One of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the world, the Na Pali Coast spans 17 miles along Kauai’s north shore. Although the stretch of coast is visible via boat and air, one of the best ways to take it all in is by hiking the Kalalau Trail.
The Kalalau Trail navigates the Na Pali Coast Wilderness State Park and cuts through five valleys, offering breathtaking views of streams, waterfalls, and sea cliffs along the way.
Hiking the entire Na Pali coast has been on my bucket list for a long time, so when I relocated to Oahu, I decided it was time to make that dream a reality. After finally securing a permit, my friend and I packed our bags and boarded a puddle hopper to the Garden Isle.
How to Hike the Na Pali Coast
To get to Kauai, you’ll fly into Lihue Airport. From there, you’ll want to have a car rental planned or have a prearranged driver take you to the trailhead. Uber and Lyft are not reliable on the island, so be sure to do your research and have transportation planned out ahead of time.
There are also a few shuttles from north shore hotels that will deposit you at the trailhead.
In order to hike the Kalalau Trail, you’ll need to obtain a camping permit. Permits open up a month ahead of time and go quickly, so be diligent in checking the website.
If you wish to leave a car overnight, you’ll need to obtain a parking permit as well. We were able to get an overnight hiking permit but struck out on the parking permit.
Maximize Your Stay
To make the most of our trip, we flew in 2 days early and rented a truck to make the most of our time on the island. In the spirit of immersing ourselves in the outdoors, we skipped the hotels and booked a campsite for $3 a night at Anini Beach, which was equal parts tranquil and stunning.
During the day, we visited Queen’s Bath and Tunnels Beach, surfed Hanalei Bay, and hiked to Wailua Falls and Ho’opi’i Falls (we highly recommend all of these stops).
For food, we mainly ate sack lunches, but we had the chance to visit some food trucks in Hanalei and Tahiti Nui, all of which were great.
Na Pali Coast: The Hike
Eager to hit the trail, we arrived at the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. and were on the trail by 7. This allowed us to beat most of the day-trippers.
As promised, the hike was immediately stunning and we began by hiking through a lush jungle with sweeping views of the coastline. After 2 miles, we reached Hanakapi’ai Beach.
At the beach, you have the option to hike an additional 2 miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls. We actually opted to save the hike for another trip and continue onward.
Once we left Hanakapi’ai Beach behind us, the crowds dissipated and we encountered fellow hikers only intermittently. The trail wound in and out of valleys, with a number of creek crossings, waterfall sightings, dramatic views of the coastline, and welcomed shade during the jungle portion. Lining the trail were guava trees, which we lovingly referred to as “free snacks” and munched on regularly.
We took our time, stopping periodically to take photos and drink in the views. Despite being on the trail for hours, we couldn’t get enough of the beauty. A little before 4 p.m., we reached Kalalau Beach. Here, we pitched camp and spent the evening exploring the beach and neighboring waterfall and telling stories under the stars.
Regretfully, we were only able to get a single-night permit, so we hit the trail early the next morning to retrace our steps. On the return trip, we opted to take a detour and hike to Hanakoa Falls, which was roughly a mile off course.
The trip was well worth the added effort: The towering falls were one of the most stunning I have ever seen and we had the place completely to ourselves.
After cooling off at the falls, we hit the trail and continued the trip back to Ke’e Beach, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon swimming and enjoying the sunshine.
Things to Note
The Kalalau Trail is often regarded as dangerous due to the fact that it is narrow, steep, rocky, and subject to heavy rain. The “scariest” part of the trail is around mile 7 and is often referred to as “Crawler’s Ledge,” because it’s a narrow stretch along the cliffs.
In order to stay safe, it’s best to visit during months with lighter rainfall and pack spikes in case the trail gets slippery. We hiked in late October and didn’t have any issues, but it’s always best to be prepared.
The 11-mile trail is not for the faint of heart. The trail is challenging and features approximately 5,000 feet of elevation loss/gain. As experienced hikers, we found the hike to be challenging but definitely doable.
Gear to Hike the Na Pali Coast
When it comes to multiday trips, having the proper gear is essential. Although a lot of gear comes down to preference, here is the gear we found was necessary:
- Backpack with rain cover
- Lightweight backpacking tent
- Sleeping pad (I like the Thermarest NeoAir XLite.)
- Sleeping bag (I like Nemo Equipment Riff Women’s Down Sleeping Bag.)
- Camping stove (plus lighter and fuel, which you can buy on the island)
- Water filter (We used Katadyn bottles with filters.)
- Water bottles
- First-aid kit
- Hiking boots
- Camp shoes
- Food (We had a mix of oatmeal, Foodland snacks, and freeze-dried meals from Heather’s Choice.)
- Clothes (It’s pretty warm, so you’ll want lightweight clothes and wool socks with a warm layer for the evening. A rain jacket is a must.)
- Spikes (We didn’t end up using ours, but if it rained, they would have been good to have.)
- Headlamp (My top choice is BioLite.)
- Microfiber towel
- Bug spray
- Hiking poles (We didn’t use them but most people did.)
- Cutlery kit