Kalepa Ridge Trail – Best Hike in Hawaii
After 9 trips to Hawaii and tons of different hikes I have a new winner for the best trail in the islands.
The Kalepa Ridge Trail provides nonstop payoffs of truly insane views that I didn’t believe could be crammed into one hike!
Another reason to take this hike is if you are planning a trip to Kauaui and want to see the world famous Napali Coast but can’t get a permit for the Kalalau Trail? Or maybe even if you can get a permit you aren’t feeling up to an 22 mile hike that often comes along with camping.
The last time I was in Kauai I tried and couldn’t get a permit and thought the only way I would be able to see the Napali Coast was paying for a super pricey helicopter tour (expensive but also actually worth it). Shockingly, I found another option, the Kalepa Ridge Trail!
Not only does the Kalepa Ridge Trail give you views of the Napali Coast, but it leads you along a mountain ridge line where you can see the the famous “ridges” almost the entire time. It doesn’t require a permit, pre-reservation, and is way cheaper than the other options. There is only one catch, technically it is an unmaintained and unauthorized trail so do it at your own risk!
Kalepa Ridge Quick Facts
- Length: 2 miles out and back
- Difficulty: Moderate to intense depending on weather
- Permit or Reservation: No
- Cost: The trail is within Kokee State Park which costs $5 per person
- Parking: Big lot that costs $10
- Facilities: Bathrooms in parking lot
- Best Known For: Almost nonstop views of the famous Napali Ridges
If the Kalepa Ridge Trail is so Amazing, Why is it Unmaintained?
Plain and simply, it’s dangerous. The Kalepa Ridge Trail walks you along the top ridge of a mountain. A better way to describe it would actually be you walk along the top of incredibly steep cliffs on either side. One wrong step and you could easily plummet to your death. I think the risk associated with this trail is why it is no longer maintained and is technically unauthorized.
I have no doubt that there have been Kalepa Ridge Trail deaths; to make sure this isn’t you proceed at your own risk, and don’t attempt it if it’s just been raining as you don’t want to risk sliding off.
What the Park Rangers Told Us About It
Before beginning the trail we asked one of the park rangers about the Kalepa Ridge Trail as well as a couple of others. He pointed out the positives of each trail but when talking about the Kalepa Ridge Trail he let us know that the trail was closed and officially he was not allowed to recommend we go to it. That being said, he went on and on about how there were no other trails that offered the nonstop mountain and oceans views like the Kalepa Ridge Trail did, and that if he was allowed, he would recommend it for all the sure-footed travelers without little kids out there.
The park ranger also added that they wouldn’t stop or forbit anyone from actually starting the trail. It wasn’t hard for us to see what his true opinions were, so we decided to do it.
Kalepa Trail Location
The Kalepa Trail trailhead begins at the Kalalau Lookout in the Kokee State Park on the island of Hawaiian island of Kauai. FYI – The Kalalau Lookout is completely different than the Kalalau Trail!
Don’t Confuse the Kalalau Lookout and Kalalau Trial
The Kalalau Trail takes off from the north western part of the island of Kauai. The Kalalau Lookout is accessed by coming up from the south west part of the island. The drive time between the Lookout and the Trail is about 2 and a half hours (without traffic) so do not mistakenly type the wrong one into your GPS.
Located In Kokee State Park
The Kalepa Trail is located in Kokee State Park, which is directly next to the Waimea Canyon State Park. You can’t miss the gorgeous views of Waimea Canyon as you drive up to the trailhead. While I loved Waimea Canyon, what you are about to see is even better.
Trail Begins at the Kalalau Lookout
The trail begins at the Kalalau Lookout, though you will not see any signs or directions telling you where to go. You have to know what you are looking for ahead of time to be able to find the start of the trail.
Finding The Hidden Trailhead
To get on the actual trail you need to walk around the chain link fence that is on the left side of the lookout (assuming you are facing the lookout from the parking lot). You will actually be able to see a worn path going around the end of the fence, which is a clue that you are close to the actual trail.
Once you are on the far side of the fence there are a couple of paths that will lead in various directions through the dense forest. We got lost following a couple of these paths and ended up going in circles. To get onto the actual trail go around the fence and immediately along the back side of it towards the lookout. Once you are at the sturdier concrete and metal fence of the actual lookout you will turn left and start to descend. Soon the forest will begin to open up and the trail will be easy to follow.
Parking at the Kalalau Lookout
The parking lot is reasonably sized and even if it is full, you can wait a few minutes and a spot will likely open up since most people just walk to the viewpoint and then move on. If you aren’t up for the hike, the viewpoint by itself is phenomenal. There are bathrooms and a pay station for your $10 parking fee.
What The Kalepa Trail is Like
The beginning of this hike is steep.
The descent will cause you to have to grab onto tree branches and possibly slide down on your butt. Thankfully the steep part is only for the first quarter of a mile. After that the trail flattens out and for the most part you are following a clear path along the ridge of a mountain.
The trail gets super steep at the beginning. But don’t worry, it doesn’t stay like that for long.
From a quarter of a mile in until the rest of the hike the views across to the ocean and the Napali Coast ridges will be breathtaking. Once you are near the end of the hike views down the other side (your left) will open up and you will be able to see more ridged mountains and the pacific ocean.
Towards the end of the trail you will be walking along the ridge.
At the end of the trail you will be on the tip of a mountain with the ability to look down on Kalalau Beach as well as Honopu Beach. You won’t be able to see it from up top, but you are basically directly on top of the Honopu Arch.
If you are willing and able to safely take the risk to hike this unmaintained and technically unauthorized trail you will not regret it! Most people can complete this relatively short trail within an hour and a half, but if you are new to views of the Napali Coast expect it to take a whole lot longer as you are likely going to be taking necessary breaks to fill up your memory cards!