In-Depth: The Kalalau Trail
Na Pali Coast State Park
If you came to this page looking for the general narrative for our two-day backpack on the Kalalau Trail, then you have come to the wrong place. You should go here
This page serves as a repository for supplemental pictures of our kalalau trail backpack. It is written in a more 'guidebook'-like fashion, rather than as a narrative of our particular trip.
Supplemental images that are not in the general narrative are shown with a special color around them.
The Kalalau Trail is an ancient access route that starts from the end of the Kuhio highway (Hawai'i route 560) at Ke'e Beach in Haena State Park. These days it is a recreational path, providing access to the extremely scenic (especially the distinctive fluted cliffs) Na Pali coast. The trail winds along the rugged coast to the beach at the mouth of Kalalau Valley. The trail is of the there-and-back variety: there is no other option than to return back to the Kalalau Trailhead. Total (one-way) trail distance is about 10.5 miles.
To hike the Kalalau Trail, you must get a backpacking permit from the Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources. The DLNR's intro page for the Na Pali coast is here
, and the specific page with a link to the online reservation system is here
. Permits for non-Hawaiian residents are $20 per person, per night.
Nearing the end of the line
Most people do the Kalalau Trail as a 3-day or a 4-day backpack. Often there is an intermediate overnight stop at Hanakoa Valley, a little more than half way along the trail to Kalalau Beach. Permits for Kalalau Valley are also valid for an overnight stay at Hanakoa Valley.
Ha'ena Beach Park
If your desire is to camp the night before your hike start on the Kalalau, I'd recommend staying at nearby Ha'ena Beach Park. It is only a couple of miles back from the trailhead, and offers a very pretty beach-side spot to camp. You are supposed to get a permit in advance for Ha'ena Beach Park, but have also heard that you can just wait for a ranger to show up in the morning and pay then. Link to page with info on picking up a permit: Kauai County Govt Camping Permit Info
Wainiha General Store
Finally, due to reports of thefts at the Kalalau Trailhead, some hikers have decided to use a luggage storage service offered by Wainiha General Store. The store is the last one along the Kuhio highway before reaching the end of the road. Note that the cost is calculated not according to the number of hours elapsed from dropoff to pickup, but rather based on the number of different calendar days they hold your bag(s). So, even though for example you may have technically been gone only 72 hours (3 days), you may end up getting charged for 4 days.
Kalalau Trail Interpretive Signs
At the end of the highway at Haena State Park, the start of the Kalalau Trail is clearly marked. There is a decent parking lot here, but it completely fills up with day visitors as the day progresses, so your best option to ensure a parking spot is to arrive reasonably early - my guess would be no later than 9 a.m.
The Kalalu Trail heads off, immediately angling uphill, through thick, jungle-like vegetation.
The first part of the Kalalau Trail is quite wide. Clearly this is a very travelled section of trail. In places it bears the sign of extensive trailwork, with areas of roughly-interlocking stone and steps - indications of the historical nature of this route when it was used to connect to remote villages that used to exist along the Na Pali coast.
The trail gains about 250 feet as it starts its journey westward, and passes the first of a few good lookouts back down to Ke'e beach within the first quarter to half mile. The trail flattens out and is wide and flat, passing through verdant forest. There are many tropical plants here, with screwpine and o'hia trees being quite common.
The whole first third to half of the Kalalau Trail is prone to being wet and muddy. Often there are short showers, even on relatively sunny days. That, combined with the large amount of foot traffic on the first few miles of trail, often leads to a very slick and muddy tread underfoot.
Towards a spectacular coastline
The trail between the start and the first major point of interest - Hanakapi'ai Beach - contours in and out of several minor ravines. The grade is in places flat, but usually the trail is either ascending or descending. If conditions are wet, a bit of care is required on these up and down sections, due to the very slick trail surface. Hiking poles (and possibly gaiters) are recommended if you don't want to get full of mud.
Emerging into more open section
The distance from the Kalalau Trailhead to Hanakap'ai Beach is about 1.8mi/3km. Still wide, the trail begins a nicely-graded (and again slippery when wet) descent into Hanakapi'ai Valley. Just before reaching the valley bottom, there's a sobering sign indicating how many hikers have died by going into the often-rough surf at the beach.
Approaching Hanakapi'ai Beach
Upon reaching the valley bottom, you must ford the Hanakapi'ai Stream. During periods of normal flow, you can do this by rock-hopping without getting your boots wet.
After crossing the stream, there are two options: the first is to turn right and visit Hanakapi'ai Beach. During the summer months it is a beautiful little sandy beach tucked in between cliffs. In the winter, the sand is gone, revealing large bowling-ball sized basalt rocks.
Andrew crossing Hanakapi'ai Stream
Cairns on Hanakapi'ai Beach