Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
- Length: 11 miles (one way)
- Difficulty: 8/10
- Season: Year-round
- Type: Out-and-back
- Elevation Gain: ~5,000 ft total
- Terrain: Wet gulches to open ridgeline
- Trail Condition: Well-maintained
Trailhead DirectionsThe beginning of the Kalalau Trail is located on the north side of Kauai, next to Ke’e Beach. To reach it, travel 41 miles (approx. 1 hour drive) from the Lihu’e Airport to the northwest end of Kuhio Highway (Route 56). There is parking available, but unless you arrive early in the morning you may not find a spot close to the trailhead. Many car break-ins are reported at the trailhead, so parking overnight is not recommended. Facilities at the Kalalau Trailhead include restrooms, outdoor showers, trash cans, drinking water and payphone.
Kalalau Trail Guide
|One way mileage from the Kalalau Trailhead|
|Ke’e Beach Viewpoint||.25 miles|
|Na Pali Coast Viewpoint||.5 miles|
|Hanakapi’ai Beach||2 miles|
|Hanakapi’ai Falls||4 miles|
|Hanakoa Falls||6 miles|
|Kalalau Beach||11 miles|
Hiking the first section of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach is a moderate day-trip that most can do if the heat and humidity are bearable. These first 2 miles are the easiest with more difficult terrain if you continue on past the Hanakapi’ai Valley. While hiking along this section of trail, you will mainly pass through wet jungle terrain. If it has rained recently, the entire backpacking trail can be very muddy and slippery. In addition, the trail crosses many small streams throughout the 11 mile trek. These provide fresh water sources, but purification is still recommended. Once entering the Hanakapi’ai Valley, you will need to cross a small river flowing down the mountains into the ocean. If rain has been in the forecast, use caution when crossing the river as it could be running high. Hanakapi’ai Beach is a beautiful sight, although swimming is not recommended as the posted warning sign announces. Surf and rip currents are variable and often treacherous and are only worse in winter. If a swim to cool down is necessary, the best idea is to hike the 2 miles up the valley to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This unmaintained trail can be difficult because of the numerous stream crossings, muddy conditions and boulder jumping. Hiking to the falls should only be hiked in good weather to avoid dangerous flash floods and falling rocks from the waterfall. Although it’s an optional side trip, the waterfall provides hikers with pleasant views and a nice swimming spot.
Back at the beach, you may also be able to explore several sea caves, if the water is low enough, located on the left and right sides of Hanakapi’ai Beach. One shallow hole is directly left of the beach with a larger cave around the corner. Around the right side of the beach, you also may be able to enter a third sea cave. However, be cautious in entering these caves as they can be very dangerous. Only enter them in good conditions when the water is low.
Hanakapi’ai Beach offers the last glimpse of the Na Pali Coast for those without permits. For more information about how to obtain permits, see the Permit Information section below. If you have a permit, cross the river and find the continuation of the Kalalau Trail along the cliff on the opposite end of the Hanakapi’ai Valley. Keep in mind that it can get dark somewhat early, so if you are hiking back to the trailhead, keep track of your time in order to return before dark or plan to bring a headlamp. The more strenuous hiking begins as the steep switchback trail climbs 800 feet out of the small, but beautiful, Hawaiian valley. After hiking a little more than 6 miles in from the Kalalau Trailhead, you will come to the Hanakoa stream crossing where a rest area offers a stop for weary backpackers. Facilities include a composting toilet and two roofed shelters. The Hanakoa and Kalalau valleys are the only authorized camping locations along the Kalalau Trail, so keep this half-way point in mind as a possible camping spot. The poorly marked half-mile trail up the east fork of the stream to Hanakoa Falls has hazardous, eroded sections but provides spectacular scenery.
After leaving the Hanakoa Valley, the hiking trail enters drier terrain that provides little shade. As the Kalalau Trail weaves in and out of Na Pali’s fins, you will come to a section of very narrow trail. The steep ledges scream danger as they dive into the ocean below. Although this section doesn’t frighten many (unless they have a moderate fear of heights), backpackers should still use extreme caution on this portion of trail.
Before reaching the 11-mile mark, you will come to a breathtaking view of the Kalalau Valley, Kalalau Beach and expansive Pacific Ocean. Continuing on, the Kalalau Trail crosses a stream near the valley mouth before reaching it’s destination at the mile-long Kalalau Beach along with a small waterfall located on the far end. Although not accessible in the winter, more sea caves can be found beyond this waterfall which provide popular summer camping shelters. An easy 2-mile hike into Kalalau Valley leads to Big Pool where you’ll find two large pools split by a natural water slide. As you hike throughout the valley, you will pass extensive agricultural terraces that are now overgrown with a variety of edible fruit trees including mangoes, wild guavas, coconuts, rose apples and papaya. Though this is the most remote beach in Hawaii, there are people in the valley, including nudists, hippies and Vietnam War veterans, who seek out the solitude and relief from civilization that the serene nature that the Kalalau Valley offers.
Some backpackers stay one night at Kalalau Beach after an all-day hike before starting their trek back to Ke’e Beach the next morning. Some backpackers even attempt to hike the full 22+ miles in one day, although this is discouraged. However, many consider the best option is to take their time, sleeping 2+ nights at either the Hanakapi’ai or Kalalau beaches. Whichever way you choose to hike the Kalalau Trail, it is guaranteed to be one backpacking trip you will always remember.
Other Kalalau Trail Information
If you decide to camp overnight at either the Hankoa or Kalalau valleys or just hike past the Hanakapi’ai Valley, you must obtain a permit through the Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources. Beginning just recently, you must apply for your permit via their online permits portal or by visiting their Lihu’e Office or any other state parks offices. Again, permits are required if you decide to camp along the Na Pali Coast. Day-use hiking permits are also required when continuing along the Kalalau Trail beyond the Hanakapi’ai Valley, even if overnight camping is not planned. Also be aware that camping is allowed only behind, not on, Kalalau Beach and that there is a 5-night maximum for camping.
Safety and Regulations
Although all the waterfalls and streams along the Kalalau Trail provide fresh water, purification is recommended. Swimming at Hanakapi’ai, Kalalau, or anywhere else along the Na Pali Coast is highly discouraged. Composting toilets are available in the Hanakapi’ai, Hanakoa and Kalalau valleys. Hikers also want to be aware that all trash must be packed out of the area.
The weather along the Kalalau Trail is very pleasant year-round as temperatures seldom drop below 60° F. Summer weather (May to October) normally brings steady trade winds and occasional showers, while winter weather (October to May) is less predictable.
Additional Kalalau Trail Resources
- Wild Backpacker – Google Earth Trail Map of the Kalalau Trail
- A Kaua’i Blog – Google Earth Trail Data for the Kalalau Trail
- A Kaua’i Blog – Kalalau Trail Elevation Profile
- Hawaii DLNR – Kalalau Trail Online Permit Reservation System
- Hawaii State Parks – Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
- Backpacker Magazine – Kalalau Trail Danger