I can't even begin to imagine how many blog posts have been written about hiking the Kalalau Trail. In fact, when I was querying the web for tips on hiking in Kauai, all links seemed to lead back to this trail. Clearly, it's considered "the" hike to take on Kauai's Garden Isle. No doubt, the hike has it's fair share of attributes; filled with beautiful views, lush plant life, and isn't too challenging at just four miles round trip. All that being said, I can't say it was the best trail I've ever taken but I'm definitely glad to have hiked it.
The beginning of the hike is a good amount of up - nothing too steep but there are a fair amount of rocks which can be quite slippery if it's rained recently. Rewards on the early stages of the hike include some beautiful overlooking views of Ke'e Beach and plenty of plant life to admire up close.
The middle section of the trail is very mild with gently descending and ascending sections with less rocks. There are two small streams and waterfalls flowing in the inner sections of the trail which require some very easy rock hoping (or just walking through barely foot deep water if you prefer to cool off your tootsies). Rewards include more beautiful views over the water and the three different overlooks offering you the famous view down the Napali Coast. This photo was taken at the second overlook which provided the best unobstructed view down the coast line. You can see the third in the bottom left corner.
At the end of the two miles, the trail gently descends down to Hanakapi'ai Beach and an abundance of caution signs begin. I noticed these all over the island, however the ones just before the river crossing to the beach were perhaps the loudest of all - even including a tally of the number of visitors who have died at this particular location. Since we visited in February, I assume the river flow wasn't all that light but the current really wasn't all that strong. For an adult with good water shoes and some semblance of decent balance - walking straight across the bottom through the water was the simplest way to cross. Trying to rock hop across the river looked a bit more risky and far less fun. On a warm day, striding through the chilly water was heavenly.
In the winter, Hanakapi'ai Beach is covered with large rounded rocks and little to no sand - no wonder swimming and water activities are off limits. However it's still a great spot to stop, have lunch, admire the waves, and feel good about hiking into a spot not accessible by road.
If you're only planning to hike for the day and content with your beach to beach hike - this is your turn-around point.
Our initial plan was to continue our hike an additional two miles (four more round trip) to Hanakapi'ai Falls. This route takes you up into the valley of the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park to a waterfall. After trudging along the muddy trail and being eaten alive by mosquitoes for about three quarters of a mile, we reached what appeared to be another stream crossing. The signage was lacking and frankly the views along the trail had not been all that interesting - save a poorly lit bamboo forest and old chimney stack. So in poor blogger but grand vacation form - we turned back. Opting instead to head to the local fish market and make some absolutely fantastic fish tacos for dinner.
Wear sunscreen that works. Much of the trail is exposed and my hippy dippy sunscreen did not do enough to protect me from getting a burn.
Wear bug spray that works. Again, my hippy dippy product didn't do anything and I got eaten alive.
Wear water shoes, like Keens. I had a wonderfully easy time of the river crossing while others struggled over the rocks in their hiking shoes and socks.
Bring plenty of water. Again, the hike is very exposed and while we always pack plenty of water - this is the first hike on which we've ever finished off our water supply while still on the trail.
Come prepared for crowds. Since this is "the" hike to do in Kauai it's very crowded - just understand and accept that you may be doing some merging in and out of traffic while on the trail.