Kalalau Questions

A writer for the SmarterTravel.com website emailed me asking for info about hiking the Kalalau trail. While I’m a bit put off by their attitude that hiking is just a cheap way to see Hawaii (“[the hikes] were as amazing as they were inexpensive“), I’m always glad to give out hiking information on this blog. Hopefully they will see the appeal of hiking to their readers and change their attitude–after all, hiking (and walking around) is the only way to see the real Hawaii.

Update 1: I forgot to give the “official website” for the Kalalau trail from Hawaii State Parks.

Update 2: The SmarterTravel.com website does have a more eco-friendly page that lists several hiking and kayaking resources.

Update 3: Several people have asked for more details about the trail, and I have responded at length in the comment section, so be sure to read all the comments.

Update 4: The article about Kalalau has just been published on SmarterTravel.com. It says “Hiking is the best way to get to the heart of Kauai, both in geography and spirit,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Update 5: camping restrictions have changed, and single-night stop-over permits are now given for Hanakoa instead of Hanakapiai–see below.

Q: What is the best time of year to do this hike?

A: Usually in the late spring, (May and early June), after the rains mostly stop but before the ocean is calm enough to allow kayaking. During late-June and July, the weather is driest, but Kalalau is “crowded” with kayakers who overtake the beach and campground. August is still crowded and much more humid, making the hiking very uncomfortable. The rest of the year is hit-or-miss, with perfect weather separated by rainy periods.

ArrivingInKalalau
View of Kalalau Beach and the cliffs above as you arrive

Q: Do most fit hikers planning to do the full 22 mile out and back hike take two days, camping one night at Kalalau Beach ?

A: No, I think that is unrealistic. Only extremely fit people can go in and out in 2 days and still enjoy themselves (but they won’t enjoy Kalalau). I know a tourist on a 2-day schedule who had to camp in the dark on the trail, and the next day sprinted to the top of the descent into Kalalau, saw the view, and turned around to hike out. Don’t let this happen to you. My ideal “short” schedule is 4 and a half days:

  • Start in the afternoon and camp the first night at Hanakapiai.
  • Start hiking around dawn and reach Kalalau by early afternoon.
  • Stay 3 nights in Kalalau, giving you time to relax and explore.
  • Get up before dawn again and hike all the way out in one day.

Q: Are there designated camping spots at Kalalau Beach ?

A: There is a designated camping area right next to the beach with fairly clear tent sites. Some tent sites overlooking the beach or waterfall are idyllic, but they are all available first-come, first served. There are many more campsites in the forest, 50-100 yards from the beach. There are a few secret spots too.

KalalauCampground
Nakeikionaiwi cliffs and Hoolea waterfall above the camping area

Q: How many camping areas are there along the trail (I heard the one at Hanankapi’ai is closed)?


A: There used to be permitted camping at Hanakapiai and Hanakoa. I’m fairly sure Hanakoa is closed indefinitely, and you wouldn’t want to camp there anyways because of the trash, pigs, mud and mosquitoes. I have not heard that Hanakapiai is closed, but it is very possible. They have to close the campsites if the composting toilet is out of order, and that happens often with vandalism/retaliation. Again, there are some secret spots too, obviously non-permitted.

Update July 2007: camping restrictions have changed, and permits are now given for Hanakoa instead of Hanakapiai. I had previously heard camping was restricted at Hanakoa to preserve the archeological sites (rock walls and terraces), but Hanakapiai was becoming so overused that the park managers decided its sites were now more at risk. Hanakoa is the more logical half-way point to camp, and people were camping there anyways, but I still find it to be too muddy, muggy, and buggy.


HanakapiaiBeach
Hanakapiai Beach from the south
HanakapiaiOuthouse
Composting toilet in disrepair at Hanakapiai

Q: Can you briefly describe the physical landscape you’ll experience on this trail?

A: The trail skirts the NW and W facing cliffs and valleys between the wet north shore and drier west-side of Kauai. The 11 mile (18km) trail was established by the Hawaiians centuries ago and follows ledges on the cliffs and dips down into 5 major valleys (including Kalalau) and numerous little gullies.


WaiahuakuaValley
Lush and misty Waiahakua Valley
SouthOfHooluluValley
Na Pali coast south of Hoolulu Valley

The ledges are usually plenty wide and vegetated, offering views up and down the coast as well as cooling sea breezes. During winter and early spring, it is common to spot whales in the ocean. The valleys are lush and humid, offering views of waterfalls and green mountains. You can often find edible fruit such as wild guava, lilikoi (passion fruit) and mountain apples (a tropical fruit not related to apples). The large valleys involve stream crossings, and most gullies have water for drinking after treatment. Near the end, you reach a crest, turn a corner and Kalalau Valley opens up before you, with near-vertical walls curving inland and around to the beach on the opposite side.

Q: What would you say are the highlights of a Kalalau hike?

A: If you mean highlights of the trail, it would be the views up and down the Na Pali coast (the cliffs) , the view 700 feet straight down from Space Rock, the views into some of the valleys including Kalalau itself, and the exhilaration of going down the last slope to the golden beach and waterfall.

Looking700FeetDown
Looking straight down from Space Rock (the Gate as I prefer to call it)

If you mean highlights of the whole trip, it’s definitely being on a remote beach, surrounded by incredible beauty, exploring a semi-deserted valley, feeling like a hippie and skinny-dipping (technically illegal as well), and of course, the views. Beyond the phyiscal impression, there is a certain sacred awe at being in such a magnificent natural setting. I sometimes call it a Hawaiian cathedral, not just because of the towering cliffs on all sides, but because Kalalau epitomizes the natural balance between the Hawaiian culture and the physical world.

Q: What fitness level and safety precautions would you recommend?

A: I would recommend the Kalalau trail only to very fit and experienced backpackers, which I consider the ability to pack 40+ lbs 15 miles and 3000 feet uphill on the mainland. Note that the elevation gain for the Kalalau hike has been quoted anywhere from 2000 to 5000 feet each way, but I actually think it’s somewhere between 2200 and 2600. Regardless, the heat and humidity make it seem like much more.

You will need the usual equipment: hiking boots, hat, sunscreen, water treatment, etc. An internal frame pack is better because it won’t get caught on low branches and rocks. You should have a screened tent against the mosquitoes and a rain fly against the inevitable shower. You don’t need a sleeping bag, a fleece blanket or bedroll is enough. Hiking poles are useful for crossing streams and balancing heavy packs, but can be an inconvenience in the overgrown sections.


WarningSigns
Warning signs from the state at Hoolea falls
SteepDropoffMile7
Scariest part of the trail

Safety Precautions:

The trail itself can be treacherous. One cliff-face around 7 miles has a very steep and impressive dropoff, one eroded section at 8 miles requires careful footing, and in some places the overgrown vegetation pushes you off the narrow trail or hides a dropoff.

Only the first valley of Hanakapiai has a sandy beach in the summer, but swimming there is NEVER recommended. Swimming at Kalalau beach is possible but dangerous due to strong waves and rip currents. As the safety slogan says: “When in doubt, don’t go out.”

Some people pitch tents or sleep directly on the beach in the summer. While technically illegal if you’re not actively shore-casting, it is also very dangerous if the beach is not wide enough to stop the occasional rogue wave.

All water from streams and waterfalls must be treated due to the Leptospirosis hazard. Boiling for several minitues is still the most effective; the bacteria can theoretically go through a 1 micron filter, so you should add cholrine drops to filtered water.

Heavy rains are possible any time of year, making the trail muddy and slippery, making streams impassible, and sometimes causing erosion that physically cuts the trail. Never cross a flooded stream, people have been swept downstream and over waterfalls to their death. When the trail is impassible due to severe weather, you will be stuck overnight or longer in Kalalau or one of the wetter valleys. State agencies will perform helicopter evacuations after several days only if the trail is predicted to remain impassible.

Q: Any other comments you’d like to share?

A: Kalalau is definitely a world-class hiking trail, though you wouldn’t know it from the way local agencies fail to maintain it. However, they still collect fees and enforce permits. There are permit quotas year-round, and the best summer weeks must sometimes be reserved a year ahead of time. For permit information and availabililty, call the State Parks at 808-274-3444 (8am-12 and 1-4pm locally). Recently, due to a crackdown on illegal camping, mostly by hippies who live off and on in the valley, rangers have been helicoptered in to check all permits. So do not assume you can get by without a permit because it is so remote. Finally, if you go, please preserve and protect the area as much as you can, avoiding erosion and keeping it clean for future hikers and future generations.

If you’ve read this far, I’ll share another tip with you: if you’re looking for specific trail information, you can email me, Andy {AT} great-hikes.com, and I’ll try to answer your questions here. I originally wanted to give full hike descriptions for all our trails, so you wouldn’t have any questions left to ask, but I haven’t had time for writing that much. If I know people want and need the information, I’m more likely to write about it.

Printed from: http://great-hikes.com/blog/kalalau-questions/.
© 2014.

65 Comments   »

  1. Andy says:

    Ron sent me email instead of leaving a comment (this blog sends me all comments as email, so leave a comment so everyone can benefit):

    excellent article on the Kalalau trail and awesome pictures too!

    My wife and I live in Seattle and we have a 5-day permit for a hike starting on November 17th.

