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Kalalau Trail

November 2007: A hike of the Kalalau Trail

Sun and Shade
The Kalalau trail winds 11 miles up, down and through a fantastic landscape of thick green plants and steep cliffsides to reach secluded Kalalau Beach on Kaua'i's northwest shore. Here, a few trailside trees offer a brief bit of shade from the hot tropical sun.
Destination Kalalau
This photo is a view southwest, about 3-4 miles from the trailhead. The trail heads around each of the many cliffsides ahead.
The trail starts near Ke'e Beach, and dips down to Hanakapi'ai beach at the 2 mile mark. Many people visit this beach as a dayhike, and go another 2 miles inland to Hanakapi'ai Falls. From Hanakapi'ai beach, the trail doesn't come down to the ocean again until the end at Kalalau Beach. Along the way, the trail is frequently overgrown, sometimes eroded, often muddy, and almost never level.
Another side hike at the 5 mile point leads to another waterfall - Hanakoa Falls.
Near the end of the trail, one final side hike heads up the Kalalau Valley to some large pools in the main stream.
Na Pali
The famous fluted cliffs of the Na Pali coastline stretch southeast above the Kalalau Trail. The word "Pali" simply means "cliff", with "na" roughly meaning "of the". So, this coastline is one that's "of the cliffs".
Kalalau Beach
The only way to reach Kalalau Beach is by boat/kayak, or hiking the 11-mile trail. Until 1919, the Kalalau beach area was home to a community of native Hawai'ians. The walls of their terraced farms are still intact, though overgrown by a forest.
Today, a rag-tag community of modern-day "hippies" calls the beach home. Some of these people stay for a few weeks or months... some have been there longer. It's easy to see how one could be drawn to a simple life, where time is abstract and needs are few... at least for a while.
A thin stream of water pours down the steep canyon walls near the end of Kalalau Beach. This is a convenient source of fresh water. However, like all streams along the Kalalau Trail, it can easily be fouled by dead or sick pigs and goats that live nearby. This is one area where effective water treatment is serious business.
Morning Launch
It's possible to visit Kalalau Beach by Kayak - perhaps even easier if the conditions are good (more likely in the summer months). The more direct water route is half the distance of the winding trail. This kayaker was thrashed by the surf on the first couple attempts, but eventually made it past the break and headed up the coast.
On The Trail
The morning sun lights the fluted pali behind Kalalau Valley as a hiker traverses back toward the trailhead.
Bill Summers
Bill came to hike the Kalalau Trail, and was appalled at the poor conditions he found. In one particularly steep section, where goats had nibbled the plants away, the trail had worn down to a dangerous width of 6 inches or so. So, he got a couple of simple tools, and went to work cleaning and fixing this national treasure. When I met him, he'd been at it for 4 months - and it showed. The trail in the section he'd focused on was in excellent shape, much improved over the reports I'd heard previously. Scores of hikers owe their safe journey to this remarkable man, who is paid only in the well wishes of those who pass by.
(Note: He did mention someone was setting up a web site to forward contributions to his cause. If I get more information on this, I'll add it to this page)
Goats were originally brought to Kaua'i by the Polynesian settlers. While they might have helped the Polynesians survive, they've become a nuisance in modern times. There are too few hunters to cull their numbers, a benign climate, and abundant food. Without the goats, this stretch of trail would be covered in green. In fact, it's interesting to think that many of Kaua'i's steep hillsides (along the Na Pali, and in Waimea Canyon) would look quite different without the ravenous hoardes of goats.
A View
This is a typical view along much of the Kalalau Trail.
On The Edge
This view northeast shows the trailhead area of Ke'e Beach in the distance - at the end of a long line of steep cliffsides, and many miles of rough trail.

Where is it?

The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile footpath along the Na Pali coast of Kaua'i, from near Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Beach.

Before you go...
If you want to get a permit, there is a weird beauracratic process involving the Division of State Parks, photocopied drivers licenses, the police department, money orders and more... I did get a permit, but I'm not sure how many actually do. There was nobody checking when I visited in November 2007, but the situation might be different in summer. Try to avoid leaving a car at the trailhead overnight, but if you must, don't leave anything in it. Be sure you have a water purification system that can kill Cryptosporidium - many filters don't.

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