Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for one of the most epic hikes in Kaua’i with incredible views for most of the hike, Kalepa Ridge Trail should be near the top of your list. Some hikes make you work for a view, not so with this one. This out and back ~2 mile hike will present instant satisfaction with out of this world views almost from the get-go. So why not hike Kalepa Ridge Trail? Read our Kalepa Trail hiking guide below and get ready for one of the best hikes of your life.

Overview of Kalepa Ridge Trail

Located on the Northwest side of the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii, Kalepa Ridge Trail, while technically “permanently closed”, I believe it is more a precautionary sign posted by the State of Hawaii after the state was sued for 15 million after the death of two hikers trying to reach the bottom of Opaekaa Falls (which, having seen the terrain surrounding these falls, would not advise to try).

Kalepa Ridge Trail Hiking Trail Closed Sign

However, if you take caution and have some experience hiking, this trail is not too dangerous nor difficult in my opinion.

Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail in Kaua'i, Hawaii Map

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

To see the sheer epic-ness of this hike, here is as 3D Kalepa Ridge Trail Map:

3D Kalepa Ridge Trail Map

Where to Park

I parked at the Kalalau Looking Parking lot located in Kokee State Park. When you park, you can purchase your ticket at a kiosk in the parking lot. There isn’t a ton of parking spaces, so if you come on a weekend or holiday, especially during peak seasons, you should plan on arriving early. I went on a Monday in December around 9:30 am and there were plenty of spots.

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled close to 2 miles, although it felt like more.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at around 9:30 AM and finished at around 12:15 PM, so it took a little over 2.5 hours. I did stop quite a few times to talk to other hikers and take photos and videos. But once you’re on this trail, it’s hard not to grab your camera! I just recommend watching your footing on this one as their are cliffs everywhere!

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, you climb nearly 700 feet of elevation, but like the distance, it felt quite a bit more than this. You’ll feel it in your legs on the way back.

Kalepa Ridge Trail Elevation Map

Kalepa Ridge Trail elevation profile (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this hike is not too difficult. What makes it somewhat difficult is the terrain, while not muddy when I went, was very slippery. The trail’s dirty seems to have been compacted by other hikers, creating a slippery surface. I slipped ~3 times and got quite dirty on this hike.

You also need to be careful as there are narrow parts of the trail that hug steep cliffs hundreds or even thousands of feet below. I’d recommend staying as far away from the cliffs as possible (some areas allow you to walk next to the trail opposite the cliffs) in case of a crumbling trail or slipping.

Overall, I’d give this hike a 5 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

You don’t need any permits for this hike.

Cost

There is a $10 fee per car and $5 fee per person to enter Kokee State Park if you are not a Hawaii resident. I was a little confused looking for ticketing online, but you pay once you park in any of the main parking areas next to observation areas or trail entrances. There is an observation point (Kalalau Lookout) right next to this hike entrance point.

When to Go

You can go to Kalepa Ridge Trail year round, even in the rainy season (like I did) in December. Like any of the trails in Kaua’i, it’s better to go when it’s not raining or didn’t rain heavily the day before.

Recommended Gear

Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail is an incredible day hike experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers. I wore shorts and a t-shirt because the weather was in the high 70s. If you do go and it starts to rain, you may want a light raincoat that can also be used as a wind shield.
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike, while not difficult, still has some ups and downs that can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important. This trail is pretty short, so you may not need this one, but I went on another hike right after so this was essential.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder that lasted this hike and the 2nd hike I went on nearby.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. Some places were a bit muddy, and the terrain is very rocky, which can hurt your feet over time if you wear tennis shoes. This trail was also VERY slippery, even with hiking shoes on. I slipped 2-3 times, and fell once on my backside.
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, even on a short hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Honey roasted peanuts, gummy bears, protein shakes, and protein bars. This hike is pretty short so you could certainly go without snacks, unless you add a 2nd hike to your day like I did.
  • Bug spray: I didn’t experience bugs on this hike, so this wasn’t really needed. However, you may want to use some just in case.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: It was quite sunny on this hike, and places where my skin was exposed for a good portion of the hike. Nothing is worse turning into a tomato after your hike.
  • Flashlight: If you go anytime near sunset, I’d recommend having a flashlight.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Kalepa Ridge Trail hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail

So what’s it like hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii? Get ready for one of the best bangs for your buck. Some other hikes require miles and miles of hiking to get to the beautiful views, not this one. You’ll start seeing jaw-dropping views pretty quickly into the hike. In this section I will discuss my experience on each part of the hike and share photos and videos of my adventure.

Getting to the Trail

So getting to the trail may be a little confusing if you’re new to Kaua’i like I was. First, you’ll need to park at Kalalau Lookout Parking. You’ll see most people heading to the observation point, which is very close by. On the left side of the observation point, you’ll find a fence. You won’t need to jump the fence, simply go to the left side and follow the trail. You’ll pretty quickly run into a fence, with a little door and gate. Simply open the door, and walk through it.

