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Kalepa Ridge Trail, Kauai – How Dangerous is it really?

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If you are looking at visiting Kauai and more specifically, Kalalau Lookout, then you have probably seen photos of the Kalepa Ridge Trail.

The Kalepa Ridge trail is an unofficial trail with absolutely INSANE views and is one of the best hikes on Kauai for adventure travel photographers. When I say “insane” I mean views of those typical Na Pali ridge-like mountains that you see in magazines. When we were there, we even had a show put on for us of magical rainbows mixed with the golden sunset light!

girl sitting on the Na Pali coast at sunset looking at rainbow

When Dave and I hiked the Kalepa Trail, we found it pretty terrifying because of the huge drop offs to the side of the trail and the slippery, dusty ground.

In this blog post, I give our true opinion of the trail, including information on the closed signs that you will see at the start of the trail.

Quick Tips for Planning a Trip to Kauai, Hawaii

Are you planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii? Here are some quick tips to help you plan your visit.

Where to Stay: Poipu: Budget | A Little bit fancy
Princeville (Hanalei): Budget | A Little bit fancy
Kokee State Park: Only option

Best Time of the Year to Visit: Between March and September for the best weather.

Where to Fly into: Līhuʻe Airport (LIH) – From Honolulu, it is only a 25 minute flight to Līhuʻe Airport (LIH).

Should you rent a car: For Kauai, you are definitely going to want to rent a car! This is our go to for the best rental car deals ➡ Rentalcars.com

Fun Fact: There are chickens EVERYWHERE on Kauai! 🐔 If you don’t like chickens, then maybe don’t visit Kauai 😅

Top Kauai Tours:

Everything you need to know about the Kalepa Ridge Trail

📃 Hike Stats

Distance: 3.1km / 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 205m / 672ft
Time: 2.5 hours

Dogs allowed: Dogs are not allowed and I don’t recommend it due to the steep drop offs
Toilets: Yes, at Kalalau Lookout

rainbow on the Na Pali Coast

📍 Where is Kalepa Ridge Trail Located

The Kalepa Ridge Trail is located on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. To get there, you will need to drive to Kalalau Lookout in Kokeé State Park. The Kalalau Lookout is one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the whole of Kauai and you don’t even need to hike to get there. It is located at a whopping 4,000 ft! You can get to the Kalalau Lookout via the via the Kuhio Highway (Highway 550) which is a road which winds up the mountain and passes Waimea Canyon along the way.

The Kalepa Ridge Trail somehow has EVEN more stunning views than the Kalalau Lookout because you can hike down closer to the mountains with no trees obstructing your view.

To park, you will have to pay a fee (about $5 from memory).

clouds at sunset on the Kalepa Trail

🗺 Where is the Kalepa Ridge Trailhead

The trailhead is a little tricky to find. If you walk from the parking lot to Kalalau Lookout, you will see a fence on your left-hand-side with some overgrown bushes on the other side of it. You will need to either climb this fence walk in on the other side of the fence, further back from the lookout.

Man sitting facing the Kalalau Valley on Kauai

You will know that you are in the right spot when you see a couple of signs saying “Warning Hazardous Cliff” and “Area Closed. Do not go beyond this sign.”

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ℹ Top Tips for Hiking the Kalepa Trail

  • Wear good shoes with lots of grip. Do NOT wear flipflops or sandals.
  • Do not do this hike on a wet day. The trail is made from dirt which turns to slippery mud when wet and you do not want to be hiking on slippery, wet mud along this ridgeline.
  • The trail is technically closed so you will need to be discrete when slipping past the closed signs.
  • If you are afraid of heights, this is probably not the hike for you.
  • Sunset is a magical time to get to the viewpoint, however make sure you get back before it gets dark because the cliffs make hiking in the dark extra dangerous.
  • You don’t need to do the entire trail to have epic views (We didn’t).
  • There are quite often clouds covering the views. Try to wait it out for a bit as they tend to move quite quickly.
  • Don’t forget your camera!

⛔ Is the Kalepa Ridge Trail Legal

The Kalepa Ridge Trail is not technically illegal but the trail is closed and therefore not maintained. We found that a lot of the popular hikes in Hawaii have signs that say at the trailhead saying that it is dangerous and that the trail is closed. This is not a lie. Most of the hikes in Hawaii are also dangerous, especially the ridge hikes.

I have read recent comments (2024) on TripAdvisor and Alltrails that there was a parking attendant writing fines for cars parked who were suspected for doing the Kalepa Trail. So I would say hike at your own risk.

man hiking on the Kalepa Ridge Trail
Dave hiking down the start of the Kalepa Ridge Trail

👀 How Dangerous is the Kalepa Ridge Trail

The Kalepa Ridge Trail has crazy vertical drop offs and the trail is made from crumbly and dusty dirt. If you start the trail and don’t feel comfortable, do not push yourself to finish it. Dave and I were out of our comfort zone pretty quickly on this trail and so we didn’t get very far along the trail. Instead, we stopped at one of the viewpoints to take our photos which was still absolutely incredible!

Girl standing on the Kalepa Ridge Trail on Kauai

🚻 Facilities

There are no facilities along the trail as the trail is technically closed, however there are restrooms at the Kalalau Lookout.

🕐 Kalepa Ridge Trail Hiking Time

I’m actually not sure how long the entire hike would take, as we only did a portion of it, however according to Alltrails, it should take around 2.5 – 3 hours. It is an easy trail to spend a lot of extra time on because of how beautiful the views are.

☀ Best Time to Hike the Kalepa Ridge Trail

The best time to hike the Kalepa Ridge Trail (especially if you are a photographer) is at sunset when the light is golden. If you do decide to hike at sunset, make sure you have a headlight to get back with and start heading back to the trailhead with plenty of time before it gets too dark because those cliffs can be extremely dangerous, especially in the dark.

man sitting at lookout overlooking Na Pali in Kauai

🌲 Leave No Trace

The 7 Leave No Trace principles are important to be aware of to help keep places like Kauai beautiful.

To remind yourself of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, check out the LNT website.

sunset views and clouds looking down into the Kalalau Valley

🥾 The Kalepa Ridge Trail Description

First things first. Make sure you download offline maps such as Alltrails because this trail is unmarked and it is easy to get lost.

The Kalepa Ridge hike starts with a bit of a bushwhack through the trees due to the trail being somewhat overgrown. You then need to navigate down a steep muddy trail, with lots of mud and tree roots. Use the tree roots to keep from slipping down the trail. You can then follow the trail down through the trees to the views.

After this, the trail opens up and you will be right on the ridgeline, which means this is also where the incredible views begin! We walked a little around the ridgeline, stopping at certain spots to take photos. The trail continues to descend and there are a few more sections that are pretty terrifying because of the sheer cliffs to your side and the crumbly and slippery dirt that you are hiking on.

girl sitting at viewpoint on the Kalepa Ridge Trail

We chose to stop at a point where we didn’t feel comfortable anymore and we went back to a couple of the spots that we liked the best to take our photos. It was absolutely magical and we even got a couple of rainbows at golden hour!

If you don’t feel comfortable on this trail at any time, turn around. No view, nor photo is worth your life.

Otherwise, enjoy those views!

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💭 Our Thoughts

I think if we went back to Kauai today we would be a lot braver and hike further than we did with proper footwear. However, at the time, we had not experienced hiking trails like the ones in Hawaii EVER so we were a bit out of our comfort zones.

In saying that, I am still extremely glad that we did the Kalepa Ridge Trail as it was one of the most magical views that both Dave and I had ever seen. 🌈

Happy adventuring! 🥾

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