Hiking Kalalau Trail: Kauai flooding closes Napali Coast trail

by Jul 12, 2018United States

Over the years, we have enjoyed outstanding adventures along the first section of the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Napali Coast. Sadly, the trail and the adjoining Ke’e State Beach in Ha’ena State Park remain shut down after Spring 2018 floods when the ensuing mudslides and damage wrought havoc.

The Kalalau Trail is the only access to this part of the beautiful rugged coastline, and it is spectacular. We in fact did a hike there a few years back when a flash flood from rainfall while we were out engorged the river at Hanakapi’ai Beach, leaving us scratching our heads about how to even get back. We crossed the river – perhaps not the wisest thing in hindsight – but sleeping on the beach in the rain was not really an option.

Hanakapiai Beach on Kalalau Trail

That morning a few years back our Kalalau Trail hiking plans seemed just fine. It was only raining “a little,” and the trail is “only” two miles from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach then “only” another two miles to spectacular Hanakapi’ai Falls. This really is a treat of an outdoor outing if you are in Kauai after the trail is scheduled to re-open in late 2018 or 2019. This is the only section you can do along the Napali Coast without a trail permit. Which is why this closure from Kauai flooding April 2018 is so sad. Kauai Trail updates are available on the Hawaii State Parks website. Meanwhile, whet your appetite for fun, and read on.

Our grand Kalalau Trail adventure

On our outing that day, we knew we’d get wet, but little did we know what was to come. We load up our daypacks, fill up with plenty of water (a must once you can hit the trail again), and take snacks, hats and sunscreen (OK, so we are optimists…). For many, the first two miles to the beach are plenty.

By the time we get there from our rented cottage near Kapa’a, it’s late morning. By then the mixed sun/clouds on the east shore had turned into drizzles and total overcast on the north shore. Although it’s stopped raining when we finally park, the air is so thick you could practically swim through it.

I tell Michael I was going to treat today like a fast hike. No racing or running. He nods, skeptically. We both start up the first rocky, root-covered incline of about 20 feet or so and we slowly speed up. The first slightly runnable surface we come to, we both launch into a jog. And the race to Hanakapi’ai Falls is on – it seems we can’t help ourselves. We love to run trails. Soon we were dripping sweat from our earlobes. We were breathing hard, sucking in thick cotton wads of humid air. And damn it felt good. But, oh, it was wet out. Really wet. Like so crazy wet we knew the streams ahead were going to be raging.

HITT Tip: The Hawaii State Parks website warns, “The upper half of this trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls should be hiked only in good weather to avoid dangerous flash floods and falling rocks.” Honestly, we recommend you listen. This is not a trail to mess around with. If you ignore the warning signs (as we did), and ignore our recommendation NOT to ignore the warning signs, you are doing so at your own risk!


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Therese's feet in a muddy stream on hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls

Yes, this is (was) the trail … it became a small stream on the way to Hanakapa’ai Falls.

At the Hanakapi’ai Stream crossing at the final beach, we see a string stretched across at the trail. Not sure what for. It’s a flimsy string. Hold onto it and it won’t do you a bit of good. Slip and fall while holding it and you’ll just take it with you. At the stream, too, is a sign that warns in no uncertain terms of the danger of flash floods and swollen waters. The sign also warns that you could be “seriously injured or killed” from the strong current. Seriously killed? We had no idea there was any other kind of death but serious … so there you go.

Starting up the path inland toward the Hanakapi’ai Falls after wading across thigh-deep water, it’s immediately clear that we are in for one wet adventure. For the first 20 minutes or so I’m trying to hop rocks and walk around the edges of muddy puddles but that’s soon fruitless – the path is now a small creek. There are more signs stating you could be seriously killed. We ignore them. And so have dozens of others, noting the others on the trail — from 20-somethings to 60-somethings, plus one family with two little boys around ages 6-8 who are wearing mud as war paint on their cheeks. Everybody appears pretty nonchalant. You have to be if you are insistent about tossing care to the winds and flouting the danger of being seriously killed.

It takes us about 1.5 bushwhacking hours to the Hanakapi’ai Falls. About halfway up it starts POURING. My hair looks like I just got out of the shower. You could wring water out of every pore. We slosh through the creeks that were formerly alleged trails. We can’t come this far and not see the falls!!!! We get there but it’s coming down hard now, so there is no time to “sit and enjoy.”

Therese Iknoian at Hanakapiai Falls in pouring rain

Hanakapiai Falls are beautiful, even when it is pouring! That mop of hair may look normal, but note other photos with her normally curly, frizzy, big mop.

Time for a couple of photos, one video and we start to head back.

We get to the final Hanakapa’ai Stream crossing at the beach, and the water has gone up more than a few inches – like to our waists. I follow Michael out and WHAM the current about knocks me over. Not that I was terribly worried about getting hurt, or worse. I may have just gotten even more seriously wet than I already was. Folks are just standing on both sides kinda taking it in – the ones on the Ke’e Beach side staring at it wondering if they wanted to go to Hanakapa’ai beach that badly, and those on the far Hana beach side wondering how they are going to get back.

It’s stopped raining but our shoes are still squishing with every step and sorta of squirting water out the sides. It’s been quite a day. A great day. A fast-forward day full of adventure – adventure that inspires our souls.

HITT Tip:Take plenty of water, sunscreen, and let somebody know where you are. If the weather looks good, do not miss this trail. If the weather looks like it has rain in the forecast, perhaps wait for another day. Consider just the first two miles to the beach, which are challenging enough. Also, there are no stores near the beach so be sure to shop before heading out. If you are coming from the east or south, do not miss Small Town Coffee in Kapa’a, hands-down THE best coffee on the island with a true non-tourist atmosphere.

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