Kauai is perhaps the most gorgeous of all the Hawaiian islands. Mix the Aloha spirit with lush greenery and rugged cliffs of the NaPali Coast, it’s one dreamy island. For a gorgeous hike with incredible views, the Kalalau Trail – hiking the first 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach is where it’s at.
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The majestic NaPali Coastline just begs to be explored.
If you’re looking for amazing views, the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail is an extraordinary experience. You’ll get a good taste of the NaPali Coast with it’s stunning views, and a beach to rest and recover.
Sounds like the perfect day in Hawaii if you ask me! 😉
If you’re up for adventure, you could do the whole trail. The Kalalau Trail is one of the most dangerous trails there is at it’s full length of 11 miles. Most people do the trail over the course of several days, and a special permit is required to access the trail and camp.
This guide will cover the easiest part of the famous NaPali Coast trail. It includes everything you need to know about the Kalalau Trail – hiking the first 2 miles. From getting access to how to dress for the weather and what to take with you.
Getting to the Kalalau Trail Kauai
The Kalalau Trail is located in the Ha’ena State Park on the north shore on Kauai. It’s past the town of Wainiha, and is the furthest north you can travel from the east side of the island.
You’ll enter the Ha’ena State Park (requires a reservation – info below) and then walk past Ke’e Beach to get to the trailhead. From the parking lot, the trailhead is a short .25 mile walk. Here’s a map:
Pro tip: make sure you download your park access pass and any trail maps before you arrive in Wainiha, as there’s no reception beyond that point.
Kalalau Trail Permit
First thing’s first – it can be difficult to get access to hike the trail. You need a reservation to access the Haena State Park, and parking spots are limited. Once you have your dates selected to visit Kauai, I’d recommend trying to get your permit right away.
Get your Ha’ena State Park reservation here.
Note: this is a day pass, not a permit to camp overnight. If you want to enjoy the park past the Hanakapiai Valley (beyond the fist 2 miles), you’ll need a camping permit. More info here.
What to expect on the Kalalau Trail
The first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail are strenuous and tricky. You’ll probably want a 1/2 day to do this hike. That will allow time for breaks and photo stops.
And that’s if the weather cooperates!
Kauai is nicknamed the garden isle so it’s lush and beautiful. But that also means hiking through that dense rainforest, there’s a lot to consider!
(Here’s the part that I do not tell you about the spider I saw as I hiked through the rainforest that was unlike any I’ve ever seen. So think about the views instead, okay??)
During sunny weather, you’ll see the bluest blue water you’ve ever seen in your life. Having been to Kauai multiple times across different seasons, I can truly say the weather can turn in an instant. Speaking of weather…
Best time to hike the Kalalau Trail (for weather)
Hawaii has 10 of the 14 climate zones on earth so you’re in for a real treat for your trip to Kauai. The first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail and the NaPali Coast is rainforest. So just consider that at least some of the trail will be muddy when you hike.
Summers in Kauai are generally the driest time of year, with the most mild temperatures. The north shore waves at Hanakapiai Beach (at the 2 mile mark) generally has the smallest waves, making it an ideal time for hiking the Kalalau Trail.
The Kalalau Trail becomes extremely slippery in rainy weather. And the Hanakapiai River becomes unpassable during rain.
Helicopter rescues are common, and deaths have occurred based on changing weather conditions and underestimating the power of the rain, rivers and ocean all along the trail. Use extreme caution and pay attention to warning signs.
Kalalau Trail – hiking the first 2 miles
This gorgeous hike will live on in your memory forever.
The first time I saw the NaPali Coast was via a helicopter tour. I witnessed it’s beauty driving through Koke’e State Park to the Kalalau Lookout. But hiking it was the best yet.
You’ll go past Ke’e beach on your way from the parking lot to the start of the trail. Keep this place in mind when you’re done with the hike!
The trail starts pretty steep and tree-covered for the first quarter mile. You’ll feel the thigh burn and know some amazing views are coming!
At .5 miles in, you’ll get your first glimpse of the coast. You can look east and see Ke’e Beach. To the west is the famous NaPali. Pure joy!
