Hiking Hawaii: Kauai's Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Falls
Hiking in Kauai requires a certain amount of patience, endurance, vigilance, and unlimited time for taking breaks to absorb all the sights along the trail (and take in some water!). This is especially true when hiking the 8-mile Kalalau trail on Na Pali Coast towards Hanakapi’ai Falls - a spectacular 300-foot waterfall, which thanks to the wet climate of Kauai, is always in its full, majestic water flow.
We set out on this hike early in the morning, although plenty of hikers had us beat to the start already. By 9AM, the parking lot was filled up with cars and people began pouring out; most with plans to either do the “full” 8-mile round trip hike inland towards the waterfall, or the shorter, 4-mile RT trek on the Na Pali coast. Few hikers we saw carried large backpacks; those are the ones that obtained a permit to camp past the Hanakapi'ai beach, not an easy task considering you have to carry all of your drinking water. Anyhow, we were feeling particularly heroic that day, so we packed plenty of water, snacks, and sunblock, and set out to complete the full 8-mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This waterfall is extra special for us as we wanted to see the location where our brother Tommy popped the question to his now wife & our sis-in law Aleksandra, a couple years back. Once we arrived at the Waterfall, it was clear as to why he had chosen that spot. Well done brother! :)
The going towards the Falls was tough: the trail often alternates between cliff-hugging switchbacks and steep climbs up and down into the valley's lush forest - but if you’re prepared and ready for the slippery and rugged route, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views each step of the way. Let me guide you along the way visually with the below pics:
It's hard to blaze through this trail without making stops every few minutes to take in the views. The ocean at this time of year is particularly turbulent, so the sounds combined with the bustle of the waves demanded our constant attention.
Our first glimpse of the Na Pali Coast up ahead. Would you believe that this is the result of a long history of naturally occurring erosion? Hashtag nature is beautiful ya'll! If you're a movie buff, you may recognize some of these views from movies such as King Kong, Jurassic Park, South Pacific or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
At times, the elevation was fairly even and we were able to hike under the cover of various tropical plants. This wasn't always the case.
At times, the sun beamed so bright that it made the coast appear hazy in the distance. Sunscreen is highly recommended for this hike! As you can see, wooden beams are placed throughout the trail, to ensure that further erosion will be kept in check, and that there is ample grip available for hikers. Acting carelessly during the descending portion of the hike could result in a major fall off the cliff! The elevation gain on this hike is 600ft, although you often find yourself going down as much as you're going up. There were a couple of extra wet patches we had to cross through the hike - so don't wear your Sunday best shoes!
In fact, don't even wear your Monday shoes ... yuck! Actually, don't even wear shoes at all! haha, just kidding kids.... ! This spot is Hanakapi'ai Beach where hikers often take lunch breaks and stare into the ocean as the waves break on the nearby coast. During winter months the waves are SUPER aggressive here and getting near the water would be borderline suicidal. This was an unexpected but SUCH AN EXCITING part of the hike - we ran into these adorable but clearly wild kittens by the beach. These photogenic little guys roam the lush forest of the Na Pali coast and sometimes even come out to play with the tourists (aka beg for tuna and cheezeburgers, AMIRIGHT???)
The bamboo forest reminded Edi and I of scenes from LOST - especially the opener where the protagonist Jack Shepherd wakes up from the plane crash among bamboo trees... which by the way - bamboo is actually a grass, not a tree - who knew?! Bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than regular trees - no wonder breathing in Kauai was EXTRA efficient and easy! Edi and Vlad enjoyed this portion of the hike, hidden from the blazing sun! This little guy is a Spiny Orb-Weaver spider. While it looks malicious hanging from the spiderweb like that, what with its orange spikes and scary spots - wikipedia informed us that it's actually harmless to humans, and only look badass like that because of the spikes.
And here it is! We finally arrived at the waterfall. This view made everything worth it. Within seconds of coming into the valley of the waterfall, we felt the cold from the rocks & the freezing mist fill the air.
This photo should give you a good idea of the scale of this thing however keep in mind I am still standing quite far from the waterfall. Even from this point, I was not able to capture the full waterfall in all its glory with my iPhone. So many missed snapchat opportunities..., gahh!
A few brave souls ended up taking a dip in the freezing cold water at the base of the Falls. Not to be outdone, Vlad and I went for a dip as well, which we INSTANTLY regretted. Haha.
This is the only decent GoPro Pix (although Vlad may not agree LOL) before a droplet covered most of the lens.
But Yoloooooooo, right? We made it out successfully, all limbs still attached and no fingers/toes lost! (Ps. Don't be jealous about my tan lol). Meanwhile Edi sacrificed herself to remain dry on the land and take photos of our suffering. What a woman!
As you can see from my off-white Hawaiian tan and super kewl, half faded flash tat, I fit right in with the rest of the locals!
Edi bought in an awesome trucker hat while in Hawajiii - check out the brand here! It kind of looks like we're planning something extra grand in this picture - like, maybe we're planning to scale the wall behind the waterfall. Who's up first?? The whole squad here! #nonewfriends
One last shot of the waterfall because LOOK AT HOW MAJESTIC, AHSFAHSGIUHAIUSGHI !!! You guys, even animal crackers in Hawaii are extra cute. I spy an octopus, a whale, and a shark guy! So this was fun - although not captured on camera, I almost swung around the whole rope withOUT getting anything wet. Skiiiillz.
The trek back was fine, albeit a little long. And sometimes a little rocky!
Look at this weird pen15 tree - what the what?? Taking another break at Hanakapi'ai Beach. Only 2 miles to go at this point! Being so close to the water can be risky. We saw a bunch of people get wet (they were really bummed about their soaked iPhones, no waterfall snapchats for them). Shall we keep walking?? Aye aye captain!!! It's amazing how the same body of water could contain so many colors! Mountain peaks seen from the trail.
Nearing the parking lot already, my pony tail (and the rest of me) was a sweaty mess.
As you can see, the Kalalau Trail is a challenging but rewarding hike. For the more experienced hiker, I highly recommend the full 8-mile round trip trail towards the waterfall. For a more relaxed hiking experience, I encourage you to do the 4-mile round trip hike along the Na Pali coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach. This side of the island is only accessible by foot, so you won't be able to get views like these unless you go on a boat excursion (which Edi did 2 years ago and loved) or take a helicopter or a plane tour.
Get your hiking shoes ready, pack some snacks and water, charge your cameras and get out there peeps! It'll be one of the best things you do and see in life.