Kalalau Trail Kauai

Kauai: One Of The World’s Most Gorgeous Hikes Is Among The Deadliest

This week, tragedy struck again at a spot on Kauai that’s seen far more than its fair share of accidental deaths. It occurred at the Hanakapiai Falls Trail on the north shore near Haena. 30-year-old New York visitor, Matthew Wu, a good hiker, fell to his death.

“He was in front of me for much of the trail and was young and a good hiker. He just took one wrong step on a slippery rock. It was devastating. Wanted to post this just so others really do take care when hiking this trail.”

Rebecca, who witnessed the death of Matthew Wu.

The Na Pali Coast via the 11-mile Kalalau trail starts at the end of the highway on Kauai’s epic north shore. Visitors access the area via a parking pass or shuttle transportation and a permit if hiking beyond Hanakapiai Valley.

Day hikers going the first two miles to Hanakapiai Beach do not need a permit. You can also hike the first half mile and see the incredible views. Roundtrip and back will take about four hours or more. Matthew, the hiker who last died, added the Hanakapiai Falls trail from the beach, and that’s when the tragedy struck.

The dangers of hiking the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Falls

The first 2 miles traverse a lush tropical forest with emerald-green foliage. It is famous and in such demand for obvious reasons. The trail switches back and forth between the coast and valleys, crosses streams, and encounters waterfalls. It then descends into Hanakapiai Valley, replete with twisted vines, ginger, bananas, guava, and the renowned Hanakapiai Stream.

At Hanakapiai Stream, boulder hopping brings you to the beach, where swimming is not recommended. Otherwise, it is fun to explore and enjoy the area. This is the beach at which editor Jeff sadly witnessed a visitor drown.

Extreme caution should be exercised along this trail as it can be hazardous during rainy periods and avoided during flash floods. There are several narrow sections with tall dropoffs lurking.

This week’s tragic death at Hanakapiai Falls.

Once on Hanakapiai Beach, some hikers, like Matthew Wu, add the Hanakapiai Falls Trail to their day hike if they are in excellent shape. The 1.8-mile extension will add another 4 hours to your hike. The trail becomes more dangerous as it meanders over rocks. The upper half show can only be done in good weather. At the end is the spectacular 300-foot waterfall.

The incident occurred around noon on Sunday. Matthew reportedly fell approximately 30 feet off the trail. First responders were alerted, followed by the Kauai Fire Department’s helicopter. Matthew was found unconscious and bleeding from his head. Bystanders were performing CPR on the victim when rescuers arrived.

The incident is another reminder of possible dangers when hiking Kauai trails, especially during wet conditions. Parts of the trail are very narrow, together with an extreme drop-off. This requires the utmost of caution. The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources suggests that only “experienced hikers” attempt the trail from Hanakapiaia Beach to Hanakapiai Falls.

There have been so many deaths along the Kalalau Trail that it is hard to recount.

You may also recall the death of Zachary Rose, who, at age 28, also fell from the trail at Mile Marker 7. A 31-year-old Texas visitor, Daniel Foster, died of an apparent fall into the Kalalau Valley near the end of the 11-mile trail. At about the same time, a 61-year-old German visitor collapsed and died on the trail near Mile Marker 8. A New York visitor, Norka Villacorta, drowned in the Hanakapiai Stream in 2013 when 121 hikers were stranded over two days. A California visitor drowned in that stream when attempting to cross it following rain. And it goes on and on.

The Kalalau Trail is among the most famous in the world.

The trail on the Island of Kauai is one that many hikers seek out for excitement. But it is also known for its rugged terrain, quickly changeable conditions, and high level of risk. This is especially true after Hanakapiai Valley (beyond the beach and waterfall of the same name), which requires an overnight camping permit.

Despite its clear dangers, the Kalalau Trail remains among the most sought-after worldwide. Unfortunately, many hikers arrive there to hike without fully understanding the risks they face.

How to plan your hike on the Kalalau Trail.

If you are interested in hiking the Kalalau Trail past Hanakapiai Valley, Wiki permits can be obtained 90 days in advance from DLNR. Reserve the Na Pali Coast State Park camping permit early. Once you have a reservation, you’ll need another reservation for overnight parking at Kee Beach.

Day hikers are reminded to bring water and food, prepare to cross the Hanakapiai Stream and be mindful of distractions with photography. It’s better not to walk while doing videos and still taking photos. For those planning to hike, the safety video below is a good starting point, and reviewing the Go Haena website for additional information.

Have you hiked any part of the Kalalau Trail or done the day hike to Hanakapiai Beach? We invite you to share your experiences.

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13 thoughts on “Kauai: One Of The World’s Most Gorgeous Hikes Is Among The Deadliest”

  1. I’m 72 and hiked to the beach last summer — it was one of the most memorable hikes my wife and I have ever taken. Very beautiful and we were plenty satisfied with getting to the beach. We’ll enjoy the falls from pictures taken by others.

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