Hiking Kauai’s Kalalau Trail

One of the most popular hikes in Hawaii is the Kalalau Trail that starts at the northern end of the Na Pali Coast.  You will find the trail head at “the end of the road” and I mean this literally as it is at the end of HWY 560.  The entire trail is 11 miles long and has several spur-trails along the way.  Most people only hike the first two miles to the beautiful Hanakapiai Beach that’s perfectly flanked by volcanic cliffs.  (If you hike beyond the Hanakapiai Beach, you must have a permit.)
From the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail  is actually one of my favorites, but I have to admit it was a challenge for my husband and me the first time through and we learned some lessons that I’d like to share with you to make your hike more enjoyable.

  • You should plan on at least 3 to 4 hours to hike the first two miles in and then back out.
  • Make sure you are hydrated before the hike and bring plenty of water.  Bring at least 2 liters per person.  We didn’t bring near enough water on our first time and regretted it.
  • Make sure that you have had a nutritious meal an hour or so before starting the hike.  The first time we hiked this trail, we were a little unprepared.  We had actually planned to take a catamaran ride along the Na Pali coastline that morning, but the seas were too rough and our plans had to be canceled.  So we decided to head out on the Kalalau Trail.  We kauai2010 123had only had some decadent cream cheese cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  (Hey! Cut us some slack we were on vacation. :))
  • Use mosquito repellent.  Remember your new best friends?!
  • Wear hiking sandals (ideally), hiking shoes or old sneakers with good tread that you don’t mind getting muddy.  I wore sneakers and I ended up throwing them away before heading home.  The trail can be slippery and muddy if it has rained recently.  If that Kauai mud gets on anything it is pretty much stained for life.
  • There is a stream that you must cross to get to the beach.  If the stream appears to be vigerious and flooding, do not attempt to cross it. The rocks in the stream can be slippery. If you aren’t wearing hiking sandals, it’s best to bring reef shoes to change into, but you can cross the stream in barefeet, too.  I didn’t have tevas or reef shoes and I didn’t want to have to walk the two-mile return in wet shoes, so I crossed this slippery stream barefoot.  It was doable, but a bit tricky.
  • Bring a lunch or light meal to enjoy at the Hanakapiai Beach.  Ah, here again, we were unprepared.  Our cinnamon rolls had long burned off by the time we made it to the prized beach and we shared a tiny 90-calorie Special-K bar.  There we were watching others enjoy their romantic picnics while we carefully shared our Special-K bar.  We still laugh at that even today. (See Hawaii Vacation Misadventures of Andy & Sheila: ‘No Picnic for You’ Edition.)
  • Don’t plan on swimming at the beach.  There are strong currents and no lifeguards.
  • If possible bring hiking poles.  Though we hadn’t brought enough water or eaten a proper breakfast, we did actually have hiking poles. (Yay!  We did something right.)  Our hiking sticks were the envy of everyone on the trail.  You don’t need anything expensive, in fact we purchased our collapsible hiking poles for about $15 from Target.
  • Bring your camera and stop often to enjoy the views.  It really is a lovely trail and don’t be in so much of a hurry that you miss its beauty.
  • Review the Hawaii State Park page about this hike.

If you think you’d like to try hiking the Kalalau Trail, but you think it might be a bit too daunting, there’s a great view of the Na Pali Coast that you can see within the first 30 to 45 minutes of the hike. You could turn around there.

Though this trail does have a few challenges, it is a very rewarding hike!  By being prepared and using the advice above, your hike of the Kalalau Trail will be even more enjoyable. I do hope you get to “Go Visit Hawaii” and enjoy the wonderful trails.

Update: Here’s a Kalalau Trail video we took from our second time hiking the trail. This video provides an good overview of the trail, views, and challenges:

The Hawaii Division of Land & Natural Resources created a safety video that’s useful to view.

See more of our photos from the Kalalau Trail.


About Sheila Beal

Sheila Beal is the founder and editor of Go Visit Hawaii. You can connect with Sheila Beal on Twitter, Go Visit Hawaii on Facebook, or Sheila Beal on Google+.

30 comments

  1. Wow, what a nice hike! I did it earlier today partially thanks to your writeup and words of encouragement and found it very pleasant and satisfying. Great views of the Na Pali coastline, Ke’e beach, and the beach on the other side is a great place to relax, cool off, wade a bit.

