Kalalau Trail Day Hike

When most people think of bucket list hikes, the Kalalau Trail along the Napali coastline is high up on that list (and that’s not just because of the helicopter shots in Jurassic Park). Striking views, steep cliffs, 300-foot waterfalls, and lush forests make this hike a popular destination for day hikers and backpackers. The Kalalau trail is 22 miles out and back, winding its way along Kauai’s northwest coast in Ha’ena State Park. 

The Hawaiian government originally built the Kalalau Trail back in the late 1800s as a way to connect some of the island’s remote valleys. It’s become one of the most popular trails in Hawaii, for good reason. The trail travels up and down crossing five major valleys before its terminus at Kalalau Beach, engulfed in steep cliffs. Two miles in is the beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach, which is the most popular section of the trail for day hikers. The four-mile out and back is an excellent choice for a short yet scenic day hike if you’re looking to get a taste of the Napali Coast. 

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The trail can be rugged at times, having undergone quite a bit of erosion in recent years. On top of that, it can become impassable when flooding occurs. These challenges add to the allure of the Kalalau Trail, which boasts some of the most scenic views Kauai has to offer. 

Kalalau Trail Overview 

  • Distance: 22 miles (roundtrip), with an elevation gain of roughly 6250
  • Hike Time: 2-3 days (fast hikers can do the round trip in a single day, but it’s worth it to take your time, explore side trails, and soak in the views)
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Best Time to Hike: May – September
  • Trail Map

What to know about hiking the Kalalau Trail 

While the 11-mile Kalalau Trail is a spectacular feat on its own, the side trails to Hanakapi’ai and Hanakoa Falls are well worth a slight detour. The trails can be muddy and slippery at times, so while the beach setting might make it tempting to hike in flip-flops, light hiking boots are recommended (toss those flip-flops in your pack for a beach picnic). Carry plenty of water and have a plan for water filtration (tablets or a filter) if you’re hiking overnight. 

You’ll need a permit to hike past Hanakapi’ai Beach, even if you don’t plan to stay overnight. Plan to get to the parking lot at K’e’e Beach early, since it can fill up quickly. Day hikers looking to hike the two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach still need a day-use reservation which you can find on the Ha’ena State Park website

Camping is only permitted at Hanakoa (6 miles in) and at the end of the trail, Kalalau (11 miles in). The maximum time you can stay on the trail is five nights, with a one-night stopover at Hanakoa. 

While you can still hike the Kalalau Trail from October through April, the winter months are known for more frequent storms and high surf, making the trail susceptible to dangerous flash flooding. Keep an eye on the weather (in summer too) and make alternate plans if rain is in the forecast. 

the kalalau trail with overgrown plants in the trail
Stunning view from Kalalau trail in Kauai, Hawaii


Is the Kalalau Trail dangerous?

There are definitely elements of the Kalalau Trail that can be dangerous, so be aware of the hazards before you head out. 

The five valleys the Kalalau Trail passes through are susceptible to flash flooding, so use caution if rain is in the forecast. The trail has also undergone a significant amount of erosion, so don’t hike off the trail as the rocks and cliffs might not be as stable as they appear. Stay a little further back from the edge than you normally would.

While Kalalau Beach (at the end of the trail) is generally safe for swimming, Hanakapi’ai Beach (two miles in) is not safe to swim in due to dangerous rip currents. Enjoy your time on the scenic beach before continuing your hike. 

Is the Kalalau Trail worth it?

The Kalalau Trail can be rugged and challenging, but most hikers consider it one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever hiked. Whether you’re exploring Hanakapi’ai Beach and Falls for a single day or heading out for a multi-day adventure, it’s a truly special experience. 

How long does it take to get to the waterfall of the Kalalau Trail?

If your destination is the 300-foot Hanakapi’ai Falls, you’ll want to hike the two miles along the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach, then turn onto the Hanakapi’ai Trail and hike 1.8 miles to the waterfalls. The total roundtrip hike is about 7.6 miles and takes most hikers all day. If you want to hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach and back, budget about 3-4 hours for a leisurely hike. 

See more bucket list day hikes, like the strenuous Bright Angel Trail.

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Lily Krass

Lily Krass is a freelance storyteller based in Jackson, Wyoming. Her work has been featured in SKI Magazine, Powder Magazine, The Ski Journal, Freeskier, Teton Gravity Research, and Ascent Backcountry Snow Journal. In addition to an all-consuming addiction to powder skiing, Lily takes snacking seriously, and when she’s not writing or sliding on snow, she’s likely deep into a baking project in her tiny kitchen. She is the co-author of Beyond Skid: A Cookbook For Ski Bums, a collection of dirtbag-friendly recipes inspired by life in a mountain town.