The Kalaupapa Trail connects "topside" Molokai with the Kalaupapa peninsula by way of an extremely steep pali (cliff) trail which has majestic views of one of the most remote locations in Hawaii. Difficulties encountered on the hike include obtaining the mandatory (and costly) hiking permit, dealing with wet and muddy trail conditions in the winter, dealing with hot and humid trail conditions in the summer, having good enough fitness for the climb back out, and watching out for landslides and falling rocks. A Google Earth map of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 21° 10.287'N, 156° 59.925'W. GPS coordinates for the end of the trail are 21° 10.987'N, 156° 59.216'W.
Wanting to expand my visitation to Hawaii beyond the four main islands, I began doing research on Molokai, which is the fifth largest Hawaiian island. I soon learned that Molokai was somewhat easily accessible to those staying on Maui by either ferry boat or a short airplane flight. I also learned about the incredible hike on the Kalaupapa Trail, which drops 1,700 feet over the course of 3.5 miles one-way from some of the highest sea cliffs in the world down to the Kalaupapa peninsula. The hike sounded really interesting, especially after looking at photographs of some of the outstanding views along the way. Since I would be traveling to Maui with my family and some friends in late April of 2016, I looked into booking the hike. And that proved to be quite challenging. The logistics required in order to carry out the hike basically eliminate doing it as a day trip from Maui, except for those willing to take early and late airplane flights into and out of Molokai. My friend Charlie and I had decided to take the ferry, which has been struggling financially in recent years and only has intermittent service. The ferry takes an average of 1 hour and 45 minutes to cross the Auau Channel from Lahaina, Maui to Kaunakakai, Molokai, often in rough sea conditions. We chose the ferry so that we could experience the ocean ride and also have the views of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai as seen from the water. Booking the actual hike, though, was what proved to be the hard part. Visitation to Kalaupapa National Historic Park is strictly regulated to those who are 16 years or older and who have a hiking permit issued by a commercial tour company. Hiking without a permit is illegal, and can (in theory) result in an expensive fine and even jail time. The lowest cost for a permit was $65 at the time that I did the hike in 2016. But in addition to allowing use of the trail, the permit fee also includes a tour of the Kalaupapa peninsula and leper colony settlement area.
There is a lot of heartbreaking history to learn about when it comes to this area. In early 1866, leprosy patients began being forcibly relocated from all other parts of Hawaii to the remote and isolated Kalaupapa peninsula. This forced exile was motivated by fear and the lack of understanding about how leprosy (now called Hansen's disease) spreads within a population. Leprosy patients were taken away from their families and dropped off near the eastern side of the peninsula at Kalawao, with the natural barriers of the ocean and towering sea cliffs to prevent escape from the area. At the start, living conditions were terrible and supplies were meager. Improvements began to be made over the next few years. But things didn't get much better until 1873, when Father Damien arrived and dedicated his life to helping to care for the leprosy patients, who were now viewed as outcasts from society in general. Regarding Father Damien, the NPS web site states: "While others offered help from afar, Father Damien chose to live with the patients and minister to their daily physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. He eventually contracted Hansen's disease himself and died in 1889." In addition to Father Damien, notable sacrifices were also made by other individuals and members of patients' families, who likewise gave up their lives and moved to the leper colony to help out those who were suffering. Eventually, the patients were relocated to the western side of the peninsula where the climate was warmer and had less rainfall. Of course, there is much more to the story and that's something you will be able to learn about by taking one of the available tours.
As for the hike itself, the Kalaupapa Trail is an incredible overall experience. Before doing the hike, it is a good idea to stop by the Kalaupapa Overlook, which is a tourist viewpoint of the peninsula. (As a side note, don't leave any valuables in your rental vehicle, because we noticed one person who appeared to be casing vehicles in the parking lot.) The parking location for the hike is about 1/2 mile back down the road, which was completely unmarked, oddly enough. After a short walking stretch through a pasture, the trail begins dropping steeply. The 1,700 feet in elevation is dropped over the course of 26 switchbacks. The switchbacks are marked so you can keep track of your progress. At various spots along the trail, the brush opens up and there are grand views of the sea cliffs, Pacific Ocean, and Kalaupapa peninsula. While hiking down, it's hard not to think about the fact that you will have to climb back up these same switchbacks and rock steps later in the day. For those who can't handle the hike, there is the option of taking a mule ride down and back up. There is also the option of hiking down one-way and then flying out by airplane. When the trail reaches the bottom, the last mile consists of a beautiful coastal walk alongside a sandy beach with palm trees. The entire area has spectacular natural beauty, some of the best I have had the privilege of experiencing in Hawaii. Our hike took place on April 30, 2016.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT