Kauai – Kalalau Trail - 7 Best Hikes

Kauai – Kalalau Trail - 7 Best Hikes

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

Kauai called the Garden Isle; mother nature at its best full of vibrant colours. Kauai is famous for the breath-taking Kalalau Trail, the Napali Coast, and more fascinating hikes. 

That's me on the Kalepa Ridge Trail on hands and feet
Hiking on Kauai is a new experience - That's me on the Kalepa Ridge Trail.

The island of Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth, the reason for the stunning lush vegetation. The best time for hiking on Kauai, especially the Kalalau trail is the drier season between May and October; showers frequently occur throughout the year. It is very slippery and muddy on many trails and narrow footpaths. Our best solution was a pair of mini-crampons to stay safe on the tracks.

Weather Overview for Kauai

Waimea Canyon waterfall at the beginning trembling down over red clay
Waimea Canyon

There is always a place where it is sunny and where it rains. I just want to give you an idea of the tropical climate in Kauai. Regarding the temperatures, Kauai is an excellent destination throughout the year. Kauai is wetter than the other Hawaiian Islands, therefore, called "The Garden Island". It frequently rains on Kauai throughout the year. But the amount of rain also depends on the location on Kauai.

Dry Season

People swimming next to Queens Bath
Next to Queens Bath

The drier season starts in April and lasts until mid-October. Also, in the drier season, showers occur, but the south and the east, like Lihue, are much drier. It is often sunny or partly clouded with pleasant temperatures ranging from 80-89°F/26-29°C in Lihue and in the night in the high 60s°F/above 20°C. In comparison, in higher elevation like Kokee temps range from mid to high 60s°F/17-20°C and nights are cold in the 50s°F/around 10°C. 

Rainy Season

Kilauea Lighthouse
Kilauea Lighthouse

The so-called rainy season starts in November and lasts until March. The north and west coast gets twice the amount of rain than the south and east. Mostly showers are short, often in the night, and the sun returns quickly. The wettest place on Kauai is Mount Kawaikini and Mount Waialeale, the highest points; inactive shield volcanos in Kauai's centre. During the rainy season, the weather is less predictable. Infrequent thunder storms can cause flash floods. Temperatures are in the mid to high 70s°F/23-25°C at the coast and in the Kokee State Park in the mid 60s°F/ below 20°C. Night temperatures range from 15-17°C at sea level and around 50°F/10°C in Kokee on higher elevations.

Crowds

Crowds on the Kalalau Trail
The crowded Kalalau Trail at Hanakoa Stream before the permit system 

With far more than one million visitors annually, Kauai is usually busy. Shoulder season with fewer crowds in spring from mid-April to mid-June except for Memorial Day and week in May, and fall in September after Labour Day to October. Crowded during summer, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Independence Day when the sky is the limit for hotel rates. 

 

 

 

Booking.com

 

Kauai Boat Cruise along the Napali Coast to Kalalau
Boat Cruise along the Napali Coast to the famous Kalalau Beach

Most of Kauai can only be seen on foot, boat cruise or air, the reason you have to hike to get a glimpse of this stunning island. Kauai has eight beautiful State Parks to get explored by you. 

Helicopter Flight along the Napali Coast
The breathtaking Napali Coast from the helicopter - picture by Byron

Best Months to Visit

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Location and Tips

Hawaii, Kauai
United States
United States

Kauai is the fourth biggest and oldest island of the volcanic Hawaiian archipelago. This raw beauty is a hotspot for Hollywood film producers like the Waimea Canyon in Jurrasic Park. Kauai is truly magical, one of the most beautiful islands on our planet. If I get asked how long would you stay on Kauai, definitely at least an entire week. If you are into hiking, Kauai will not disappoint. Read my detailed Kauai Hiking Guide, including trails off the beaten path for an exceptional vacation on one of the most beautiful islands on earth.

7 Outstanding Hikes on Kauai 

Me in the Waimea Canyon at the bottom in thick bush
Me almost at the bottom of the Waimea Canyon on the Kukui Trail

If hiking on the Hawaiian Islands, extreme caution is essential for some of the hikes. The paths are often muddy and slippery; the reason I recommend hiking poles and crampons. 

