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The Kalalau Trail is a trail along Nā Pali Coast of the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii. The trail is very strenuous and runs approximately 11 miles (18 km) along the island's north shore from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley. An experienced, very fit hiker can complete the trail in about a day, or do the entire 22 miles round trip as a day hike, but most people require two days and will camp along the trail. At this time camping is only permitted on the beach at Hanakoa Valley (6 mile mark) and Kalalau Beach.
The trail is located in Nā Pali Coast State Park and access is controlled for the purpose of conservation. A limited number of permits are issued for camping in Kalalau Valley every year. In spite of the efforts of the state of Hawaiʻi, many people camp at Kalalau Beach without permits.
The trail starts on the north shore of the island, where the main highway ends at Keʻe Beach. The first two miles (3 km) of the trail are moderately strenuous and open to the public. It is one mile uphill and one mile downhill. This portion of the trail leads to Hanakapiai stream and beach. The trail beyond Hanakapiʻai used to be only open to those with camping permits or with day use permits. As of January 1, 2012 hikers are now permitted to day hike to Hanakoa Valley which is 6 miles from the trail head. From Hanakoa you can then hike about 1/2 mile to Hanakoa Falls which is a large spectacular waterfall, better than the falls at Hanakapiai. Be aware that the trail to Hanakoa Falls is not well maintained and sometimes difficult to follow. The trail begins after the Hanakoa stream crossing, just before the covered shelter.
The trail continues for approximately four miles to Hanakoa Valley, which is a hanging valley with no beach access. After Hanakoa, the trail turns more toward the dry side of the island. About four miles (7 km) later is Kalalau Valley, a large, flat-bottomed valley almost a mile across. After hiking down Red Hill, it is about a half mile to Kalalau Beach requiring crossing Kalalau stream.
Camping permits are only issued for Kalalau Beach and are limited to 5 consecutive nights. You must wait 30 days after the end of your permit dates to get another permit. You are allowed to camp at Hanakoa Valley one night with a valid Kalalau permit if you are unable to backpack the entire 11 miles in one day. Many backpackers avail themselves of this option.
Kalalau Valley has a fair number of permanent and semi-permanent "residents" who are illegal squatters. They set up camps both up the valley and in the regular campground. Enforcement rangers have unsuccessfully tried to rid the valley of the illegal inhabitants.
If you are caught camping without a permit, you will be issued a citation that requires a court appearance and a fine of up to $500.
The cost of permits is currently $20 a day per person out of state and $15 a day in state. There is also a $1.50 handling fee per day. Permits can be obtained on line with a credit card and printer.
The most strenuous part of the hike is occurs after Hanakapiai Beach where the trail climbs from sea level to 800 feet over 1 1/4 miles.
The dangers of the trail are significant. There are three major stream crossings (Hanakapiai, Hanakoa and Kalalau) that can rise rapidly. Exercise extreme caution when water levels rise. They can rise and fall rather rapidly, so best to wait, rather than to risk your life.
There are also narrow portions, especially after Hanakoa. The infamous "crawler's ledge" occurs at about the 7 mile mark. Unless you have a severe fear of heights, it is not too bad as the trail is level and solid. However before you reach crawler's ledge, you must negotiate a rather long set of switchbacks. This section could be very treacherous, especially when it has rained heavily as the trail turns into a mudslide. One slip can result in serious injury or death.
The most recent fatality occurred on June 5, 2012 at Kalalau Beach campsite when a 30 year old woman fell to her death near the beach waterfall. She apparently suffered a fractured neck as well as major internal brain injury.
Edited version of a high resolution USGS topographical chart of the Kalalau Trail. On the left portion of the image the Kalalau Valley below 800 feet elevation is shown. Also, a portion of the Kalalau Trail is shown as a black line. On the top right portion of the image the end of the paved road is shown as a black line.
Media related to Nā Pali Coast State Park (Kalalau Trail) at Wikimedia Commons