The Kalalau Trail is probably the most famous hike on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The hiking trail along the northern cliffs of Kauai is one of the few possibilities to discover the spectacular Na Pali Coast and leads you through Hā’ena State Park. You can hike for many miles along the bluffs and experience the Na Pali Coast up close. This is otherwise not so easy, because there are no roads leading to the Na Pali Coast and no other hiking trail.
We will now tell you how to get tickets for this coveted hike and what you should keep in mind when doing the Kalalau Trail.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
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2 Ways to do the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is available in 2 levels of difficulty, because you can either hike it over a distance of 35 km almost to the other end of the Na Pali Coast or the shorter way to a wild beach and an impressive waterfall. Most people choose the short hike up to the waterfall. Not only is it shorter and much easier to walk. It is also much easier to get a ticket for it.
You heard right: For both hikes you have to buy a ticket, which is not easy. We will tell you later how to do that. First, let’s talk about the differences between the two hikes.
The Short Hike to the Waterfall | Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail
On this hike you start from the visitor parking lot of Hā’ena State Park. You can get there either by rental car or by shuttle bus. Which option is better we will tell you in the chapter about ticket reservation.
The hike leads you already after a few hundred meters high on the mountain and thus demands something from you directly. After a short time you will hike directly along the cliff and get phenomenal views of the Pacific Ocean and – in good weather – also of the entire Na Pali coast.
All the time you’re going up and down, and much of the time you’re enjoying the view of the coastline of northern Kauai to your right. To your left, the sometimes reddish-brown and often green-covered mountains of Waimea State Park tower over 1000 meters beside you.
The first destination on your route is Hanakāpī’Ai Beach after about 6 km, which is also the final point of your coastal hike. You are not allowed to hike further along the coast if you have not booked a ticket for the long version of the Kalalau hike.
Before you can reach the beach you have to cross a small river. Unfortunately, this is not without its problems, because if it has rained shortly before, the current can be dangerously strong. But even if the weather is fine, the water will be at least up to your knees. So you will not be able to avoid getting wet shoes to get to the beach.
You have to decide for yourself whether to walk barefoot or with hiking sandals. Most people just leave their hiking shoes on. Since your shoes will get super muddy later on anyway, that’s not a problem either.
Hanakāpī’Ai Beach is quite wild in the European winter months and usually has too strong a swell to swim carefree. In the summer months, however, the beach is quite inviting for a little cooling off.
The further way to the waterfall
To get to the next highlight of the Kalalau Trail, you have to go into the interior of the island away from the coast. Here you walk through dense jungle and mostly very muddy mud and have to cross several times the same river through which you have already waded shortly before Hanakāpī’Ai Beach. You’re really walking over hill and dale here and it’s very strenuous because it’s also continuously uphill.
Also, it’s not all that easy, because on the one hand the right path through the jungle is not easy to find and on the other hand it’s not always clear where exactly the best place to cross the river is.
Here it helps to use the app Alltrails or to orient yourself to other hikers.
Just under 300 meters in altitude and 3 km have to be overcome to reach the destination of this part of the hike, the Hanakapi’ai Falls. Shortly before you reach your destination, you will see the impressive waterfall appearing in front of you. When you stand directly in front of the 100 meter high waterfall, the spray whips in your face, but the panorama compensates for everything. If you want to take a little break for a meal here, it makes sense to look for a quiet place by the water about 100 meters away from the waterfall.
If it is warm enough you can even go swimming in the water below the waterfall. But be careful not to get directly under the waterfall, because falling rocks are not uncommon here.
For the way back you have to take the same way: back to the beach and then along the Na Pali coast back to the visitor parking. If you started early in the morning, you will meet many more hikers on the way back than on the way there, because most of them start in the late morning. Also, the trail will be a lot muddier and it is impossible not to completely ruin your shoes.
Short info about the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail:
- Length: 12.2 km
- Loop trail: no
- Difference in altitude: 712 meters
- Difficulty: difficult
- GPX: Hanakapiai Falls Hike at Alltrails
The long version of the NaPali Coast Trail
If you want to hike the whole Napalm Coast trail (be aware that you need a permit! see below) you will be on the road for several days. There are two campgrounds on the way beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach where you can stay overnight. You should plan at least two, but better three or more days to enjoy the nature on the way.
The hike has a spectacular panorama to offer and you hike partly so close to the cliff that it looks almost dangerous.
You should be physically fit enough, because the Kalalau Trail with its almost 1800 meters of altitude demands a lot from you. But in return you will be rewarded with views that the normal day visitor does not have on the hiking route to the Hanakapi’ai waterfall.
Short information about the complete Kalalau Trail:
- Length: 35 km (several days)
- Loop trail: no
- Altitude difference: 1800 meters
- Difficulty: difficult
- GPX: Kalalau Trail at Alltrails
Ticket Reservation for the Kalalau Trail
The most important tip first: Plan ahead!
As you read above, you can’t just drive to the start of the hike and start hiking. You have to buy a ticket in advance. And you can’t just buy the ticket on the spot, you should have bought it online a few days if not a few weeks before. Again, there is a difference if you just want to walk to the waterfall Hanakapi’ai or if you want to explore the whole trail.
Day tickets for Hanakāpīʻai Beach & Falls
If you only want to do the “easy” hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach or Hanakāpīʻai Waterfall, which is located inland, then you need a day ticket from the website gohaena.com.
