Kalalau Trail Becomes the Most Dangerous Hikes in America

Hikers get the wanderlust from pictures of the dramatic and lush Nā Pali Coast, but the Kalalau Trail that follows this dramatic beachfront makes hikers feel something much less romantic: fear. She lives on Kauai and has written books about climbing on the island. “People have a hard time with some of the dropoffs,” she says. “The trail bed is narrow and crumbly, and I’ve talked to a lot of people who have fallen off the trail or seen it happen.”

When it rains a lot on the island, the track turns into a greasy slip-and-slide, making the path twice as dangerous. This is not fun when you’re walking along a 300-foot cliff that drops straight into rough waves. Even though it’s dangerous, people from all over the world still walk the 11 miles (one way) to Kalalau, which is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Dangers on the Kalalau Trail

At least two people have died on the Kalalau Trail, and many others have come very close: In 2006, a man was hiking the trail with his daughter when he slipped on an exposed part of the trail and fell headfirst down the hill. He picked up speed as he got closer to the 300-foot cliff that would have thrown him into the water.

His luck, his head hit a rock, which stopped his fall. “The impact cut his nose off from his face, but he lived,” says Carpenter. At the different waterfalls along the walk, there is also a chance of rocks falling: When water falls at Hanakapi’ai Falls, Hanakoa Falls, and near the camping at Kalalau, it wears away at the volcanic rock and sometimes lifts boulders off the steep walls of the chasm.

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On Oahu, Sacred Falls State Park was closed after eight tourists were killed by falling rocks near the falls. Kauai, which is the oldest and most worn-down of Hawaii’s islands, usually has even more erosion. During flash floods, the many small streams you cross can turn into huge rivers. And the beaches you pass don’t make things easier. At Hanakapi’ai, dangerous currents have killed nearly 100 swimmers.

Thrive on the Trail

To stay steady on the trail, use hiking poles, shoes with deep lugs, and put heavy things at the bottom of your pack to lower your center of gravity. When it rains, stay out of streams because debris jams can break and send a wall of water hurtling downstream. Kauai floods go down just as quickly as they come up, so if you have to miss your flight, wait out the sudden waves instead of crossing it.


The Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast is a popular destination for hikers, but it is also a dangerous path with narrow, crumbly dropoffs and slippery conditions. At least two people have died on the trail, and many others have come close. The trail is also prone to erosion and flash floods, making it crucial to use hiking poles, shoes with deep lugs, and stay out of streams during rain.

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