UPDATE Nov 2018: Due to major flooding and landslides of 2018, the highway leading to the Na Pali Coast Wilderness Park is closed. The state of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail is also being evaluated. Presently, it is not known when the trail will be accessible again.
Kalalau Beach, located in the midst of the Na Pali Coast, is one of the most breathtaking and secluded beaches in the world. Kalalau Beach is the final destination of the Kalalau Trail, which has an infamous reputation for also being one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. Tourists frequently flock to Ke’e Beach, the northernmost (drive-able) beach on the island, to hike two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach on the trail. On an average day, you will see dozens of tourists hiking to Hanakapi’ai beach, because of its easy access and short hike time. Old and young hikers alike gather on this beach, but what lies beyond this milestone in the trail is remarkable.
The 11 mile hike to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast changed my life, and I urge anyone who is considering hiking it, please be prepared. I’m hoping my personal account of hiking the trail will give insight to the hike’s extreme challenges and dangers, but also to its unparalleled beauty.
I decided to hike the Kalalau trail for the first time in June 2015, with a group of six friends who were all visiting the island. We had all heard of Kalalau Beach from seeing pictures online and thinking to ourselves that we needed to go there while in Kauai. We thought that the trail would be a fun two-day hiking adventure. We planned to hike there in the morning, enjoy the afternoon at the beach when we arrived, spend the night, and hike back to Ke’e Beach the next morning. We could not have been further off from meeting our naïve expectations.
Armed with a total of two blankets, one 5×5 tarp, 2 liters of water each, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, peanut butter, and bread, we headed out for the trail at 7:30 am. At the time, we were completely unaware that walking on this trail is illegal past the two mile mark, whether or not you plan on camping (unless you apply for a permit at a minimum of six months beforehand). In retrospect, we were very lucky to not be ticketed and turned around on the trail, as hikers recently have been turned around at the 11 mile mark on the trail (where police helicopters can fly in and land).
At any rate, we began the hike with pep in our step and started the uphill ascent. Hours started to go by and seeing each mile marker we passed reminded us that we still had a long way to go on the trail. The trek was exhausting; hiking up and down hills that wrapped around the lush green mountains was extremely tiring to say the least. We frequently stopped for water breaks, but having only two liters each for the entire trip, we reminded each other to drink just a little at a time. I thought the trail was extremely trying and I was physically exhausted, but nothing prepared me for what I was to encounter on mile mark 7 of the trail.
I came to find out afterwards that mile 7 is also referred to as “crawler’s ledge”, and is the main portion of what makes the hike so dangerous. Hikers have died on this perilous part of the trail, and its infamy lives on today. For the entire mile, I found myself grasping to the side of the crumbling mountain’s walls, as my feet gripped to the 12 inch wide trail. Below me was a 300- foot drop into the ocean, so one bad move and I was done for. I urge anyone who is afraid of heights; do not embark on the Kalalau trail hike. If you do decide to walk the trek, it is best that you go on a day that is completely dry with no rain.
I made it out of mile 7, but the fear that had just been instilled in me, along with my complete physical exhaustion, led me to wish I had never decided to hike the trail without being properly informed and prepared. After 3 more miles of up and down winding hills, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel at the 10-mile mark. We saw Kalalau Beach. We plowed through the last downhill mile and collapsed in the warm sand on the beach. As we made our way into night, we quickly realized we had hardly any food remaining. Not to mention, our water reserves were dangerously low, so half of our group took the chance of drinking out of the waterfall located at the beach. At this point we knew we would be in for the most excruciating hike of our lives if we had to hike back tomorrow. I knew if it was life or death, I would push my body and mind to the limits in order to make it back to civilization. However, fortunately for us, some locals were at the beach at that time. They would wait for naïve hikers like us to be desperate to not have to hike back. One of the locals offered us a $75 (each) boat ride back to Ke’e Beach, which was an offer none of us could pass up (warning: taking boat rides to and from Kalalau Beach is illegal and I highly do not recommend doing so if you do not want to be fined).
That night, we ended up all crowding under our 5×5 tarp, while sand crabs crawled on us and the fear of rain was in the back of our minds. Waking up the next morning and going on the boat back to Ke’e Beach, I could not help but think how more unprepared we could have been. I want to make it clear to potential hikers of the trail; this is not a hike for the lighthearted.
If you are considering the Kalalau trail hike, please review the list below:
- Obtain a hiking permit from https://kalalautrail.com/information/permits/. It is recommended that you book your permit at least 6 months before hand, as permits are extremely limited. Each person should have a permit.
- BRING ENOUGH WATER. I recommend each person in your party bring 3-4 liters of water each, if you are spending the night for one night. A personal water filter can come really handy and reduce your load of water, as here are many streams along the trek.
- HAVE THE PROPER SUPPLIES:
Lightweight ponchos to cover yourself and your backpacks.
Sturdy hiking boots, as the trek is hard on the feet and can also be muddy.
Trekking poles to help you keep the balance and off-loading your legs too.
Knee and ankle braces will be super useful to any hiker, and are a must if you have problems in these joints.
Insect repellent, as there maybe some mosquitoes around the streams.
Ibuprofen to alleviate headache, muscle aches, backaches, and joint pain. Bring a lot of it!
- Bring a tent or covered hammock if you plan on spending the night. The chances of rain are prevalent at any time in Kauai.
- Ensure you are in proper physical condition to hike the trail. Be prepared to hike for 6-9 hours one way.
- Do not hike the trail alone.
- Do not hike the trail if you have a fear of heights (mile 7 is extremely dangerous).
- You might want to pick a time when the chances of rain are low. I recommend you choose a time between May and September.
- KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING INTO. This trail is not for everyone. In fact, I believe this trail is only for individuals who are extremely prepared and know the dangers of the trail.
If you do decide to hike the Kalalau trail, you will be in for a view of a lifetime once you make it to Kalalau Beach. The view alone is worth the hike, and it is something you will hold onto for the rest of your life.
Alternative Way to See Na Pali Coast
More Kauai Hikes