The trail is the only land access to Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Here you will see some of Hawaii’s most dramatic scenery including eroded volcanic pinnacles, razor-sharp ridges, pointed spires, and huge seacliffs rising almost straight up from the sea.
What Is It?
The Na Pali coastline spans along 17 miles of Kauai’s western shore and includes several major valleys, each with its own unique beauty. This stretch of coastal wilderness bordered by the azure Pacific is one of the most breathtakingly scenic locations in all of the world.
What You’ll See
In addition to the beautiful mountain and ocean scenery, you may see whales (during winter) and dolphins swimming offshore. Also, keep an eye out for native birds such as the red-tailed tropicbird (koae ula) and noddy tern (noio koha). Look high above to see the huge wingspan of the great frigatebird or iwa.
The Adventure Begins
The Kalalau Trail begins on the island’s north shore at Kee Beach in Haena State Park. This majestic beach is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches, set beneath the picturesque Makana Mountain which is often called Bali Hai as it was portrayed in the 1958 movie South Pacific.
A rugged 11-mile path, the Kalalau Trail can be a challenging hike even for those who are in shape. The trail stays relatively near to the coastline as it winds its way up and down through five major valleys including the renowned Kalalau Valley at the end of the trail.
At the two-mile mark of the Kalalau Trail you will reach Hanakapiai Beach and Hanakapiai Valley. For those not wanting to walk the whole Kalalau Trail, a trip just as far as Hanakapiai provides a nice day hike taking about 11⁄2 hours each way. If you continue on past Hanakapiai Valley along the Kalalau Trail it is another 9 miles to Kalalau Valley. This may take about 7 more hours of hiking as you wind up and down along the coast.
The Na Pali’s high ridges are lined with waterfalls, and between coastal cliffs are numerous large, lush valleys that were home to Hawaiians in ancient times. These deep and ancient valleys contain many cultural and archeological sites including temple structures, stone-walled terraces, and ancient home platforms.
Many hikers stop at Hanakoa Valley and camp overnight and then complete the journey the next day. Camping is allowed near the beach at Kalalau Valley but not up in the valley itself. Many hikers get drinking water from Hoolea Falls at the west end of the beach, though all water needs to be boiled or treated before drinking.
Just to the west of Hoolea Falls are some large sea caves that fill up with sand during summer. Kalalau Beach is backed by sand dunes and offshore is a shallow sandbar that can drop off quickly, making swimming dangerous due to strong currents and no offshore reef to provide protection. A large rip current is known to right out from the center of Kalalau Beach.
Need to Know
Many drownings and many more rescues have occurred at both Hanakapiai and Kalalau Beach so it is best to avoid swimming at these beaches. If you insist on swimming because you think the water appears very calm, you should still make sure you stay very close to the shore.
The Kalalau Trail begins at the end of the road on Kauai’s north shore at Kee Beach in Haena State Park.