The Kalalau Trail is a stunning 11 mile trail winding its way along the rugged Na Pali coast of Kauai. National Geographic called this the ‘finest coastal hike in the world‘ and I’m certainly not going to argue with that.
Most people (like us) only hike the first 2 miles into Hanakapiai Beach. Some folks venture a further 2 miles up to Hanakapia Falls while others continue on to hike the whole trail.
The trail starts at Ke’e Beach which is as far as you can drive on the North Shore. The area past Ke’e Beach south west to Polihale Beach is so rugged and deeply cut by valleys and knife edged pali (cliffs) that building a road is impossible. Arrive early if you want to park close to the trail head.
The trail is very well marked and well travelled. From the trail head you steadily climb along a trail mostly in the trees.
About half a mile in you come to the highest point between the trail head and Hanakapiai Beach, about 500 feel above sea level. This is the first real lookout and you get a nice view down onto Ke’e Beach.
The trail winds its way along the coast sometimes traversing hillsides on switchbacks.
The views back up the valleys are stunning.
As you make your way farther along the trail the views of the Na Pali coast and its azure blue waters begin to tantalize you.
As you approach Hanakapiai Beach you begin to get a taste of what’s in store.
Rounding the corner and heading down to the beach you get some spectacular views of the beach and the Na Pali coast beyond.
Descending down to the beach there is a sign warning of the dangers of swimming here. The currents are far too dangerous to go in the water and more than a few people have died (check out the hash marks at the bottom of the sign – I counted 82).
To get onto the beach you need to cross a stream. When we were there it had been pretty dry and so crossing was easy but apparently it can get more challenging after its been raining.
Most people were crossing right where the trail met the stream and had to get their feet wet. We went downstream a little ways and were able to hop from rock to rock.
Hanakapiai Beach has a wide sandy bar capturing a small pond where you splash around if you like.
For a bit of added interest check out the caves just around the corner to the left.
If you have a thirst for adventure you can continue on the trail another 9 miles, traversing 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach. I hate heights and exposure so there was no way I was continuing on past Hanakapia Beach. Check out this youtube video for a view of some of the ‘sketchy’ sections you encounter at about mile 7 (and no that’s not me in the video):
On your way back to Ke’e Beach make sure you take in the views walking the other way. They are just as spectacular!
Its safe to say that the Kalalau Trail was one of the highlights of our trip. To fully enjoy it make sure you bring the proper gear and are aware of the risks:
- Bring lots of water. The trail is mostly open to the sun and it gets hot. There is no where to get water on the trail and you don’t want to run out.
- Bring food. You will be on the trail for several hours so bring something to eat.
- Wear appropriate footwear. Although we did see people in flip flops I don’t think that’s a very good idea. Runners or light trail shoes will do the trick. Be warned though, the mud on the trail is very red and will badly stain any shoes. I brought an old pair of light trail shoes that were ready for the garbage anyway. Also beware that after rain the trail can get very slippery.
- Bring a hat. This trail is mostly open to the sun and gets very hot.
- Don’t go swimming at the beach. Many have tried and some have paid for it with their lives.
One final tip: Ke’e Beach makes a wonderful place to go for a swim and cool off after your hike!
More trail information: http://www.kalalautrail.com/ or http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai/spot/kalalau-trail