Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. See our Advertising Policy
This article has been a long time coming and “in the works” for several months. Hiking the Kalalau trail literally requires you to prepare months in advance. If you seriously thinking of doing this world-renowned hike then you should know getting permits is probably the hardest part of the whole process.
I have a separate guide that walks you through all the steps needed along with several tips and suggestions to help you prepare, it’s long but it has all the details you will need.
Below I share my experience of actually hiking the trail during July with my son and brother-in-law, something we will never forget.
Oh and one more thing, this trail is ranked as one of the most dangerous hikes in the US by several well-known publications, including Backpacker.com
Location Of Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is a path located on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. If you imagine Kaua’i as a clock face, this trail is at about the 11 o’clock position. More precisely, it starts in the northwest part of the island at Keʻe Beach.
The trail is nestled along the Nāpali Coast, which is a spectacular coastline that’s renowned for its dramatic cliffs diving down into the Pacific Ocean.
The Kalalau Trail winds its way through lush green valleys, across streams, and past waterfalls, offering breathtaking views of the ocean and cliffs. The whole trail is about 11 miles long (22 miles in and out) and ends at the secluded Kalalau Beach.
The trail is known for its steep and rugged terrain. So while it offers a lot of natural beauty, it also requires a good level of physical fitness and preparation to tackle. It’s a popular choice for adventurers looking to explore the wilderness of Hawaii.
How To Get To The Trailhead Of Kalalau
One of the logistic hurdles when planning this hike is getting to the trailhead with all of your gear and of course, getting picked back up. There is a shuttle system that I do not recommend because it is more geared for day hikers and those visiting the beach.
I have a whole section about this in my guide to Kalalau but my short recommendation is to join the FB group here – https://www.facebook.com/groups/47161793210 and book with someone who will shuttle to and from. Just use the search function and you will see dozens of comments about getting to the Kalalau Trail.
Trailhead To Hanakāpīʻai Beach
So like any hike my spirits were high and crew morale was in fighting shape right from the start. After planning for so long and thinking about this day I was pumped.
The Kalalau trail does not wait to remind you who is boss though. Right from the get-go it is up, up, up, and you will be completely warmed up within a quarter mile.
The views come into play quickly though and you quickly see why so many have this on their bucket list. This section of the hike is open to day hikers, no overnight permit is needed. It was easy to identify who was going further and who was just going to the beach. I think someone in an online group said “Those with luggage on their backs were easy to identify”, so true.
It’s a nice hike down to Hanakāpīʻai beach, little did I know but this section on the way back would be the toughest physically for everyone in the group.
As I approached Hanakāpīʻai beach I realized this would indeed make a great day hike. I do not recommend you swim at this beach as people have been seriously hurt and died here over the years. No lifeguard.
This was our first break and we filled our water bottles at the stream.
Hanakāpīʻai Beach To Hanakoa Campsite
Hiking out of Hanakāpīʻai beach is about an 800 ft. elevation climb and seriously puts some burn in the legs and lungs. The crowds also drop off the map and you realize quickly that it’s just you and mother nature for a while.
I did come across other hikers coming and going but they were few and far between. Exactly why many do this trail
I hiked this trail during July and many of the intermittent streams were dry and not running, it wasn’t until we reach Hanakoa that we came upon the first viable source of water to filter after leaving Hanakāpīʻai. During the rest of the year I have heard there is water everywhere along the trail so plan accordingly.
As I mentioned earlier it was summer when we camped but I recommend you cross the stream at Hanakoa before setting up for the night. This way if it rains heavy during the night you do not have to cross first thing in the morning and you can be up and on your way.
I was in the tent but if I hike this trail again I will do a hammock. Both Hanakoa and Kalalau Beach have trees everywhere to set up a hammock. Make sure to bring a bug net, especially if camping one night in Hanakoa.
The infamous Crawlers Ledge is at the 7-mile marker but you have to scoot down this hill (pictured below) before getting to it. I took some time at the top to take it all in and to let a group of goats finish on the cliff above me.
I didn’t get too many photos of Crawlers Ledge but I did video the whole section when hiking it, check out the video above for some epic shots.
Overall it wasn’t as bad as it’s hyped up to be, the red dirt section after it in rainy wet conditions has the potential to be considerably more sketchy. The picture below shows us approaching Crawlers Ledge after a steep and slippery climb down.
Below is the section right before the 7 mile marker and proceeds the ledge.
Once you pass Crawlers Ledge the views down the coastline really up their game.
Hanakoa Campsite To Kalalau Beach
From Hanakakoa to Kalalau Beach the available water sources increase, even in the summer months. The water was nice and cool, perfect for hot and sweaty hikers.
I can’t tell you how good it felt to see this sign, .5 miles, nothing! A short walk and we were blessed with a view that I will never forget.
My son and I, before the final stretch to the beach. Memories of a lifetime.
No exaggeration at all, this was right in front of my tent, no filter on this photo either. The pounding surf, cool breezes, and mountain views were something to behold.
During the summer months when the sand is in and the surf is a bit calmer you can walk a short way to explore this cave. Bring a flashlight or go during the late afternoon for some natural light. Not much inside but pretty cool nonetheless.
Return Trip To Kalalau Trailhead
We left Kalalau Beach at 5 am with headlamps and flashlights on so we could do the return trip in one shot, it was killer. A lot quieter in the group as we all knew the trip was coming to an end, and that we had 11 miles ahead of us.
We made it back to the trailhead by 2:30 am so a little over 9 hours, I set a hard pace from the start but we did it and will never forget it. If an 11-mile stretch is too much for you be sure to book an extra night to camp again in Hanakoa. This way you have 2 legs going and coming back of about 5-6 miles each, very doable.
The hardest part of this trail is the physical challenge you will face, yes there are some narrow spots and yes the cliffs are high but honestly, you are looking at your feet the whole time. If you dare, stop, and take a look around, impressive.
I have a healthy fear of heights which keeps me alive and would gladly do it again. If you lock up or have a difficult time with heights then this is not the trail for you. I also recommend you are able to do at least 6 miles with a full pack before doing this trail, that’s 6 miles on a hike, not the local track.
If you are ready to go then start with getting your permit first, it’s the hardest part short of hiking the trail. If you need help with all the logistics then check out the guide I wrote, it has step-by-step instructions. If the window is closed consider the myriad of other wonderful things to do on Kauai.
Are you a part of the few on the planet who have done this trail? Let me know what you think in the comments below.