In the middle of Kauai’s Na Pali coast is the Kalalau Trail, an epic hike that takes you through a valley full of beauty and wonder. For centuries it was home to a thriving community of native Hawaiians who called the area home.
Nowadays it is a protected state park to ensure that all generations to come can witness the beauty of such a unique spot on the island, and for that matter, the whole planet.
Kalalau lies roughly in the middle of the Na Pali coast. The dramatic skyline of the jagged peaks shooting straight out of the ocean represent the quintessential postcard picture that many equate to Na Pali. It’s certainly a highlight of our boat tours, with many of our guests exclaiming that it is one of the most beautiful landscapes they have ever laid eyes on.
Seeing it from our boats is a great way to view the coastline in a half a day. But for those who want a slower-paced, intimate encounter with the coast, you may want to try hiking the 11-mile trail from Ke’e beach to Kalalau. The trail is one of the toughest, as well as the most beautiful of all the Kauai hikes.
This trail is not for the faint of heart. The journey is an all-day affair that winds through each ridge and contour of one of the most rugged coastlines on the planet. Switchbacks take you up and down from sea level to 800 feet, and back down again several times. The trail can be narrow and dangerous, and having a sure footing is essential, particularly in wet weather.
The Kalalau trail starts at Ke’e beach which is literally at the end of the road on the North shore. This beach has a protected lagoon that is great for snorkeling and swimming, a great way to cool off before or after the long hike. The trail begins with a steep ascent, climbing alongside Makana Mountain, the namesake of our boat. For nearly two miles you will gradually rise in elevation until heading back down to beach level at Hanakapa’ai. From here you have two options: continue along the trail toward Kalalau, or take a 4-mile round-trip detour up the valley toward Hanakapai Falls. The trip to the falls is well worth it, but remember to keep an eye on the time and plan accordingly depending on your skill level. There is a camping area on the way to the falls if you wish to take your time.
From Hanakapai the trail meanders around many valleys, never shying too far away from the coast. 6 miles from the trailhead is Hanakoa valley, a lush, green valley with high peaks, waterfalls, and rushing rivers. There is a campsite, picnic area, and restrooms here as well that will give you some much-needed rest and relaxation for either a night or a short break before you continue onward to Kalalau.
The rest of the journey is much more steady than the first half, with not as much constant elevation change allowing you to get into a good pace. The main exception is “Crawler’s Ledge” – a narrow path on loose rock that shoots straight down to the ocean. The trail was actually recently improved, so while it looks scary, as long as you remain slow and stable (and try not to look down), you should have no problem if you’ve already come this far.
As you round the final corner to Kalalau you are greeted by a sign indicating you have arrived, and a request to keep the area pristine for future generations. A few steps further and you will reach a clearing, showing you a sight that will likely remain in your memory for a very long time, if not forever. From the far-off valley ridge down to the sea, you will witness a landscape that only a relative handful of people ever get to witness. Having made it there on your own steam makes the reward that much more fulfilling.
The trail is not for everyone, but those who enjoy a good adventure should definitely try it out. Permits can be obtained from the DLNR – it is advisable to get a permit well in advance as a limited amount are distributed every year. There are also several other Kauai hikes requiring a permit so be sure that you know before you go to avoid a hefty fine.
Although the trail is unforgettable, it still only showcases a fraction of the Na Pali coast. To see the rest of the coast beyond Kalalau, the only way to view it is on a boat. We would be happy to have you join us to view one of the most spectacular coastlines on planet Earth.
Regardless of how you view the coast, your time on Na Pali will be one you will not soon forget, and one of the best of all the amazing Kauai hikes.
Any questions? Ask us in the comments below!
See you on the coast!