Wilderness Walks: Hiking the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach

When I read that the Kalalau trail on Hawaii’s oldest island, Kauai, was listed as one of National Geographic’s World’s Best Hikes, I had already decided it was a must-do on our itinerary. We had heard that Kauai was less developed than the other Hawaiian islands and much better suited to those travelers wanting to be closer to pristine nature, untouched beaches and mountain ranges – so yeah, not really a tough decision for us.. sold!! So we booked our flights to Kauai, certain that this trail would be one of the highlights of our trip. And.. then I kinda got a bit pregnant.

I gotta admit, after reading all of the online rattling about it – you need this, you need that, it’s a very difficult multi-day hike, one of the most dangerous in the World – yada yada yada, it kinda freaked me out. But whose to say we couldn’t just do part of it? So I did a bit more digging and heard from some reputable travel bloggers that the first few miles of the trail to Hanakapiai beach were some of the highlights and probably easy enough to do in an afternoon’s walk. I still wasn’t sure how I’d be, carrying an extra passenger and all, but it was definitely in the back of my mind. I hadn’t ruled it out.

On our first full day on Kauai, we went for an innocent drive to Ke’e beach, one our homestay host recommended. When we arrived we were pretty impressed by the beach but what really got us excited was that it happened to be the trail head to the Kalalau trail!

Here by complete accident and totally unplanned; we literally had a container of peanuts, half a bottle of water and the clothes on our back. Oh yeah, and we were wearing thongs (aka flip flops!).

The intrigue became too great and we just decided, on a whim, to walk it. “If it gets too hard, we’ll just go back” Ryan suggested, and I agreed, “Yeah, let’s just try to get to the first beach. It’s meant to be the best part anyway!” So we walked.

The first lookout was only 0.25 miles (roughly 400m) in and it was impressive! Even if you could only muster up the strength to do that, it would be worth it. The lush forest and coastal views throughout were incredible. It did kinda remind us of the Cinque Terre trail we’d done a little while back, it was that kind of dramatic. It was like that, but a tropical climate version. And instead of walking between villages, it was a walk heading deeper into the rugged cliffs of the Na Pali coast, an area that simply couldn’t be accessed in any way other than hiking to it. It was so remote and untouched.

The second lookout got even better, as you could see a view of Ke’e beach and over to the other side of the coast.

We were short of food, water and the hike was fairly strenuous, so it was definitely pushing my limits but somehow I didn’t lose my shit. I did, however, get a little emotional slipping and sliding over a few wet sections, in fear of falling and endangering the baby. But Ryan, as beautifully supportive as he always is, held my hand and we hobbled together over the rocks and through the streams.

We came through to a river crossing, which had me petrified. Ryan had thought ahead and came up with the idea of just walking through in our thongs. “It’ll be easier” he said, “that way you don’t have to balance on anything you can just walk across – just avoid the mossy rocks though”. So I put my feet in and OH MY GOD it was freezing but SO refreshing! It made me feel alive. Rejuvenated. As I waded in the water I saw that Hanakapiai Beach was in visible sight and I was estatic. I’d actually done this, 4 months pregnant!

I took some joyful photos and felt so at one with my surroundings and with the idea that our little baby in my belly must be loving this whole journey. After all, being outdoors with Ryan is what I enjoy the most, so having him or her there with us (don’t know the sex yet!) made the idea even more special. 

Our trek’s end point, Hanakapiai Beach, looked treacherous. The seas were rough, the tide was in and to make it that little bit creepier there was a grave cross on the rocks which was kinda creepy (but an important reminder of how dangerous the rips are; apparently 82+ people have drowned at that beach).

On the way back, my preggy aches returned and my back started to play up. By the time we reached the end, I could barely walk – I suppose because the descent was a bit rough.

When is the best time to take the trail?

The trail is open year round, but taking the trail during Hawaii’s Summer months (May to October) is a safer bet. We went in February and struck it lucky the day we walked, but we’d advise against going at this time of year (if you can avoid it) because;

  • the weather was unpredictable and the dirt paths became quite slippery after the rain
  • a few days after we hiked the trail, it was closed due to flash flooding
  • flash floods mean you can be stuck on the other side of the streams you need to cross, so check the weather forecast before starting the hike and keep your phones on for emergency weather warnings.

