The coveted Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile, one way, trail from Ke'e Beach to Kalalau Beach. Winding in and out of valleys along the Na Pali Coast this will always be one of my favorite hikes.
Permits are required for this hike and they can be difficult to obtain as there are a limited number of permits sold for each night. Make sure to look into getting the permits in advance. You can purchase permits up to 30 days prior to your hike linked here.
Distance: 22 miles roundtrip + some if you go explore in the valley
Difficulty: Intermediate- Advanced
Best time to go: Summer Months
What to bring: Backpacking gear (tent, sleeping bag, hammock, headlamp), hiking shoes, hiking poles, hydration bladder & water bottle, potable water purification tablets or water purification filter, food (pack out all of your trash)
Notes: Rivers at mile 2, 6 & 10
Hiking the Kalalau Trail is a bucket list adventure for many with some of the most spectacular viewpoints throughout the entire hike. After securing permits you will need to figure out how you are going to get to the start of the hike. The trailhead starts at Ke'e beach, at the end of the road on the north side of Kauai. In the past I have rented a car and left it at the trailhead (they check your permit before the parking lot now) and I have also been dropped off by a friend. Or
you could hitch hike there. I always like to start the hike as early as possible to get as much of it done before it gets too hot and before the Hanakapi‘ai hikers start. Both hikes start at the same trailhead and anyone can hike to Hanakapi‘ai but once you get to the Hanakapi‘ai River (2 miles in) you can't hike past this point unless you have a permit.
Keep in mind the trail has mile markers every mile so once you get past the Hanakapi‘ai River which is at the 2 mile mark lookout for the mile markers. The next big checkpoint will be at mile 6 which is at another river.
Since this hike has 3 big river crossings make sure you have checked the weather leading up to your hike because if it is raining a lot during the hike these rivers can be very dangerous as flash floods occur quickly and can sweep people away within a flash. There have been many sad stories due to flash floods happening at these rivers so be smart and keep in mind the rule to never cross a river where the water line is above your knees. It's also smart to carry some rope with you just in case you do get stuck on the wrong side of the river because you will either have to wait it out or use the rope to get across.
The river at mile 6 is called Hanakoa and is a good place to refill your water. There is also an option to hike 1 mile back into the valley to Hanakoa Falls, a 1000 ft waterfall, which I have never done as I am always anxious to get to Kalalau. Also keep in mind that apart from the Kalalau beach, Hanakoa is the only other place you can camp along the Kalalau trail. The campsite is in a shaded area close to the stream. If the trail is taking longer than expected or you want to split up your hike, this is a good option to set up camp for the night. You can rest and recover so you can finish the rest of the hike the next day. Side note: there are a lot of mosquitos in this area since it's close to water, come prepared with mosquito spray.
Mile 7 is called "Crawlers Ledge" and some people think it's the scariest part of the Kalalau trail, hence the name. It is a very narrow section next to a steep exposed drop off. It can get pretty windy around this point too and with the weight of your heavy backpack it can be a little unnerving for some. Just take your time, go slow to keep your balance and watch your footing during this part and you will be fine. If it has been raining a lot this section can also be very dangerous so be careful and smart!
Once you get past "Crawlers Ledge" the end is almost in sight. Mile 8 goes by as you head back away from the coast where you start getting into an exposed section near mile 9 called "Red Hill". This section is a steep downhill on red clay dirt and gets even steeper near the bottom of the hill. Once you hit the bottom of this hill you're almost to the last river at mile 10. Make sure to refill your water here with whatever water purification filter you have. Since this river is very clean be mindful as you're not supposed to use the bathroom within 100ft of it.
Even though you're mentally & physically exhausted by this point the last mile is a breeze as it's flat and all you can think about it getting to that beach so you can set your gear down. Once you have arrived you can look around for the best place to set up your camp.
It's such a great feeling once you finally arrive at Kalalau Beach. If you go to the very end of the trail there is a waterfall flowing down onto the beach where you can hop in for a fresh rinse or refill your water. Just be careful to make sure there are no goats at the top of the waterfall because they can cause rocks to fall and you don't want to be in the waterfall with falling rocks so be quick when you rinse off!
Once you have your camp all set up you can relax and enjoy the beach. Walk out close to the ocean to catch the sunset but make sure you're facing the mountains so you can watch them light up as the sun goes down.
Depending on how many nights you have in Kalalau there are a few incredible things to do if you have the energy for it!
One of my favorite things to do is to swim over to Honopu Beach. You can only get to this beach by swimming as kayaks can't even dock up on the shores. Facing the ocean you walk down the beach to the left as far as you can go. The best time of year to do this is during the summer months as the swell is usually smaller, you can walk pretty far down the beach which will make it just a short swim around the corner and you will see the beach. If you are there during other months the swell may be too big. Waves will cover more of the beach making it a longer swim and a more dangerous if the tides are strong and you don't have fins. Tip: I have always hiked in small fins as Honopu Beach is one of my favorite beaches. It's best to go early if you want to swim over to this beach because the winds usually pick up and change around 11am which may make the swim back very hard.
Honopu beach is truly jaw dropping beautiful. The mountains drop straight down to this beach. There is also a huge cave you can walk through which will take you to another giant beach and a waterfall. Usually there aren't many people at this beach which makes it even more breathtaking. Just make sure to watch the time so you can make your swim back before the winds pick up.
Once you make it back over to Kalalau Beach you can make lunch before you head out to go explore Kalalau Valley. To get into the valley you will need to walk a mile back to the river at mile 10. There will be a sign pointing to a trail that leads you back into the valley. If you head back into the valley make sure to respect the rock walls and don't touch or move anything. Up the river there are many cool spots to discover and if you want to take a fresh water bath you can soak in the cold river. Just don't use any soap! It's a refreshing dip especially if it's hot outside and is also good for muscle recovery to sit in the cold river for 10 minutes or longer.
If you head back towards the river mouth, you can take in some stunning views of the Kalalau Mountains and the coast.
Once the time has arrived to make the hike back out, make sure to pack up all of your trash and take it out with you. If you have anything you don't think you need anymore, maybe another hiker will want it (extra food, fuel canister, etc.) I have seen people leave items on the lanai at the shelters in Kalalau. This way other incoming hikers might see an item they may need. Just don't leave trash.
I feel like the hike back always goes by faster as you're mentally prepared for what is to come. I recommend starting the hike back early, so you can get past mile 7 "crawlers ledge" before it's too hot. Finishing the hike is a great feeling and your first meal after the hike is even better!
I hope this has helped your prepare for your Kalalau adventure and if you have any other questions feel free to reach out. Happy Hiking!