    Do you have any words of wisdom, beyond the scope of your article?

    First off, after hearing about the flooding in Washington State, I hope you have better weather while you’re here. As for words of wisdom, I assume you have backpacked before and know what you’re doing. If so, the only real difference I experienced from all the backpacking I did on the mainland was the warm humidity. So drink early and drink often. I usually carry two one-quart bottles that I refill by filtering and treating stream-water along the way.

    As I mentioned in the article, get an early a start as you can, preferably at daylight. First of all, it’ll help you get parking at Kee, and the trail becomes crowded with tourists later (dayhikers to Hanakapiai). Second, you can’t avoid the heat if it’s sunny, but at least you can stop to rest as often as you want and still make Kalalau before dark. Same goes for the return, though you won’t be able to avoid the “crowds” between Hanakapiai and Kee.

    Avoid stopping in Hanakoa valley around the 6-mile marker. It’s rainy, muddy, and full of mosquitoes. So plan your breaks to stop before or after, at the scenic points where the trail enters or leaves the valley. Beyond Hanakoa, you’re on the drier side of the island. This is also the part where erosion has made the trail more dangerous. Stay focused on where you put your feet, and you’ll be fine.

    Do not sleep in the cave on the beach, as tempting as it may be. Waves are much more likely going into the winter months, and anyways, it’s damp and uncomfortable. Do not camp mauka (cliff-side) of the trail between the ranger cabin and the waterfall. The campsites there look very nice, but they are littered with falling rocks. Please, no soap or sunscreen in the waterfall–only saltwater rinse-off. Do all your washing (body and clothes) by carrying a pot of water away from the falls and streams. Wash dishes (works for body and clothes too) in the ocean with sand to scrub–no detergent needed but keep your eyes on the waves.

    If you like to explore, there are lots of use trails in Kalalau Valley so have fun. There is a small heiau (Hawaiian temple site, now just a few rock walls) makai (ocean-side) of the trail between the Kalalau stream and beach. Please respect the site and do not disturb it.

    If you’re trying to find the Big Pool, a swimming hole about 2 miles inland, there are several trails on the south bank. They all meet up and cross the main stream under a tangle of Hau trees (named after the exclamation: “HOW will I get through this”). After crossing the stream, you climb up on the north bank for a while, and when you reach the agave plants (aka century plants, with the huge pointy leaves) and big black rocks, you are at Big Pool. There is a smaller swimming hole just upstream, but you have to cross on a slippery apron of rock, so beware. While hiking in the valley, you will probably run into the hippies who try to live in the valley (or traces of old camps), they’re friendly but quiet, nothing to be afraid of.

  2. Ben says:

    Hi

    I have done some cursory reading about the beach (the one which kills people with its powerful rips) and have seen the warning signs warning people NOT TO go out there. But people continue to die, and it is unfortunate because this should not happen.

    The reason I think this is because the sign does not give full justice to the people. All it says is ‘Not to go out”; that it is ‘dangerous’ etc and that ‘many people have died – don’t you be the next’. This is all well and good, but people may not understand the true danger. The signs should explain clearly WHY wading in knee deep water is dangerous, or why wading at only waste deep water is dangerous.

    e.g. If you go out waste deep, waves may come crashing in rapidly increaseing the height of the water to chest height, that coupled with strong rip currents will make it impossible to fight, and the chances of death very high. The same can be said about powerful knee deep rips, possibly causing people to lose footing and being carried out to sea. The signs do not do justice to what could happen. If you could do something about this, to prevent the continued loss of life by better informing people about the dangers (rather than simply telling people that the beach is dangerous without explaining why – “simple saying ‘RIPS’” is not good enough. People need to understand the dangers of the rips for such a warning to be effective.

    I am only writing because I think you may have knowledge enough to change this situation, because I am witting here on the other side of the world. Peace. -Ben

  3. Andy says:

    Hi Ben,

    Indeed, there is a sign on the trail down to Hanakapiai beach that counts the number of fatalities there (82 in this picture from May 2006). That is in addition to the the official water hazard signs that warn of dangerous shore breaks and strong rip currents. I’ll try to add photos of those signs if I have them.

    The problem is that all beaches are potentially dangerous at one time or another, most of them only in weather where people wouldn’t go to the beach anyways. So all beaches have these official signs to limit the government’s liability and therefore people tend to ignore them. Some beaches however, have dangerous conditions even when they look safe, and Hanakapiai is one of those. This is why there is an additional sign to underscore the risk of death–and it works because I have never swam there.

    I agree with you that people need to understand why the ocean is dangerous. I’m not sure that signs are the answer because people see signs everywhere and ignore them. I think that ocean safety education should begin in the airplane when visitors arrive, and hotels should have more information. There is a brochure from the county about ocean safety, and now a website that I should probably blog about: Kauai Explorer. That website has a whole page explaining rip currents, but like your explanation and I agree with you that more could be done to explain to people how the ocean is dangerous.

  4. Andy says:

    In another email, Paul asks:

    Thanks for the information on the Kalalau trail thus far – I appreciate it!
    My girlfriend and I are considering this trip (2 nites) during late December…
    We live in Montana and backpack and backcountry ski regulary so the physical challenge is acceptable. We are somewhat concerned, however, about the unpredicable weather and trail safety…is this an experience we should save for summer months, or still cautiously attempt pending local forcasts?
    Thanks for any advice!

    Just as winter can bring freezing but sunny and dry weather to the continent, Kauai can have some of the clearest weather in December. The trade winds are interrupted so there are no more orographic clouds, and if it’s relatively cool (in the 70′s instead of the 80′s) no cumulus form. During this weather pattern, it is common to see the summit of Mt Waialeale most of the day from anywhere on the east side. Due to the coolness, there are almost always short rainshowers at night, so you definitely need a tent.

    Last year this period lasted all of December and into January, and I hear it’s due to repeat this year because of the El Nino weather pattern. So, this December is promising, however, there can always be winter storms in December, so your best bet is to check weather forcasts for the entire week before hiking, and possibly advancing or delaying your hike if there’s a storm. Check with the State Parks office about modifying your permits. Here are some relevant forecast links:

    If you do get caught by a storm, there are several hazards to watch for. First of all, streams will be high and the major ones at Hanakapiai, Hanakoa and Kalalau should not be crossed (others can be dangerous too). The trail can be muddy and slippery in many places, espcially between Kee and Hanakoa. More rarely, the trail can be further eroded and sometimes impassible, usually between Hanakoa and Kalalau.

    Regardless of the weather, the surf is usually high in the winter, making swimming dangerous to suicidal. One person was swept away from Polihale beach last week and lost at sea. I do not recommend swimming in the winter, and if you wade in the water, be alert for large incoming waves. The Kauai Explorer link I mention above has the high surf advisories.

    Because of the high surf, Kalalau beach is much narrower due to sand “migration.” In the summer, the sand is redeposited giving access to 3 or more sea caves on the beach. These may or may not be reachable in the winter and you should definitely beware of tides that may strand you if you are able to reach them.

    Otherwise, Kalalau in December is much like in the summer, you don’t have any wild mangos, but neither do you have “crowds” of kayakers on the beach.

  5. Kai says:

    I was curious about the presence of rangers along the Kalalau trail and at the end on Kalalau Beach. I’ve read many reports (that may now just be outdated) that seem to state that there are no rangers stationed, but only those that come in on helicopters and boats and what not. Contradictory, I have now read two different reports that state that there is a resident full-time ranger stationed on Kalalau beach.
    I ask because, obviously, I don’t intend to “buy” into “their” ideas about what I can and cannot do.
    In the long run, I would actually like to become one of those “hippies” who lives out there. And any help that anyone can give me is more than I already know and would be greatly appreciated.
    So, anyone that knows anything about it, if people are still there now that the rangers are upping their game, if it’s still accessible without a permit, even the landscape of the area, is the kalalau trail really the only way to get there.
    So, anyone know anything and want to help out someone who believes that the world belongs to us and not to “them”?

  6. Andy says:

    Kai, with all due respect to your ideals, please do not try to live in Kalalau. I used to think like you that the “hippies” were keepers of some romantic truth, and therefore entitled to live there illegally. I have since heard from others and seen for myself that those camping out there are polluting the valley with trash and human waste, and destroying Hawaiian archaeological sites.

    From the number of agricultural terraces, scholars estimate that 1000-2000 Hawaiians lived in the valley at one time. But they had a social structure and all their refuse was biodegradable which made their impact sustainable. Now you can find piles of plastic trash mixed with mud that gets washed down by the stream.

    Now that the valley has returned to its wild state, the mission of the park service is to preserve the natural state and the archaeological sites. Some Hawaiian descendants have received permits to restore and farm several terraces, but they are not allowed to live there. The point is, having an increasing nubmer of “hippies” trying to establish hidden camps and cultivations runs counter to the preservation goal.

    It’s unfortunate that to protect nature for everyone it must be regulated by the state, but as an avid hiker and explorer of wild places, I agree with that goal. While sentimentally, I don’t oppose those who hide out in a public wilderness, I can’t condone the inevitable pollution. I have met some very friendly hippies in the valley, some of them were trying to clean up the trash. But the sad truth is those who could not live in nature without trashing it triggered the crackdown and spoiled the place for those who could.

