Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls

The Kalalau Trail was on our Kauai itinerary from the very beginning. It is one of the quintessential Hawaiian trails and the best way to see the beautiful Na Pali Coast. The full Kalalau trail is 11 miles long, and requires a permit for camping/backpacking. Rather than backpacking, we decided just to do a day hike to the Hanakapi’ai Falls via Hanakapi’ai Beach.

Hike Overview: 8 miles total (out and back), 2300 ft elevation gain, 5-6 hours
Trails: Kalalau Trail (2 miles to beach), Hanakapi’ai Trail (2 miles to falls)

 

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Kalalau Trail trailhead at Ke’e Beach

The trailhead is at the end of the road on the northwest side of Kauai, right next to Ke’e Beach. This is a very popular trail, and the parking lot at the trailhead was full by 9am. There’s another lot a few blocks away (marked on the map).

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The 2-mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach is not difficult, though there is a good amount of hills and some spots are slippery and rocky. Take in stunning views of the Na Pali Coast and the scenic prehistoric valleys in this first part of the hike. As the trail winds through the valleys, it feels like a scene right out of Jurassic Park.

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Just imagine a t-rex chasing you through this valley

There are multiple river crossings so make sure you have shoes that will handle water and mud. I started out with my regular Nike sneakers but quickly changed into hiking sandals (similar to these Keen Whispers) that I had brought in my backpack. Hiking boots would also work.

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Slippery rocks and so much mud
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New shoes ready to get thoroughly muddied up. By the end my legs were COVERED in mud.

It is 2 miles to the beach, which is about the halfway point to the falls, and is also where the trail forks. This is a nice spot for a break and there are also toilets. This is a good turnaround point for those looking for a shorter hike, but it’s worth it to continue to the falls if you have the time!

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All these stone stacks on the beach were knocked over when we passed by on the way back – apparently the locals don’t like it
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From the beach, head into the trees following along the stream

From here take the left fork away from Kalalau Trail toward the falls. Head into the trees and the trail will follow along a stream. Eventually you will find yourself in a dense bamboo forest.

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One of the many river crossings, some trickier than others. Fun to scramble over!

After the bamboo there are several more river crossings and the trail gets more difficult. There are some steep sections of rock which are tricky to navigate when it’s also muddy and slippery.

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The end goal: Hanakapi’ai Falls!

Finally you will find yourself in a clearing marking the end of the trail. Follow along a rocky trail to reach the impressive 300-ft waterfall. Relax and enjoy the view and a well-earned pb&j like I did, or you can take a dip in the freezing pool at the bottom of the falls if you dare!

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The actual end goal 🙂

For a post-hike snack, stop by Sushi Girl about 15 minutes down the highway from the trailhead for a sushi burrito(!), poke bowl, or sushi rolls. It’s a tiny storefront that’s easy to miss.

Tips:

  • Wear footwear that will handle mud and river crossings (hiking sandals or hiking boots are good)
  • Avoid wearing white — Kauai is famous for its red dirt, which will stain!
  • Bring a swimsuit and lightweight towel if you want to swim at the beach or in the pool at the base of the falls
  • Prepare for rain, it is likely that it will rain or at least drizzle
  • Bug spray
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks to refuel

 

Resources:
Unreal Hawaii: Kalalau Trail
Kauai Explorer: Hanakapi’ai Hike
Everytrail: Hanakapi’ai Falls
AllTrails: Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail
More photos at my Flickr album

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