Here you can purchase a ticket to visit Haena State Park a maximum of 30 days in advance. Tickets are released every day at 6 am Hawaii time. Especially in the high season in summer you should be quick and in case of doubt look for tickets before you book your flight to Kauai.
There are 3 different ticket options:
#1 Parking + Admission
Parking tickets are the very first thing to go, as they allow you to drive directly to the visitor parking lot by car and start hiking right away. There are only 70 parking spaces on site and they are taken very quickly.
- You have to buy tickets for a specific time slot
- Morning (6:30 – 12:30)
- Afternoon (12:30 – 17:30)
- Sunset (16:30 – sunset)
You can enter the park at any time after your start time, but you have to leave the park at your end time at the latest. It is not so easy to do the whole hike to the waterfall relaxed in this 6 hours window, but it is possible. If you want to take more time, then you should book two consecutive time windows.
The time slots cost 10$ per car and 5$ per person. If you book 2 time slots, it will cost you twice as much.
> Tickets are available here: gohaena.com
#2 Shuttle + Admission
It is much easier to book a shuttle, because here you park your car a few kilometers before the park (here) and then take a shuttle bus to Haena State Park. There is much more parking and it is much easier to get such a ticket.
The bus usually runs from 06:30 in the morning to 12:40 from the parking lot to Haena Park and takes about 30 minutes. But you have to choose a fixed departure time when booking your ticket and then you have to take this bus.
Back from Haena Park to the parking lot is usually no later than 6 pm. But you have to confirm this time on the spot. If you come back too late from your hike then you have to walk 10 km back to your car.
The shuttle ticket costs 35$ per person and is valid the whole day.
> Tickets are available here: gohaena.com.
#3 Entrance only
There is also the possibility to buy a ticket that is only valid for the entrance to the park. You will not have the possibility to park or use the shuttle. This only makes sense if you come to the park by bike or on foot or if you have a ride.
In my opinion, the only sensible use for this ticket is if you want to do the hike alone and your travel partner prefers to lie on the beach.
But this ticket is the cheapest way to get into the park with only 5$ per person. But you have to be picked up again.
> Tickets are available here: gohaena.com.
(Multiday) Tickets for the whole trail
If you want to hike the entire 35 km, you will not only need several days, but you will also need a special camping permit. This is extremely limited and should be purchased well in advance. You have to buy the permit on the following site maximum 90 days in advance: Hawaii Camping Reservation (ehawaii.gov)
The entrance fee to the park is already paid. What you still need is a ticket for parking. Since you will need at least two days (more likely) for the total distance of 35 km, you have to buy a parking ticket on the following page: Overnight Parking – Go Hāʻena (gohaena.com)
Tips for the Kalalau Trail on Kauai
How early do I need to book the tickets?
You should book the tickets as early as possible. Day hike tickets should be booked no more than 30 days in advance. So if you are traveling to Hawaii in the summer (i.e. peak travel season), you should try to get a ticket before you arrive and thus build your vacation around this hike.
In winter it is easier. You can get a free ticket a few days in advance (at least for the shuttle variant). If you want to use the possibility to park on site, you should book your ticket as early as possible.
Which Ticket for the Kalalau Trail is the best?
The cheapest option is the parking on site, because you pay only 20 $ for 2 persons in the best case. With the shuttle variant, however, you pay $ 70, but are a little more flexible.
The Best Time for the Hike
Summertime is still the best time to travel on Kauai, although of course the island can be toured year-round. But in the winter months, it rains a lot more than in the summer, which makes hiking on Kauai unnecessarily muddy and slippery.
No matter what time of year you arrive, you should start right early in the morning at 06:30, because that’s when the fewest other tourists are still out and about. You will have the path to yourself and the path is much less muddy than in the afternoon, when hundreds of people have already crossed the paths.
Hotel Recommendation on Kauai
Das Kauai Beach Resort liegt in der Hauptstadt Lihue in der Nähe des Flughafens direkt am Strand. Damit seid ihr nicht nur
schnell im Meer sondern auch sehr schnell an allen Ecken der Insel. Ihr bekommt hier komfortabel eingerichtete Doppelzimmer und einen super coolen Pool.
- perfekt verkehrsgünstig in Lihue gelegen
- super cooler Pool
- überschaubare, ruhige Hotelanlage
- super leckeres Bio-Frühstück
Can I do the Hike with my Dog?
Unfortunately, it is not allowed to take your dog on the hike.
Cell Phone Reception on the Kalalau Trail
You will not have cell phone reception the entire way on the Kalalau Trail. So you should download map data for your hiking app in advance and also keep in mind that you won’t be able to send whatsapp or google anything on the trail.
Toilets on the Kalalau Trek
There are very few public toilets on the Kalalau hike. If you are doing the short day hike, there are only two restrooms on the trail. The first is right at the visitor parking lot at the start of the hike and the second is near Hanakapi’ai Beach.
If you walk the entire Kalalau Trail, then there are two more campgrounds on the Na Pali Coast further along the trail where there are also restrooms.
Drone flying on the Kalalau Trail
Unfortunately, since the Kalalau Trail is in Haena State Park, flying a drone is prohibited here. If you want to experience the Na Pali Coast from the air, then we can recommend a helicopter flight over Kauai from our own experience. You can book it here: Helicopter sightseeing flight on Kauai*