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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
- Distance: 27.0
Location: 22.220324, -159.582424
At the north end of the parking area (just before Kee Beach), follow the Kalalau Trail to the southwest.
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Cross two small creeks and begin a steep descent to Hanakapiai Beach. Stay on main trail; pass several side trails.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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Pass the 9-mile mark and soon cross another rock-slide area under the shade of trees
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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.
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Cross stream. Trail winds to the southwest.
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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.
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.
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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
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Na Pali Coast
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Sunset on Kalalau Beach
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