Continue on the trail, watching the cliffside for those gorgeous peeks of the ocean through the trees. The trail is plenty wide for the most part, except it can get a bit narrow if you’re passing people.
Read next: What to Pack for Hawaii: (Everything You Need for an Unforgettable Vacation)
Weaving through the switchbacks
Hiking the Kalalau trail, you’ll cut in and out of the coast until the Hanakapiai River. So you’ll see glimpses of the blue and turquoise water along the way.
There’s something to be said about the foliage of the dense, lush rainforest. There’s more plant species than I’ve probably ever seen in my life along this trail.
Every so often you‘ ll get the scent of fresh fruit that had just fallen from the trees. Oh, and when you feel that ocean breeze through the trees count your blessings because it’s a marvelous way to cool down while you hike.
Kalalau Trail – hiking the terrain
Parts of the trail are steep and rocky, and others more flat and muddy. You’ll climb more than 500 feet between the trail start and the Hanakapiai River, so keep that climb in mind.
Good hiking shoes are a must here…as well as a list of other essentials (listed later in the guide). Some of the Kalalau Trail has steps built in, but most of it’s just mud and dirt.
Passing the Hanakapiai River
There’s plenty of warning signs along the hike, so do take them seriously. The rain on the NaPali Coast can turn gentle streams to raging rivers quite quickly, so be careful.
If the weather is nice, it’s relatively easy to cross the Hanakapiai River. If you’ve packed water shoes in your backpack, these will come in handy. Swap them out before you cross the river!
There are some rocks to step on, but they’re slick and there’s not a super clear path just using the tops of rocks. So you’ll likely wade in water ankle to knee deep to cross the river (on a good weather day).
Pro tip: cross the river at the trail. Deaths have occurred because hikers believe walking down the river’s path and crossing at the ocean is safer. It’s not. The river’s current is misleading and the ocean waves are powerful.
Yayyy! You’ve made it the 2 miles to the beach! This is your final destination for the day, so take some time to enjoy it.
(From this point on if you keep going along the Kalalau Trail, you need an additional permit. It’s gets super intense and is not for the beginner or even intermediate hiker.)
Do remember those warning signs about the rough surf, though. The waves are incredibly powerful along the NaPali Coast so don’t get in the water or really even too close to it.
Here’s a video what happened to visitors on the dangerous Hanakapiai Beach on a day with particularly strong waves.
My husband and I spent the day on the Kalalau Trail, hiking the first 2 miles to the Hanakapiai Beach on a really calm day. The surf was mild and yet you could really see the ocean’s potential. We spent some time walking around the sand and caves, but it’s not always possible to do that based on the surf.
Fun fact about the Hanakapiai Beach: the powerful waves on the north shore actually wash away the beach during winter, returning the sand each summer.
On some parts of the beach the sand is so dense that it’s difficult to walk on because your feet sink several inches into the sand with each step. It’s almost like walking through thick snow or mud!
Extending your day: Hanakapiai Falls hike
After reaching the beach, you could choose to hike 2 miles up the river to see the impressive waterfall. It’s a steep climb, but from those I talked to, it’s worth the hike!
The Hanakapiai Falls is a gorgeous 300-foot waterall. You’ll add at least 2 hours to your day hiking to the falls, so just be prepared for that.
Hiking the Kalalau Trail (the first 2 miles) back
When it’s time to head back, it’s sort of like you’re on a mission. Like just get the heck outta there and get your cool down going!
Of course there are the same views as your way there, but if the clouds are in different spots sometimes that changes the water color and photos. Overall, I think it took my husband and I 1/2 the amount of time to hike back because we weren’t distracted with details.
Swimming at Ke’e beach
After your epic hike, you’ll need a cool down. Ke’e beach is still north shore with powerful waves, but if it’s daylight and the ocean is calm, there’s likely a lifeguard on duty and you can take a quick dip in the water.
Part of the cove has shallow water so that’s a good spot if the waves are mild. There are restrooms to change into a swimming suit as needed.
What to pack for the Kalalau Trail
Please be prepared for this hike! We saw a couple on the trail with no gear, terrible shoes and no water. It could have been trouble for them so get prepared.
