The Serious Dangers Of One Of Hawaii's Most Iconic Hikes Are Often Ignored

Travelers can find one of the most breathtaking hikes in the United States on Hawaii's beautiful Kauai Island. The Kalalau Trail follows the Nā Pali coastline, providing incredible views of the beach, the sea, the mountains, and the valleys of Kauai. Between the lush forests and the gorgeous waterfalls, trekkers have plenty of reasons to attempt this hike and some excellent ones not to risk it. This trek is long (22 miles roundtrip) and extremely difficult. Tragically, people have gotten injured and died doing this climb, and even more have drowned swimming on the tempting beaches along the way.


The Kalalau Trail has an even more notorious reputation than the Haʻikū Stairs, the hike in Oahu that was shut down for being too dangerous. The stairs averaged around 10 rescues per year in its final 12 years of operation, while Kalalau required 46 in 2022 alone. The gorgeous pictures of Kalalau don't show that conditions can get slippery, and even experienced hikers can easily lose their footing. Kathy Valier, author of "On the Nā Pali Coast: A Guide for Hikers and Boaters," told Backpacker: "People have a hard time with some of the dropoffs. The trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I've talked with many people who have either fallen off the trail or seen it happen."

Tragic accidents on Kalalau Trail

Hawaii has many challenging hikes, from Waikiki's Diamond Head to Maui's Waihe'e Ridge Trail, but Kalalau Trail may pose the greatest risk to trekkers. In 2022, CNN ranked Kalalau Trail as one of the 11 most dangerous hikes in the world. As recently as March 2024, Backpacker called it one of the most dangerous hikes in America. Hawaii's Division of State Parks lists perils such as falling rocks, flash floods, shore breaks, and cliffs on the trail. Despite these warnings, Dacy Nottingham, who runs a website dedicated to hiking the trail, told SFGate: "There was a lot of people that were just unprepared for the whole thing. They didn't understand how hard it was."


While the trail starts easy, it rapidly becomes far too difficult for the average hiker looking for a relaxing walk along the coast. Injuries and falls occur regularly. In 2022, 46 people required search and rescue teams to save them. In one particularly bad couple of days in 2014, 121 people needed rescue. While emergency services in the area have experience tracking down hikers in dire situations, they don't always have the opportunity to do so. People have drowned in flash floods and fallen from treacherous ledges.

Should you hike Kalalau Trail?

If you're considering hiking this deadly trail, don't underestimate its dangers. Many trails in the U.S. should only be attempted by experienced hikers, and Kalalau Trail is one of them. Hawaii's Division of State Parks warns that even for confident and fit backpackers, hiking the trail in one direction will take all day. Local Fire Department Chief Michael Gibson stated in a report from SFGate: "Know your body and understand its limitations. Physically, it's an 11-mile trail. There's 800 feet of elevation, and a lot of people will hike the trail until they get tired. So now that they're tired, they still have to go all the way back and they can't."


Are you determined to experience this beautiful trail? Consider only going the first 2 miles from Ke'e Beach to Hanakāpī'ai Beach. Those who have hiked this stretch describe it as a challenging trek with a scary fall risk, but it will take you to gorgeous lookouts over the coastline without making you go all the way. You'll only need a reservation for Hā'ena State Park, which is considerably safer. You must get a Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park camping permit to travel further.