  1. Kalalau Trail 

    Kalalau Trail beach
    This picture was taken by Byron, a fantastic free-diver who gave us some lessons on Big Island.

    This hiking trail in the north of Kauai is called to be the most beautiful trail of Hawaii. The trail is 15 km long and takes at least 6 hours in one direction, leading along the stunning Napali Coast. It is a tough trail watch for roots, and sometimes the narrow path is washed out. During rain or storm or if the level is too high, don’t cross the streams, especially not the Hanakoa Stream at the six-mile mark. Torrential and dangerous flash floods can occur. Always observe the sky for dark clouds. Rain may occur in the Waimea Canyon. Several hikers got flushed away while they tried to ford the stream in 2018. After Hanakāpīʻai Beach, it is almost impossible to hike this trail in very wet conditions. It is very slippery and muddy on the narrow footpath. The only option is a pair of mini-crampons see above. 
     

    Napali Coast view from a boat cruise
    Napali Coast view from a cruise boat

    To walk the entire track, you need to stay overnight at the campground at Kalalau Beach. An alternative walk is until Hanakāpīʻai Beach and then along the stream to the Hanakāpīʻai Falls. This track is shorter, just 11 km, lasts about 6 hours, and you already get a glimpse of one of the most breathtaking landscape.

    Permit and Parking Reservation

    View to the Kalalau Trail from the helicopter
    A flight to the Napali Coast and Kalalau is an unforgettable experience - Picture by Byron Kay

    A Park Entry Reservation or Day-Use Parking Reservation for Hāʻena State Park is mandatory which can be purchased 14 days in advance to hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach and Falls. A permit is required for camping and hiking. Limited parking of 100 spaces only divided into three slots. Due to the popularity and accidents during poor weather, new regulations were enforced. The first part of the trail until the Hanakāpīʻai Beach is not any longer accessible without a reservation. It'll be less busy in the future. Reservations and permits for Kalalau are limited, and it is necessary to book almost one year in advance for the peak season. The fee is 20 $ p.p. per day plus the reservation fee.

    Napali Coast view during a boat cruise

    Hiking without a permit can cause big trouble with a show up at court! Overnight parking at Ha'ena State Park is finally allowed again but also here, a reservation is necessary. You can purchase the reservation up to 30 days in advance. A shuttle bus reservation is needed for the Kalalau Trail as well. However, we already applied twice, and when we arrived, the Kalalau Trail was closed due to flooding. There is no guarantee, and safety always first! The area has still not fully recovered yet from the massive flooding in 2018. Link for Haena State Park plus parking reservation

    Update March 2021: Permits for the Kalalau trail are currently available. In January, the trail was closed again due to flooding. Hiking this trail in the wetter season is always a risk. Be prepared for the elements; always check the weather forecast before! Safety first!

    View to Kalalau from Nualolo Trail
    Our permit got cancelled twice, and we were seeking alternatives - Nualolo Trail offers stunning views

    Kalau was closed for 14 months due to immense flooding in mid-April 2018 when we had a permit for June. The highway and bridges to the Haena State Park got also flooded and destroyed.  The Haena State Park and Kalalau trail got reopened in mid-June 2019.


    Do you look for alternatives to explore the Napali Coast? Check out my other hiking recommendations. Waimea Canyon; often called the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. The Canyon is more than 14 miles long, one mile wide, and 3600 feet deep. Free admission.

    Waimea Canyon Waterfall
    Waimea Canyon and Waterfall famous from Jurassic Park

    The Waimea Canyon Drive leads along the Canyon with hikes into the Canyon on the right. Trails on the left side are going to the dramatic Na Pali Coast, offering some of the most spectacular views. The drive ends at Kokee State Park; excellent for hiking and camping. 
  2. Kalepa Ridge Trail

    View to Kalalau from the Kalepa Ridge Trail
    View to Kalalau Beach from the Kalepa Ridge Trail

    2 miles/3.5 km - A Must-Do 
    Hike the short but very steep trail for one of the most stunning views ever. The track is not well maintained, muddy, slippery and poorly signed. It is one of the most spectacular and difficult hikes on the Hawaiian Islands. The views are breathtaking along the whole hike.

