Only Diamond Head above Waikiki Beach sees more visitors than the Kalalau Trail, which begins at road's end on Kauai's north shore. Most touristy hikes are a cake walk, but not this one.
The first two miles of the Kalalau have been rebuilt in the last few years, though footing is still tricky in many places. Views of the famed Napali ('The Cliffs') open up after just a half-mile, revealing the rest of the 11-mile route to the Kalalau Valley. Permits are required to continue beyond the first two miles at Hanakapia Beach, but you can head upstream from the beach for another two miles to the Hanakapiai Falls—making for and eight-mile round-trip adventure hike. Fit hikers may think they can bang it out in a few hours, but think again, because this thing hikes like 12 miles—a reality you can see etched on the faces of the mud-splattered returnees at the trailhead.
Falling, getting lost, and drowning at Hanakapia Beach are among the most popular ways to die on the Kalalau Trail. But the most lethal opportunity is getting swept away while crossing Hanakapiai Stream. The state has plans to alleviate this hazard by installing an 80-foot-long footbridge in the next year or two, eliminating not only deaths but also numerous helicopter rescues of hikers who get caught on the wrong side of a flash flood and have the good sense to wait it out.
The trail upstream is rugged in many places, crossing the stream several times. Plan on wearing shoes you can get wet and muddy.
You could make a lot of money renting hiking poles at the trailhead. Retractable hiking poles are a godsend on many hiking trails, particularly on the Kalalau.
The falls deliver the scenic goods with a 200-foot white ribbon splashing into a pool encased by a green amphitheater.
The water is chilly and rarely hit by direct sunlight, but taking a dip can be the cherry on top for this adventure. BTW: Another hazard to avoid is getting below the falling water, which often enough will contain rocks and debris.
Fit families and adventure hikers can make this hike without incident and will love it. But be prepared, with food, water, and outerwear—and stay back from the margins of the trail, avoid a fast running stream, and don't go near the water at the beach. Consult your trusty Kauai Trailblazer guide for more info: