Hiking the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Scenic Na Pali Coast (Part I)

    Hiking the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Scenic Na Pali Coast (Part I)
    Last updated: July, 2018

            Did you ever start a hike and soon wish you never did? Such was my feeling shortly after we began hiking Kalalau trail, the gorgeous but strenuous 11 miles road along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. When we started the hike we didn’t realize how difficult it was. The first few miles didn’t seem ok, although a little slippery from the previous day’s rain. Laszlo and I may not be hardcore hikers, but we are in a fairly good physical shape and hike regularly, but what we were about to experience was a far cry from our usual trails.

    Na Pali Coast is a very dramatic and spectacular place with lush vegetation, rugged cliffs and narrow valleys ending abruptly at the sea. Kalalau trail starts on the north shore of the island, at Keʻe Beach, offering some of the greatest views that you would ever see. The best time for this hike is in

    summer (May to October) when the weather is dryer and the terrain less slippery. But the steep drop-offs, narrow path and falling rocks make Kalalau trail one of America’s most dangerous hikes. 

    view of Kee Beach from hiking Kalalau Trail
    Ke’e Beach view from the Kalalau Trail

          The first part of the road is moderately strenuous, but muddy and slippery even during the dry season. As you continue the ascent, the road gets narrower and crumblier. And to make things even more terrifying, in some parts the trail gets dangerously close to steep ravines. If you fall, there is nothing to stop you from slipping into the ocean. 

    Image depicting hikers hiking kalalau trail
    Trail gets dangerously close to the ravine

    Accidents on this road are very frequent, but surprisingly enough no fatalities have been reported yet. Even so, people falling on the greasy, slippery mud are not an amusing site. But regardless of the danger, tons of visitors continue to take the challenge every year.  About 2 miles from the starting point the trail reaches Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is equally beautiful and dangerous.

    image depicting Hanakapiai beach from hiking Kalalau trail
    Hanakapi’ai Beach
    Treacherous Waves at Hanakapi’ai Beach

    The beach is very secluded and majestic but in spite of the idilic look it is very deceitful. The huge surf and strong currents make the area very unsafe. Over the years, many people have been swept off this beach or drowned in these waters. But even if you can’t swim, you can still enjoy this enchanting place and explore the caves carved along the cliffs by the high waves.

    Caves carved along the cliffs

    Before reaching the beach, you need to cross Hanakapi’ai Stream that creates a beautiful waterfall towards the base. But climbing up and down the big river stones with photographic equipment can be a nightmare. 


    To continue the Kalalau trail beyond the Hanakapi’ai Beach you need to have a permit, but from this point only the very experienced hikers continue the road, as the conditions become even more hazardous. We changed course at the beach and decided to go to the Hanakapi’ai Falls instead, but I will write about that hike next week.


    Tips for Hiking the Kalalau Trail

          Hiking the Kalalau Trail is a very uplifting experience, but it can be hazardous if you don’t come prepared. Those who do the entire 11 miles trip usually camp out on the coast and return the next day. If you want to take up the challenge, here are a few tips that will make your trip easier: 

    • check the weather before you go and never attempt this hike on a rainy day or right after  
    • remember, the hike takes approximately 9 hours, so plan your daylight accordingly
    • wear long pants, hiking boots with grippy soles, a hat and sunglasses  
    • use sunscreen and insect repellant
    • bring lots of water and some snack
    • even if you have a good balance, use a trekking pole to improve your stability in difficult passages
    • bring a small first-aid kit in your backpack
    • don’t swim at Hanakapi’ai Beach no matter how calm the water may seem
    • if you are planning to camp in the area, get a permit
    • do not attempt to cross the Hanakapi’ai and Kalalau streams in high water, it is extremely dangerous
    • know your limits: if at any point you feel exhausted, turn back, don’t risk an accident  

          Even if you are not an experienced hiker you can still enjoy Kalalau by doing just the first part of the trail, up to the Hanakapi’ai Beach and back. It is an exhausting and difficult 4 mile road, but not as dangerous as the rest of the trail. 

          Did you ever go on Kalalau trail? If you did, I’d like to hear your experience.