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.)
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.
- As of June, 2019, a reservation is necessary for visitors to access the park and trail. See our discussion regarding the options for the new Kauai north shore shuttle, parking and reservation systems.
- 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 had 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.