Ka`aha is located on the southern coastline of the park, 3.8 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 doted with native `ohi`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 `ohi`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:
Hilina Pali Overlook Trailhead via Hilina Pali Trail and Ka`aha Trail 3.8 mi (6.1 km)
Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu Trailhead via Keauhou Trail, Hilina Pali Trail, and Ka`aha Trail 10.5 mi (17.2 km)
Pu'u Loa Trailhead via the Puna Coast Trail, Keauhou Trail, Hilina Pali Trail, and Ka`aha Trail 18.2 mi (28.3 km)
All overnight backcountry hiking and camping requires a permit. For backcountry camping, there is a $10 fee per trip, in addition to the park entrance fee. Permits must be obtained no more than 24 hours in advance from the Backcountry Office, open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fees for backcountry camping can be paid in person at the Backcountry Office, or online through pay.gov.
Campers may stay a maximum of 3 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:
ESSENTIAL BACKPACKING EQUIPMENT
WATER - minimum 4 quarts/liters or water per person, per day
first aid kit
emergency food supply
cookstove, fuel, utensils (Open fires are prohibited)
flashlight & extra batteries
biodegradable soap, toilet paper
signaling device (mirror, whistle, etc.)
broken-in sturdy boots, moleskin
sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, rain gear
flashlight, extra batteries
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.
Services are limited at trailheads. Water and public transportation are NOT available. 911 phones (for emergency use only) are located at Hilina Pali Overlook, Pu'uloa, and Ka'u Desert trailheads.
Hilina Pali Overlook (Hilina Pali Trail) located at the end of Hilina Pali Road (2,280' elevation).
Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu (Keauhou Trail) located on Chain of Craters Road (2,680' elevation).
Pu`u Loa (Puna Coast Trail) located near sea level on Chain of Craters Road.
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.
Intense sunlight, wind, humidity, and high temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or stroke. Cold wind and driving rain are possible any time of year and may cause low body temperature (hypothermia). Hot, dry winds blowing over non-native grasses can sap your energy and dehydrate hikers quickly. Pace yourself, drink fluids, eat snacks, and avoid hiking during the hottest times of day (usually mid-day 10 am to 2pm). Wear sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. Take layers of clothing to regulate body temperature.
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
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. Earthquakes can also produce large rock falls -- avoid potential rock fall areas. A volcanic eruption is possible at any time; stay upslope and upwind from active lava flows and their gasses. Volcanic gas (vog) can present breathing problems miles downwind from its source. Stay on the trail -- earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous. See: Tsunami at Halape for information about the destructive 1975 earthquake and tsunami at Halape.
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'u Desert and coastal areas west of Ka'aha, there may be unexploded WWII ammunition. If you should see any, DO NO TOUCH IT. Report the location to rangers.
Pesky and Dangerous Animals
Centipedes, scorpions, black widow and brown recluse spiders (all non-native), are common in stone walls, rocky areas, and open grassy fields. Sharks are sometimes seen in coastal waters. Beware of sea urchins (wana), tubeworm casts, and sharp rocks when wading or swimming. Mongoose, 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 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 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.
Leave No Trace - Pack out everthing you pack in. Do not put rubbish in pit toilets. Keep wilderness areas beautiful and clean.
Post your trip journal on our webpage! See our Journal webpage for examples and more information about other areas of the park. Email pictures and text to: Webmaster (e-mail us)
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