    I’m not sure if this is common, but there was a small enclosed cove made by a higher ridge of sand that people were playing in. It looked like the stream and ocean water were intermingling but rather than crossing the stream over the rocky part, I just hiked to the right along the stream’s path (there are a couple of foot paths etched in against the foliage to make it easier) and then was able to unpack a bit, eat, and leave my shoes on the east side and just wade across the shallow, sand-bottomed channel of water so I could see the full breadth of it and take plenty of photos.

    Definitely pack plenty of water, I took a liter and did ok but could’ve used another half- which surprised me coming from AZ, I usually know better than to run out. 🙂 That half mile heading back from the beach is brutal too, I feel no shame in admitting I took a breather after the brunt of the climb was over so I could cool back down.

    The sisters didn’t come with me and it’s probably for the best, I think they’d have had a hard time with it- but I definitely enjoyed it and thanks again for the info! I’ll have the photos up tonight or tomorrow on my Flickr page and probably one or two on my blog so keep an eye out to see how they turned out. 🙂

    • My wife and I have hiked the first two miles three times now and are interested in learning what the second two miles to the falls is like. Any advice is greatly appreciated

      • Bill – we’ve never done that extra part. It seems that I’ve heard that it’s a little bit trickier than the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail. This link is mainly about the first two miles, but some have shared their experience of hiking the additional trail up to the falls.

  2. Adam – Thank you so much for adding your insight! I’m so happy that you enjoyed the hike!

    You are so right – those switch backs coming back from the beach are killers!

    After reading your experience about wanting more water, I’m going to revise the post to read 1.5 liters of water.

    Thanks again for adding your valuable insight and I look forward to seeing the photos!

  3. I did the hike down to Hanakapiai Beach in October and looooved it. This trail is amazingly beautiful but be prepared for not so easy hiking. I’m glad I brought my lightweight hiking boots as the first part of the trail is tough – it’s steep and very muddy in some parts. A hiking stick definitely comes in handy for balancing over some of the rough terrain. Amazingly, I saw people on the trail wearing flip flops and even saw one person barefoot! Once you get down to the bottom of the trail you’re pooped, but then it’s not over! You still have to cross a stream and boulders before you get to the beach. As Adam said, bring lots of water as the climb back up the trail is also steep and will make you very thirsty. Would I do it again…..? Definitely!

  4. Hi Ericka – Thanks for your comment. We saw people in flip flops, too. I’m sure it made the hike that much more difficult. I was glad that I at least wore some old sneakers.

  5. I will be staying at a motel in Lihue Feb 15 and hiking the Kalalau trail Feb 16-18. Is there transportation, other than a taxi or rental car, to get from Lihue to the trailhead and back? I’ve heard that it is not a good idea to leave a car at the trailhead due to vandalism, thus my apprehension about renting a car.

  6. Hi John – there is a bus system on Kauai. Their phone number is 808-241-6410. I’d recommend you call them directly and explain what you’re trying to do. Here is their website:
    http://www.kauai.gov/Government/Departments/TransportationAgency/BusSchedules/tabid/208/Default.aspx

    We have parked a convertible at that trailhead to hike in the first two miles and back. We didn’t have any trouble. If you do decide to take your car, don’t bring any valuables, but if you do, hide them. Make sure you lock your doors. Most rentals these days have alarm systems, so that helps add peace of mind. Try to make your car look as “untouristy” as possible. Hide guidebooks and maps, etc.

    Enjoy the hike! It’s great!

  7. This is a great hike. The first 2 miles to the beach give you a good idea how much fun the total 11 mile hike must be. If nothing else hike up the rock trail for the first .5 mile to the beach overlook. If you take your time most everyone can make the trip on a dry day. The beach is beautiful. If you have time, about 3.5 hours more, hike up to the falls. Total round trip to the fall and back to Kee is 7 hours.
    Click on my name to visit my webpage for my articles on the hike description, videos, and pictures.

    Note: edited to recover from spam filter.

