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Hike the Kalalau Trail on Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai, the Garden Isle of Hawaii... there's no better way to explore this lush and flourishing island than to take one of the many hiking trails that wind their ways into the waysides and cliffsides of paradise.
A popular hike among tourists and locals alike is the Kalalau Trail which traverses the Na Pali Coast. Because no roads go through this part of the island, hiking is the only way to see these intensely majestic cliffs by land. In times past, people lived in the valleys along the Na Pali, and the trail itself is said to be ancient. Conservationists keep up the trail in good conditions, but beware in rainy weather: the trail can become very muddy and slippery and is susceptible to erosion.
The trailhead lies at the northwest end of Highway 560. The road literally stops at Ke'e Beach, a well-known beach loved by snorkelers for its expansive coral reef. Parking is usually hard to find down by the beach, but along the road leading up to the trail, there are several spots to park. Be sure to take all of your valuables with you when you leave your car.
The Kalalau Trail is approximately eleven miles long and crosses five valleys on its way to the its final destination: Kalalau Beach. Most hikers choose to hike the first two miles of the trail (to Hanakapiai Beach) before heading back. This two mile stretch makes a great outing for active families and hikers who don't want to be gone all day. No permits are required for the hike to Hanakapiai Beach, however you must check in and receive a permit if you wish to go further. Those who plan on hiking the full distance should plan on being gone at least two days, camping on the trail or at the Kalalau Valley
To Hanakapi'ai Beach
The first half mile of the trail gains a good deal of altitude, providing expansive views of Ke'e Beach and the reef that fringes it. The ocean changes colors with the changing depths, and the horizon curves out for miles. Look up and you will perhaps see the kukui trees which shade the trail. Further on the trail, you may even find some guava trees.
The red dirt trail zigzags in an out of the valleys and cliffs with an occasional stream trickling over the path. The ocean is forever on your right, a tree-covered cliff blocking you from the surging depths. On your left, the tops of the verdant cliffs hang down from the sky, leaving you isolated in one of the most incredible spots on earth.
Two miles down the Kalalau Trail brings you to Hanakapiai Beach. On the descent down the valley, a sign warns you (with tick marks of past drownings) not to swim at the beach. The ocean current here sweeps parallel to the shore, potentially pulling any swimmers out to sea and onto the rocky cliffs.
Although not fit for swimming, the beach provides a great place for relaxing, picinicking, picture-taking and even camping.
Cats can be campers too...
"Accommodations" at Hanakapiai
To Hanakapiai Falls
Once you arrive at Hanakapiai Beach, you may, if your wandering heart so chooses, decide to hike into the valley and visit Hanakapiai Falls. The Hanakapiai Valley Trail lies next to the stream that empties out on the beach. For two miles, adventurous hikers follow the stream up into the wilderness, crisscrossing occasionally over sturdy boulders. Just keep in my mind that taking this branch of the trail will give you four miles to hike back home.
Hanakapiai Falls is a breathtaking 120 feet high; pictures just can't do it justice. The water is freezing, but don't dare leave without jumping in! You'll be glad you did as you hike home in the hot afternoon sun.
Tip for thirsty hikers...
Hiking can be exhausting work, especially when you're climbing over boulders and exploring Kauaian wilderness. So think ahead and pack some sodas or water bottles. Pull them out when you get to the falls and stick them in the shallows off of the waterfall. The waters coming off the mountain are icy cold and will chill your drinks in only a short time. (Mountain Dew is the drink of choice.)
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