The Kalalau Trail is a beautiful but often challenging path on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
Recently reopened after a flood, it runs for 18 kilometres along the Nāpali Coast, from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach, beginning in Ha’ena State Park crossing to Nāpali Cosat State Wilderness Park.
This trail is known for having many hidden dangers. Sheer cliffs and unpredictable rivers make this a dangerous place for the inexperienced, so care is needed when you are on this trail.
The Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park is a protected area, and the Kalalau Trail is the only way to access this coastline by land. This means that although it is popular with hikers, you still get to experience the wilderness.
When Captain Cook arrived in Kauai in the 18th century, it is estimated that around 5,000 Hawaiians lived in the area, and much of the path is ancient Hawaiian tracks.
This is a ‘hike out and back’ trek, meaning you walk back the way you came.
- Dramatic landscape
- Hawaiian heritage
‘Pali’ means cliff, and this coastline has some of the most dramatic scenery, and hiking experience you are likely to see.
The steep sided, narrow valleys rise out of the sea with often sheer cliff faces. The trail crosses five of these valleys and uses switchbacks to make the climbs and descents easier.
The climate is humid and wet. Waterfalls and streams gather momentum from the steep terrain. Rainfall can turn these waters into dangerous torrents. Be vigilant and careful when crossing streams and rivers, and always unclip your backpack. Be prepared to wait until the water level lowers, or turn back if it is not safe.
The beauty of this area is unsurpassed, and although the trail can make your heart pound at times, the reward of being in the untamed, remote wilderness is enough to make you want to hike it again.
To get to the start of the trail at Ke’e Beach, go north on the Hwy 56 road. At the end of the road is a parking area for access to the beach and trail.
It is not permitted that you stay overnight in the car park, so if you intend to camp then use public transport.
The airport is on the south side of Kauai. It is an hour’s drive to the trailhead at Ke’e Beach.
The nearest town to Ke’e Beach is Hanalei. From there you can get public transport to the trail.
The Kalalau Trail is 18 kilometres long. While it is possible to walk it in a day, many hikers prefer to camp at the halfway point.
If you want to explore the trail and valleys, as well as including side trips, allow for 3-4 days of hiking.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
The first 3 kilometres of the trek takes you through Ha’ena State Park. This path is fairly easy, and ends at Hanakapi’ai Beach.
After that, the trail gets more challenging.
Narrow paths long cliff edges are not something to take lightly, and Crawler’s Ledge is one part of the walk that may test your head for heights.
It is named because the narrow trail is so close to the drop that many people only feel safe on their hands and knees!
There are also some steep climbs and descents to contend with on this trail as you go in and out of the valleys. Even if you are of above average fitness, you are likely to want to take plenty of breaks, plus it gives you the opportunity to admire the views.
While most hikers of average fitness will be able to enjoy the trail, having a good level of experience is recommended. The trail can be dangerous, and people have lost their lives either by falling or drowning in the rivers and sea.
The streams and waterfalls can flood, leaving hikers stranded or worse if not prepared or experienced enough. There are also rip currents in the sea, especially at Hanakapi’ai Beach.
Rocks can be slippery when wet, and the path is often close to sheer drops.
If you are not used to hiking on challenging terrain, save this trail for when you are more experienced.
Entrance to the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park is limited to 900 people per day, and you need a permit to enter.
If you want to hike further than Hanakapi’ai Beach, you need to buy an overnight camping permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Camping is limited, so book in advance.
Parking overnight in the car parks is not permitted. If you wish to hike and camp overnight, you will have to arrange transport to the Wilderness Park.
Guided or Self-Guided
The Kalalau Trail can be walked either independently or guided.
If you are not an experienced hiker, going with a guide is recommended. Safety is paramount on this trail.
The best weather for hiking the Kalalau Train is between May and October, as this is when the weather is driest and the ocean is most settled. However, even during this season rain can cause flash flooding adding to the streams and waterfalls.
Avoid the trail after wet weather as the paths turn to thick mud and the rocks are extremely slippery.
Temperatures can soar during midday and hiking on the tropical forest paths is hot work. Take plenty of water with you.
The first part of this trail is popular with day hikers, so you might find yourself in crowds and even queues during peak season. To avoid this, begin your hike early in the day.
A typical itinerary would be:
As this trail is only 18 kilometres long, there is no set itinerary as such.
However, the distances between convenient stopping points are:
- Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiaai Beach: 3.5 kilometres
- Hanakapiaai Beach to Hanakoa Valley: 6.5 kilometres
- Hanakoa to Kalalau Beach: 8 kilometres
Once you have reached the end of the trail you will find camping options.
The nearest road is back at the beginning of the trail, so you will need to hike back.
The nearest town to the Ke’e Beach is Hanalei, about 7km away. Here you will find a range of accommodation, shops and restaurants.
There are a few campsites near to Ke’e Beach. There is a camping area at the halfway point of the trail at Hanakoa, as well as one at the end of the trail at Kalalau Beach.
Enjoy the beauty of this amazing coastline.
Take a 3 kilometre side trip to Hanakapi’ai Falls, a 300 foot cascade of water with a natural bathing pool of cold water. It is a challenging route to get there, but worth it.
Spot rare plants that grow undisturbed on the cliffs.
Marvel at the agility of the wild roaming goats.
|Starts at||Ke'e Beach, Hawaii 96746, USA|
|Finishes at||Kalalau Beach, Hawaii 96746, USA|
|Length of route||18 Km|
|Average time to complete||2 - 4 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||700 metres|
|Countries visited||United States|