Spoiler alert: My husband and I love Hawaii! But you knew that. Spoiler alert 2: We LOVE to hike! You might already know that, too. I’ll be coming out with a full guide to hiking on Kauai soon, but first things first: The Kalalau Trail. It’s one of Kauai’s most popular hikes, but it’s also one of the most difficult… to start! Why? Because you have to make a reservation, and reservations go quickly. Here’s everything you need to know about how to enjoy this gorgeous hike on your trip to the most beautiful island in the world: The Garden Island.
About the Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail follows the epic Na’Pali Coast for 11 miles (22 miles round-trip), but most people only do the first two to four miles. It’s classified as a “difficult” trail, so please be careful, no matter how experienced a hiker you happen to be.
Where can I hike?
Day-Use Pass holders who come via shuttle, their own car, on foot, or are dropped off, may hike as far as Hanakāpī’ai Beach (four miles round-trip) and Hanakāpī’ai Waterfall (eight miles round-trip). If you want to hike the full 22 miles round-trip, you will have to reserve a special camping permit, regardless of whether or not you plan to camp.
Is the trail hard to hike?
As you might imagine, 11 miles is quite a hike, and even fit and experienced hikers won’t be able to hike out and back in a single day. If you want to hike the entire trail, plan for two days, and know that you will have to get a special permit. Yes, even if you think you can hike it in a day, you will need an overnight permit to do so. This also helps emergency services know how many people are out there, so they know who and how many people to look for in case of an emergency.
Like the two people rescued in June 2021 because of a “possible” wrist injury and a “possible” knee injury (don’t forget to read the comments from locals). Be safe, be self-aware, be respectful. And if you only read one other article today, read this one about rescues and hiking safety.
Read about more rescues on the Kalalau Trail Website.
Why do I need a reservation?
The Kalalau Trail is very popular, but also very narrow in some places. That combination makes for a bit of a dangerous hike. But the impetus for the reservation requirement came after unusually heavy rains caused flooding, landslides, and other damage in April 2018. The trail re-opened in June 2019, but with significant changes to make the hike safer for visitors and more manageable for the environment. Read more about it in this article: The Kalalau Trail Re-opens, with Changes.
What to Know Before You Make a Reservation
For reference, I tried making a reservation just to see what the process was like. I logged on at midnight Hawaii time (6:00am EST), when reservations opened, and they were sold out in less than two minutes! That was in June for a July date, so we were hopeful things would be more available in July for an August date. We had three dates to play with. Here are the most important things to know when booking your reservation.
Set a Calendar Reminder
You can purchase tickets up to 30 days before you want to hike. Tickets go on sale at midnight Hawaii Time.
There are Only 70 Parking Spaces Available
There are 30 additional spaces for locals who can get in with their photo ID and do not need to make a special reservation.
Keep an Eye on the Time
You may arrive any time within your time window, but you must be out by your end time. Times are 6:30am-12:30pm, 12:30pm-4:30pm, and 4:30pm-sunset. If you want extra time, you may also purchase reservations for the time slot immediately following.
- Shuttle and Pass: $35 Per Person
- Parking and Pass: $5 Per Person, plus $10 Per Car
- Pass Only: $5 Per Person
Note from GoHaena.com FAQ Page:
All reservations include entry to the park, visiting Kē’ē Beach and day-hiking Kalalau Trail as far as Hanakāpī’ai Beach and Waterfall. Hiking further or overnight camping requires permit.
Read on: Hawaii for History Lovers
How to Make Your Reservation
First things first, make sure you’re at your laptop, refreshing your browser as the clock turns to midnight Hawaii time, whatever time that is for you at home!
1. Go to the Ha’ena State Park website: https://www.gohaena.com/.
This will take you directly to the reservations page. Select your date and the number of people in your party, then click “Check Availability.” *Note: If you want a Parking and Pass reservation and there are multiple vehicles in your party, each vehicle must make a separate reservation.