    Because I’m sure you won’t be swayed by such environmental arguments, here are some practical reasons I won’t help you and you shouldn’t attempt this.

    First of all, I’m not a survivalist, I’d rather enjoy my time in Kalalau. When I go, I pay for my permits, I take my tent, my food, and my water filter, I use the composting toilets, but when I leave you can’t even tell I was there. Regarding the $10/night permit fee (limited to 5 consecutive nights), the lack of maintenance on the trail and facilities by the state makes the fee questionable, but going illegally will not solve that problem. Those truly concerned about maintenance should write to the state park service to encourage them to uphold their responsibilities. Unfortunately I have not yet found a way to do volunteer trail work there–when asked, the park service referred me to the program in Kokee.

    To keep you from doing something stupid such as trying to “sneak” into Kalalau off trail, I will tell you there is no other way into the valley, except by kayak in the summer. I have asked about an alternate trail from Kokee but no one has done it or heard of it being done. I have looked for a promising route myself and always turned around in the face of mortal danger. The ancient Hawaiians did travel that route, notably Koolau the leper and his wife in the 1800′s, but they probably had rope ladders. More recently, a man missing for over a year was last seen on the way to Kokee talking about going to Kalalau.

    Anyways, there are no rangers stationed on the trail … yet. Anyone can ignore the sign that says “permits required beyond this point” and hike freely to Kalalau. I have met a work crew on the trail, but they were not stopping backpackers to check for permits. They were stopping hippies on the trail to “check” for illegal substances, so you have that to worry about as well.

    That said, there is now a permanent ranger stationed at Haena State Park, at the trailhead. Because that ranger position has been a success, I’ve heard that there will be more assigned rangers on Kauai, including the Na Pali State Park that includes the trail and Kalalau. There is a cabin at Kalalau beach ready for occupancy by a resident ranger. Due to the difficulties involved, I’m not sure if they will patrol the trail in the future, but that’s always a possibility.

    Regarding the enforcement rangers who are dropped by helicopter and by boat, they have been aggressively persuing the illegal campers for the past two years. I’m not sure what has triggered the crackdown, but it seems like a serious effort. I have heard stories of man-hunts and commando-style tactics. While I’m not a fan of helicopters and military-style operations in the wilderness, I think they are enforcing valid regulations.

    I will also tell you that you should not drink any surface water untreated. Leptospirosis is present and deadly, along with who knows what else. Given that people have been squatting in the valley for years, I’d be interested in seeing a bacteria count for Kalalau stream.

  7. Kai says:

    Andy, I appreciate your well-intentioned and though-out responce. I also appreciate your view-point to some extent. I know that some of these “hippies” grow marijuana and other things and are, in fact, a nuisance that shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I also understand that you think that we should be preserving parts of the world.

    I, however, am not a hippy in the slightest. I hate drugs and hippy behavior and will not act like that at all. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, or those like you, however, I’m not like that. I can’t stand society, I can’t stand the thinking that humans are any better than the rest of the animals in the world. We aren’t, we’re equal, and shouldn’t be treated as if we’re in a higher group than other animals.

    I appreciate that you think that these hippies, and by extent, me, might be ruining the history and geography of the area, but I don’t think that that matters. I think that worrying about such things is frivolous and egotistical to think that we are in control and responsible for the land.

    This may probably not be helping my case at all in your eyes, but it’s how I feel and that’s what matters to me. I think that EVERY animal in the world has the right to move and live wherever they feel like. I don’t agree with property ownership (at least not how it is now) and I CERTAINLY don’t agree with government ownership of property.

    I probably won’t even end up staying in Kalalau Valley, it would just be a starting point to see what it’s like, talk to other people like me, learn some things that I need to know, and then move on to some more remote part of the island away from everyone. The only reason that I’m choosing Kauai is because it seems to be the nicest, most remote, and most beautiful of all the islands, with the uninhabited interior. The only reason that I’m choosing Hawaii is because I’m a US citizen, and it’s too much trouble and hassel, not to mention too expensive, to try to go to another country, though I would like to end up out of America in the long run.

    Anyways, if I haven’t totally annoyed and angered everyone that reads this, and if any of you feel the same way that I do, ANY help or even discussion would be much appreciated.

    Thank you all very much,
    Kai

  8. Hiker says:

    Most of the trash left in the valley is not left by residents, but rather by tourists with permits. Residents are more likely to be seen gathering up trash and illegally boating it out than leaving it behind. And the ranger raids actually contribute to the rubbish problem, by destroying equipment that they then don’t remove. Living in Kalalau is tough enough that it’ll never be popular, unless alternative transport is made possible. The residents are, by and large, harmless free spirits who share their aloha in a way never seen elsewhere in America. If the rangers really wanted to protect the pristine valley, they would work with the residents instead of opposing them.

  9. Kai says:

    Thank you for that realistic outlook on things. I love how in this world that we (unfortunately) find ourselves living in, it can somehow be illegal to clean up and boat out trash.

    Do you actually have first hand experience with the residents of Kalalau? I’m glad to hear something recent that seems to allude that they are still there and doing well. I just don’t want to get there and find out that they have all been caught and booted out.

  10. Andy says:

    First of all, sorry that comments have been taking so long, I must hold them all for moderation to get rid of spam, and I’m on vacation right now.

    About the garbage: I do make it sound like the place is “trashed” and that is not the case. However, if you wander off trail, you will eventually find plastic and metal, and sometimes you will find the remains of a camp, whether abandoned or destroyed (don’t assume you can find a hidden camp). For the biological pollution, I can’t speak authoritatively, but knowing there are hippies there (to use the term for anyone camping out there illegally), and knowing what kind of runoff happens, I think it is hard to bury waste in such a way as to have no impact.

    From my experience, Hiker is mistaken that tourists with permits leave the most trash. I have probably seen a wrapper in the bushes near the beach, but campsites and trailsides are generally clean (see exception below). The ratio of consciensious backpackers to litterbugs is high enough to keep it clean. And the campers all use the composting toilets as far as I could tell. The hippies do when they wander down to the beach, but I can’t imagine they go every day. Permit campers rarely venture off the main paths to Big Pool, so the majority of trash is elsewhere in the valley and comes from other groups.

    I would speculate that hunters (by extension, locals) are significant polluters. Like the hippies, not all of them, but enough of them to give their group a bad name. They camp off trail and I have seen how they leave other camps in Waimea Canyon. Yet because of the effort involved and the relative lack of pigs and goats, I believe there are far fewer hunters than hippies in Kalalau. On the other hand, I have heard estimates ranging from 10 to 50 people living at any one time in Kalalau, some hidden in the remote parts of the valley. I have heard stories of how they hike in and out regularly for supplies, so I believe they are responsible for a certain level of trash and biological pollution.

    It is true that a local Hawaiian (whose “aunt” was suposedly one of the valley’s last legitimate residents) encouraged the “hippies” to collect trash and carried it out on his tiny zodiac. I once filled a bag of trash from around the ranger cabin (slippers and broken glass, hardly backpacker gear), and he took it out for us. And yes, it is illegal to land a motor craft on Kalalau beach, but due to his trash duties, he said the park authorities looked the other way. The sad truth is that the park personnel do not remove any trash themselves (that I know of), so he was providing a valuable service, at least to those of us who would like to see wilderness areas free of trash.

    Since the raids, I do not know how many people remain in Kalalau and whether the trash-boat service has been allowed to continue.

    Kai, I don’t want to get into a big philosophical discussion, but I feel that your arguments are short term rationalizations that don’t stand up to sustanability concerns. Wherever there are resources, say a desireable valley with plenty of water and sunshine to sustain a human population, humans develop a power structure to control them, be it a clan, a local chief, a commune, or a park administration. If there were no rules or no enforcement, Kalalau would attract so many people that you wouldn’t want to go there anymore.

    The same argument can be made against Hiker’s suggestion that the rangers work with the “residents.” That would legitimize the status of resident somehow and encourage others to move in. I once thought the park administration should hire Kalalau “stewards” with 6 or 12-month contracts to watch over things in the valley, but I can’t really see what it would change to have one hippy be a state employee if the state can’t guarantee his or her safety. The park administration cannot open the valley up publicly nor it expose itself to liability, hence the status quo.

  11. Andy says:

    I found a travel journal on the web that talks about the hippies and helicopter enforcement. I added a link to it on the post titled Kalalau Trip Reports.

