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Kalalau Trail Description
KE’E BEACH TO HANAKAPI’AI (2 miles)
The first section of the Kalalau Trail stretches from the trailhead located at Ke’e Beach at Haena State Park to Hanakapi’ai valley. This section is a popular day hike for able-bodied hikers. Walking the first half mile will reward you with excellent views of the coast. The summer sand beach at Hanakapi’ai is a popular destination for day hikers. Swimming or wading can be dangerous, however, and is not recommended. The surf and rip currents are variable and often extremely treacherous, but worst in winter when high surf conditions prevail. DROWNINGS OCCUR HERE REGULARLY! Allow 3 to 4 hours to complete the round-trip hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach.
An unmaintained 2-mile trail into Hanakapi’ai Valley leads to a waterfall. After crossing the stream about a mile up the valley, the trail becomes more difficult as it meanders over rocks and fallen trees. The upper half of this trail should be hiked only in good weather to avoid dangerous flash floods and falling rocks.
Allow a full day to complete the 8 mile round trip from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Falls.
HANAKAPI’AI TO HANAKOA (4 miles)
More strenuous hiking begins as the steep switchback trail climbs 800 feet out of Hanakapi’ai valley. The trail traverses the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve in the small hanging valleys of Ho’olulu and Waiahuakua before entering Hanakoa Valley. The reserve harbors a variety of native lowland forest plants.
Near the Hanakoa Stream crossing, a rest area offers a stop for weary backpackers and hikers. Facilities include a composting toilet and two roofed shelters. The shelters are within a complex of old agricultural terraces where Hawaiians once planted taro. These terraces were replanted with coffee plants in the late 1800s, which are still growing throughout the valley today. The poorly marked 1/2-mile trail up the east fork of the stream to Hanakoa falls has hazardous, eroded sections but affords a spectacular view of the falls.
The trail crosses the stream well back in the valley, therefore there is no shoreline access at Hanakoa. In fact, Hanakoa is a hanging valley without a beach – the stream exhausts itself over cliffs at the ocean’s edge.
For experienced hikers in excellent shape, allow for a long day (8+ hours) to complete the round trip from Ha’ena State Park to Hanakoa. Day hikes beyond Hanakoa are not recommended.
HANAKOA TO KALALAU BEACH (5 miles)
After leaving Hanakoa valley, the trail enters drier, more open land which offers little shade from the midday sun. Tired hikers may be urged on by the panoramic view of Kalalau Valley’s fluted cliffs and the coastline beyond. Portions of the trail in this section are very narrow and the dropoff on the ocean side is severe. Use extreme caution, especially during wet weather.
The trail crosses Kalalau Stream near the valley mouth before ending at Kalalau Beach and a small waterfall. Camping in Kalalau is allowed only behind this sand beach. During summer, sea caves just beyond the waterfall provide popular camping shelters, but winter surf removes much of the beach and enters the caves. Shaded campsites are available beneath the trees behind the beach. Ocean swimming is not recommended for those unfamiliar with local sea conditions. Do not loiter beneath the waterfall or near cliff faces as there is a constant danger of falling rocks. A well-marked 2 mile trail into Kalalau Valley ends at a pool in the stream. This trail passes through extensive agricultural terraces where Hawaiians grew taro, the staple crop, from ancient times until about 1920. These terraces are now overgrown with a variety of alien trees, including Java Plum, guava, and occasional large mango trees.