How Do I Find This Trail?

The Kalalau trail is the only way to access this very special section of the Na Pali coast by land.

Simply drive to Ke’e beach, leave your car in the very limited parking area (we just copied everyone else and parked along the side of the road; didn’t get a ticket – but some have in the past, so taking the risk is up to you!) walk over to the left of the beach and you’ll see a sign for the Kalalau trail that sends you into the forest along the cliff side – that’s the one you want!

How To Buy a Permit for the trail

Luckily as you’re only completing the first 3 miles of the trail to Hanakapiai beach, you won’t need a permit. Yay! If you do plan on continuing on and doing the multi-day hike, visit the Official Kalalau trail website for step-by-step instructions on how to purchase.

Things to consider for hiking the Kalalau Trail

  • No need for hiking boots, normal runners/thongs are fine
  • It doesn’t really get cold, so wear whatever you like!
  • It’s a short walk the first few miles so you’ll only need some water and snacks
  • Mosquitoes are prevalent around the river crossing so bring repellent – no zika or dengue reported on Kauai as yet but they do have the mosquito breed that typically carry those disease types so better safe than sorry
  • Don’t forget your camera 😉

Are you planning to walk the Kalalau trail? Pregnant too? Got any questions? Share them below and we’ll try to help out as best we can.


Danielle Steller | DanielleSteller.com
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Danielle Steller | DanielleSteller.com

Singer & Writer at Danielle Steller
Danielle Steller is a Singer & Writer inspired by the bohemian lifestyle, an eclectic collection of jazz, folk & hip hop music and travelling the world.
Danielle Steller | DanielleSteller.com
Join me!

  2 comments for “Wilderness Walks: Hiking the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach

  1. Julia C.
    June 12, 2017 at 1:49 am

    I lived reading your blog! We are going to Kauai in 8 days and my husband really wants to do this trail-just to the beach. I will be 12 weeks pregnant and had some concerns about slipping and falling- hoping its not too muddy. You really did it in flip flops?! It gives me hope that I can do it too, given good weather conditions. I know this is something hes been talking about for a long time and dont want him to do it alone. Also, I want to see these amazing views. I just know it will bug me if I don’t at least try. Do you have any other tips other than snacks, water, bug spray, and a camera for this excited but apprehensive mom to be? Thanks in advance♡♡♡ Hope all is well with you!

    • June 13, 2017 at 11:11 pm

      Hi Julia, CONGRATS on the baby news!! oh you’re so kind thank you – I’m glad this article has been useful to you. The views you’ll get on the Kalalau trail are unlike anywhere else on the entire island of Kauai (trust me, we looked!) so I would definitely recommend you try walking the trail, even if you just make it to the first or second lookout. It’s not a race, so just take it at your own pace. The whole experience is just magical, especially as a pregnant woman. For me, it was a reminder that I am not a fragile little flower – that I am a force to be reckoned with – a creator of life! So of course I could do it, and afterwards I couldn’t believe how much I had doubted myself! It was empowering 🙂 and I know you’ll have the same experience. I can’t wait to hear all about it. Extra tips? Remember your hubby is there to support you so get him to hold your hand if you feel unsteady at any point and ask him to carry everything for the hike. Don’t carry anything in your hands, you want to have both your hands free so you can hold onto things to steady yourself in case you need to. With your concerns of slipping and falling – had I known we were going on the trail that day, just for my own piece of mind I would have worn runners/sneakers with good grip for most of the hike (they breathe better than hiking boots and Hawaii can get pretty hot) so I would suggest the same for you. Good footing will make you feel a whole lot more secure. Then you can cross the river in your flip flops or even barefoot, so you don’t have to balance on the rocks (as you know, balance becomes something us preggy ladies aren’t great at, given the new weight on the front halves of our body!) In any case, to reassure you, have a chat with your doctor/nurse and they’ll tell you that in the early stages of pregnancy your baby is so well cushioned and tucked into the pelvis that any slips or falls are unlikely to affect it anyhow. I’d not have stressed out so much if I knew this at the time!

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