We just returned from an epic and incredibly challenging trek along the Nā Pali Coast on the island of Kauai. For anyone who loves the idea of hiking through paradise to a remote beach which is unreachable by car, then read on.
The Hike: The Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile trek (22 miles round-trip) that leads from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, USA. The nearest road is at the trailhead, 11 miles from the beach. The trail was beautiful, yet brutal and has been mentioned many times as one of the world’s most dangerous trails. Mostly because of flash flooding (we crossed multiple rivers along the way) and Mile 7 which is a stretch of the trail that puts you on a rock ledge, hugging a thin trail, dangling hundreds of feet above the ocean below.
“The Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast is Hawaii at its best—isolated jungle, steep volcanic slopes, and a pristine undeveloped beach at the end. But the 22-mile round-trip hike through paradise can turn sour quickly. The path’s three major stream crossings can swell rapidly during a rain, and falling rock, especially around waterfalls, is always a concern. Crawler’s Ledge, three-quarters of the way through the trek, can turn into a dicey walk along its sheer ledge during the rain. The trail has taken several lives and caused countless accidents…” –Outside Magazine
We chose to hike in on day 1, camp on the beach and rest on day 2 and to wake up early on day 3 to make the 11 mile journey back to civilization. Day 1 took my wife Amy and I 10 hours which is likely much longer than most. At the trailhead estimates range from 6 – 9 hours. We shaved off 2 hours on the return trek. Our packs were heavier than most since we had heard from several people, including a half-dozen locals I drilled once on the island, that you don’t want to leave anything in your car at the trailhead, because break-ins are common. So I packed my laptop and other ridiculous things I would never dream of while backpacking, and I could feel every bit of the weight.
You must have a permit to hike and camp on the beach. I reserved our permit MONTHS before the trip and you should absolutely do the same. These things go quick and several curious hikers asked us “how we got our permits” which means they were hiking illegally. We met some locals that assured us that park officials do check permits so hike without permits at your own risk. Only a small number of permits are available so this is a must. Reserve your permit here.
So why was it so brutal? If you are in fairly good shape or have hiking experience then you will be just fine. I am sure many people who have hiked the trail would say it wasn’t that bad. So I am simply speaking from personal experience here. It was one of those experiences that was not all that enjoyable while it was happening (ie my feet were on fire and I was sweating so much that my fingers pruned as if I took a 6 hour shower) but was absolutely spectacular at the same time.
The weight of our packs was a big factor. A smug little s#!it passed me while I was gasping for breath somewhere around mile 6, drenched in sweat, trying to take my pack off to rest and asked, “Wow. Are you OK? How much does that pack weigh?”
I told him I had no idea but that it was, “really bloody heavy.” He then told me, “Well I just paid someone to jet-ski my tent and a cooler full of beer to the beach.”
“That’s great,” I replied and gave him a look that said in all ways possible to piss off.
If you are scared of heights, don’t even think about doing this hike. Mile 7, or Crawler’s Ledge, is really thin and really really high. How high? I didn’t look down. That’s how high. You hug the rock wall and just say over and over again, “It’s just a trail.” We met a girl who was near panic right before Mile 7. We read online about people who have sat and cried before Mile 7. Is it that bad? Not if you don’t mind heights and not if the trail is dry. If it is raining, then forget about it.
The heat, the mud, the elevation changes and the rain. There really are very few level parts of this trek and any backpacker will tell you that going up, then down, then up, then down again can kill your legs. This combined with sometimes muddy trails and sometimes slick pebble rock makes the 11 miles particularly challenging. Bring a waterproof backpack cover (like this click here). I didn’t and on the return trip, the last 3 miles we dredged through a tropical downpour. My pack got heavier with every single drop of rain soaking my clothes and the tent.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! A thousand times YES! The views on this stunning trek are once in a lifetime. They are truly amazing. The reward of camping on a secluded beach, listening to the waves and the soft sounds of nature are bucket list worthy. This place is sacred and you can feel it all around.
Other helpful information:
- Bring Iodine pills (like these click here) to treat the water and a filter if you want to as well. Leptospirosis is in the water and you obviously don’t want to drink that.
- Bring trekking poles (like these click here). They will help with balance while crossing rivers and on steep parts of the trail.