  12. Randy says:

    Just returned 1-31-07. hiked in 11 miles on 1-24-07, negotiated {while at Kalalua beach) for 3 surfers along with there very small lake boat to carry us out on the 25th. I’mm 53 and spouse is 45 and in top shape. limited skills on camping/hiking but did fine. Found that 11 miles in one day on that trail was too much. Took us 11 hours but would do it again except for one thing and that is why we paid the surfers a lot of money to bring us out. EXPOSRE!! Not to the weath er elements but to height and width of some areas of the trail. These issues were not as big as concern to Jamie[spouse] as they were to me. I had trouble once before at Mt. Lindsey in colorado with expose and new I did not want to face those challenges again. I searched web sites before the trip particually looking for exposure concerns and found a few but not any that seemed that I should be real concerned. I found one instance where it said the trail was a mere 10 inches wide and pretty much straight down to the ocean on One side. My brother had hiked the trail 20 years ealier with his, scared of everything wife, and he said he does’nt remember anything that bad and his wife had done it so how bad could it be? I took that advice rather than the 10 inches wide straight down on one side advice. If you have exposure concerns DO NOT do this trail. If you don’t know if you have exposure concerns than I say you don’t have enough experience to hike this trail. Exposure{100% mental} has nothing to do with how good of physical shape you are in. There are some that could do all 22 miles ,in and out, all in one day but if they have exposure problems, they could be stopped dead in their tracks. The #1 symtom to exposure/fear is to freeze. Thats right freeze as in CAN NOT OR WILL NOT MOVE. And when you are in the middle of possibly the most technical and possibly the most dangerous part of the trail/climb and you instantly become full of fear and freeze in your tracks it amounts to what could very quickly be a recipe for dissaster for you and/ or anyone that tries to help or talk you thru it. Because I faced my first exposure fear 3 years ago on Mt. Lindsey and had a very good experienced climbing partner who reconized my fear and was able to talk me down I was able to reconize my exposure/fear at Kalalua. The funny thing about exposure/fear is you have to find yourself in the middle of the situation before the fear actually overcomes you. When I new I was in trouble I kept my Eyes Focused On nothing but the trail and continued. If it had not been for Mt. Lindsey I sure I would have froze on Kalalua. Some people could say “it was good you worked thru your fear”. Maybe. But I am not interested in putting myself in that situation again. Some may call this a fear of heights, but its not. I can stand on a platform 1,000 feet high and have no fear as long as there is a 4 ft. fence in front of me. The fear comes when you remove the fence. I probably would not have fear if you removed the fence if only i had an option to step back away from the edge but if there is a rock wall on the other side of the narrow path, that is where the mental anguish comes in. I asked one of the surfers( his name is Tom and he has lived on Kauia 30 years} if many people got killed here. Tom smiled really big and said “We prefer to just say, The just, dissappeared.”

  13. Kent says:

    I recently completed the trail in & out in two days – March 30 & 31, 2007, along with my 20-yr-old son and 16-yr-old daughter. I’m 53 and have extensive backpacking experience.

    We took 7 hours to hike in, and about 6 hours to hike out the next morning. We only had the two days – it would have been nice to have more time, but if that’s all you have it is still worth it. We were backpacking ultra-light. As long as you go fairly slowly (1 to 1.5 MPH pace), and as long as there isn’t excessive rain, I would not be worried about trail safety. Having said that, there are a few spots with loose red dirt where the trail has slid and some (better) trail maintenance is called for. I’ve encountered very few wilderness trails where I can’t make a 2 MPH average speed, but this is definitely one of them.

    In terms of being stenuous, I would say it is a bit harder than any 11-mile section of the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier, and definitely more strenuous than any section of the PCT. The Kalalau trail has fewer well-graded sections and alot of rocks, roots, mud, overgrowth, and occasional scrambling, etc. But if you take your time, it is still very enjoyable.

    The steepest most highly exposed sections are very short, and I agree with those who advise against the trail for anyone who is afraid of heights or doesn’t have good balance, or would freeze in exposed sections. But as I said, I took my two kids along and they found it to be an exciting adventure, and not too dangerous as long as we concentrated on foot placement in the dicey sections.

    This trip gave us lots of great memories – gorgeous scenery, beautiful waterfalls, some “free spirits”, a Hawaiian bow hunter carrying out a freshly-killed goat, lots of whales visible and audible from the trail, exotic plants and flowers. Worth it? Absolutely.

  14. Sunny says:

    We are part-time residents of Kauai and are taking our first hike out to Kalalau in September. Yours is the first picture I’ve seen of the “steep drop-off” at 7 miles..gave me pause but I think we’ll still make a go of it! We have a 4 day permit so we are hoping to take 1 day each way to get there and back with 2 days on the beach. Yours is the best article we’ve seen on this trip thus far..thank you for the helpful info!

  15. Bill says:

    My wife and I are in our mid 50’s. This was our very first backpacking trip ever, but we do a fair amount of hiking (day hikes) and are in decent shape. We average about 7 miles per hike, once every week or two.

    We just completed the full 22 miles (round trip) of the Kalalau Trail this past May/June, 2007. It took us 11 hours to hike the 11 miles in, all in one day. We took a long time because my wife has a knee problem which makes downhill sections, especially with “scree” like gravel, very difficult for her to negotiate. It seemed “grueling” on the way in, but in hindsight I believe that it was mostly mental as we didn’t know what was coming up next. We stayed 3 nights on Kalalau Beach and hiked out, the full 11 miles, in just 9.5 hours and it seemed easy in comparison to the hike in. On the hike out, we left at first light (around 5:30AM). We could almost see the trail. ;) Also one of the residents helped us by carrying my wife’s backpack out. Leaving this early helped as we were able to get a large portion of the trail under our belts before the sun really became a factor.

    On our hike in, we were warned by several other hikers coming out, about a section of trail around mile 7. One couple told us that they turned around there and camped at mile 6, then returned home after that. They never did make it to the beach. They told us, “Don’t go past mile 7”. This gave us some cause for concern, but after asking several other hikers coming out and getting their opinions of this section, we got the impression that it’s rather subjective and it depends upon the person negotiating this portion of the trail. When we got there and stopped at a rest stop overlooking this “dreaded section”, it looked impossibly far down, narrow, and undefined. This large elevation change was achieved through a series of switchbacks. But as we were setting at this rest stop, another young hiker came up on his way out of Kalalau, and stopped to rest and talk with us. He told us “…just don’t look down or you may get vertigo, and just take it a step at a time and you’ll be fine.” I have to say, he was right. Once we were there, and had crossed it, it really was no big deal. Yes, it was only about 4 inches wide in places, with sand & gravel, and with about a 30 degree rocky slope down to the ocean 350 feet below, but if you concentrate on what you’re doing, you really don’t notice this.

    When we got to the beach, we were one of the lucky ones as we were able to get one of the campsites right near the waterfall and overlooking the beach. It was beautiful and we could set and watch the sun set each evening right from our “front porch”, so to speak. We also met and spoke with many of the “Residents” there. They were all very friendly and all just wanted to be at peace. The residents we met were always walking around the beach and campsite area picking up trash left behind by inconsiderate backpackers. For example, when we got there, there was a full plastic grocery bag of trash stuffed in the bushes near our campsite. By the second day there, we were beginning to know what the residents already knew, as the longer you’re there, the more you feel the “magic” and peacefulness of the surroundings.

    Although we filtered and treated all of our drinking water with Iodine tablets, some of the residents were telling us that they just drink it “straight” out of the stream. I personally know of a person who had gotten Leptospirosis from one of the streams along the Kalalau trail so I didn’t want to take any chances.

    We understand that there was a “raid” of the valley camps just two days before we arrived. The rangers were dropped off by helicopter at the helipad at mile 8 and hiked the rest of the way in so that they wouldn’t be “announced” ahead of time.

    We had a full 5 days of permits as a buffer in case of bad weather, but our original plan was to stay only 3 nights, so that’s what we did just in case of problems on the way out. But the temptation to stay a lot longer was very strong, if only we didn’t have other obligations back “in town” or back on the mainland. ;) The next time we plan on staying the full 5 nights and exploring more up the valley trail.

    Personally I feel that those hiking in one day and hiking out the very next day are wasting their time as they don’t have any time to experience the whole point of going to Kalalau Beach. Also you really need at least one full day there to recuperate from the hike in.
    And as I’d mentioned above, the more time you spend there, the more you feel the magic. This isn’t “just another hike”. It’s an emotional, magical, and maybe even a life changing experience (hopefully in a positive direction).

  16. Hato says:

    Hi, I’ll be hiking the Kalalau Trail in September then staying a few extra nights after the hike at a hotel and I was just curious how others stored their extra gear for after the hike. I don’t want to leave it in a rental at the trailhead, nor do I really want to purchase a rental for the time we’re on the trail. Also, would taking a cab to the trailhead on the day of be logical or are there any other forms of public transportation (bus?) that we could catch.

    Any suggestions?
    Cheers

  17. Andy says:

    When I did a camping vacation to Kauai, I rented a local-looking car, parked it at the trailhead and left only non-valuable clothes and beach stuff locked inside. Now that I live here, I park my local-looking car at the trailhead and leave only a change of clothes, a towel, and some water. In another post (great-hikes.com/blog/kalalau-logistics), I speculate that a regular rental car (which are easily identifiable on Kauai) should be OK, although it might be better to park a mile away at Haena campground, where there are many cars overnight.

    The old adage always applies: never leave something you couldn’t stand to lose in your car. So if you have valuables such as a laptop, camcorder, expensive clothes, etc. you need to find somewhere else to leave them. Since you have reservations, you might ask your hotel if they’ll store them for you (but they may not want to be liable either). I think it would be simpler if you didn’t bring such things on a hiking vacation.

    For transportation, there’s no sure way to get to the trailhead without a car. The local bus stops in Hanalei (10 miles away), and they have a strict no-luggage policy, so it’s never an option for backpackers. If you have the time, you could always try to hitch-hike. You could call a taxi, but I have no idea what they cost. Ask at your hotel, too, maybe they have a shuttle that could drop you off for a fee. Finally, the local Sierra Club sometimes runs a backpacker’s shuttle for a fee (I seem to remember $30 each way), call Judy at 808-246-9067 for info.

