The Kalalau trail is a great activity for anyone seeking to add an extra element of adventure to their Hawaii vacation. The trail navigates the steep fins of the Na Pali coast which is the crowning jewel of the island of Kauai, boasting waterfalls, lush green vegetation, spectacular ocean views, and a beach that is considered one of the most remote and beautiful in the world. This incredible landscape offers some of the most remote and unique views that a hiker could hope for. There are waterfalls along the trail that can be great destinations for day hiking, but the full experience involves backpacking in and camping at the Kalalua beach and exploring the Kalalau Valley. The information below offers suggestions of how to plan your trip to get the most out of backpacking the Na Pali coast.
Tips at a Glance
Overnight camping at Kalalau requires a permit which can be acquired here. If there are no permits available, check back often as cancellations do happen. Many locals frequently hike Kalalau with no permit at all and it’s rare for rangers to monitor the trail, but you didn’t hear that from me!
The trailhead for Kalalua starts at the end of the road on the north shore of the island, just past Ke’e Beach. There are many places to stay in Princeville and Hanalei and it is a good idea to keep a room while you are gone so you have a place to leave extra luggage and your vehicle; anything left overnight at the trailhead is subject to theft/vandalism. Schedule a taxi driver 1-2 days in advance.
11 miles each way, 22 miles roundtrip
Hanakapiai Beach – 2 miles from trailhead
Once you have hiked the first 2 miles of trail you will come to Hanakapiai beach. Swimming at this beach is prohibited due to the dangerous currents. The pit toilets at Hanakapiai, they are the only toilets available on the trail.
At Hanakapiai there is the option to hike 2 miles up to Hanakapiai Falls, however this adds an additional 4 miles and requires numerous river crossings. It’s probably not worth the additional time and energy to hike to this waterfall if you are planning to go all the way to Kalalau Beach.
Hanakoa Valley – 6 miles from trailhead
Hanakoa Valley marks 6 miles into the hike and offers rain shelters and a midway point to camp if you prefer to break up the hike into Kalalau, however the available campsites are right along the main trail and do not offer the space and privacy available at Kalalau. At Hanakoa there is another opportunity to venture off the trail and hike to a waterfall. It is 1 mile roundtrip to see Hanakoa Waterfall. It depends on the individual if adding additional mileage is worth the extra effort.
Crawler’s Ledge – 7 (approximate) miles from trailhead
After leaving Hanakoa Valley, the rest of the trail becomes less shaded and you will climb up and then descend a series of switchbacks onto what is known as Crawler’s Ledge. This can be a difficult section for anyone with more than a mild fear of heights, but for the most part it is not too challenging, although it does require careful foot placing and balance.
Once you’ve made it past Crawler’s Ledge, it’s just a matter of pushing on to the end. Enjoy the beautiful beach and all that the valley has to offer.
When you leave Kalalau, it’s is a smart idea to get an early start (as early as 4am is a good idea). This way you will avoid the hot sun and by the time you get to Hanakoa Valley the rest of the trail is mostly shaded. Hiking out early also increases the likelihood of seeing the mountain goats traversing the rocky cliffs in the Crawler’s Ledge area.
Once you have made it back to the trailhead, there is a payphone you can use to call your taxi driver. There is no cell service so it is important to coordinate ahead of time with your driver and to quarters to use the payphone.
Head back in to Princeville and stop at Lappert’s for some Coconut Nut Macademia Nut Fudge ice cream! Your tired body will thank you!