    Kalepa Ridge Trail - first outlook to Napali Coast
    The first spectacular view after the strenuous decent

    Bring at least hiking poles, better crampons, and a bottle of water. It is a short but strenuous climb, always down and up on the way back. The trailhead is not marked. At the Kalalau Lookout in the Koke'e State Park close to Waimea Canyon starts this amazing hike. The lookout is fenced.

    Trailhead Entrance to Kalepa Ridge Trail
    Trailhead Entrance to Kalepa Ridge Trail

    Go to the left through a gate and just follow the shoeprints. The outlook at the edge was second to none and one of my personal highlights on Hawaii. Hiking duration of 2 hours. If you plan to do this hike, it is at your own risk. Proper hiking boots and hiking pools are essential for this steep and difficult track. Trailhead Google Maps location
  3. Nu’alolo Trail

    View to the Napali Coast from the Nualolo Trail
    View from Nualolo to the amazing Napali Coast

    7.5 miles/12km - A Must-Do
    The trailhead is located next to Kokee Lodge. This trail is easier to hike, leading through the forest. After almost 2 hours, we reached the viewpoint of the coastline. We enjoyed our picnic and the breathtaking scenery for more than an hour with the constant change due to clouds and sunshine. From time-to-time helicopters pass by, bringing passengers close to the sea cliffs. I assume the view from the helicopter was spectacular, but we felt sorry for the people who just saw all of it in a rush.

    Noalolo exposed on either side in the end of the trail

    This trail is another hiking jewel on Kauai and can be combined with the Awa'awapuhi Trail. The fantastic cliff trail to Awa'awapuhi is occasionally closed due to erosion and landslides. Hiking duration 4 hours - gaining elevation 1.480 feet/450 m. Trailhead GoogleMaps location
  4. Kukui Hike  

    Kukui Trail, me on the red canyon soil

    5 miles/8km 3.30 hours
    Our last hike in the Waimea Canyon State Park took us down the Waimea Canyon. Very similar, looking like the Grand Canyon but deep and much smaller in size. Two-thirds of the hike was great, and we stopped on a plateau for lunch. Then the trail approached a forest full of mosquitos. Therefore, carry insect repellent in your backpack. The trail continues until the Wiliwili campground on the floor of the canyon. Hiking duration 4 hours - gaining elevation 2.460 feet/750 m. Trailhead Google Maps location
  5. Wailua Waterfall

    Wailua Waterfall view from the bottom

    Short waterfall hike close to Lihu’e - A Must-Do
    The view from the street, which ends shortly after the fall, was good, but we were looking for more. We found a way to descend the very steep slope down to the water after the lookout. There is a sign indicating that this is not a track. Luckily, many roots and some ropes saved us at the steepest and muddiest part. Hiking Poles or, even better, crampons are helpful for the muddy and slippery track. Limited Parking, busy during the day and weekends. No through road.

    Steep climb down to Wailua
    The very steep and muddy track

    Take insect repellent before hiking to the bottom of the fall; otherwise, mosquitos will eat you up. I know what I am talking about. I got lots of bites. Hiking duration plus break at the bottom of the falls one hour. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for any injury, death, or consequences of any actions taken based on the information provided here. This is just my experience! This track is very slippery and muddy. At least proper hiking boots and hiking poles are essential for this difficult track. Trailhead Google Maps location
  6. Sleeping giant – Nounou East

    The trail to the head of the sleeping giant through thick scrub - the sea in the back

    3.5 miles/6.2 km 3-4 hours
    Hiking to the top of the sleeping giant is easy from the trailhead on the eastern side located near Kapaʻa. It is a zigzagging moderate hike. The descent to the top takes roughly 1.5-2 hours, gaining an elevation of roughly 250 m. This hike is much longer than the access from the western side.
     

    Sleeping giant – Nounou West 

    A bench in the shade along the western descent with view to the sea
    Enjoy the breathtaking view from here before you continue.

    1.8 miles/3.0km 1.5 hours
    This trail starts close to Wailua. In the beginning, the track is leading through a grove of Cook pine trees. Follow the trail to the left when the track branches in the grove. Watch the tangled roots on the track. After roughly half an hour, the western trail meets the eastern track.

    On the summit of Nounou The sleeping giant

    The eastern and western branches are merging on top for the last 0,4 miles/ 600m or so. In the end, some rock climbing is required. You get a spectacular 360° view from the top. The official track stops shortly before you reach the head and nose of the sleeping giant. However, many people ignore the sign and climb to the very end. 