2. Choose a Reservation Type
Parking and Pass
Parking and Pass reservations are $10 per car, plus $5 per person. For example, for my husband and me to go in the same car, we would pay $20 total. There are no returns or exchanges.
Shuttle and Pass
Shuttle and Pass reservations are $35 per person, which includes transportation to and from your shuttle pick-up site. As roads on Kauai are often closed or under construction, please check the Shuttle Schedule and Stops Page for the most up-to-date information. There are no returns or exchanges, even if the shuttle is not going that day.
If you have someone on the island who will give you a ride, or you are visiting with a Hawaii resident in their car, the cost is $5 per person via drop off, shuttle, rideshare, etc. Please note that there is no cell service at the park entrance, so you will not be able to request a return rideshare from there. There are no returns or exchanges.
Helpful info: How to Save BIG on Your Trip to Hawaii
3. Select Your Time
Time options are 6:30am-12:30pm, 12:30pm-4:30pm, or 4:30pm-sunset. The number next to the selections is the number of parking spots left for that time slot. When you make your selection, click “Reserve Your Spot.”
As previously mentioned, you may enter any time during your designated time slot, but you must leave by the end time. If you think you will want to stay longer, you may purchase the next time slot as well, if available.
Tip: You may want to have a friend help you book these reservations simultaneously, as time slots fill up quickly.
Keep reading: Pro Tips for Your Trip to Hawaii
4. Provide Your Contact Information
You will have to enter the e-mail address where you want the passes sent, then re-enter the same e-mail address to confirm. You will also need to provide your phone number, as well as the first and last names of the people in your party. Then click “Review and Pay.”
When you get to this step, you will have 15 minutes left to complete your booking before the reservation is re-released and up for grabs again.
Read next: The Most Helpful Hawaii Posts You Will Ever Find!
5. Provide Payment Information
You did it! Just put in your credit card information, accept the terms and conditions, and wait for your confirmation e-mail. If you have any problems, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Give them up to 48 hours to return your e-mail. Also take a look at their Contact Page for more about what to include in your e-mail to make sure you get the right help as quickly as possible.
Don’t find yourself in a pickle! The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Money
6. Confirmation and Download Ticket
Once you click “Pay and Confirm,” you can relax and rejoice! The next screen will thank you for your purchase and urge you to enjoy your hike! There will also be a button to download your ticket to either print it or download it to your phone. You will also receive an e-mail confirmation with your ticket attached.
*Note: There is no cell service or wi-fi at Ha’ena State Park. You will have to download the tickets or print them to bring with you before you arrive the entrance. Otherwise, you will have to drive back toward Hanalei until you get cell service.
Also helpful: What to Read Before Your Trip to Hawaii
What to Wear
Don’t forget to pack appropriately! Below are some Amazon affiliate links to items that I like and that travel well. By clicking on the links to shop with me, you’re supporting my small business at no additional cost to you!
This is not the moment for flip flops or sandals! Leave the chacos at home. You don’t want any way for dirt, rocks, leaves, sticks, etc., to get in and start rubbing your feet the wrong way. Regular walking or running shoes would be fine for the trail, but if you’re a little bit less than light on your feet, maybe consider some actual hiking shoes. These are adorable–most women’s hiking shoes are kind of ugly, but not these!
Similarly, you will want to wear socks. Blisters are no fun whether you’ve walked 4 or 22 miles to get them! Smartwool makes all their socks in the USA, which I love, but also, they’re just amazing socks. They’re my go-to for running or hiking, and no, “wool” here is not synonymous with hot or itchy–it’s smart!
Don’t take my word for it! Ask my podiatrist:
The Ultimate Guide to Travel and Your Feet
I realize comfort is subjective, but in general, athletic clothes or other moisture-wicking materials are a good bet for a hike like this one!
Hat and Sunglasses
Your eyes and face need protection! I never go on a hike without a hat and sunglasses, since I know from experience that I miss them if I forget! I prefer a visor because of how I like to have my hair, but use what’s comfortable for you! And always make sure your sunglasses are polarized.
