Kalaupapa Trail – Hawaii

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Kalaupapa Trail – Hawaii
United States

The Kalaupapa Trail is in a remote area of Hawaii, USA. Located on the small Hawaiian Island of Molokai, once a colony for those with Leprosy, this area is now known as the Kalaupapa National Historic Park.

Molokai is a quiet island, and you won’t find it set up for tourism. However, for many, this is part of its charm.

The Kalaupapa Trail traverses dramatic natural landscapes and some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.

The human settlement below is on a flat plain with the ocean around three sides. At the back, a 1600ft cliff cuts off the area. This is where the hiking trail winds up and down.

The isolation and difficulty of access made this a place where people with leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease, were forced to live apart from others in an effort to stop disease from spreading.

The fascinating history of this part of the world, combined with dramatic scenery and warm climate, create a thrilling and poignant place to go hiking.

  • Remote, natural beauty
  • High sea cliffs
  • Lush vegetation
  • Historic significance
  • Off the tourist trail
About the route

It is a short trail of around 5 kilometres, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in climbs and descents!

At the trailhead, you descend down 1664 feet of cliff to reach the flat plain below. There are also 1400 steps and 26 switchbacks.

Extensive repairs to the route are currently underway after a landslide, so it is closed for now. However, it is due to reopen in the near future. Updates can be found on the Kalaupapa National Historic Park website.

The settlement below the cliffs was the location where those suffering with leprosy/Hansen’s disease were isolated and quarantined.

With a cure for Hansen’s disease and treatments found, the colony was officially closed in 1969, although many who lived there stayed, and are still there today. Hansen’s disease is no longer contagious, and the patient-residents are free to come and go as they wish.

Kalaupapa is an interesting place full of human history, bravery and courage. It is a privilege to be able to hike this remote path and get a glimpse of what life must have been like for the settlers.

  • Travel

Molokai is a small island with one airport, and just three main roads.

Flights to Molokai are available from Oahu Honolulu International Airport. There are other flights available from the nearby island of Maui.

Ferries to Molokai run from Maui, and dock at Kaunakakai.

You won’t find public transport on the island, but you can hire vehicle, boats and mountain bikes.

If you have hired a vehicle on Molokai, there is a car park approximately one kilometre from the start of the trail.

  • Length

The Kalaupapa Trail is a 5 kilometre trail with steep descents and climbs. The last kilometre is a stretch of sandy beach. After the beach, there is the former colony of Kalaupapa.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

This route is graded as 4. You need to be fit to be able to hike the descents and climbs, and it can be very strenuous. The trail surface is uneven and may be muddy with loose rocks.

Due to the remoteness of the area, there is no nearby place to get help for medical problems.

  • Experience

Hiking experience is key to enjoying the trail, but most of all, you need to be fit. The trail is tough on the muscles!

You also need to be able to carry all your food and drinking supplies for the day, as there are no places to shop in Kalaupapa.

It is not recommended for beginner hikers. The path is steep and can be slippery. There may also be mudslides and falling rocks.

The switchbacks are clearly marked, so once you are on the trail you will be able to find your way.

It is also important to bring plenty of drinking water and have good sun protection.

  • Permits

There are no fees required to enter the national park, however you do need a permit. One of the tour companies will be able to arrange this for you. The two tour companies are Kekaula Tours, and Saint Damien & Marianne Cope Molokai Tours.

Fees apply if you want to tour the settlement, again through the tour companies. Children under sixteen are not permitted in the settlement.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

You can hike the cliff descent either guided or self-guided. However, once you reach the bottom, exploring the settlement is through guided tours only. There are two main tour companies that you can connect with at the base of the cliffs.

best time to walk

This trail can be walked all year round.

The temperature throughout the seasons does not differ vastly, and averages between 25°C and 29°C.

While the sea breeze helps keeps the temperature feeling cooler, in summer, the conditions can become humid.

In winter, temperatures are slightly cooler and there may be more wet weather. This can make the trail slippery.

June to September is hurricane season in Hawaii and the park may be closed if hurricanes are forecast.

  • A typical itinerary would be:

This is a day trek, so there is no set itinerary as such.

Getting to the location is a challenge in itself, so if you plan to visit Molokai and hike the Kalaupapa Trail as a day visit from another island, the some planning is required for transportation.


There is no accommodation in Kalaupapa. Outsiders are only able to stay if they are invited to a resident’s home.

There are other accommodation options away from the peninsular, such as small guest houses, B&Bs, beach cottages and lodges.

There is a campsite with facilities at Palau State Park, located on the north clifftops of Molokai.

What to do

Before commencing you hike, stop at Kalaupapa Overlook. This is a look out point with a view over the peninsular.

Enjoy spending time on the sandy beach when you have reached the bottom of the cliffs.

Tour the settlement and learn about the history of its community.

If you like wildlife, this remote habitat is home to many indigenous species of bird and marine life not found anywhere else.

Look out for marine life such as humpback whales, sea turtles and seals.

If you don’t fancy the hike back up the cliff, you can get arrange a mule ride or even a plane.


Published: January 10, 2020 Modified: January 10, 2020

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At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking
Difficulty 4/5
Starts at Kalaupapa, HI 96742, USA
Finishes at Kalaupapa, HI 96742, USA
Length of route 5 Km
Average time to complete 1 - Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsNo
Highest point 480 metres
Permit requiredNo
Equipment neededPoles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots
Countries visited United States
Walk Map