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.

  2. We have retired here in Kauai. Plan to do the beach hike soon. Did the hike to the falls 17 years ago when I was 48 and my sons were teenagers. We actually did a one tank dive first early at Tunnels Beach.
    Frankly, while it was what I remember as a moderate challenge, I also do remember a pregnant woman did the beach hike.
    I otherwise suspect dangerous has a lot more to do with foolishness or stupidity.

    1. Yes beautiful especially now that I live in Flat flat Florida average elevation 100 feet, highest peak 345 feet.
      No views or view points. Flora & fauna all the same. One hiking trail is exactly the same as the next. Water falls ? Rain off my roof.
      I have done extensive hiking on the Island of Kauai especially Kokee.
      Try Alakai Swamp or/and Awa’awapuhi.
      (I spent 8 years working for DLNR, Division of Forestry and Wildlife, Kauai, HI)
      Yes I miss it.

  3. Long long ago, Hanakapiai trail & water fall. Water, take rugged shoes and water.
    At the time I was an experienced avid hiker.
    The only part that got me plenty nervous

    A cliff of solid volcanic rock w/ extremely narrow path section with little sloppy mud straight down to the waves crashing against vertical sharp lava wall to break up your lengthy fall.
    While the random goats above stumble lose rocks down on your head. From a distance it’s fun to watch and listen to the hikers scream at what they think are vicious pranksters, but they are actually stinky goats. ( boars come out at night)

  4. My adult son and I hiked the trail to the beach and then on to the falls. Although there were challenges in the first two miles into the beach, the next two miles into the falls were more difficult. I slipped and fell crossing the stream, which you do multiple times into the falls; but fortunately, just got muddy and wet. We made it to the falls and swam there and enjoyed our lunch. Heading back, we were tired and muddy and when we got to Kee Beach, we just fell into the water and washed off the mud. We were tired but have great memories. It was quite amazing seeing people hiking the first two miles in flip-flops…definitely not recommended. Our hiking boots saved our butts multiple times. I would recommend the first two miles.

  5. I highly recommend microspikes and trekking poles if doing the full trail. They provide extra insurance on precarious footing.

  6. I’ve hiked out to Kalalau dozens of times in my life. Always day hikes, since I prefer a hot shower, cold beer and a quality mattress to hanging out with the goofballs out there. And also to Hanakapiai Falls, usually when friends visit. There are definitely some sections where a slip and fall will be your last, as happened to this poor man. It’s not a relaxing hike – you have to constantly watch your footing. But, there are equally dangerous trails all over the country, all over the world for that matter. It’s just that this one comes with multiple hazards, including ill-advised stream crossings during high water times (if it’s brown, stand your ground), and is very popular.

  7. One of my sisters and I did the hike to the beach in September for her 50th birthday. We contemplated hiking to the falls, but our other sister decided to skip the hike (she’s scared of heights), so she was waiting for us back at the beach/starting point. After reading this article, I’m glad we passed on hiking to the falls. The portion we did was great; just challenging enough and gorgeous. I’m sorry to hear about the loss of this man’s life on the falls portion of the hike.

  8. Unquestionable beautiful and alluring. I hiked to the Hanakapiai falls Once 30 years ago. The “hike from hell” is how I not so fondly call it. We were almost back to the beach when we smelled a strong odor and heard something in the jungle. All of a sudden this young man pops out of the bushes with a dead goat around his neck and a bow and arrow!

  9. Thanks to BOH for doing such a great job! I have done both the shorter hike to the first ‘lookout’ over Ke’e Beach as well as the hike to the stream/ beach. I was younger and in better shape, but it was still tough. You get the warning of it immediately when you start at the trailhead with the steep incline and rocks. It sure is gorgeous though! Didn’t swim at the beach because of all the warnings of how dangerous it was to do so. I got lucky with dry weather both times, however there was a portion that the path was about 6″ deep mud and hiking partner lost his slippah, hiked barefoot and some fire ants attacked his bare feet. Didn’t do the falls hike because of that and not getting an early enough start.

  10. So sorry to hear this! We have hiked the trail twice, but only to the beach. It is one of the most stunning places on the planet and the views – just wow! But it is kind of challenging with all of the rocks. I did it pretty easily when I was 40 and we did it in 2022 on my fiftieth birthday and it was a lot harder for me. I think if I went back, I would get the bus pass, go to the half mile marker to enjoy the view and then go back and relax on Kee Beach.

    1. Happy Trails Rob+Jeff. The first time I hiked to the beach was in the 70’s with my friend and a local guy who took us there. We were drinking beer along the way and when we got to the beach, even though I can’t swim, I went in to cool off. I was immediately sucked out and almost drowned. It was a surreal experience. I went back 5 yrs ago and the stream and beach looked much more different. The stream was now a wide river and deeper to cross. Never went to the falls even though I have always wanted to. Watched the video to Kalalau and crawlers ledge is enough to keep anyone from going all the way. Absolutely no way would I ever attempt to do it. I have hiked all over Kauai and it is a beautiful experience, but common sense keeps me safe.

  11. So sad. Unfortunately it looks gorgeous not threatening. People are not on their guard. Maybe the more dangerous sections should require a guide for a fee as you would climbing a dangerous mountain? Something needs to be done

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