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Kauai Hiking | Na Pali Coast | Kalalau Trail | Hanakāpī’ai Trail

Hikers on the Kalalau Trail Decending into Kalalau Valley, Hiking along a red dirt ridge

Hiking Kaua’i | Na Pali Coast Trails

When planning to hike on Kaua’i’s Na Pali Coast it is very important to stay updated on the current conditions of the Kalalau Trail and the Napali Coast State Wildnerness Park.

Mezmerizing and ominous are the best words to describe the Nā Pali Coast, the northwestern side of Kaua’i where no roads or homes exist.  The only navigable route on the Nā Pali Coast is by foot, on the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile journey that leads to Kalalau Beach where one can camp overnight.  The Kalalau trail is Kauai’s most epic hike on the Nā Pali Coast, starting at the trailhead located at Ke’e Beach, and running all the way to Kalalau Beach.  The Kalalau Trail hike traverses through 5 valleys and presents one of the world’s most challenging terrains.  This epic Kauai hiking trail boasts 180-degree views of the Windex-blue Pacific Ocean, against the backdrop of towering pinnacles, majestic ridges, verdant valleys, and unspoiled beaches.

Breathtaking Ocean Views

View of the ocean from Hanakoa Valley on the Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail views of the Pacific Ocean

First 2-miles | Hanakapi’ai Trail

The Hanakapi’ai Trail is a 2-mile hike from Ke’e Beach, taking you to Hanakapi’ai Beach.  This is also the first portion of the Kalalau Trail.  Many hikers will continue hiking an additional 2 miles into Hanakapi’ai Valley to see an amazing waterfall.

Thatch screwpine, Tahitian screwpine, hala tree (pū hala in Hawaiian) pandanus Tree along the Kalalau trail
Hiking on the Kalalau Trail (the 2-mile portion of Hanakapi’ai Trail)

Hikers on the Kalalau Trail

Hikers along a red dirt ridge line on the Kalalau Trail Approaching Kalalau Valley
Hikers rest while hiking the Kalalau Trail

Hiking Na Pali Coast on Kauai | Kalalau Trail, Video:

A word of warning: Only attempt Kauai hiking Napali Coast if you are well-educated on the terrain of the trail which is extremely difficult for even the most-experienced hiker!


Important Points for Hiking Kaua’i’s Nā Pali Coast | Kalalau Trail | Hanakāpī’ai Trail

  1. Plan the Kalalau Trail hike by making an advanced reservation for camping in the “Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.”   [Buy Camping Permit]
  2. To access the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail and the Hanakāpī’ai Trail you must arrange for your parking/transportation in to Ke’e Beach.  [Buy Shuttle Pass / Parking Permit]
  3. Be advised that hazardous conditions prevail on the Kalalau Trail.  You must be aware of the dangers presented from falling rocks, flash floods, and hazardous cliffs.
  4. Should you not be able to make the entire 11-miles to Kalalau, permits allow camping at Hanakoa, which is 6-miles in from the trailhead.
  5. Open fires are prohibited.
  6. All water from streams must be treated.
  7. No trash service whatsoever, so please respect the land and haul out what you haul in.

For more information on how to plan your visit, go to GO Hā’ena

About Kaua’i | The Garden Island

Kauai is fourth in size among the main Hawaiian Islands at 555 square miles of land­— it’s 33 miles long and 25 miles wide.  Its highest point is near the center of the island at Kawaikini Peak at 5,170 feet.  Second highest is Mt. Wai’ale’ale at 5,148 feet.   Mt. Wai’ale’ale is the center of a large volcanic mountain from which lava flowed down on all sides, and is the largest shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands.  Mt. Wai’ale’ale is literally the wettest spot on earth, with some portions of the summit recorded as receiving 600 inches of rain per year.  All of this water feeds the island’s vegetation on a consistent basis, creating waterfalls, streams, verdant valleys and spectacular green and orange cliffs that have given Kaua’i its nickname of “The Garden Isle.”

The End of the Kalalau Trail, Kalalau Beach, with the Kalalau Cathedrals in the background
Severe erosion as seen on the Na Pali Coast of Kauai.

Kaua’i Island Formation

The Hawaiian Island archipelago consists of 132 islands, atolls, reefs, shallow banks, shoals, and seamounts, and spans a total length of sixteen-hundred miles.  The continuous northwestward movement of the Pacific Tectonic Plate across the fixed Hawaiian Magmatic Hot Spot is responsible for the formation of the entire Hawaiian Island chain.  Incredibly, islands have been forming from this fixed hot spot for over 80 million years.

Kaua’i is the northernmost island of the eight, main Hawaiian islands, but the entire island chain extends much further: from The Big Island of Hawai’i in the west, to Midway and Kure in the east. Initially, Kaua’i was located where the Big Island of Hawai’i is today.   As you move from west to east, the islands become younger.  For example, the Big Island of Hawai’i is the youngest island in the Hawaiian Island chain, and is still quite volcanically active.  To the southeast of it lies Lo’ihi Seamount, Hawai’i’s newest submarine volcano which is completely underwater at this time.  Lo’ihi could become Hawaii’s newest island when it breaks the surface of the ocean some day.

While Kaua’i is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands, just exactly how old is Kaua’i?  Geologists have concluded that the island is at least 5.1 million years old, with chemical testing indicating that Kaua’i contains rocks between 5.6 to 3.8 million years old.

There has been some argument over whether Kaua’i formed from a single, major volcano or more than just one.  A 2010 study from the University of Hawai’i revealed that there were actually two major shield volcanoes responsible for the island’s formation, one on Kaua’i and one in the region between Kaua’i and Ni’ihau.  Ni’ihau is the island located west of Kaua’i, and is therefore the remnant of the first major volcano.

Once dome-shaped, Kaua’i’s physical appearance has gone through many phases over the past 5 million years.  First arising from a submarine volcano (e.g. an undersea volcanic eruption), the island formed when the eruption finally broke the surface of the ocean as a central shield volcano, followed by landslides, shield collapse, erosion, and a series of more volcanic eruptions.

There continues to be a constant state of erosion occurring on Kaua’i, and this will eventually lead to the shrinking of the island back into the ocean.  Scientists predict this may happen in 2-3 million years.

Nā Pali Coast of Kaua’i

The Nā Pali Coast of Kaua’i is an example of a shoreline that has been severely eroded by wave action.  In the winter months, it is customary for the north and northeast-facing shores to receive surf with heights of up to 40 feet. This wave action is further intensified when combined with consistent Hawaiian trade winds and rains which cut through the porous rocks like knives.  Spectacular sea arches and sea caves have formed in the cliffs as a result of the relentless pounding Hawaiian surf.  Sometimes, overhanging arches crash to the ocean below, creating sea cliffs with sheer drops.

Na Pali Coast Small Sea Arch with a water fall behind it.
Spectacular sea arches have formed in the cliffs as a result of the pounding, Hawaiian surf.

The sea cliffs along Nā Pali Coast provide an opportunity to see what happens internally when a volcanic cone erupts.  The pressure from hot, liquid magma forms cracks in the existing hardened, lava beds.  This hot lava then flows into the cracks, and cools slowly over time.  The resulting lava dikes are the “veins of the volcanic rock.”  One could map out the dikes’ directions, to determine roughly where the center of the original volcanic cone was once located.  Dikes appear as vertical and slightly diagonal strips, and are up to several feet in width.   They are easy to spot because they run perpendicular to the layers of basalt rock in the cliff.

Na Palai Coast Cliffs face showing Lava Dikes and Lava Seals with Burial Care Faces
Lava dikes appear like veins in the volcanic rock.
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