    The place that rents non-conspicuous cars is Island Cars at islandcars.net (I’m not affiliated with them nor do I receive compensation, just a happy customer who likes to support island businesses). Update: I just saw several very bad reviews of this business on TripAdvisor–as one reviewer mentions, they must’ve gone downhill.

  18. Howard says:

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for the info on Kalalau. I hiked the 11 mile Napali Trail to Kalalau Valley and stayed a few days there 25 years ago. It was a fantasy I will never forget. At that time the beach was also accessibl by Zodiac and helicopter. Is that still the case? Back then Kalalau Valley was “clothes optional”, and most people opted for an even tan- at least during the summer I was there. Has the fashion changed in the last 25 years?

  19. Andy says:

    Hi Howard, except for the rangers and emergencies, helicopters no longer land in Kalalau. I’m not sure exactly what rule prohibits them, but it probably has something to do with the State Park jurisdiction.

    The same goes for motor-boat landing on the beach, though it is still legal to get “dropped-off” and swim ashore with a drybag–assuming you have a camping permit. Up until recently, some guy was breaking the rule and taking people in his tiny zodiac, along with bringing supplies in and trash out. He said the park service looked the other way because of his good deeds, but I think that came to an end.

    Canoes and kayaks are still legal, although you must mention it when getting your camping permit because the number of kayaker permits is limited. In the summer, when the seas are relative calm, I have seen 15-20 kayaks on the beach and in the cave at Kalalau. For hikers, it really does change the feeling of the place, making it feel less isolated and more crowded.

    I’ve heard you can hire a kayaker to carry your pack in and out, making it much easier to hike the trail. Technically, landing without a permit is also illegal, but it doesn’t bother anyone.

    Since you ask, there is still some partial and full nudity in Kalalau, but probably less than before. That said, last time I hiked in and reached the waterfall at the very end of the trail, I had to, ahem, avert my eyes while the ladies finished bathing there–and most of my friends have similar stories.

    Many of the Kalalau residents go without clothes for swimming and sometimes just for walking around, but the outsiders rarely do. Personally, I have gone swimming in the buff, but there just isn’t the vibe that it’s acceptable to walk around as if it were a nudist colony. I must point out that public nudity is illegal in Hawaii, so cover up if the rangers show up.

  20. Craig says:

    I will be doing the Kalalau Trail in August along with my 20-year old daughter and 13-year old son. I have read the recent articles (2007) about dangerous trail conditions and the intent to perform some maintenance work this year. does anyone know if the maintenance work was done in the area of miles 7-8?

  21. Andy says:

    Hi Craig,

    I haven’t been back to see trail since the repairs. For now, all I know is from those articles, which make it sound like repairs were done on the balcony area (about mile 6.5, after leaving Hanakoa). For those who haven’t read the articles, I linked to them here: great-hikes.com/blog/kalalau-articles/ . The eroded sections around miles 7-8 are obvious, so I assume they got improved or fixed at the same time.

  22. Craig says:

    Thanks, Andy. You’re the best. I’ll let you know (and send pictures) in the event some repairs have actually been effectuated. Please let ua all know of the nature of any repairs if you hear of them.

  23. Vivian says:

    I hiked the Kalalau trail in July 1975. I was in fairly good shape but this was my first backpacking trip, I was wearing an oversized borrowed backpack, and my companions were two rather athletic co-workers. We hiked to the falls on the first day and I thought I wouldn’t make it. By day 2 I was utterly entranced. The smell of hot guava from the trees along the trail will remain with me forever. We camped on the beach at Kalalau for two or three nights. Best tan I’ve ever had. We could have done the entire hike out in one day but decided to spend one more night camping on the beach. That was also an extraordinary experience because the frogs were mating. Hard to describe a beach full of fornicating frogs! One of the most intriguing aspects of the trip was driving up to the State Park above Kalalau the next day and looking down at the red hill we had climbed up the day before. Truly awesome!

  24. Kalawai says:

    Planning on hiking Kalalau in mid June, need to ask a few basic questions:

    1. camp stove fuel, where to buy?

    2. parking. Is parking OK at the end of the road? I know the obvious, leave nothing in the car. I’ve also read something about parking at a near by YMCA to taking a taxi all the way from Lihue?

    Any info on the above will be appreciated!
    Mahalo

  25. Jim says:

    I enjoyed reading all the entries and know considerably more about the Kalalau Trail. I may have missed it somewhere online but can a boat be hired to either pick you up or drop you off at Kalalau Beach so that only the 11 miles one way has to be done? We are not backpackers. Thanks.

  26. runner says:

    Aloha,

    As a fellow backpacker who just returned from 5 days in Kalalau thought these tips may help.

    Camp stove fuel, where to buy? – Pedal and Paddle in Hanalei (Chung Ying Market) and another outfitter whose name i can’t remember) they also sell dehydrated food.

    Is parking OK at the end of the road? – I did for the duration and nothing happened to my rental. Of course there is ALWAYS a risk as many sketchy looking locals seem to lurk. I made it obvious the only things in the car were a bit of food and water (for when i got off the trail) and some clothing)

    Rangers – did not see a single authority figure but i also heard of that rangers were there the day before i arrived. Plus I had a permit.

    Terminal Traverse, Chilvary Pass, or the “scary” point at mile 7-8. – Pfff…thanks to Bill (you’ll meet him) this is no big deal. Bill must have done a lot of work on the trail because getting across is not a big deal. Still plenty of exposure and eroding cliffs, but enough room for a reasonable person to get across with a big pack.

    Fear of heights will continue to be an issue..but you’ll deal with that well before you get to this point. Just be aware of where you are walking and you’ll be just fine. The trail is still a tough tough challenge. I am in pretty good shape and it was still quite difficult. Covered the 11 miles in 8 hours in a single day. Many people either camp out at mile 6 or mile 8 camp. Those are reasonable options…but it’s another night not in Kalalau. Start early and cover the 11 miles in a single day is my recomendation. It’s worth it.

    Planning to hike in and hike out in 2 days and overnight only 1 night – Don’t do it, waste of your time. All you’ll do is go on a long tough hike. While the journey is magnificent (and tough) Kalalau is lost on you if you don’t stay at least 1 full day in the valley. Take my word for it. It is paradise.

    Mahalo

  27. Scott says:

    Hi, I am planning on Camping and hiking on Kauai early august. Despite doing a lot of research i still have questions maybe some of you guys could help.
    1) im gonna call later today or tomorrow about getting a permit. I have seen that sometimes people do them almost a year in advance am i gonna have any problem getting one on such short notice? ( about 1 month)
    2) If you do not have a permit and run into a ranger or someone checking permits, there just gonna tell you that you have to leave?
    3) can you camp in the valley or is there camping only in designated areas? Id like to set up camp in a remote place, away from some people maybe deep in the valley. Is this gonna be possible?
    4)Is there any good places to swim and snorkle alng the trail?
    5)we are planning on flying in and i dont really want to rent a car just to get to the trail and leave it there for 5 days. whats gonna an easy way to get where im going? anyone know what a cab would cost? We will probably just try to hitch hike but if that dosent work thats probably what we will do.
    6) how many other people will we see on the trail? i hear sometimes that it is full of hikers and others say there hardley anyone…
    Thats all i can think of right now. I lived on Oahu for about 6 months and cant wait to get back to Hawaii. Thanks for you help in advance!

  28. Scott says:

    anyone?! im leaving soon!

  29. Andy says:

    Hi Scott,

    Sorry for the delay, this thread is so long that I wanted to start a new post in reply, but that’s not going to happen right now so I’ll just answer here.

    1) Permit availability totally depends on demand. Summer months when more people are on vacation, both locals and mainlanders, and when kayakers take up permits, are not available on short notice. Some weekends need to be reserved up to a year ahead of time. But early or late in the season (April, May, Sept, Oct) is often available 1 month ahead for weekdays, 2 months for weekends (these numbers are not proven averages, just my general experience). The rest of the year, you can almost get permits for the next weekend, or maybe the following one.

    2) I don’t know. I’ve never seen a ranger, but then I haven’t been able to go very often recently. I am sure they are there, mostly in the summer months when it is so easy to kayak in. In addition, they sometimes do raids to try to catch the “residents.” I suppose in addition to making you pack up and leave (they stick around, so if they catch you again a day or two later, they won’t be lenient), they will probably take your contact info (they are officers) and a violation might prevent you from obtaining permits in the future. I do not know if there are fines or what they might be.

    3) Camping is only permitted in designated areas, just inland of the beach. You have your choice of almost on the sand (if you arrive early enough), overlooking the waterfall (if you arrive off-season), not far from the toilets–they’re composting and don’t smell bad at all, or in a forested area, further away from the beach and most people. The residents camp way up in the valley, that’s where the raids are when they happen. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable setting up a tent in the valley, not only because of the ranger-danger, but also because you’re leaving yourself open to all who might be passing by. I really advocate joining the “visitor” crowd down at the campground, I don’t want to see the valley overrun with hideaways. You can meet some of the “residents” in the beach area, and if you hit it off with them, you might be invited further up in the valley. Kalalau is not some wilderness, and it’s not that big, only 2 miles deep. If you want remoteness and solitude, the mountains on the mainland are a much better destination.

