Notes from the Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Contributed by Jeffery Rogers

I had the pleasure of running the Kalalau Trail on Friday, March 4.  For those who aren’t familiar with the trail, it provides the only land access to the rugged Na Pali coast on the Hawaii island of Kauai.  Its 11 miles traverse five tropical valleys each with an exquisite waterfall, cross over towering sea cliffs with 1,000-plus foot drop-offs, all before ending up at Kalalau Beach, one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches.  And since it was still winter, the rocky, rooty, steep and stumbly trail was covered with the axle-grease-like mud the guys and gals of HURT are so proud of.

The trails starts just west of Hanalei Bay at the Ke’e Beach.  Essentially the small paved road crosses increasingly smaller one-lane bridges until the road just ends at the beach.  Arriving at 7:30 am to catch the early morning light, I laced up my Montrail Leona Divides, strapped on my Camelbak Rogue, and set out.  Within 50 feet I was slipping and sliding around in the mud, dancing over roots, dodging rocks, desperately trying to stay on my feet.  When I fell within the first half mile, I wondered what I was really getting into.  As luck would have it, I wouldn’t fall again until I was almost back to the car.  The muddiest part of the trail is the first two miles on the way to Hanakapi’ai.  On the way you get the first views of the rugged coastline.

The next 4 miles, on the way to Hanakoa Valley, begins with a steep (it’s all steep really) 800 foot climb on a switchback trail.  It’s still muddy, but now there are palm fronds all over the trail, making hard to see the rocks and roots.  On this section you pass through the small hanging valleys of Ho’olulu and Waiahuakua.  Throughout the whole run you are serenaded by the crashing of large waves on the rocks 1,000-plus feet below and the waterfalls that cascade down the valley walls.

When I finally began the climb out of Hanakoa Valley, the trail was literally swallowed up by orange and yellow lantana flowers and a purple flower I didn’t recognize.  I had to walk otherwise runnable sections because I couldn’t see the trail, what with the flowers, face-high, blocking my view.  It was quite a treat.  There is also a very narrow section of trail that precipitously skirts the volcanic rock-face.  I met two hikers here, one not wearing shoes.  Oh, well.

After a long descent down the red-clay slopes, I entered the Kalalau Beach area.  Towering over me were the majestic fluted cliffs of the Kalalau Valley, where King Kong and Jurassic Park were filmed.  I ran over to the far end of the beach to take a shower in the waterfall, an idea I got from akabill and Stan Jensen’s photos. 

It had taken three and a half hours to go 11 miles.  It would take four more hours to retrace 11 more miles back to the car.  It was worth it all.  The Kalalau Trail is very strenuous.  Most of the hikers I saw were amazed that someone would run in and out on it. (I was amazed anyone would carry 40 pounds on it.)  Most of the day hikers struggled painfully (in inappropriate footwear) on just the first two miles to Hanakapi’ai.  At the end of my run, my Montrails had split in four different areas of the uppers.  It was just time to toss them.  They worked well, but this was their last trail run.

Mahalo to akabill, Stan, Greg, and Bob for their advice and thoughts. 

My pictures can be found at:

Other links–

Stan’s and akabill’s photos —