Kauai, HI: Na Pali Coast via Kalalau Trail

Explore Kauai's lush jungle, cool off in waterfalls, and pick wild mangoes on the Kalalau Trail.
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Explore Kauai's lush jungle, cool off in waterfalls, and pick wild mangoes on the Kalalau Trail.

Start at the south end of Kee Beach and hike southwest along the Kalalau Trail. The first few miles lead through a maze of roots, rock slabs, and slippery mud. After a mile, the trail begins a steep descent to Hanakapiai Beach. Boulder hop across the beach, and prepare for a stiff climb up the ridge where you'll pass a towering, black rock wall and ferns with foot-wide leaves. Over the next 2.5 miles, hike through Hoolulu and Hanakoa valleys, and pass tent sites near the Hanakoa Shack. The remaining 4 miles to Kalalau Beach feature a precarious cliff walk, several waterfalls, and a lookout with sweeping ocean views. Spend the night at Kalalau Beach (dozens of campsites and secluded spots) before turning around for the trip back to the trailhead.
PERMIT INFO: Required for campers and can be reserved one year in advance. Day-use permits are required past Hanakapi'ai Valley. hawaiistateparks.org/camping/permit_napali.cfm
MORE INFO: Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, hawaiistateparks.org/parks/kauai/napali.cfm
-Mapped by Kari Bodnarchuk

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 27.0

Waypoints

WPT001

Location: 22.220324, -159.582424

At the north end of the parking area (just before Kee Beach), follow the Kalalau Trail to the southwest.

WPT002

Location: 22.211451, -159.594482

Cross two small creeks and begin a steep descent to Hanakapiai Beach. Stay on main trail; pass several side trails.

WPT003

Location: 22.208633, -159.597702

Filter water at Hanakapiai Stream if reserves are running low. Next, rock hop across a maze of boulders, and continue steep climb with stunning views of the ocean. Caution: Crossing Hanakapiai can be treacherous in high water. Exercise your best judgment when crossing.

WPT004

Location: 22.206949, -159.60022

Permit required beyond this point. Continue hiking southwest past a towering, black rock wall. Dense ferns with foot-wide tropical leaves crowd the trail; if hiking behind someone, watch out for leaves that may swing back and swat you in the face. Caution: The trail becomes extremely narrow and exposed.

WPT005

Location: 22.203199, -159.606033

Hoolulu Valley: One of many spectacular valleys, Hoolulu is framed by fluted mountains blanketed in thick vegetation. Black volcanic rock pinnacles tower overhead on the left, while expansive, edge-of-the-world views open up on the right. As you hike deeper into the valley, the trail is flanked with scratchy, long-bladed grass and purple starburst flowers. After crossing several creeks, the skyline reemerges, and an impressive 500 foot waterfall can be seen between two mountains.

WPT006

Location: 22.19665, -159.613586

Begin another steep descent, and cross another stream. If you're low on water, this is a great place to fill up. Shortly after the stream, the path will level out and cross the 5-mile marker before descending into the next valley.

WPT007

Location: 22.195833, -159.62001

Hanakoa Valley: Grab a long sleeve shirt to protect yourself from the thick vegetation crowding the trail. Ahead, the trail shrinks to a catwalk through one of the densest parts of forest. Enjoy views of a large waterfall to your left; take care when crossing two slide areas. The trail drops back into the forest and becomes rocky.

WPT008

Location: 22.192882, -159.620331

Pass a giant mango tree (23 feet in circumference), and arrive at Hanakoa camping area. Tent platforms, 3-sided shelters, and toilets are available. Next, continue across the river and pass several more campsites.

WPT009

Location: 22.190783, -159.620499

Keep straight @ 3-way junction; head northwest along the Kalalau Trail; trail is scattered with decaying vegetation and small rocks. Side trip: Turn hard left @ 3-way and hike .4 mile to Hanakoa Falls, a 1,400-foot waterfall pouring down smooth, black volcanic rock.

WPT010

Location: 22.193266, -159.625732

Photo op: This lookout offers 360-degree views of ocean, mountains, rock pinnacles, and coast. Switch from the wide angle to the macro lens to capture the vibrant pink and orange flowers.

WPT011

Location: 22.193666, -159.626404

Caution: This nerve-wracking section of trail was once dubbed "Crawler's Way" (named for the hikers that traversed this section on their hands and knees). Take care when navigating this extremely narrow, exposed path with a 500-foot drop-off on the right.

WPT012

Location: 22.192684, -159.628647

Continue walking a tight rope across a narrow slide, blanketed in a fine, powdery bronze dirt and interspersed with pea-sized pebbles. Next, cross a seasonal stream and emerge into a lush valley that some travelers say resemble the green fields of Ireland. Ahead, the trail ascends switchbacks and re-enter the trees.

WPT013

Location: 22.189568, -159.633255

Hike past a helipad, another waterfall, and then drop down into a V-shaped gully. Cross another steep, sandy, and very unnerving section of trail before entering into a lush forest with noisy birds. Keep an eye out for goats as you hike around several more headlands.

WPT014

Location: 22.180584, -159.640411

Pass the 9-mile mark and soon cross another rock-slide area under the shade of trees

WPT015

Location: 22.178566, -159.644928

Enter the Kalalau Valley, a giant, lush amphitheater. The trail descends barren, bronze-colored hills, and then crosses grassy fields studded with black lava rocks.

WPT016

Location: 22.178383, -159.649704

Cross stream. Trail winds to the southwest.

WPT017

Location: 22.17705, -159.651871

Turn right @ T-junction, and head towards Kalalau Beach and campsite. Optional: Turn left @ T-junction and head up the Kalalau Valley Trail for a short, 2-mile detour to more views.

WPT018

Location: 22.174767, -159.655182

Continue hiking southwest. To avoid some of the crowds next to the helipad, find a campsite near the waterfall at the far end of the beach.

WPT019

Location: 22.171633, -159.659485

The trail ends at a waterfall that pours down into a small pool; a sea cave is located in the cliff beside the waterfall. Take off your pack and find a campsite (caution: falling rocks are common around waterfall). A ranger's shelter along the beach provides free surfboards for campers. To return to the trailhead, retrace your steps back to Waypoint 1.

Views of Kalalau Beach

Location: 22.175486, -159.654419

Trailside Flower

Location: 22.217562, -159.586945

Bird's-Eye Views

Location: 22.214794, -159.588898

Na Pali Coast

Location: 22.214558, -159.589203

Tropical Jungle

Location: 22.211769, -159.593658

Trailside Views

Location: 22.196932, -159.618286

Trail Ascent

Location: 22.195301, -159.620514

Ocean Views

Location: 22.193087, -159.627731

Kalalau Trail

Location: 22.18586, -159.635544

Trail Descent

Location: 22.184927, -159.635422

Narrow Trail

Location: 22.178749, -159.644394

Rocky Terrain

Location: 22.178425, -159.646774

Kalalau Beach

Location: 22.173039, -159.657105

Sunset on Kalalau Beach

Location: 22.171757, -159.659088