    4) I’m sure I have answered this one before. Short answer: no.

    5) Transportation is the eternal problem. Hitchhiking with a taxi backup sounds like the best answer. You might try contacting the local Sierra Club about their backpacker shuttle, sometimes they have people willing to do it. I think it’s $30 per person each way. No that’s not cheap, but given the price of gas and the time involved, taxis charge more unless you have 4 or more. The person to contact is Judy Dalton at dalton@aloha.net.

    The Kauai bus only goes as far as Hanalei and it does NOT allow backpacks or even suitcases, so that is not an option. I have seen an alternative for hotel transportation, vans with the logo for speedishuttle.com. I just looked at their website and can’t determine if they’d take you to the end of the road or not–but certainly to Hanalei. Nor do I know their prices, you’d have to check with them or their website.

    6) Because of the quota (60 campers per night max, I believe), you end up having 10-20 people going each way on the trail each day during the high season. So over an 11 mile trail, you will run into people but it never feels crowded. I actually think this is an underappreciated aspect of the Kalalau trail, you can mostly hike alone, not stumbling over people, yet have plenty of company at the stream crossings where people stop. Also, you get the solitude but still feel secure in that if something should happen on the trail, someone will probably come along in an hour or less during daylight hours.

  30. Scott says:

    Hey thanks andy!

  31. Scott says:

    I got a question?! I leave for Hawaii on friday, and will be flying over to Kauai on mon the 4th. we are planning on being there till friday. so four nights. My questions is after looking at all of the hiking photos, it looks like the secret tunnels hike would be awesome! I also want to do the napoli coast though. In four days of hiking do you think i would be able to do both? are they close enough together that we could hike the secret tunnels then do napoli ? any suggestions on what i should do?

  32. Andy says:

    Hi Scott,

    The Kaapoko tunnel(s) hike is the hardest on the island. Be prepared for a full day of trudging through the forest, with branches in your way and walking in ankle deep mud. I am not kidding. If you’re up for that, my description should get you through, please look at the equipment list too. Get an early start and best to rent a 4WD for the road. It takes about 1 hour to drive there from the Kapaa the Lihue area.

    Depending on your shape, you’ll probably be pretty tired after that, but in 3 days, you have time to rest in between and enjoy the beaches before doing another big hike. The Na Pali hike is all the way at the north end of the island, at the end of the road, about 1:15 drive from Kapaa.

    Again, best to get an early start and take the whole day. You don’t say what your destination is, most people go 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach (NOT for swimming), and then 2 muddy miles inland to the 400-foot falls. That’s 8 tiring miles round trip and you’ll really appreciate swimming at Kee beach at the end.. You can also get a day-permit from the State Parks office (either in Honolulu or Lihue) and hike 6.5 miles each way to Hanakoa Falls: not as tall a waterfall, but you hike half of the Kalalau trail.

  33. scott cook says:

    I did the hike last year august with a friend of mine and it was great! The only thing i regret is not saving more time to spend on Kalalau beach. That place was amazing. so with that in mind we are planning on going back this year in late may.

    ideally we would like to charter a boat to drop our group (6-8 people) off at Kalalau beach. We camp out for 4 nights and get picked back up by boat. We would be brining some supplies, not to much though. I understand we cant dock the boat on the beach so we would have to swim in with our gear from the boat.

    I guess im just wondering if anyone has an idea of where we could charter a boat like that and how much it would cost? If anyone has any ideas or knows someone on the Island that owns a boat and would be willing to do this please let me know! We are trying to get the plans in place now so we dont have to worry about it as it gets closer.

    Scott

    Scootdizzy@gmail.com

    Thanks!

    hey Andy maybe you could help me out with this, you have been a big help in the past! Mahalo! =)

  34. wayob says:

    andy, thanks for the wonderful tips. if only i would have read this thread before hiking! we hitched to the trailhead, made it, amazingly, to this shangri-la, a place to get to. all mental. saw sunsets, meandered through and up valley, met SO many beautiful, crazy wanderlusts, so many bodhisattvas. hippies and pragmatists alike should see this place. it is a picture of how we used to live, remote, loving, pure. much aloha to valley residents, visitors.

  35. ilan says:

    Hi there,
    Having just now read that the bus is not an option, I’m trying to find transport from lihue to the trailhead the morning of wednesday december 17th, and returning to lihue saturday december 20th.
    If anyone wants to share a rental or go in on a shuttle or something, please let me know!
    thanks
    ilan
    ilan.elson-schwab {(At)] icr.ac.uk

  36. Lisa says:

    We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on Kalalau Beach, my daughter, her fiance, my husband and myself. It is a magical place, as many have mentioned, but should be considered a relatively difficult hike and respected for this. If you normally backpack and are comfortable with heights, the trail will be rewarding. If you have any form of vertigo, follow the advice of the young man earlier, who said to keep you eyes on the trail in front of your feet and by thus focusing, you will be able to complete it, though it may not be comfortable. Do not look down. The views are spectacular. Have someone take photos so you can see what you did later. Don’t look down while you are doing it.
    The semi-permanent residents were delightful, respectful of the nature of the beauty surrounding them, and helpful, should one need help, though we did not. The area was spotless, and I think they were the ones who clean it up and get a boat to come in a pick up the bagged trash.
    It rained. The fantastic rewards were double rainbows over and over again, in the ocean, over the land, and in the air above. And waterfalls appeared out of nowhere! The trail was muddy on the way out, and the streams were definately daunting, as they had risen on December 27th to almost impassible heights. Luckily my husband is a rigger and safety boater to the film industry, and feels comfortable in those situations, making us feel fine too, as he didn’t let on that there might be difficulties, just showed us what to do to cross safely. With no one else would it have been as easy… There are signs that tell you not to cross when the water rises dramatically!
    Trail maintenance was mentioned. There was some done, but the difficult part of the trail, for me, was solid rock, and not capable of maintenance, except to remove rockfalls. There had been a rockfall at one section that hadn’t been removed, as it was recent, making the trail about two inches (it felt, and looks like it in the photo!) wide, and made hanging out over the edge in space, with nothing between you and the ocean hundreds of feet below, for that one step, feel like a life-threatening problem. But once you’re committed, you simply go and continue to go. I would strongly suggest hiking poles that are NOT adjustable. (Adjustable ones may do it when you really need them not to.) The poles are fantastic for taking the load off your knees on the way down. Always use two poles for balance. Then again, I had one of the ‘residents’, probably Bill, RUN up behind me barefooted, as I entered an iffy part of the trail in the rain. He passed me after my husband mentioned that he was behind me and I was able to let him pass. He then proceeded to cut footsteps in the mud. Amazing!!! Barefooted, short shorts, running, and cutting footsteps in the tropical downpour. It made me giggle, as though we were following the snowplow in a snowstorm.
    Kayak Kauai will let you, for a small fee, safely park you vehicle in their yard with your gear in it. We decided to rent a vehicle for the whole time and leave our ‘other’ stuff in it. From Kayak Kauai we called a taxi, with whom we had made prior arrangements. Sue’s taxi, I think. For $30 he took the four of us and our packs to the trailhead. I would suggest making all your arrangements by email and phone prior to getting there, because once you are in Kauai, you don’t need to spend that precious time doing logistics, and besides, you’ve left your computer at home!
    This was a most fantastic way to get to know one’s future son-in-law! He and my daughter set up their tent overlooking the beach, and called us over on Christmas Eve (we had gone about 25 feet away, in a grove, to set ours up) and they’d brought battery-powered lights from Ikea, tinsel garlands, a Christmas card that ‘sang’ “Deck the Halls”, and then had filled our warm dry socks with stocking stuffers, just like I’d been doing for her for 36 years! It was awesome! I do so appreciate my daughter, and to have her do this on the Beach at Kalalau was a magical event. I’m sixty five, and told her she will have to come back to Kaua’i and do the Kalalau Trail when she is sixty five! She and I kayaked it in ’03, and I brought my husband in ’05 to hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls, and I think we are hooked.
    One more thing. Doing the trail in the rainy months worked for us, because it was as though we were alone, the four of us, from Hanakapi’ai all the way to Kalalau, and mostly on the way back as well. There were very few people on the beach, one nude young man at the frog pond at the base of the waterfall, and a few residents. This is a ten out of ten hike, in all ways. One more hint: wear hiking boots and wool socks, and bring at least one dry pair. Put all your gear in plastic bags in your backpack if you go in the rainy season. Put your poncho around the backpack, not you, because the rain is the same lovely warm temperature as the air! and feels refreshing rather than cold! Lisa in Kernville

  37. Andy says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the great trip report, I am jealous of your wonderful trip. And glad to hear that all the rain didn’t keep you from both doing it and from enjoying it. You definitely have the right attitude about the rain and mud, and the right person to guide you. For others without the water pro with them, please do not cross high water.

    And it must be one of the charms of Kalalau that women hikers notice the “nude young men” at the waterfall and guy hikers like me only notice the nude women there ;-)

    Thanks as well for sharing the parking and taxi solution with Kayak Kauai and Sue’s. Since you know the car is safe, you can leave stuff there, but I still wouldn’t risk anything valuable.

    And sorry about the formatting, that’s a problem with the blog software that I haven’t solved.

