Ka‘aha is located on the southern coastline of the park, 3.6 miles from the trailhead at the end of Hilina Pali road. The hike begins with a steep downhill trail that switches back 24 times to the base of the pali (cliff). Along the trail you will be hiking through mostly non-native grasses dotted with native ‘ōhi‘a trees. Two thirds of the way down you will find your only chance for shade on this hot, dry, windy trail under a large ‘ōhi‘a tree.
The rest of the hike is a gradual downhill slope to the coast. Ka‘aha has a rocky shoreline with a well protected cove that has some great snorkeling. You may find green turtles swimming in the cove, or resting on the shore. There are no trees in the area to provide shade, but the shelter on the hillside is a nice place to get out of the elements. Ants are extremely abundant, although they do not bite, or sting, but they will crawl on anything (including you) on the ground. The trail out is uphill the entire way and feels like five miles in the intense sun. We recommend you avoid hiking in the mid-day sun.
For more details about the hike and what there is to see and do in the area check out the hike journals.
Ka‘aha can be accessed from several trailheads:
For backcountry camping, there is a non-refundable $10.00 fee per trip (effective November 1, 2016), in addition to the park entrance fee. The fee is good for up to 12 people and 7 nights per permit. Failure to obtain a backcountry permit is a violation of 36 CFR 2.10(b)(8). Violators may be subject to fines up to $1000 and/or 6 months in jail. All eight backcountry campsites (Ka‘aha, Halapē, Keauhou, ‘Āpua Point, Nāpau, Pepeiao Cabin, Red Hill Cabin and Mauna Loa Cabin) require a permit, with a stay limit of three consecutive nights at one site. Campers can move to another backcountry site for the fourth night, but no more than 7 consecutive nights per permit. Stays longer than 7 nights require purchasing an additional $10.00 permit. Sites may be reserved up to a week in advance and are reserved upon receipt of permit fees. Fees for backcountry camping can be paid in person at the Backcountry Office by credit card, personal check, cash (exact change please), or online through pay.gov up to a week in advance of your departure. Physical permits must be picked up no more than 24 hours in advance from the Backcountry Office, open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Payments made through pay.gov require obtaining a permit number in advance by calling or emailing the Backcountry Office. You will enter this number into the pay.gov online form.
Off-site (dispersed) camping is allowed in the backcountry. Hikers must be at least 1 mile from a road or improved camp area and "out of sight and sound" of the trail. "Cat holing" is not allowed to dispose of human waste.
Campers may stay a maximum of 3 consecutive nights per site. A total of 16 hikers are allowed per night at Ka`aha.
Backpackers to Ka`aha should be adequately equipped, experienced in wilderness trekking, and physically fit.
Pack the Essentials for a Safe and Comfortable Trip:
Intense sunlight, wind, and high temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or stroke. Do not hike coastal trails during the heat of the day (10am to 2pm). Wear sun protection. Plan ahead - hydrate the day before your trek and drink fluids continually along the trail.
Leave No Trace
Hikers are required to pack out everything they pack in. Do not bury or discard trash in composting toilets - Pack it out.
Practice "leave no trace" camping.
Ka'aha, Halape, and Keauhou have three-walled primitive shelters where hikers may enjoy a respite from the sun. Water caught off the roofs of these shelters are stored in adjacent catchment tanks (check with rangers when you obtain your permit for current water levels -- water is NOT always available and there are no streams in the area). TREAT water obtained from catchment tanks before drinking. Please use the composting toilet. Do not put trash in the toilet - pack all trash out.
Steep cliffs (pali) mark the flank of Kilauea. Trails may be steep and rocky. Watch your footing along the hot and windy trails. Maximum elevation change between trailhead and campsite is 3,000 feet (1000m). Stay on the trail! Do not cut across switchbacks as this accelerates erosion. Trails are marked by stone cairns (ahu) that may be difficult to see in the rain and mist, and impossible to find in the dark. Trails are rocky and uneven, and may be overgrown with thick vegetation. There are no trees or shelter from the sun along the various trails to Ka`aha.
During the day, temperatures can soar into the high 90s or higher. There are NO trees to provide relief from the sun. Carry and drink 3 to 4 quarts of water per person (per day). The elderly, infants, and those taking antihistamines and certain types of medication for high blood pressure or depression are especially at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
The Heat Equation: High Temperature + High Humidity + Physical Work = Heat Illness or Death.
Seismic and Volcanic Hazards
Pesky and Dangerous Animals
Protect Precious Plants, Animals, and Archeological Sites It's a Good Idea and It's the Law
Turtles - Endangered Hawksbill sea turtles nest and threatened Green sea turtles rest on park beaches. Do not camp in areas posted as turtle nesting areas at `Apua, Halape, and other beaches. Federal and state laws protect all sea turtles from harm.
Archeology - Respect and help protect Hawaiian archeological sites. Do not climb on or alter any rock structures, such as walls, house platforms, pits, and mounds. Avoid walking on or making rubbings of petroglyphs.
Fishing - Fishing along the coastline from the park's eastern boundary to a point midway between Keauhou and Halape is restricted to native Hawaiian residents of the Kalapana area. It is your responsibility to understand and obey all fishing regulations. Swimming - There are very few sheltered swimming sites along the coast. Rough seas, high surf and strong, unpredictable currents are typical of the park's coastline. Avoid entering the open ocean. Help protect the rare plants and animals that live in tidepools and brackish ponds - rinse off all soap and sunscreen before entering them.
Pets and Stock Use - Dogs (except service animals) and other pets are not allowed on park trails or in wilderness areas. Horses, donkeys, and mules are allowed at some backcountry sites with a valid backcountry permit (limit of 6 animals per site). Tether livestock at least 100 feet from campsites in an area that presents no hazard or sanitation problems to other campers. Hikers encountering horse parties should quietly step off the trail and allow the animals to pass.
Leave No Trace - Pack out everthing you pack in. Do not put rubbish in composting toilets. Keep wilderness areas beautiful and clean.
Give us your feedback - Let us know about trail, cabin, or campsite conditions. Did you notice anything damaged or dangerous conditions that rangers should be aware of? File a Trip Report
Last updated: February 13, 2019