Hike of the Week: Kalalau Trail

Hike of the Week: Kalalau Trail

This weekly series aims to inspire you to go out there and see the marvelous sights in person. Merely viewing them on your phone or monitor is not enough. Feel the wind, breathe the air and bask in the sun.

This week, we take on the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast of Kauai, Hawaii.

Featured Photo: Na Pali Coast from Above (photo by Lauri Sten)

Why this Hike?

This is where the Pacific Ocean meets the cliffs. You’ll be amazed at the beauty of this 22-mile (round trip) hike. There will be tropical forests, seaside cliffs, caves, waterfalls, and beaches. There is something here for both the casual hiker to the thrill-seeking backpacker.

  • 1-2 day hike, 11-mile trail one way, 22-mile round trip
  • Gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean
  • Moderately difficult, the 2nd part of the Kalalau Trail is best suited for experienced hikers
  • The 1st part of the hike could be finished in a day, you will need 1 more day to finish the trail from Hanakapi'ai Beach to Kalalau Beach and then back to Ke'e Beach
  • Lush tropical vegetation.
  • Uneven trail ranges from sea cliffs to sea level on the beaches of Hanakapi’ai and Kalalu
  • Motivation? A chance to take a cool dip in the Hanakapi’ai 300-foot waterfall.

Take note of these things when planning your hike.

  • Some parts of the trail are dangerous so it would be best to prepare and pack light.
  • Mosquitoes abound so bring bug spray
  • Flash floods could happen so make sure to check the weather before leaving for your hike
  • As of the time writing, Kalalau trail is closed for repairs.

    How do I get there?

    The hike begins at Ke’e Beach. There are 3 ways of getting there. First, you could take the bus from Lihue to Hanalei. This is the cheapest option although there is a limit to the size of the bags allowed. Bags or backpacks larger than 10x17x30 inches are not permitted.

    Your second option is to rent a car. If you plan on staying on the island for several days, renting a car is the best option. Just make sure not to leave any of your valuables in the car while you hike. There have been reports of break-ins on the island.

    The last option is to hire a cab. Steve is only one Taxi operator on the island. We suggest booking him in advance. You can contact him at info@ponoexpress.com or call him at 808-634-4744.


    The hike begins at Ke’e Beach. You have the option of going on a day hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach and visit Hanakapi’ai Falls, then come back to the start. You may also go as far as Kalalau Beach which would require at least one overnight camp.

    Here’s the map of the route for the hike:

    The hike starts from Ke’e Beach, goes along the Na Pali Coast leading to Kalalau Beach. The first part of the hike could be done in a day. 2-3 days is recommended for the entire trail.

    • Day 1 - Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach (10.5 miles)
    • Day 2 - Kalalau Beach to Ke’e Beach (10.5 miles)
    • Day 3 - You can add a day by camping at Hanakoa Valley either on the way to Kalalau Beach or back to Ke’e Beach

      Trail Description

      The first part of the hike is relatively easy starting from the Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena State Park, then 2 miles to the Hanakapi’ai Beach. It is not advisable to swim on this beach because the sudden rip currents can be very dangerous.

      You then have the option of hiking 2 miles inland so you could see the 300-foot Hanakapi’ai Waterfall. You could have a quick dip and replenish your water supply here. It is also a good place to have a quick bite. There are also composting toilets available at the site.

      From this point, you can head back to Ke’e Beach or proceed to Hanakoa Valley. Camping is only allowed at Hanakoa Valley and Kalalau Beach. Hanakoa Valley is the first campsite and another great place to replenish your water supply and rest because the next part of the hike is the most difficult.

      The trail from Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach may get a bit dangerous because you will be hiking on seaside cliffs. It’s a good time to change into those hiking shoes or boots with a good grip and whip out the hiking pole as you climb up Crawler’s Ledge. Take caution while navigating the cliffs since they can be very narrow. Take your time and enjoy the sights!

      After Crawler’s Ledge, it’s a much easier hike down to Kalalau Beach. You’ll set up camp here for the night. On Day 2, you’ll turn around and head back to Ke’e Beach. If you want to stretch the trip to 3 days, stop at Hanakoa Valley for the night, then finish at Ke’e Beach.

      What will I need?

      Always check the forecasted weather for the area. The trail is closed during storms because flash floods could happen that could cause landslides. Summer is the best time to take on this hike.

      Pack light. Bring only the essentials because a heavy pack will make traversing the cliffs more difficult.

      Because you will need to pack as light as you can, it would be better to bring water filters or filtration tablets and just make the most of the available water sources.

      You will need high-quality hiking shoes with a good grip to handle the varied terrain that will include soil, sand, rocks, and mud.

      Hiking poles are also necessary to keep your balance and have support when hiking the seaside cliffs.

      Use plenty of sunblock because some parts of the hike are fully exposed and bring bug repellent spray especially if planning to camp overnight.

      If you plan on camping at the Kalalau Beach for the night, we recommend lightweight warm weather gear like our Breeze Mesh Tent / Sanctuary Siltarp combination and a lightweight Thermodown quilt.

      Check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List for a comprehensive list of other essential gear that we recommend on an overnight hike like this.

      Do I need a permit?

      You will not need to get permits for the day hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach. However, if you decide to go beyond this point, you will need to secure a permit. They are also necessary for the camping grounds at Hanakoa Valley and Kalalau Beach, since there is no camping anywhere else on the trail. You can secure a permit online.


      The Kalalau Trail Is Hands Down The Most Incredible Hike In America
      Kalalau Trail at Backpackers Review

      Have you explored Kalalau Trail and other trails in Hawaii? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.

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