The Kalalau Trail leads 11 miles along the rugged Nā Pali Coast on the north shore of the island of Kauai, Hawaii. The Trail traverses 5 lush valleys, above towering cliffs, before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted pali.
Most hikers will take between 2-3 days to finish the trail. While in Kauai on vacation in late-November, our plan was to travel fast and light, running the entire 22 mile (35 km) return trip with 6,500 feet of elevation gain plus descent in roughly 8 hours.
The run was absolutely beautiful, despite a little rain, high humidity, and warm temperatures. It took us just over 8.5 hours, including stopping for about 30 minutes at Kalalu Beach before returning.
Given enough time, there were two side trails I would love loved to do up both the Hanakāpīʻai and Kalalau Valleys, adding more than another 7 miles or so return. This will have to wait until next time – and you can be sure that I’ll be returning the first chance that I get!
We were lucky enough to have the chance to return to the coast a few days later by helicopter for a slightly different perspective on the trail. Chartering a helicopter isn’t cheap, but I would highly recommend the experience. Be sure to request one with the doors removed for the best photo ops – if you can stomach it.
Running the Kalalau Trail
Note: The Kalalau trail should only be attempted by experienced trail runners with adequate fitness and comfort with backcountry travel.
Safety on the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is considered on of the most beautiful, and dangerous hikes in the world. This is thanks to the several stream crossings which can swell up following a big storm, as well as the exposed cliffs that need to be crossed like the famous Crawler’s ledge. But the real danger is in ocean surf, where currents can be treacherous even during the summer.
The only access to the trail is from the start of the trail at Ke’e Beach. It’s not uncommon for dozens of hikers to have to be airlifted from the trail in a single day.
Whether you plan on spending the night or attempting to complete the trail in a single day, be sure to bring the 10 essentials, including a GPS communications device like the Garmin inReach Mini, as there is no cell service on the trail. Get an early start and be sure to bring a headlamp, just in case.
Water on the Kalalau Trail
There are many stream crossings along the trail, including around the 2, 4.5, 6, 8 and 10 Mile marks, among other places. But like all water on Kauai, it should be treated due to risk of contamination from leptospirosis.
Be sure to use a water filter capable of treating for viruses, like a UV sterilizer. Most backpacking filters that rely on carbon and ceramic filters need to be supplemented with chlorine drops to be completely safe.
Do You Need Permits for Running the Kalalau Trail in One Day?
Since 2015, permits are required for the Kalalau trail whether day hiking or camping overnight. Unfortunately, these permits tend to sell out months in advance, so it’s recommended that you make a reservation before your flight if this is your main objective.
You’ll have to choose between one of two camping spots – either at Hanakoa near the 6 mile mark, or at Kalalau beach at the end of the 11 mile trail. It may seem silly to have to book one of these campsites knowing you’re going to run the trail in a single day, but it’s likely the simplest way for Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources to control traffic on the trail in order to minimize erosion and provide some sense of tranquility.
Didn’t get a permit in time? You can hike the 2 miles to Hanakāpīʻai beach and back without a permit. Including the 2 miles out-and-back up the valley from there to Hanakāpīʻai Falls, that will still get you a roughly 8 mile trip.
For anyone planning a trip to Kauai, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. It’s got a ton of great information on virtually all of the hikes and runs on the island, including the Kalalau Trail.
Have you run the Kalalau Trail on the Nā Pali Coast of Kauai, or possibly done either of the side trails? Tell me about it in the comments below!