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.
Ka‘aha can be accessed from several trailheads:
Hilina Pali Overlook Trailhead via Hilina Pali Trail and Ka‘aha Trail 3.6 mi (5.8 km)
Mau Loa o Maunaulu Trailhead via Keauhou Trail, Hilina Pali Trail, and Ka‘aha Trail 11.5 mi (18.2 km)
Puʻuloa Trailhead via the Puna Coast Trail, Keauhou Trail, Hilina Pali Trail, and Ka‘aha Trail 17.4 mi (28.0 km)
Campers may stay a maximum of 3 consecutive nights per site. A total of 16 hikers are allowed per night at Ka`aha. (GPS Coordinates: 19.26196, -155.30367)
All eight backcountry campsites (Ka‘aha, Halapē, Keauhou, ‘Āpua Point, Nāpau, Pepeiao Cabin, Red Hill Cabin and Mauna Loa Cabin) and all offsite/dispursed backcountry camping require a permit.See the Backcountry Hiking page for details on how to obtain your permit.
Ka'aha, Halapē, 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.
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). Pace yourself, drink fluids, eat snacks, and avoid hiking during the hottest times of day (usually mid-day 10 am to 2pm - but, it is blazing from the time the sun rises).
Wear sun protection - sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. Take layers of clothing to regulate body temperature. Plan ahead - hydrate the day before your trek and drink fluids continually along the trail. Carry and drink a minimum of 4 quarts of water per person, per day.
During the day, temperatures can soar into the high 90s or higher. There are NO trees to provide relief from the sun. 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.
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.
Seismic and Volcanic Hazards
An earthquake can cause a locally-generated tsunami (seismic sea wave) at the coast. If you feel a strong earthquake, move to high ground immediately. Read: Tsunami at Halape - Nov 29, 1975 (external link) Earthquakes can also produce large rock falls -- avoid potential rock fall areas. Stay on the trail -- earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous.
Thick grass and brush create a fire hazard in the coastal area. Do not smoke while hiking. Campfires, firearms, and fireworks are prohibited.
In the Ka'ū Desert and coastal areas west of Ka'aha, there may be unexploded WWII ammunition. If you should see any, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Report the location to rangers.
Pesky and Dangerous Animals
Centipedes, scorpions, and black widow spiders are common in stone walls and rocky areas. Sharks are sometimes seen in coastal waters. Beware of sea urchins (wana), tubeworm casts, and sharp rocks when wading or swimming. Mongooses, mice, and feral cats thrive on unattended food supplies. Store food securely and keep a clean camp. To keep out insects, tents with fully zipable screens are recommended
Protect 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 `Āpua, Halapē, 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 Halapē 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 in the backcountry 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.
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