Distance: Choose your own adventure. You can turn around at Ke Beach (2 miles each way), which the majority do. You can continue to Hanakapi’ai Falls (add 2 miles each way for a round trip of 8 miles) or to Hanakoa Falls (add 4 miles each way for a round trip of 12 miles) or complete the hike to Kalalau (add 9 miles each way for 22 round trip). The latter would entail overnight camping.
Difficulty: Terrain is at times steep, slippery, scrambly, and almost always muddy. Expect a slower-than-normal pace. Alltrails rates the hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls as challenging. As always, the difficulty is relative to your fitness level and tolerance for slippery terrain.
Elevation Gain: 1,841 to Hanakapi’ai Falls
The views of the green cliffs plunging into the turquoise Pacific along the Kalalau Trail are stunning—classic Na Pali Coast. Beautiful Ke Beach is an idyllic place to spend the afternoon if you don’t wish to venture farther.
For more adventurous spirits, the trek through rain and bamboo forests to Hanakapi’ai Falls is an absolute must! As are the refreshing swimming holes along the way! I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Bamboo forest enroute to Hanakapi’ai Falls
Hanakapi’ai Falls, apparently what we see here is only the bottom ~400 feet or so of the waterfall. Magnificent!
Hanakoa Falls is another waterfall further along the Kalalau Trail that is taller than Hanakapi’ai Falls ( ~1,000 ft tall vs ~400 ft). Hanakapi’ai Falls is by far the most spectacular waterfall and setting that I’ve ever hiked to. I can’t wait to go back and check out Hanakoa Falls. Have you been?
Notes: If hiking to waterfall, beware of inclement weather as it’s a dangerous flash flood area. Strongly recommend hiking shoes to get the most traction. Some hikers use poles too. I didn’t. I prefer to have my hands free. These pictures illustrate why. The rocky section on the right is at the beginning of the hike and not representative per see.
RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED all vehicles and hikers visiting HĀʻENA STATE PARK and may be made up to 30 days in advance, no later than the day before. (Hawaii residents are exempt.) There’s limited parking (100 spots) at the trailhead, but there’s a daily shuttle service from daily from Waipā Park and Ride to Hā‘ena State Park (~$40 ea person, includes park entry). Shuttle info here.
Elevation gain: ~2,162 steep ft, all the elevation gain is on the way back
Difficulty: Hard/challenging, not for the faint of heart or knees
The upsides of the Kukui Trail are the wild views of the colorful west side of Waimea Canyon (a kaleidoscope of red ochre, charcoal, and every shade of green) and the great workout you get as you climb all the way back up to the top. The last section at the bottom is an enticing path through a forest, which ends at the rocky river. Go quietly and if you’re lucky you might be graced by the sight of frolicking feral goats.
There is a some satisfaction to traversing to the river that seemed impossibly far away when you viewed it from the scenic turn outs high above. Reaching the rocky river bed itself was a bit anti-climatic, aside from rooster and goat sightings. I imagine it might be fun to scramble along the river, but I ran out of time.
Critters that you might encounter: the ubiquitous Kauai roosters and shy feral goats.
Notes: Strongly suggest hiking shoes and a pole or 2 might help as well. Wouldn’t attempt if it is raining or has rained heavily —terrain is also slippery when dry. This is seasonal pig and goat hunting area -yikes – not sure how that works, given that it’s a popular hiking area. Gives “I survived the Kukui Trail” new meaning!
Here’s what a good portion of the steep descent / ascent looks like before you enter the woods- surreal 3d blurred effect due to rain & operator error, but you get the idea.
Getting there: Highway 550, about 0.75 miles past the 8-mile marker. Parking is along the road.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level and the last time it rained. As with most trails in Kauai, it can be a slick, slippery, and treacherous mudfest.
Elevation gain to the 2.5 mark: 915ft, it’s gradual and friendly
Mileage: ~4+ out and back you choose the distance, car shuttle to Olohena Road for ~8 miles , or don’t for ~16 miles) My understanding is the best views are from the Kuilau approach vs Olohena Road so if you only have time for a shortie, go with Kuilau. It was spectacular, quintessential Kauai mountain scenery,
Terrain: Ranges from fire road width gravelish surface to single track, slippery slide.
Videos to come
Short, steep, and super sweet waterfall and pools hike. The upper sister to Lower Calf Creek Falls— both doable in a day if you’re into chasing waterfalls and plunging into icy pools.
Elevation gain/loss ~600ft (per alltrails), 1,476ft (per Garmin) – uh, idk, split the difference? (Felt like more than 600ft and less than 1,400.) Let me know what elevation reading you get.
Miles: 2-3 RT, depending on how much you wander and explore.
Difficulty: Easyish, depending upon knee health and fitness level—Starts and ends with a half mile of steep slickrock descent and ascent, respectively – daunting to many – all the better for the few.
Highlights: Dramatic Navajo Sandstone slickrock landscape with expansive vistas, an 87-foot-high waterfall, and a couple cool (in more ways than 1) pools set in a shady riparian oasis.
Getting there is half the fun: The trailhead is 22.4 miles NE of Escalante between mileposts 81 and 82 off of UT-12, which is one of the most beautiful scenic byways in Utah, and many would argue in the entire US. Parking is free.
Post Hike Rewards at Escalante Outfitters—their Pizza is the Best!!!