Hiking Kalalau Trail – 10 Things You Need to Know
When we planned our one week trip to Kauai, we were most excited about our plans to hike the first 4 miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. We read up a lot before heading out on our trek, but there were still a few things we wished we knew before going. The hike all the way to the falls was completely worth it and we would do it over again in a heartbeat. The Kauai landscape feels so wild and untouched and the views of the Na Pali coast were simply incredible. If you are thinking about visiting this gorgeous area of Kauai, then read on for 10 things you need to know before hiking Kalalau Trail.
1. Check the Weather
If it has recently rained, you may want to reschedule hiking Kalalau Trail. We went in January and got lucky with beautiful sunny weather. However, the trail was still very muddy and slippery in some places from recent rains. The river that you must cross can also flood after rain, making it a more treacherous crossing. If conditions are truly dangerous the trail will be closed, but planning your hike around dry conditions will make it much more enjoyable.
2. Wear Sturdy Shoes
For hiking the Kalalau Trail I would recommend investing in a sturdy pair of hiking boots or at the very least hiking sandals with straps. The trail is hardly ever flat and in many places you will be scrambling over slippery moss covered rocks. There are also sections of the trail that are no more than a foot wide, especially on the two mile stretch to Hanakapi’ai Falls. Your shoes will also get very muddy and stained with the iconic Kauai red dirt, so that’s something else to take into consideration. We brought a dry bag to put our boots in after the hike so they wouldn’t get our rental car dirty.
3. Get to the Trailhead Early
We stayed in Poipu on the southern side of the island and left for Kalalau Trail before sunrise. We started the hike around 8am, but I would recommend starting even sooner as the trail opens at 6:30am. That way you will have plenty of time to enjoy the beaches (especially Ke’e Beach – more on that later) and Hanakapi’ai Falls if you go that far. Parking spaces are also limited so getting there early will ensure you get a spot (do not try to park on the side of the road – you could be fined for doing so). The 8 mile round trip trek took about 1/2 day going at a steady pace and making a couple stops. The 2 mile hike back from Hanakapi’ai Beach is mostly uphill, so I would recommend avoiding that part of the hike during the hottest part of the day (around noon) as some sections offer very little shade.
4. You Must Make a Reservation
After Kalalau Trail reopened in June 2019 after a year long closure, it is now required for all visitors and hikers to make a reservation in advance. There are several different options you can read more about here. A single day pass will allow you to hike the 8 mile round trip trek to Hanakapi’ai Falls. You can make a reservation up to 30 days in advance and no later than one day before you plan to hike. Spots can fill up fast – so book early!
5. Don’t Overpack for the Hike
We ended up packing WAY too much stuff in our backpacks for the day hike. If you are just hiking the first 2-4 miles of the Kalalau Trail, pack your bags minimally so you aren’t having to lug around a bunch of stuff. I recommend packing a light snack, sunscreen, a travel towel (if you plan on swimming at Hanakapi’ai Falls), and lots of water. Don’t skimp on the water – bring more than you think you need especially for the hike back to the trailhead. We had about 2 liters of water each (the recommended amount) and it was plenty.
6. Enjoy Hanakapi’ai Beach from a Distance
After hiking the first two miles of Kalalau Trail you will find yourself at the beautiful, but potentially treacherous Hanakapi’ai Beach. Like many beaches on the North Shore of Kauai, this beach has big waves and deceivingly strong rip tides. It is best enjoyed from afar on the sand or one of the many large rocks on the beach. Though it isn’t advisable to swim, this gorgeous beach makes for a nice and relaxing rest stop. There are also bathroom facilities you can use before heading on to Hanakapi’ai Falls. You can get a glimpse of this gorgeous beach in our YouTube video about the best Kauai hikes.
7. Worth the Hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls
We highly recommend continuing on to Hanakapi’ai Falls after the two mile trek to the beach. The trail to the falls has fewer hikers and was by far the most fun as it takes you deep into the Kauai rainforest. This section of the Kalalau Trail is also a bit trickier as the “path” is not very well marked. It is very narrow and often covered by roots or foliage. When we were there, there were hot pink markers on trees that let us know we were still on the correct path. At the end of the trail, the rainforest opens up to the stunning 300 foot Hanakapi’ai Falls. There were only a handful of other hikers there, which made it that much more special. We had a light lunch we packed and relaxed at the falls for about an hour. You can also swim at the falls (which I did!) but the water was REALLY cold. It felt refreshing after the long hike, but I couldn’t stay in very long.
8. Make Time to Stop at Ke’e Beach
At the far end of the parking lot near the beginning of Kalalau Trail lies the picturesque Ke’e Beach. This beach is protected by a coral reef and has a lifeguard, so it’s safe to swim or snorkel in. It is still advised to be wary of rip tides and currents on any North Shore Kauai beach. In January the waters were still a little rough at this beach, but still safe to wade in. Ke’e Beach is the perfect place to cool down, wash the mud off, and relax after the 8 mile trek on the Kalalau Trail. There are also amazing views of the turquoise waters of Ke’e Beach about a mile or so into the Kalalau Trail.
9. Enjoy the Views – Carefully!
On the trail there were a bunch of signs that warned us about making sure to watch our step and not gawk at the beautiful views while hiking. We thought the signs were silly at first, but we quickly realized these warnings were to be taken seriously. The trail is very rocky and muddy, so if you aren’t watching where you are going you will trip – which I did several times. The views of the Na Pali coast along the trail are completely breath taking, so it is hard not to stare while hiking. Make it a point to stop at the viewpoints, then carefully continue on while watching your step.
10. Hiking Kalalau Trail is Easier Than it Seems
Before setting out on the 8 mile round trip hike on Kalalau Trail, we were seriously second guessing our abilities. Little did we know, the trail is far more accessible less daunting than we thought. I would rate the first four miles of the hike at a solid intermediate level for anyone in moderate physical condition. It also helps that the lush rainforest and views of the Na Pali cliffs are a nice distraction. You can hike as much or as little of the Kalalau Trail as you like (as long as you have the correct permit), but the farther you go the more you will be rewarded with stunning views of some of the most beautiful landscape we have ever seen.
We hope these tips for hiking the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls makes planning your trek a bit easier. Do you have any tips for hiking the Kalalau Trail? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks for stopping by and happy travels!