After much research, we took backpacks with all the hiking essentials. After experiencing the Kalalau Trail – hiking it myself, here’s the gear I’d recommend to take with you.
Rain jacket or poncho
Check the weather before you go, but know that it can change quickly. Just be prepared for anything! This is the rain jacket I took to Kauai (and wore on other hikes). It’s perfect for the climate in Kauai, and easily found on Amazon.
Good hiking boots
This is key on the trail! The mud on the NaPali Coast is sometimes ankle-deep, so traction is critical. These are the waterproof hiking boots I wore while hiking the Kalalau Trail and they worked great!
Note: if you live on Kauai and hike the trail often, you can apparently go barefoot on the trail. Two locals passed us, practically running barefoot! Although if you’re a local, you likely aren’t reading this article. 🙂
Anyway, get some good hiking boots, even for just the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail. It’s strenuous, steep and will save your ankles!
Another essential on the Kalalau Trail! Hiking poles provide stability and increase traction. They allowed me to move faster on the steep inclines and reduced impact on the declines.
These are the hiking poles my husband and I used while on the Kalalau Trail – hiking was definitely smoother with them. They’re perfect for travel as they collapse down for suitcases, too.
Lots and lots of water! The rainforest is humid (newsflash, I know) and you’re going to sweat. So pack a reusable water bottle that keeps water cold a long time.
We also froze more water and carried it along, drinking it as it thawed out. You’ll need it water for this workout!
You’ll be hiking 4 miles and likely stopping for plenty of photos. It’s probably going to take you a half a day so you’ll likely need a power snack to get you through.
High protein is best. Also make sure you leave the park with everything you bring in. Leave no trash behind!
Ummmm, it’s the rainforest. And someone (I won’t mention names) didn’t reapply bug spray after leaving the Hanakapiai Beach and came out of the forest with at least a dozen bites.
So don’t skip it, okay?
Related: Packing for a Day Hike: 20+ Things Not to Forget
That’s it! The Kalalau Trail – hiking the first 2 miles
So, are you ready to hike this amazing coastline? It’s one of my favorite hikes on Kauai and is perfect if you like a challenge and want to keep the hike to a day’s time.
In summary, I’ll leave you with this:
- Pack the right gear
- Watch the weather and waves
- Enjoy the view!
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Saturday 3rd of June 2023
Just did the first two miles and everything you said was spot on. Wished I had water shoes for crossing the river bc I def fell in. Lol. Thankfully I did bring a change of socks so it wasn’t too bad.
Monday 5th of June 2023
Oh yay Tara! Not for falling in, for completing the hike ;) Hope you had a great time! It's so stunning!!
Wednesday 27th of July 2022
Hi Niki, Thanks for all the information. So can we start that hike at Ke'e Beach park and can we only hike for an hour or two and turn back? We only have one day to see the north side of the island and so want to do a hike but want to make time for other things that day. Thoughts? And if we do that, we need to make a reservation?
Friday 29th of July 2022
Hey Valerie! Yes, you're right! Start at Ke'e Beach and depending on how fast you go with stops, I'd give yourself 2 hours. It can absolutely be done in 1/2 a day. And you'll definitely need to make reservations to access the park and hiking trail. Have so much fun!!
Sunday 8th of November 2020
Would love to go back to Hawaii and do this trail so much!
Sunday 8th of November 2020
Right?! Hawaii is the best!
Saturday 7th of November 2020
I would agree with the dangerous part. I backpacked the Napali Coast years ago. I slipped on a switchback cut trail, fell, and cut my arm open. 5-mile evacuation hike, hour-long car ride to the hospital. 19 stitches. Be careful out there! That said,it was the most beautiful trail and I'd do it again in an instant.
Saturday 7th of November 2020
Oh woah Karen what a story! Even with all that trauma, it speaks volumes that you'd go again without hesitation. It's such a beautiful place on earth!!
Saturday 7th of November 2020
What a beautiful place to hike! Mountains and beaches - spoilt!
Saturday 7th of November 2020
Right!? Kauai is such a beauty!