  38. Mike says:

    I stumbled onto your site after doing a Google search on the Kalalau Trail. I have to compliment you on your advise and commentary and you are a very good moderator. So many don’t understand this place at all and don’t realize the commitment it takes to spend five days hiking this difficult and magnificent trail. I have watch people’s YouTube postings and wondered how they got away with it?
    I hiked it for the first time in 1973 and I have to say it is/was one of my life’s hi-lites to this day. Part of that feeling comes from being there in a much simpler time before it was really “discovered!”
    When I returned home to California after a month in the islands nobody could comprehend the scope,grandeur and beauty of what I described nor the shear physical effort to carry a 40# pack in that heat and humidity over 11(22) miles. You have to remember, in 1973 there was no internet or web pages with peoples stories and photos. I had a crappy little box type camera and I am still amazed at how good the pictures look even today, 36 years later.
    I go back to North Shore Kauai every other year (next trip July 2010) and hike some portion of the trail between Hanakapia’i and Hanakoa just to get away from the traffic on the first portion. Next year I think I will go as-far-as the top of Red Dirt Hill. I would love to go all the way to the Kalalau Valley but I just can’t devote the time for a true visit (3 days total for me) or deal with hauling all the gear form California.
    I do hope that, some day, the powers-to-be, limit the number of people anywhere on the trail (even Ke’e to Hanakapia’i…i know, I know!) and “kill” the helicopters. This place will never be ADA compliant (no hate mail, my brother is in a wheel chair) so it should be reserved and preserved. There are so many people hiking the first two miles that don’t even have a clue. I my opinion, those first two miles are some of the hardest on the whole trail! But there they are, rubber slippas,
    bathing suits, no hats, NO Water and they want to know “How much farther is it?” and “How far is it to the falls?”
    My greatest fear is that, some day, the state will put in a paved path to Hanakpia’i and then totally let the rest of the trail erode into the sea.
    Aloha and Mahalo
    Mike

  39. bob busk says:

    Hi,
    Great blog…just love reading the different experiences and perspectives…one thing is constant…the overall beauty of Kalalau. I am set to spend five days in Kalalau the first of October. I was wondering…I have heard there is a “library” in the valley….a bunch of paperbacks under a tarp….Does it exist and if so… how do you find it. I love to spend time reading…finding a great spot, soak up the beauty and share it with a book but they are HEAVY and if there are books to borrow I would love to do so. What can you tell me?

    Aloha and Mahalo
    bob-

  40. Andy says:

    Hi Bob, glad you enjoyed reading the blog. I answered your question in a new post.

  41. bob says:

    Andy,
    just found out Alaska Air will not allow my Whisper Lite stove on board (checked or carry-on). Rather a new rule..have always denied fuel but now deny stoves as well. So…I’m going to mail my stove to kauai and was wondering where I might purchase white gas on Kauai. I arrive the day before my hike and will have a bit of time to shop…any suggestions????
    thanks,
    bob

  42. Andy says:

    Hi Bob, smart move to call your airline and ask about the stove. Last I heard, though it wasn’t recently, was that drained and cleaned stoves were allowed by FAA rules, but it is up to each airline to set their own policy. Also a good idea to mail it, I hope that is still
    allowed. White gas or kerosene is easy to find on island. I’m sure that every Ace Hardware has it (‘Ele’Ele, Lihue, Kapa’a, and Princeville), and Wal-mart may have it too.

  43. Mike says:

    Just curious, has anyone published the total elevation change you experience over the length of the Kalalau? Not just from sea level to the peak height but the total up and down.

  44. Andy says:

    Hi Mike, estimates range from 5000′ to 2000′ in various sources. I have a GPS elevation graph in http://great-hikes.com/blog/kalalau-trail-map/. It’s no less than 2400′ (roughly 800m) when you add up all the big hills, and with the little ups and downs, I would say closer to 3000′ (roughly 1000m).

    While that’s not considered a lot of elevation gain over 10 miles, what I find the hardest on the uphills is the hot, humid weather. When you’re in a valley, it can be very unpleasant and you have to be sure to drink plenty of fluids. When you reach the ocean-facing cliffs, you get the cooling breezes.

  45. Mike says:

    So true about the valleys and although the cliffs provide the breeze it also brings the hot sun later-in-the-day. I seem to sweat the whole way unless there is some cloud cover. I normally hike with a day pack that has a Camel Back plus two two liter bottles of water. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are out there w/o any water at all.
    I will be happy to post something next year after I hike it again….can’t wait!

  46. Vanessa says:

    My husband and I just did the hike in August (09). It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Full of adventure. We parked our rental car at the trail head and had no problems. We left non valuable items, eg, excess clothes in the trunk. My only recommendation would be not to do the full 11 miles in one day as it is hard work with a heavy pack. Do it in 2 days and you will enjoy it much more.

  47. rob says:

    How much is the fine if you have no permit???Are there constant ranger patrols??Ireally want to go here in a month, but failed to get a permit, they are all sold out it seems.I will gladly pay all fines but i just dont want them to drag me and my wife out of there after all the money well spend getting there… ya know….THX in advance for any info

  48. missv says:

    hi! is it possible to get a “last minute” permit? i read somewhere that in lihue they issue permits for the same time – that week? we are coming in august 6, 2010.

    also, is it crazy for my husband and i to do this hike at 4 months pregnant? i am in good shape, as is he. i would say we are experienced hikers. its the water cleaning that i worry about most, frankly…

  49. Andy says:

    I believe that all permit slots for Kalalau are reservable, meaning that there are none set aside for walk-ins. And during the summer, they are usually entirely reserved ahead of time. However, if there are any unreserved permit slots, or a cancellation, you can find out about them and get them in person at the State Parks office in Lihue. It’s always best to call them to get an idea, at 808-274-3444 (8am-12 and 1-4pm Hawaiian time).

    As for being pregnant, only your doctor can advise you. Personally, I would try to discourage my wife from going if she were pregnant, for several reasons:

    - It is a long hike and strenuous hike, even if you camp in Hanakoa both ways. But Hanakoa is wet and muddy and sometimes full of trash, so I usually suggest pushing yourself to get an early start and go all the way, except in your case.

    - The single biggest difficulty of the hike is the humidity. Hawaii is not especially muggy, but the humidity is high, and you’re carrying a lot of weight up and down some 2500′ feet of elevation gain. So you’ll sweat a lot, and you’ll need to drink a lot.

    - Drinking water must be purified, and there are several ways to do it. You need to check with your doctor about what methods are safe during pregnancy.

  50. ZAM says:

    Hey there
    I have been on Kauai for 2 weeks now, and will be heading into the Valley for an unknown amount of time in 2 days. Probably will end up staying for atleast a few days.

    I am going alone, I am in good condition, COLORADO PACKER for sure. I hiked the Kalalau trail 2 miles in, and up to the water fall the other day, beautiful. I have been to Na Pali or Kalalau via boat for a short short amount of time. I am really hoping to meet someone cool. I am 21 years old, and at a point in life already that I have worked for. I’m stoked to check out the whole area. All I have heard is good, except for the government side of things… Dont even get me started.
    I do have a camping pass, but not for the full time I will be there (they sold out?) which is crazy. But atleast I have paid and registered with the man. I am going to go in for a few days, and see how it is. If I have the oppurtunity to stay for a few more weeks, I may do that. We will see…

  51. Hiker says:

    Hi, I have permits for th hike, however one of my friends backed out but the permit is under his name. I have another friend who is interested and would like to go but I understand that permits are non transferrable? Do you know, if we had a permit but it’s not under his name, if we get stopped by a ranger, would we get ticketed? Thanks.

  52. Andy says:

    Hiker, I would say that your friend will be fine, it should be fairly easy to explain the situation. The fact that the permit is paid for means that whoever is replacing them is accounted for in the daily quota. Just for backup, you could take a photocopy of driver’s license of the person who backed out, and have that person write on it that they give their Kalalau permit (dates) to Name of replacement.

    I think that permits are non-transferrable so that they cannot be hoarded and resold. You can always call the permit office to see about changing the name, since it’s just one person out of several in your group. If there’s not enough time to have them mail the new permit, you can go there in person before your hike, if you really want do things by the book. But like I said, I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    ZAM, permits are frustrating, but how else can you deal with a demand greater than the limited natural environment can support? In the popular campgrounds and wildernesses of California (think Yosemite and Whitney Portal), quotas and permits are required, otherwise these areas would be overrun and trashed. I’m sure it’s similar in Colorado. In any case, if you read this, let us know how your trip went and whether you had any cool experiences in Kalalau.

  53. Hiker says:

    Just got back from Kauai and the Kalalau trail. Trip was awesome! We stayed out there for 5 nights and every nite it rained but it was nice, not cold at all. Sunrise and Sunsets were the best, aside from the awesome Napali Coast. We didnt run into any rangers and there were plenty of people camped out on the Kalalau beach but hardly anyone on the beach. All in all, awesome trip!

