Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail-Rugged Terrain With World-Class Views
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

This strenuous 11-mile hike will challenge you, but make you feel stronger in the end. Make reservations if you want to hike the entire trail, and make sure that you are able to hike this in its entirety! Schedule roughly 2-4 hours for this difficult hike -- well worth every second.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

The Kalalau Trail reminds us of the opening lines to “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Here’s why:

  • The Kalalau Trail is one of the most beautiful trails to hike in the world.
  • The Kalalau Trail is one of the most dangerous trails to hike in the world.

Before you dismiss this hike out of fear, let’s examine both sides of the coin. We’ll start with the “bad news” first.

The Kalalau Trail hugs the Napali Coast on the island of Kauai. The trail stretches 11-miles across five valleys, as in mountain valleys. If you were to hike out and back, that’s a total of 22-miles. We’ll discuss shorter options later, but whichever trail you choose, plan on traversing steep terrain, slippery rocks, and narrow ridges.

If you plan on hiking the entire trail, you will need to get a permit from the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. This is true even if you don’t plan on camping. Permits can be issued 90-days in advance of your hike.

You won’t need a permit if you hike from the trailhead at Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach 2-miles away. From Hanakapiai Beach, you can follow a trail inland to visit the Hanakapiai Falls, an additional 2-miles.  

Unlike easier hikes on Kauai, even the shorter jaunt on Kalalau will require preparation for a successful venture. Here are our tips:

Be in Shape 
Hiking the Kalalau Trail is physically demanding, so make sure you’re in good shape before attempting. You’ll be ascending steep trails and navigating rocky streams, which makes the hike challenging and dangerous. If you plan on hiking the entire 11-miles, bring a small backpack filled with essential items. Those who plan on camping will backpack everything in, making the hike that much more challenging.

Make Reservations 
As mentioned above, you’ll need a permit to hike the entire trail. Hiking the shorter trail still requires a reservation. The Haena State Park is limited to 900 visitors per day. You can make reservations 30-days in advance of your trip. This park is popular and fills up quickly, so we suggest making reservations as early as possible.

Getting There 
If you plan on driving to the trailhead, there is limited parking. The fee is $10, and you should make parking reservations in advance. Walking or biking to the park will require a $5 voucher. There is also a shuttle that will drop you off at various locations on the North Shore.

Stunning Beauty
The scenery and views from the trails are some of the best in the world. That’s why the Kalalau Trail attracts hikers and wildlife lovers the world over. You’ll see towering peaks, bird-like ocean views, rich flora, and plenty of wildlife. The Kalalau Trail is a hike back in time before Hawaii became a popular vacation spot. 

Hikes For Every Ability
We recommend that only experienced hikers attempt the 11-mile trail. If you do, plan on your excursion taking all day. Beginners who prepare correctly and follow our safety recommendations will be able to hike the 2-miles from Kee Beach to Hanakapiai Beach. Some guidebooks suggest planning to schedule two hours for the hike, while others recommend four. Either way, allow for plenty of time to enjoy your hike and for navigating slippery trails.

Hike to Hanakapiai Falls
If you make it to Hanakapiai Beach, and you’re feeling strong, consider taking the trail to Hanakapiai Falls. The 2-mile hike is arduous and will have you climbing 760 ft. and crossing several streams. Your effort will be rewarded with beholding the towering 300-ft waterfall. Pack rain gear since showers can pop up without warning.  

With the proper training, preparation, and gear, we think that the Kalalau Trail should be on your list of things to do on Kauai. 

Insider Tip
Landslides are common and can cover roads hampering transportation. Be sure to check this website for up-to-date information on closures: https://hidot.hawaii.gov/2021-hanalei-hill-landslide/