If you have not hiked the trail before, you’ll find yourself hiking switch-backs up and down as you go from the high cliffs near the ocean to the lower canyons and streams. From Hanakāpīʻai Beach you’ll hike steadily uphill until you get to over 800 feet then back to 500 and up to 700 and down to almost 300 then back to 600. It’s a very tough hike because of the constant elevation changes.
The first half of the trail seems to have more trees and shade but as you get closer to Kalalau, the shade gets rarer and rarer. You’ll run into many water crossings, especially in the canyons. Some of them are just mud, while some others are great for filling up your CamelBak’s with. Make sure to treat the water for bacteria like leptospirosis and other safety issues. I used tablets and a filter system.
A couple notable spots along the trail:
Many people hike all the Kalalau in one day. That is not me. I’m not in great shape anymore. Luckily for people like me there is Hanakoa. It’s a little more than half-way to Kalalau at the 6-mile mark. It’s not a place that you’d want to search out to go visit. It’s merely a place to rest overnight. It has composting toilets and some shade to sleep in. You can hike up to Hanakoa Falls which are about a half-mile up from Hanakoa.
Around Mile-7 you’ll run into what is called Crawler’s Ledge. I’m not a fan of heights but I’ve never had a problem crossing it. It’s not as scary as GoPro footage makes it seem to be. Unless it’s raining and muddy, I don’t think it should be a problem for most people. They have also put some work into making it a little less scary than it used to be.
For those of you who have not experienced it yet, the trail is one spectacular view after another where 4,000 foot amazing cliffs, beautiful beaches and the deep blue ocean meet. You’ll see Kalalau Beach about a mile and a half before you get there. It’s an amazing site. When you get to “Red Hill” you’ll know you are almost there.