Did you ever want to hike the spectacular Kalalau Trail in Kauai but feared that you didn’t have enough stamina to attempt the treacherous Na’pali Coast? The good news is that hiking the Kalalau Trail doesn’t necessarily mean doing a multi-day trek, all the way to the Kalalau Beach.
Most people only do the first segment of this trail, which starts on the north shore of Kauai at Keʻe Beach and goes to the Hanakapiai Beach. This 2-mile long day hike (4 miles round trip) is moderately challenging and doesn’t require extreme abilities, therefore almost anybody in a decent physical shape could do it.
PRO TIP: Things have change a lot since we first hiked the Kalalau Trail. Now reservations for Parking and Park Entry are required, or you’ll be turned away. Reservations are available 30 days in advance at https://gohaena.com, so make sure you make one before you go.
Best Time to Hike the Kalalau Trail in Kauai?
By virtue of its location in tropical Kauai, the Kalalau Trail enjoys warm weather and can be hiked year-round. But while the trail is almost always open, there are better times to visit and hike it than others. Kauai is known as the wettest place on earth and if you plan on visiting the island from November through April, you’re much more likely to experience rain.
That being said, the best time to hike the Kalalau Trail is during the summer months (May to October) when the weather is dryer in Kauai and therefore the path is less slippery. However, if you decide to hike in the sunny summer and fall months, you’ll have to bring sun protection and lots of water.
Temperatures usually run in the mid 80s during the day, which is why you should start your hike very early in the morning.
What to Expect on the Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in Kauai, following the shoreline and revealing breathtaking views of the Kauai beaches, the narrow valleys and the dramatic cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. The trail crosses beaches, valleys, freshwater streams and waterfalls, and finally reaches the the Hanakapiai Valley.
The first mile is a steep climb to a 400-foot elevation, but along the way are gorgeous views of the ocean, Kee Beach and the coral reef. The hike is moderately strenuous, climbing continuously almost till the end of the trail.
For the most part the path is smooth, but there are some rocky, muddy and slippery places along the way. As you continue the ascent, the road gets narrower and crumblier. In some parts the trail gets dangerously close to steep ravines, so you’ll have to watch your step. If you fall, there is nothing to stop you from slipping all the way into the ocean.
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.
The descent is relatively short, but also rocky and slippery, ending at the Hanakapi’ai Stream which flows into the ocean. Technically the first part of Kalalau Trail ends here, at the Hanakapi’ai Beach, one of Kauai’s most dangerous beaches.
Before reaching the beach, you need to cross the stream, but many people have a hard time jumping over the rushing waters from bolder to bolder. Especially during the rainy season, when the stream’s flow is very high.
Some people find this part of the trail rather difficult, so they choose to return before hiking all the way down to the beach.
The Hanakapiai Beach
If you arrive here on a calm day, with no wind, the Hanakapiai Beach may seem like a peaceful place. But don’t be deceived by the looks of this beautiful beach! Huge surf and strong currents can come out of the blue and cause big troubles.
Over the years, many people have been swept off this beach or drowned in these waters. But regardless of the danger, tons of visitors continue to take the challenge every year, going too close to the shore.
Even if you can’t swim, you can still enjoy this enchanting beach from farther away. There is also a series of small caves along the cliffs which are nice to explore. But don’t get inside any of them if there is high tide.
Behind the beach you’ll see the trailhead to the Hanakapiai Falls. So if you want to continue your hike to the falls (which is another 2 miles one way), follow the trail that is slightly to the left of the beach.
To continue the Kalalau Trail all the way to Kalalau Beach, you need to have a permit from the Kauai District of State Parks allowing you to go beyond the Hanakapi’ai Beach. Be aware however that but from this point on the conditions become even more hazardous, so only very few daring and experienced hikers continue the road.
Tips for Hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai
Hiking the Kalalau Trail is one of the most unique things to do in Kauai and a very uplifting experience. However, it can be hazardous if you don’t come prepared. 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
- use sun protection (screen, hat, sunglasses)
- bring lots of water (at least 1.5 liter/person) and some snacks
- use a trekking poles even if you have a good balance; they will 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
- get a permit if you are planning to camp in the area
- do not attempt to cross the Hanakapi’ai and Kalalau streams in high water, as it’s extremely dangerous
- know your limits: if at any point you feel exhausted, turn back, don’t risk an accident.
Also, don’t forget to bring your camera. The Na’Pali Coast is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Kauai, so the photos you’ll take on this hike make excellent souvenirs to bring back from Hawaii!
Thankfully, we balance out: I tend to charge up trails that might be too dangerous, usually just to get a great picture. Ann will certainly live longer because she looks at trails like this and steers us the other way. So she will thank you in advance for the warning. I will want to go see just how dangerous it really is. Because… #boys… 😉
Ha,ha,ha, well up to a certain point and during the dry season this trail can surely be attempted with caution. However, there is a part of it that I would never attempt to take, and that is beyond the points that I described. However, if you are young and in a good physical shape you can surely do it if you exercise caution.
The views look amazing but it doesn’t sound like my kind of hike. You must be very sure footed.
Hmm I am a hiker but there have been times I have turned around because the trail seemed too dangerous. This hike does look really beautiful though. #TheWeeklyPostcard
Part of the trail is OK, Anisa, but the longer you go on it the more dangerous it becomes. Quite scary at times.
“dangerously close to steep ravines”, not a fan, so thank you for doing it for me
Yea, I agree, Paula. Kalalau Trail is one of the most dangerous hikes in the USA. I was thankful that I came back in one piece.
Wow, Kalalau Trail looks so interesting. It has a great view of a beautiful nature to explore. I sure want to get a great hiking experience there soon.
For you Kalalau Trail will be a real blast, Grace. You seem to be into hiking.