Kalalau Trail Travel Guide
The Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is one of the most surreal destinations in the world. The sapphire waters, dense jungle foliage, and dramatic coastal ridges unite along Kauai’s northwestern coast into a truly unique landscape. You’re able to view the coast via boat tours, but today we wanted to highlight the hiking journey known as the Kalalau Trail, which treks along the scenic natural wonder that is the Na Pali Coast.
View from the Kalalau Trail | Photo by California Cow
Kalalau Trail Permits and Reservations
Camping permits are available three months in advance and usually fill about two months before a particular date, so if you’re backpacking overnight, be sure to secure your permit as early as possible. You can stay in the park for no more than four nights. Camping permits cost $20 per night.
Hiking reservations cost 1$ or 5$ if you’ll be parking. Only 900 reservations are given for a particular day, and these can fill up a couple of weeks ahead of time.
Kalalau Parking and Shuttle
There is limited parking available for day hikers, and parking is even more competitive for overnight campers. You can try to secure overnight parking online once you have your camping permit. Alternatively, you may want to book a shuttle here, which picks up at the Waipa Park and Ride on the corner of Kumu Road and Kuhio Highway in Hanalei.
Mountainside view of the Kalalau Trail | Photo by California Cow
The Kalalau Trail Na Pali Coast Hike
If you want to hike the entire Kalalau Trail, you’ll need to be prepared for a 22-mile, round-trip expedition, much of which is rated at difficult. However, in return for your commendable sense of adventure, you’ll cross three jaw-dropping beaches, three massive waterfalls, and countless breathtaking views.
The Kalalau trailhead begins at the very end of Kuhio Highway 560. You’ll want to make your first stop along the trail about 150 feet in, where you’ll find Ke’e beach, the first of several world-class beaches you’ll come to over the course of your adventure.
Gorgeous Hanakapi’ai Beach | Photo by Trukdotcom
About two miles in, you’ll find your second beach, Hanakapi’ai. If you’re just looking for a day hike, you can also spend some time on the beach and then hike back. If you are planning to just hike for the day, you’ll still need to book a hiking reservation, but these are much less competitive to acquire than camping permits. Hiking reservations do not allow access beyond Hanakapi’ai.
You’ll need to decide at this point if you want to add another four miles (round trip) of tough hiking into your adventure to see the Hanakapai’ai Waterfall. Hanakapai’ai is an impressive 300-foot fall with an excellent swimming hole, so if you’re up for a challenge, it’s worth the extra mileage.
The trail to the fall begins just after crossing the Hanaakapai’ai Stream, near the vault toilets. The path gets extremely muddy around the end of the hike, so be careful.
Enchanting Hanaakapai’ai Falls | Photo by Brian W. Schaller
Honakoa Campground and Honakoa Falls
The first campsite along the trail is located in the Honakoa Valley about three miles past Hanaakapai’ai Falls. This is the first of two locations you are allowed to camp along the Kalalau Trail, which features a nearby waterfall and beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.
There are composting vault style toilets available, but no other facilities such as potable (drinking) water, pavilions, or tables. There are freshwater streams nearby for gathering water to filter and drink.
Honakoa from the sea | Photo by J Doll
If you’re continuing on to Kalalau Beach, you’ll first have to cross the infamous Crawler’s Ledge. You’ve probably gathered this from the name, but Crawler’s Ledge is an extremely thin, sloped stretch of path overlooking a long, steep drop into the rocks and ocean below. It’s the most dangerous section of the trail, and you’ll need to be extremely careful to ensure your safety. Take your time and know your limits!
Beautiful Kalalau Beach | Jeff Kubina
Kalalau Valley and Kalalau Beach
A few more miles and you’ll find yourself overlooking the Kalalau Valley, and a few miles after that you will arrive at your final destination: Kalalau Beach. Here, you’ll camp surrounded by jagged green ridges of the Na Pali Coast, a lovely stream, and the beautiful Ho’ole’a waterfall.
There are composting vault toilets available, but no other facilities. Be sure to bring a filtration system to treat water from the nearby stream.
Be careful with your steps on the Kalalau Lookout | Photo by California Cow
If you’d like to see the Kalalau Trail and Na Pali coast without hiking 22 miles round trip or booking a boat tour, you can drive right up to the Kalalau Lookout. Keep in mind that you get to the overlook from the other side of the park, which can only be accessed coming from the western side of the island. To find the lookout take Kokee Road Highway 550 almost all the way to its end.
The lookout offers a breathtaking view of the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. You can see the entire Kalalau Valley and the dramatic ridges that surround it all the way to the ocean.
Clouds over Kalalau | Photo by Bryce Edwards
Hawaii generally has two seasons: a wet winter and a dry summer. The winter occurs from November to March. Temperatures pick up and precipitation decreases from April to October during the dry season. We recommend the summer season since certain parts of the hike are dangerous, even without rain. Temperatures vary from the mid-70s to the mid-80s.
Get ready and be very careful going up the Kalalau Trail Hike | Photo by Humanoid One
You should know before you start making plans that the Kalalau Trail is a dangerous adventure. The trail has claimed two lives and is responsible for countless serious injuries. What’s more, Na Pali is one of the most remote places in all of Hawaii, so if disaster does strike, you’ll probably need a rescue team to get out.
Take the hike slowly, especially along dangerous sections like Crawler’s Ledge. Make sure to pack a water filtration device, since you won’t want to carry in all the water that you’ll need. You should also bring iodine tablets too, in case your filtration system malfunctions. You’ll, of course, want to pack plenty of food, as well.
Wear your hiking boots and tread carefully up the Kalalau Trail Hike | Photo by California Cow
Hiking boots or trail shoes are highly recommended. You may also want to bring approach shoes (usually used by climbers) for the particularly gradient sections of the trail. Bring a first aid kit that includes necessities like bandages, gauze, and disinfectant.
Although the Kalalau Trail should be taken seriously, as long as you are careful and know your limits, you should be safe. If you choose to undertake this journey, we at Shaka Guide know that you’ll have a truly memorable adventure!
Once you’re done with the trail, take in nearby sites on our Waimea & Na Pali Driving Tour!
The view at the end of the Kalalau Trail | Photo by Claire Zachow