Starting on the Trail

Once you past by the little gate, you’ll follow a trail that starts going down in elevation a bit. This area includes walking through a somewhat wooded area, as well as down some steep stairs:

These stairs are relatively steep, and if wet, I’d imagine they’d be quite slippery. you’ll continue to go a few hundred feet until things open up.

Side of the Cliff

Once things open up, meaning, you will see the Kalepa Ridge in its full glory, I’ll call this area “Side of the Cliff” because for the majority of this section, you’ll be walking on the side of a cliff that looks down hundreds or thousands of feet down. There are parts of this trail that I leaned heavily to the opposite side of the cliff. If you don’t have fresh legs doing this trail or are a clumsy, off-balance hiker, BE CAREFUL.

Parts of this section feel like you’re heading towards the end of the world because all you see ahead of beyond the trail is the deep blue ocean. It’s quite magical:

Peak Before Ni’ani’au

There is a kind of peak before you get to Ni’ani’au (the end of the trail). In the video below, you’ll see what I mean.

You’ll reach the top of it, and then dip down sharply 50-100 feet before you start to ascend again towards Ni’ani’au Peak.

There are sections of this that are very narrow, with cliffs on both sides of you. I was definitely a little timid going through this part, as you should be too.

It’s steeper on both sides than this video makes it appear as videos and photos have a way of “flattening” mountains.

Ni’ani’au Peak

The Ni’ani’au Peak is one of the most exhilarating buildups I’ve had on a hike. While there isn’t much of a climb up from the trail as you’re already above the clouds, it’s thrilling when you first see get to the peak over the small hill at the end:

Hiking to the end of Ni’ani’au Peak has one of the most epic views I’ve ever seen. In fact, it made me tear up to experience the fullness of my surroundings: epic mountains to the right, epic mountains to the left, a deep blue ocean strait ahead, and a million little details everywhere else you look.

The contrast in colors is striking, from the brown dirt, the green tropical mountains, to the deep blue sea. So amazing!

After Hike Dinner

After hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail, I went for another hike nearby on the Awa’Awapuhi Trail. After both of these hikes, I went to Puka Dog in Poipu Beach to watch the sunset. I ordered a Beef Puka Dog with Hawaiian mustard and Pineapple sauce. It was quite a nice treat!

Puka Dog in Poipu Beach, Kaua'i Hawaii Photo

I was still hungry, so I wanted to check another dinner place off my list. When I got home, I then went to El Taco Feliz and had the Mahi Mahi tacos and a quesadilla.

El Taco Feliz in Kaua'i Hawaii

I was quite hungry after these 2 hikes!

About My Experience Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail

Overall, hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail was amazing. It was probably a top 3 hike for me in Kaua’i. If you factored in the amount of work required to see epic views, this would probably be #1. Below I’ll highlight my favorite parts, and my least favorite parts of this epic hike.

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail:

Trail on the Side of a Cliff:

While some people may not like this part, I loved a good portion of this trail right on the side of the cliff. It provides epic views, just watch your step.

Interesting Terrain in the Middle:

One thing I loved about this hike is the interesting terrain found throughout the hike. Many hikes seem to have the same terrain over and over, well not this one! Here’s an example, a random grass pasture approaching the cliff with a view:

Ni’ani’au Peak:

Ok this goes without saying. The Ni’ani’au Peak is incredible. Right when you think the views can’t get any better, you reach this peak and (carefully) overlook it to see incredible beaches way down below. I stayed on top of this peak for more than 30 minutes in solitude, and had moments of being overwhelmed staring into the incredibly surroundings. Once you reach this peak, you’ll know what I mean.

Least Favorite Parts

Here is my least favorite part of this hike:

Slippery Surface:

This is a very minor “least favorite part” but, I did slip 2-3 times on this hike and got quite dirty. I was wearing hiking shoes and I still slipped quite a bit, so I’d caution you when on this trail to get adjusted to how slippery the Kalepa Ridge Trail is.

Overall Score

Kalepa Ridge Trail is amazing. I loved every second of this hike. I was most excited on this trail compared to any of the other trails I did on Kaua’i. I give this trail a 9.7 / 10, which is one of my highest ratings ever. I recommend doing this hike for epic views and an amazing adventure you won’t forget.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Kalepa Ridge Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii

Kalepa Ridge Trail is amazing, epic, breathtaking, and much more. I’d recommend you have hiking experience before you do this one, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are serious drop offs and narrow paths on the edge of cliffs, so you need to take all precaution when hiking this one. If you do that, you’ll have a blast.

Happy hiking and wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

Was this resource helpful?

Scroll to Top