Should You Hike the Dangerous Kalalau Trail?
The Kalalau Trail is one of the most beautiful hikes on the planet. Hiking along the Napali Coast is awe inspiring and I wish everybody could experience it for themselves. Unfortunately, not every one should hike the trail. The trail is very dangerous. I can’t recommend it for those who aren’t in good shape. I also can’t recommend it for those who aren’t willing to be smart and obey rules and warnings. There are some true accidents that can’t be avoided but there are many other accidents can be.
The Kalalau Trail has been called one of the most dangerous trails in America (See list at the bottom of the post) as well as one of the most dangerous trails on Earth. In the past 4 months alone we’ve seen articles like these:
- Kalalau Trail Hiker Swept Down Hanakoa Stream
- Man Falls to his Death on Steep Terrain in Kalalau Valley
- 121 Stranded Hikers rescued from Hanakapi’ai
Many other accidents/injuries go unreported. The fact is that streams along the trail can swell up to very dangerous levels with little or no warning, rocks can fall from the cliffs above hitting hikers and campers, the trail has sheer cliffs and narrow, often slippery trails, and strong riptides have claimed many lives at Hanakapi’ai. One of the rainiest spots in the world is just a few miles away. It rains between 330-360 days each year on Mount Waialeale totaling an average of 450 inches of rain each year.
Along with all these hazards you also have put up with many ups-and-downs, unstable, loose and narrow paths, sunburn, heat exhaustion, dangerous plants and animals, and leptospirosis. There are no emergency services along the way. There is no cell phone coverage to use to call for help.
Everybody who hikes on the trail should understand these hazards. Everyone should be capable of making smart decisions to minimize these risks along the trail. If hikers can’t do that, then I don’t suggest they hike the trail. I would suggest that everybody familiarize themselves with the trail’s Health and Safety concerns. Know the local weather forecasts and obey the rules outlined by the State of Hawaii when you get your permit.
People spend months planning and saving for this vacation of a lifetime. It’s not worth risking your life hiking where you shouldn’t be or crossing a stream where you shouldn’t be, even if it means missing your flight home.
The Kalalau Trail is amazing. Make your trip amazing by following the rules and being cautious.
- BackPacker Magazine: America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes
- Travel+Leisure World’s Scariest Hike
- Gear Patrol: 10 Dangerous Hikes
- Discovery Channel: One of America’s Most Dangerous Trails
- Outside Magazine: The 20 Most Dangerous Hikes
- List25: Most Dangerous Hikes on Earth
To answer your title question, I’d have to say… it depends. We started the trail on a typically beautiful, partly cloudy morning in December of 2011… it was a nice hike until we got to a little short of Mile 6… and the rain came big time… we expected rain… and were prepared as far as gear was concerned… but nothing could prepare us for the condition the trail quickly became. The muddy ledges, nor more than 8″-12″ wide were eroded so bad they were slopping down… making it nearly impossible to walk on… long story short… we made it… it was amazing and beautiful and I want to go back… but the trip out was much more relaxed as the trail had dried and it was a piece of cake. So think twice… or even three times… if heavy rain is expected. Rain will pretty much always be expected… so that makes that decision even more difficult.
Considering the slippery conditions Joe noted during and after the rains, is it advisable to wear crampons on the soles of our boots? Will these “load up” with mud on the bottom of the boot and create an even more dangerous footing? My wife and I are hiking the trail in March. We booked extra days for weather flexibility also. If far from Kalalau beach or Hanakoa camping, one may be forced to move on, despite the conditions.
I know you asked six years ago and I’m answering now since others may have the same question today. Do NOT use crampons! When the trail is muddy, that mud sticks and clumps even on running shoes. Long spikes on crampons makes better anchor for more mud. You’ll find yourself walking or falling mud on mud, no traction.
My fiancée and I hiked the trail a year and a half ago. And as Joe said. It depends . For us, we grew up in northern British Columbia. The terrain was not a problem for us as you become sure footed growing up where we did. What is a problem, aside from the above listed. Is definitley physical fitness .. I am a heavy smoker and although i made it in and back without incident. I was more driven on stubborness than physical ability. being more fit would have made the hiking part much more enjoyable. That being said. The biggest problem we found was the way we packed ( this was our first multi day hike ever) mind your weight and don’t attach things to your pack that impede your mobility like tents or bed rolls on the bottom of your pack … I found all that weight on my back made crawlers ledge far more dicey than it needed to be. Although I have never been that tired and worn out and have never wanted to just give up so much in my entire life .. The hike, the challenge, the people we got to meet, and of course, above all else, the beach at the end was a thousand times worth it .
Oct 2015. Just hiked the Kalalau trail with my son. Me 55 yrs in good shape. Him an Eagle Scout a few days before his 18th birthday. Made it to the beach in 8-1/2 hours in beautiful weather! Practice hiked in the hills of Indiana before going. Each pack 27 lbs with food and water intending to stay one night and hike back out.
Tough climbs. The rivers were low so crossing was fairly easy rock hopping. Got one foot soaked at last river. With all the hype over crawler’s ledge, we passed it easily, it brought a welcomed stiff breeze and shade. I paid attention to where every foot step went, but did fine. Trickier parts of the trail were more concerning after the ledge, being the loose red dirt on the exposed steep hills with nothing to stop you if you slipped.
Drank more than 4 liters of water. Son ended up dehydrated when arriving at the beach.
Spent the night and opted to use a service provider to return via the water rather than risking additional health issues due to the dehydration. A Godly intervention that possibly saved us from problems during our return, when approaching the trail head area it was raining hard.
It was great! But be prepared if you go. It is very unforgiving to errors in judgment.
I hiked the trail twice. I first did the hike alone in 1980 and with my future spouse in 1983. You can count on rain everyday, just hope it does it at night. Trails get slippery and muddy to the point where the lug soles of my boots had two inches of mud stuck on them. Locals, I noticed, didn’t wear hiking boots, just bare feet or fisherman socks. Crampons would just collect thick mud and I would not recommend it. I wore light weight canvas walking shoes on my second hike. Much better suited since the soles did not get packed by mud. Bring a good tent that’s light but water tight. It will rain! Mosquitoes are plentiful so a good tent will help you sleep peacefully. Get in shape, the trail is 11 miles long but it goes up and down hundreds of feet. Pack carefully, do not bring more than essentials. It’s a tough hike even for experienced hikers.
This is not for beginner hikers…as I was. As stated before it always rains at some time during the day in Kauai. The morning started out beautiful. After hiking for 2 hrs we had a light rain and shortly after that I slipped on mud and bruised two ribs and cracked one (found out later on X ray.). You are on your own out there. After a while I finally crawled back very slowly down to Ke’e. Not an easy feat. Word to the wise–be prepared, wear good hiking shoes and be with someone. I don’t regret it at all. I’m glad I did. I did make it to the waterfall believe it or not. Painful but a great experience.