Read next: The Ultimate List of Hiking Tips
You’ll definitely feel yourself start to burn if you forget this little essential. Just make sure it’s reef safe, since all streams lead to the ocean (and the actual ocean is right there). Also, Hawaii has made it illegal to sell sunscreens with chemicals that harm coral reefs with octinoxate and oxybenzone. So, you could either pay a small fortune for it when you get there, or you can order some here and bring it with you!
I prefer solid for travel, but my husband prefers lotion. Both of the options below are travel size. You can choose!
Also helpful: The Traveler’s Guide to Sunscreen
Pro Tip: Apply sunscreen, wait 10-15 minutes, then apply bug repellent. That advice came from a travel vaccination nurse, and so did the recommendation for the (travel size) lotion below! You can also get wipes, which are also good for travel. Just make sure it has DEET. I’m all for using natural products that work, but if you’re prone to bug bites the way my husband is, DEET products are the solution.
Also helpful: What to Do if You Get Sick on Travel
What to Bring
Bring as little as possible, but don’t skimp on water and food!
You need a dry bag in Hawaii. You just do! This one is perfect for a hike because it’s backpack style, but it’s also completely waterproof if it starts to rain on you. Or if you want to go for a swim but don’t want to leave your stuff behind! I get compliments on this one all the time. It’s the best.
One of my most-viewed posts ever: 5 Things You Forgot to Pack for Hawaii
Full Water Bottle
Or two! Always bring twice the water you think you’ll need for any hike. The general recommendation is to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour (hiking speed is usually about two miles per hour), so use that as a rule of thumb. All water from streams in Kauai should be treated before drinking, so it’s best to bring your own. I packed two 32-ounce bottles for myself on our 8-mile round-trip hike. Here are a couple of options.
More here: What to Pack for Your Beach Vacation
You will want food, and you’ll have to bring your own! Some of my favorite packable hiking snacks are below. Remember, when choosing snacks for a long hike like this one, salt, sugar, and protein are all good things to stock up on–yes, sugar and salt, too!
It’s a good idea to bring some electrolytes with you to accompany all that water you’re drinking!
GORP is an excellent hiking snack! GORP=Good Old Raisins and Peanuts.
Protein, salt, iron. Beef jerky is more than just Slim Jims these days!
No, you cannot take a whole jar of peanut butter in your carry-on for the flight (trust me, I got my nearly-full jar taken away when I was just a poor, single working girl back in 2008!). You can, however, bring these little packets!
I’ve tried dozens of protein bars over the years, and I think Clif Bars taste the best and have the most reasonable nutritional ratios. If you know of a better one, comment to change my mind!
Related: The Best Snacks to Pack for the Trip
Highlights of the Kalalau Trail
I love cliffs. They’re dramatic, they’re beautiful, and on Kaua’i, they’re draped in the most beautiful greenery. That moment where the mountains meet the sea is mesmerizing to me.
The Jungle Vibe
Why does it feel like you’re in the jungle? Oh, yeah, because you are! It rains so much on this part of the island (so don’t let a little rain stop you from hiking here), which makes the trail even more vibrant and beautiful.
Recapturing an Iconic Photo
We’re not those “We have to re-create past photos!” people. But this one was too good to pass up. We hiked the trail on our second anniversary, in May of 2016, and it was so memorable, we had to do it again on our return to the island in August of 2021. Still epic. Still gorgeous. Still a favorite.
The Na’Pali Coast is so iconic, so unique, and so picturesque, it’s inspired scenery in movies, and even appeared in several as well! Iconic peaks like this one make you feel like the lead in your own adventure movie!
Approaching Hanakapi’ai Beach are some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever find. The green cliffs, the red dirt, the blue water, the golden sand beach, the sound of the waves, the scent of Kaua’i–it’s almost sensory overload. When you finally get to the beach, you know the hike in was worth it, and so will be the hike out!
Coming soon! The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Hawaii: Kaua’i
Want more about Kaua’i, traveling to the Hawaiian Islands, and tips for making the most of your trip? Check out everything you need and more on my Hawaiian Islands Page!
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