Hawaii Landscape Photography

Kalalau Valley Lookout

The Kalalua Valley often gets lumped together with Waimea Canyon because it’s common for tourists to visit both in the same day. Drive past the canyon to the end of highway 550 and you get a spectacular sneak peek of what makes the Napali Coast so mind blowing. The Kalalau Valley Lookout is clearly marked from the road but also easily map-questable. You do have to get out of your car for the view, but you really don’t have to break a sweat.

When you stand at the lookout, below you is a work in progress that began at least 5 million years ago. It’s hard to stop looking; the view is breathtaking, especially when light and cloud shadows play across the red-and-orange cliffs.


It is a jaw-dropping view and it’s ever-changing. The interplay between light and shadow that morphes and moves throughout the valley keeps you in constant awe, eager for what gets illuminated next.

If you’re up for a little challenge at the lookout, hike the Kalepa Ridge Trail for even more spectacular views of the valley, the coast, and Kalalau Beach. It was easily one of our vacation highlights – Luke and Nate hiked it twice during the week we were there! – and we’d still do it again.

They call it an “unofficial trail” and the internet might lead you to believe it is “infrequently used”…or at least that was the impression I’d had. However, we found the trail to be quite popular when we were there in late October. We were intentional about getting a fairly early start and were the first car in the parking lot at the lookout. By the time we made it back, the trail and lookout were both getting crowded.

Some things to know about the Kalepa Ridge Trail:

it’s very muddy and slick (or can be…) –> we encountered several people starting in on the trail barefoot who quite memorably insisted that the barefoot life is the best life. However, I was very, very glad to be wearing hiking boots.

it’s an out and back trail with only a few natural “rest areas” and no benches –> I would recommend hydration and light trail snacks if necessary but would pack a lunch to take elsewhere.

it’s not officially marked (or it wasn’t while we were there) –> to the left of the lookout with the Kalalua Valley below there’s a chain link fence you skirt to start the descent onto the trail.

it’s more magical if it’s less crowded –> admittedly, this is my foundational outlook on almost all things “nature” but seriously with this one. A lot of the trail falls into the following categories: steep and slick descent, steep and slick ascent, skinny ridge along a 400 foot sheer cliff. Get there early, ditch the crowd, enjoy panting in peace.

it’s difficult but not that difficult –> trail labels can be so unhelpful sometimes and it’s easy to read descriptions of trails that make them seem more intimidating than they should. In my opinion this trail is pretty moderate. While there are lots of ups and downs and it was very slick, the mud basically demands that you slow your typical hiking pace. With the right footwear and a slow enough pace the vast majority of this trail is not only pretty easy but also pretty safe. And, again, if you can get there early enough you’ll have fewer strangers in your way.


Below are some of the photos Luke got when he and Nate went for sunset:

*all photos taken by us

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