For 100 years, this remote strip of land was "the loneliest place on Earth," a beautiful yet feared place of exile for those suffering from leprosy (now known as Hansen's disease). Today, visitors to Molokai's Kalaupapa Peninsula, open every day but Sunday, can admire the tall sea cliffs, rain-chiseled valleys, and tiny islets along the coast. The park tells a poignant human story, as the Kalaupapa Peninsula was once a community of about 1,000 people who were banished
from their homes in Hawaii. It also recounts the wonderful work of Father Damien, a Belgian missionary who arrived in 1873 to work with the patients. He died in 1889 from leprosy and was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2009. Mother Marianne Cope, who continued St. Damien's work after his death, was canonized in 2012.
Today there are about 8 patients still living in Kalaupapa—now by choice, as the disease is treatable. Out of respect to these people, visitors must be at least 16 years old, cannot stay overnight, and must be on a guided tour or invited by a resident. Photographing patients without their permission is forbidden. Guided tours of the settlement, which start at 10 am, are available by reservation only through Damien Tours if you're hiking or flying in, or the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour if you're riding. Reserve well in advance to avoid disappointment. Keep in mind that there are no public facilities (except an occasional restroom) anywhere in the park. Pack your own food and water, as well as light rain gear, sunscreen, and bug repellent.
Unless you fly with Makani Kai Air, the only way into Kalaupapa National Historic Park is on the dizzying switchback Kalaupapa Trail. The switchbacks are numbered—26 in all—and descend 1,700 feet to sea level in just under 3 miles. The steep trail is more of a staircase, and most of the trail is shaded. Keep in mind, however, that footing is uneven and there is little to keep you from pitching over the side. Hikers should be in good physical condition. If you don't mind heights, you can stare straight down to the ocean for most of the way. There is ample parking near the end of Highway 470. You can access Kalaupapa Trail off Highway 470 near Kalaupapa Overlook.