  54. Mike says:

    Aloha Andy,

    I have hiked all or portions of the Kalalau Trail many times over the past 35 years but only in the summer. I will be on Kauai this November for Thanksgiving and want to hike Ke’e to Hanakoa. Given the date of Nov 29th what would I reasonably expect for weather and hours of daylight? I figure about +/- 4 hours each way maybe less. Mahalo

  55. joshua says:

    Aloha Andy,

    Thanks for posting this for us all….I grew up on Oahu and have since moved to the mainland, but my folks still live there. I was talking to them about hiking into Kalalau with a friend and meeting them there – hoping that a zodiac of some kind could drop them off (thats possible right?). We were thinking about going mid to late May – per your advice. One of the things I was hoping to do with my friend, is swim to Honopu Beach. I am a strong swimmer and am used to moderately difficult surf conditions. What are the wave conditions like that time of year and do you have any advice?

    Joshua

  56. Andy says:

    Hi Josh, thanks for reading and posting your questions. Unfortunately, the idea that you can take a boat to Kalalau is widespread, but not really accurate. Locals (on-island) with contacts can (or used to) find people to drop them off, either in a motor boat or a kayak. For someone to arrive from off-island on a fixed schedule, this is unrealistic, and I never recommend it. And in fact, it is illegal for motor boats to land, and for kayaks to land without a permit (which I doubt they had). Hiking is the only reliable, safe, and legal way to get to Kalalau and back.

    May is a great time to go for hiking, the weather is usually good and stable, and the ocean is calming down. But nobody can guarantee you what ocean conditions will be like. Summer (July and August) has the calmer seas, but that’s the height of the hiking season, and permits have to be reserved up to 6 months ahead of time. Whether the ocean conditions will allow swimming access to Honopu is totally unpredictable, even in summer. You have to make your own observation of the ocean and of your abilities.

  57. Jeff says:

    Hey Andy, I was wondering if the trail is currently pattroled or if their is still only a ranger at the front of the trail? I may try to go a bit further than the 6 mile marker in a day hike but just wondering if this was possible due to patrols. Also, if you get camping permits can the date be changed if the weather is inclement or are they for a specific date? I would be doing the trail around the middle of December so is that time of year hard to get a permit?

    Thanks for any help.

  58. Mark says:

    Aloha Andy,

    Great blog – really helpful. My wife and I are celebrating 10yr Anniversary with 3 nights at Kalalau! We’ve hiked Grand Canyon in Middle of July (yikes – dry heat!) and will be heading over to Kalalau in Mid September. Key things I’m learning are to filter + treat water, avoid the ocean, continue to practice comfort with exposure and expect a long hike. Key questions are 3 fold – 1) what is best footware to use? (hiking boots?), 2) has “crawlers ledge” (7-8m stretch) been updated/maintained (i’ve heard 4inches width – yikes! to ~12inches – no problem!)?, 3) How long will this 11m hike really take? – we did 10m up Grand Canyon (wide trail) in 5.5hrs with packs… Thanks – again great blog!!!

  59. Andy says:

    Hi Mark, congratulations on 10 years with a spouse who still wants to hike with you. Kalalau is a great choice and bound to be memorable–plus it’s good you’re going for 3 nights. Mid-September should have great weather, but still a bit hot. It’s not too bad at the ocean with a breeze, but it’s a bit humid making it sweaty and tiring while hiking. So take plenty of water, and of course the water treatment. Streams may be running low at the end of summer, but you can always count on Hanakapi’ai, Hanakoa, the spring-fed stream at the heliport (mile 8.5), and Kalalau stream–so take big containers and plan your water accordingly. Also remember that some treatments take 1+ hours, so save some treated water.

    I wouldn’t discount a little swim in the ocean, I’ve done it before at Kalalau beach. Just watch the waves, go in slowly, and always keep an eye on the current and breaking waves.

    1) The best footwear is whatever you’re used to hiking 10 miles in over rough terrain. I take hiking boots, but if you’re used to doing that in five-toed shoes or hiking sandals, it’s possible. Some people hike it in flimsy flip-flops or even barefoot. The trail is well traveled, so generally smooth and not too rocky–though there are some rough spots. I would also suggest you take hiking poles, they really help on the rough parts and river crossings with packs.

    2) Crawler’s ledge is solid rock and I doubt it’s needed fixing since the Hawaiians built it. It’s 1-3 feet wide, more at torso level, so you never feel like the cliff is pushing you and your pack off the edge. The part leading from Hanakoa valley down the ledge is dirt and scree and more difficult than the ledge itself–but it’s not as exposed. The more dangerous sections, in my opinion, are the eroded dirt slopes after the ledge (towards Kalalau). There you’re higher up, and the dirt is loose and slanted toward the edge. And the parts that have eroded are less than a foot wide, but this is where people have done some maintenance, so it may be more. I have some photos from my last trip in October that I should post sometime. In any case, dozens of people hike this trail every day without incident, so just pay attention and you’ll be fine.

    3) I would count on at least 7-8 hours for the whole 11 miles. It can be done in less, but the trail has gorgeous views of the coast and valleys, and you’ll want to stop and enjoy them–they’re part of the experience. Plus, given the heat and the packs, I wouldn’t push yourself too hard, and there are 2500 feet of elevation gain each direction. Start early so you can take more time if you want. I don’t recommend taking 2 days to hike either way, unless you aren’t in shape for the whole 11 miles or you do 2 half-days (remember that camping at Hanakoa still counts as one of the nights on your permit).

    Have a great hike and come back to let us know how it went. Aloha!

  60. Mark says:

    Hi Andi, “10yr anniversary mark” here – Super helpful tips. Ok our plans are locked and we fly into Kauai at 9am! We will have to pick up fuel / lighter for stove and then drive to trail head after we land. Your post sparked a few more questions:
    1) Is the trail ~1hr from the airport? We potentially may not get to trailhead and be hiking until closer to 12n (hopefully sooner) but if it does take us 7-8hrs to get to Kalalau, any issues with hiking the last hour of trail AFTER sunset (i.e. hiking to campsite from 7-8pm)? or should we overnight at Hanakoa?;
    2) Where are some of the best places to set up camp at Kalalau – you implied some “secret places” in a prior post :) ?? Will there be trouble locating in the dark? or will the moon light our way :)
    3) Where can we lock our stuff up so we don’t have to leave valuables in car at trailhead (as we’ll be in Maui 4 days “resorting” prior to our hike).

    Thanks – we are soooo excited!
    -Mark

  61. Mark says:

    Hi Andi,

    We will likely get to the trail by 12n – is it a terrible idea to hike after sunset (6:30pm) as it may take 7-8hrs to hike to Kalalau? If so, is there a decent campsite at mile 8? Lastly where are the best spots to camp while at Kalalau – any secret cool spots? Thanks,
    Mark

  62. Andy says:

    Hi Mark, it’s not terrible to hike after dark, I’ve done it myself, but it’s not recommended. After mile 9, you’re past the eroded parts, so it’s safer, but there are one or two narrow sections. It’s light until 7:30 still, so doable with a good headlight if necessary. Right around mile 8 is an emergency heliport, no camping on that. Just inland are some ancient terraces near a stream that made good campsites, but there are now signs that it’s forbidden. I would call this an emergency campsite, only if your flashlight goes out and you can’t make it to Kalalau or Hanakoa. To answer your other questions:

    1) I would count on 1:15 to 1:30 drive. There can be traffic in Kapa’a, and the 10 miles from Princeville through Hanalei to the end of the road is curvy and slow. Then you have the parking issue at the end.

    2) The most coveted campsites are those on the beach-side of the trail, once the trail comes out of the forest and runs along the beach. There are a few in the vegetation right on the beach. Then the trail climbs a small bluff before the waterfall at the end of the trail, and there are 3-4 campsites on the bluff overlooking the beach. Secret campsites, what secret campsites??? :-) Of course, it’ll be harder to find these in the dark. The main camping area in the forest has lots of space and is easy to find: once the trail reach the beach, look for little side trails to the left into the trees (away from the beach). There is a composting toilet at the N end of this camping area.

    3) Having valuables on a trip that includes backpacking to Kalalau is not recommended. You can leave clothes, towels, beach gear in a locked rental car, but I would never leave anything of value (electronics, jewelry, etc.). It’s a trip where you should only bring what you can carry on the hike: small camera, smartphone, etc. The solution is to contact the place you’re staying before or after the hike and see if they’ll store a bag. If all else fails, Kayak Kaua’i in Hanalei has somewhat of a Kalalau hiker’s service: you can park there, you can store your bags there, and they will shuttle you to the trailhead. You will of course pay for the service, but then you have peace of mind.

  63. Brandon Tracy says:

    Hey Andy, I hike the trail a couple years ago in the beginning of october with some male friends of mine. I’m taking my girlfriend on December 5th of this year. She is an experienced backpacker as am I. How discouraged should we be by the rainy season messing up our plans?

  64. hoang says:

    Hey Andi,

    Do you know where i’d possibly be able to find a forum where people may be swapping permits or selling the permits since they were unable to go?

    Best,
    Hoang

  65. Andy says:

    Hi Hoang, I do not know of anyplace to sell permits, and it’s probably not allowed by the permit agreement that you sign. I realize it is almost summer and all the permits are taken right now, but that’s the way it is–if too many people went, the place would be crowded and trashed. If you want a permit, try to go during the week, there might still be some available.

    And if there were a website to sell permits, scalpers would buy all the permits and sell them with a huge price increase. That would actually decrease the number of available permits. I think people can cancel a permit and get a refund up until a certain date, so the state parks should make that permit available again.

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