    Very limited parking at both trailheads and some roadside spaces; therefore, come either early morning or late afternoon. Local people told me the sunrise is breathtaking from the top, but honestly, I am not an early riser. Trailhead Google Maps trailhead
  7. Okolehao Trail

    Okolehao Trail view from the first bench to the sea
    This is the view from the first bench.

    Not busy - perfect to beat the crowds.
    Before I go into detail, this first part of the hike is a Must-Do. The hike can be split into three parts. The first is an easy to moderate hike of 1.3 miles/2 km taking 2 hours until reaching a bench and the final outlook. If you like to continue until you get to two benches, add another mile which takes more than an hour. Climbing the last part until Kauka'opua on 388 m elevations is recommended for experienced and well-prepared hikers only. Kauai is a hikers dream, and when reaching the summit, a new trail comes up called Hihimanu Trail to two more peaks. We hadn't hiked the last part; too dangerous IMO. Depending only on ropes is nothing I recommend.

    I stuck in the mud on the Okolehao Trail
    One of the muddiest trails of all

    Okolehao is a less know trail, therefore not busy. The beginning is easy but don’t underestimate this steep and difficult climb to the top. It is a muddy tangle of roots track. If the creek is flowing, you get wet shoes and socks already at the beginning. At 1.3 miles/2 km, you get to a wooden bench, a great resting spot that offers beautiful views of Hanalei Bay. I recommend going back to the car park.

    The very top Kauka'opua
    View to the top to Kauka'opua on 388 m elevation and two more peaks

    At 1.7 miles, the trail narrows and is less maintained now. The path is a little overgrown from the scrub. I recommend long trousers for this part of the track. After another 0.5 miles, there are two benches for a break, offering also excellent views. Halfway to the top, the real challenge starts. If you continue hiking, the trail gets extremely rugged and narrow on either side. If you have any fear for heights, don’t continue after the benches. From now on, it is a treacherous path difficult at spots. Fortunately, many ropes are set up when needed most, but I prefer climbing with a harness for safety reasons. Good preparation is the key, and know your limits! Wear proper hiking boots and carry plenty of water. Plenty of onside road parking at the trailhead. Trailhead Google Maps location

Packing List for Hiking

Crampons on one of the muddy hikes in Kauai

  • Wear proper hiking boots; most of the trails are slippery and muddy.
  • Hiking poles are helpful at most of the steep trails, which are usually slippery from the mud. 
  • We even bought crampons which became a lifesaver on some of our tracks most adventurous tracks.
  • It is frequently muggy, especially during the day. Hiking is strenuous, and plenty of water is necessary.
  • I also recommend energy food in the backpack.
  • Out of question, sun protection is essential.
  • Adventurous trails are less maintained and often overgrown. To protect our legs from scratches I recommend a light tracking trouser.

Tip for Parking 

When we visited Kauai, we saw a couple of rental cars with a broken side window and glass on the ground, respectively, especially at Waimea Canyon. Don’t leave anything in the car and check out if it is closed properly before leaving. 

Kauai Chickens 

Kokee State Park Waimea Canyon Campground
The campground in the Kokee State Park

We discovered on Kauai our enemy right away. Frequently one of the many roosters woke us up before 5 am, especially while camping. We asked ourselves why a Hawaiian Island does have so many chickens and roosters? We counted on the Kokee campground more than 30 individuals. The reason was even on display in our motel where we spent a couple of nights afterwards:

Kauai Chicken
 
“Kauai chickens have always been part of the island, but not as much since after Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The story goes that the hurricane blew out all of the chicken crops throughout the island, leaving the chickens to run wild.”

As they robbed us of our needed sleep from time to time, they became our personal enemy. This actually was the opposite of what the Kauai people do. They protect the chickens and even stop their vehicle in the middle of the road to let them pass. 

More information about the Kalalau Trail can be found here.

Haena State Park Map and Parking

Comments

Leif

I hiked the beginning of the trail in the winter. It was cloudy and showers occurred. Nevertheless a beautiful trail. After I returned I had an amazing sunset at the beach.

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Created by
Micha Herber-Bleich
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I love adventurous trips and my husband…