Known as one of the most treacherous trails in the United States, the Kalalau Trail is located on the North Shore of Kauai, the Garden Island of Hawaii. Given that this eleven-mile trail is the only land access to this rugged coastline, it is a highlight for outdoor adventurers in Kauai. However, be forewarned, this trail not for all people. You must be fit, stoic, not afraid of heights/ledges, and prepared with the right gear. Although Kauai has moderate temperatures all-year, the seas are rough in the winter months on the North Shore providing more obstacles. The best time of year to go is May-September, but as with all things in nature, be mindful of the weather report. Rain, floods, and swells can make this trail impassible.
6 Tried and True Tips for Hiking Kalalau Trail, Kauai Hawaii
Pack Light = Happy Hiker
Packing the essential and keeping it light is key. For reference, most hikers decide to go out to Kalalau for three-days: hike the eleven miles on the first day, rest up on the second, and return on the third. As a guide, a backpack that is less than thirty pounds is best. I walked with a thirty-five-pound pack, but I regretted the extra pounds. A lightweight tent is your best option, but a tent is optional. You may decide to use hammocks and perhaps a tarp. Don’t bring heavy sleeping bags. Many choose to use sleeping socks. You are in the tropics where it is hot, humid, and clothing is optional. Pack accordingly.
Good Shoes - Don’t Wear Brand New Hiking Boots
The Kalalau Trail is going to be varied terrain with volcanic earth, whether dry and slippery or muddy and slick as ice. You will want good grips on your hiking boots as well as ankle support. If you are a neat freak, forget about keeping your shoes or boots clean. The red dirt will stain everything that you wear. Plan accordingly. If you are interested in hiking Kalalau, you must not be a novice. So, don’t do a dumb thing and wear brand new shoes or boots. Always always always do various dress rehearsals with your footwear and gear.
Good Water Filter – No Need to Pack in Water
On the trail, there are no water filling stations. You will need to fill your bladders and water bottles before starting the trail. You will have stops at waterfalls, springs, and rivers to fill up your water reciprocal, but you will need to treat the water. Don’t be that hiker that thinks that his/her stomach can beat leptospirosis. There are many wild boar and goats on the Na Pali. So heed my warning. Nothing makes you hate a trail more than headaches and fever that can lead to bleeding from the lungs, kidney failure, and worse. Although you can treat water in various ways, I suggest the quickest and most effective way, which is with a sterilizing light. The other methods with liquid drops or pills leave a bad aftertaste; plus, they take time for the water to be potable.
Lightweight Stove and Dehydrated Food
When hiking eleven miles one way, you want your pack to be light, but you are going to need fuel to arrive and refuel for your return trip. A lightweight store is the best bet as dry firewood is not a guarantee. With Kauai having one of the rainiest places on the planet, it is bound to rain on your at some point whether while you are hiking, trying to set up your camp, or trying to light a fire. A lightweight stove can within a min start a pot of water boiling to make ready to eat meals like noodles or instant potatoes. To supplement, I always carry dried fruits, nuts, energy bars, and jerky for more protein. What is great about Kalalau Valley is that there are many fruit trees. If you get lucky and hit fruit season, you will find some lilikoi (passion fruit), strawberry guava, and mango.
Sunscreen, Bug Repellent, and First Aid
Most of the trail is exposed so carry with you enough sunscreen for reapplication throughout your stay. Depending on the winds and time of year, you may have bugs. Some bug sprays wipes are lightweight and useful. When hiking a trail of this length and difficulty, you must bring a substantial first aid kit with wound care, gauze, ointment, OTC drugs, and even wraps or duct tape for any major gear malfunctions and/or injuries.
Bring $100 bucks – CYA Money
On the Kalalau Trail, there is no cell service. Unless you have a satellite phone, you will not get service. Although it is a State Park, there are rarely rangers or personnel out at Kalalau Beach or valley. The best way to ensure your trip is with cash. Typically, there is a group or two of locals that are camped at Kalalau Beach. They have more substantial camps set up that the backpackers. Once a day, a zodiac with Jet Ski support will come to Kalalau Beach to drop off provisions for those that live in the valley, transport injured hikers back to Hanalei, and remove trash. The going rate of one passage from Kalalau to Hanalei Bay (pictured above) is roughly $100 cash.
**As of July 2019, there will be rangers posted at Kalalau, monitoring permits and assisting injured hikers. See parking, permits, and more here.**
You Are Prepared with the 6 Tips Above, but What About Crawler’s Ledge?
I conquered the twenty-two mile, roundtrip of Kalalau Trail while living in Kauai. I had kayaked the length of the hike before as well as hiked the first half a few times before doing the entire hike. I was hesitant to do the whole enchilada because of an area called Crawler’s Ledge. It is between miles seven and eight where the trail becomes about a foot and a half wide along a cliff with the powerful Pacific Ocean crashing beneath you. If you are afraid of heights, don’t like ledges, and feel that eleven miles, one-way isn’t for you, you can still experience the Na Pali and great views of Kalalau Valley and Beach via kayak. In one full-day, you can kayak the Na Pali, passing Crawler’s Ledge and Kalalau with an end at Polihale Beach.
Is the Kalalau Trail Worth it?
Kauai and its Na Pali Coast are paradise found. There is a reason why so many films have taken place on this beautiful island (Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park(s), Descendents, and more). The reason why the Na Pali remains remarkably beautiful and untouched is because it is difficult to get to whether on foot or boat.
As always, here’s to looking up, but with a touch of ALOHA!
**Notes: In order to camp legally, you will need to obtain a permit from the State of Hawaii online for $20 for non-residents and $15 for kama’aina (Hawaii residents). Also, parking at the end of the road at Ke’e Beach is limited and most of the time full. The best place to park is at the campground/beach at Haena.**
**As of July 2019, kama-aina residents will have allocated parking that doesn't need a permit, but ALL visitors will need a parking permit or a reservation to ride the Ke'e beach shuttle. All campers at Kalalau will need permits as well. See more here**