  8. Yes, this hike is beautiful, but not for the unprepared. We are going back next week and plan to hike this right this time. The first time we had no idea what we were in for. We were hungover (it was our honeymoon), dehydrated, didn’t bring food, and not enough water. The trail was very wet and slick and it was pretty hot mid-day. We only made it in about a mile and back and vowed to do it right next time. It was still fun with great view and lots of frogs hopping around. Looking forward to it!

  9. My wife and I did the hike a couple of weeks ago. It was the most scenic and most enjoyable hike that we have ever done. The water level at the creek near Hanakapiai Beach was low and I was able to scamper across on rocks without getting my shoes wet. At one of the points along the way, the winds were so strong that I had to remove my cap for fear of it blowing away.

    There are many places where the trail surface is very rough, rocky and uneven. I cannot imagine doing this in tennis shoes – I would highly reecoomend hiking shoes and a trekking pole.

    • Glad you two enjoyed this scenic hike.

      I definitely agree that a hiking stick and good hiking shoes make a huge difference on this trail.

    • sheila, Thanks for the good tips and video. The hiking pole looks like very useful!

      Carroll,

      My H and I plan to hike the first two miles in the first week of September and this will be our first time hiking on the trail. What ‘brands’ of the hiking shoes and a trekking pole do you recommend? We probably use the hiking shoes and a trekking pole only once when we do the hiking on this trial. Thanks.

      flo

  10. Does anyone know if you’re just hiking the trail if you still need a permit?

    Thanks,
    Sara

  11. Very cool video.. I was kind of worried with all the stories.. but after that video.. feel much better.

  12. Great information. Your video of the Kalalau trail is great. You point out a spot on the trail where it “doesn’t get any easier than this”. Do you have a picture of the spot that is the most “on the edge” of the first two miles? My wife will likely not go anywhere near a “two foot wide trail on a ledge down a cliff”.

    Thank you.

    • Joel – I just rewatched the video and I think it’s very representative of what you’ll encounter.

      In my opinion, a hiking pole adds lots of help stabilizing you. To me it adds a bit of security, too, for those “skinny” points in the trail.

      • Hi Sheila,

        Can you clarify just how “on the edge” the path is? One of my kids is afraid of heights and anything too close to the edge might be a show stopper. We learned this lesson in Zion! Great video and advice.

        • Look at the video — paying close attention to the 50 second to 1 minute mark. That’s the trail on the edge.

  13. Going to Kauai in June 2013 and i would love to do the first 2 miles…Have two children 9 and 11…is this trail ok for them or too dangerous????

    • I have seen children younger than that on the trail. Make sure they know that they shouldn’t get too close to the cliff edge.

  14. My husband and I are planning our first trip to Kauai and are finding enormously helpful information on your website. THANK YOU! I have a quick question about the mud on the Kalalau trail. I have a new pair of Keen hiking sandals I plan to bring on the trip and am wondering if they will be absolutely ruined on the 2-mile hike. Should I bring an old pair of sneakers instead?

    • Barbara,

      So glad you’re finding Go Visit Hawaii to be helpful for your Kauai vacation planning. Thanks for letting us know.

      There’s a chance, if you’re lucky, that you might encounter very little mud.

      Last time we hiked this trail, I had on a keen-type shoe, although it wasn’t Keen brand. That day the trail was super muddy. I’m still using those shoes. They weren’t ruined.

      By the restrooms near the trail head, we found an outdoor shower that we used to wash off our legs, feet and shoes as well as possible.

      After you’ve washed your shoes, make sure you let them air dry as soon as possible as they can quickly sour if left in a car — I know this by experience, unfortunately.

      Best of luck in keeping those brand new Keens wearable for many years. 🙂

  15. My family and I hiked the first two miles of this trail several years ago and found it very doable. Three of us were in our early 60’s at the time. It was muddy and slippery in places and kind of like going through an obstacle course, but, if you’re careful I think just about anyone can do this part of the trail. When we got down to the beach and people were breaking out the food, a lot of cats started appearing. I’m surprised no one mentioned them in the comments since they are very well known for living in that area. Some were very friendly and everyone was willing to share their food with them. It’s the most gorgeous hike I’ve ever been on and well worth the effort to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please do not use keywords in your name. Please keep your comment on the topic of the article as we will not approve or address off-topic comments. Required fields are marked *

*

Scroll To Top