Beginning at Ke’e Beach, the Kalalau Trail takes hikers on a challenging, eleven-mile trip up and down the cliffs of Kauai’s soaring Na Pali coastline. The Kalalau Trail offers spectacular ocean views, lush green valleys, and sparkling waterfalls, but only for the most experienced hikers: the Sierra Club gave the sometimes dangerous trail a nine out of ten for difficulty.
For those willing to challenge the trail, the ultimate goal is the Kalalau Valley—and some of the most amazing vistas on an island famous for its scenery.
From Ke’e to Kalalau
The trail starts at the Ke’e Beach parking lot. Parking at Ke’e is limited, so plan to get there early. If there’s no space, overflow parking is available back down the road, close to the Wet Cave, a natural feature that’s worth viewing before you start the hike.
After two miles and an amazing view looking down at Ke’e and Haena Beach Park, the trail descends into Hanakapi’ai Valley. A two-mile hike into the valley brings you to Hanakapi’ai Falls. You can sunbathe at Hanakapi’ai Beach but stay out of the water. The currents and waves at this beach are dangerous and unpredictable.
Most hikers turn back at Hanakapi’ai, for a four-hour round trip. Those who choose to soldier on will face the most strenuous part of the trail. From the beach, the trail climbs 800 feet above sea level over the course of a mile and a quarter.
About four miles after Hanakapai’ai the trail descends into Hanakoa Valley, where another waterfall awaits. Hanakoa is a “hanging valley” with no beach access. Hikers often overnight at Hanakoa before forging on to the trail’s grand finale: the sweeping cliffs and grandeur of Kalalau Valley.
Risks and Dangers
Make no mistake, the Kalalau Trail is not for novices, although the trip to Hanakapi’ai is possible for most healthy, able-bodied people. The trail is narrow, with steep inclines and declines. At many points, there’s nothing between you and the crashing waves hundreds of feet below.
The trail itself includes areas of slippery mud and dry, crumbling rock. The Na Pali is one of the fastest eroding coastlines in the world, and sometimes parts of the trail are destroyed by erosion or strong wave action. Multiple streams cross the trail, which can be affected by flash floods after heavy rain. Falling rocks are a risk at many points along the trail. For the dedicated hiker, however, the rewards outweigh the risk.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources closes the trail when conditions make the hike especially dangerous. Contact the department before starting on your hike to make sure the trail is open.
Few amenities exist along the trail. There are washrooms at Ke’e, and composting toilets at Hanakapi’ai, Hanakoa, and Kalalau Valley.
Hikers can spend a night or several nights in Kalalau State Park with a permit, which costs $35 per-person per-day. Residents get a $10 discount. at the Department of Land and Natural Resources. If you plan to drive there, you will also need to register for overnight parking.
What to Bring
Along with food, water, sun protection, and other camping/hiking essentials; hikers should bring a first-aid kit, their camping permit, and a water filter. Oh, and don't forget your camera!