly below, and sweeping views towards Kauai's remote interior and its mountain ranges.
This hike begins at the main lot for the Nounou East Trail and immediately begins the 1,000+ foot vertical ascent right from the start. The trail meanders its way through lowland forests full of grasses and interesting-looking trees, but as the trail gets higher in elevation, the forest changes to a more jungle-like feel; however, that isn't for quite a while. There are plenty of views and sights along the way up. If you hike this mountain in the early morning, you may see hundreds of cows and cattle in the northern valley below - they make their appearance known pretty well since hikers can hear their call from the top of the mountain, thousands of feet away.
View of Nounou Summit - Mile 0.25
If you don't like rock scrambles, but enjoy a very short hike with some elevation gain, hikers can make it to mile marker 0.25 which features a nice view of Nounou's (Sleeping Giant's) summit. Just 0.25 miles beyond here is an annoying rock scramble.
Rock Scramble and Vista - Mile 0.5
Around mile 0.5, hikers will be faced with the first rock scramble of this hike. The rock ledge is about 6-feet tall with minimal hand and footholds, making this scramble actually a bit difficult even for an experienced hiker. Getting down this one is actually harder than going up, just to note for your descent. Just beyond the rock scramble, or above it, is a nice view of Nounou's summit to the south along with Wailua, HI just below your feet.
Vistas - Mile 0.8 to 1.3
Between miles 0.8 and 1.3, hikers will pass at least five different vista points, mostly of southward and eastward views - so these include views of Nounou summit and Wailua, HI below.
Moloa'a Mountain Range Vista - Mile 1.45
Around mile 1.45, hikers will get a beautiful clear view of the Moloa'a mountain range to the north, which is one of Kauai's most dramatic mountain ranges on this side of the island. Its long ridge line abruptly ends at two jagged mountain peaks on its eastern side - you can't miss it.
Keep Left - Mile 1.5
At mile 1.5, hikers will reach a junction with the Nounou West Trail. Stay left on your ascent here. Obviously stay right on your descent at this junction.
Picnic Area Views - Mile 1.55
At mile 1.55, just beyond the junction with the Nounou West Trail, lies a picnic area where hikers can chill out and relax. There are two vista points here - one facing westward into Kauai's mountainous interior and one view, about 70-feet away, with more views of Wailua, HI and the Pacific Ocean. Note - this is where your hike should end if you are not comfortable with a 25-foot vertical rock scramble to reach the top of "Giant's Nose" which sits at the end of a 3-sided massive cliff face.
Reaching "Giant's Nose", Rock Scramble, and Cave Vistas - Mile 1.6 to 1.8
At mile 1.6, just beyond the picnic area, is a trail that runs along a ridge line just below the summit of Nounou (Sleeping Giant). Here, hikers will traverse the ridge and climb rock stairs to then reach a 25-foot vertical rock scramble. This rock scramble can be dangerous and should not be attempted by those who do not feel comfortable on that type of terrain. At the top of the rock scramble, the trail heads left out to the last mountain ridge on Nounou - the "Giant's Nose". This mountain ridge has sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet into the valley below - one false move could easily send you to your death. Traversing this ridge slowly and carefully, hikers can make it out to the end of the "Giant's Nose" where you can get 360-degree views. On my hike here, I decided to stay 5-feet below the end of the "nose" which made me feel a lot safer, though looking back, I wish I had climbed the remaining 5-feet to fully take in the stunning views. Regardless of where you end your hike, safety comes first, and you can enjoy 360-degree or panoramic views from pretty much anywhere on the ridge of the "Giant's Nose". Last, hikers should explore the cave vistas which are located just below the top of the "Giant's Nose". If you hike back to the beginning of the scramble, look to your right-hand side to find another skinny trail. This skinny trail leads out ~50-feet to caves that were cut away in the mountain's ridge likely by natural forces - either old volcanic activity or volcanic activity that led to excessive erosion - but the caves give hikers the chance to explore a bit more and they feature the same views as from the top of the "Giant's Nose".
The hike out isn't very difficult, but can be hard on the knees. It's recommended to bring trekking poles to aid in the elevation change along this hike. Take your time on the scrambles and remember that 6-foot scramble is pretty annoying to descend on, despite its short height.
Hikers will find parking at the coordinates provided. The parking lot is large enough to fit about 15 vehicles. Please note that this is a popular hike, even early in the morning on a weekday. When I arrived around 8:15AM on a Monday, the lot had just 2 parking spaces left. Luckily, this is not the only parking area or trailhead for Nounou (Sleeping Giant).
Dangerous cliffs: This hike follows several cliff areas where the drop down is hundreds of feet, which would cause immediate death. Watching your step and taking your time is key on this hike. It's also best to probably not hike these cliffs if it's been raining heavily since the rocks and ridges will be very slippery and even more dangerous.
Rock scrambles: This one is important - there's a 6-foot rock scramble located at mile 0.5. This is a vertical rock scramble and may not be for everyone. If you do not feel comfortable with rock scrambles, this hike may not be for you. In all honesty, this 6-foot rock scramble is the hardest one despite the 25-foot scramble below the "Giant's Nose" ridge due to the lack of foot holds. Going down this 6-foot rock scramble is honestly more difficult than going up it. As noted, there's also a 25-foot rock scramble located around mile 1.7 - just below the "Giant's Nose" - which can be sketchy, especially if the rocks are wet.
Lack of water: This trail has no streams to filter from for water. Experienced hikers can likely get away with 1 liter of water for the entire hike if you start early in the morning. For mid-day hikes, it's best to bring more water just in case.
Respecting the Land
Hawaiian land is considered sacred to native Hawaiians and many locals, so please stay on-trail, take nothing but photos, and leave nothing but footprints. Respect the locals - don't stay for long and have a backup hike planned in case the parking lot is full.
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