Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast
From: Bill and
Cori's Excellent Adventures
The Sierra Club rates the Kalalau Trail
as one of the most difficult trails. I did
not know that when I applied for a permit
six months before flying to Kauai. I had
heard that it was the most spectacular
overnight hike, with amazing views of rocky
cliffs on the edge of the ocean and deep
jungles with countless flowers. I found both
descriptions to be true.
Getting to the start
of the trail was an effort. We flew to Kauai
from Maui, with a layover in Oahu. Because
of car break-ins at the Kalalau trailhead,
we needed to put all of our non-backpacking
items in lockers at the Kauai airport. It
took a lot of searching and another check
through the x-ray machines before Bill was
able to find the lockers. It was almost an
hour after arrival in Kauai that we were
able to finally leave the airport and drive
several hours to the trailhead.
The first part of the
hike was continuously uphill amongst a crowd
of day hikers. Our hard work was immediately
rewarded with the first amazing views along
the edge of the trail.
You could see the
rough waves crash against the cliffs along
the edge of the island and the steep lush
jungle against the blue sky. We had an
11-mile hike ahead of us and we could not
see where the trail would end because of the
curve of the island.
trail dipped back down into the rain forest
where morning glories wrapped their vines
around towering tropical ferns and trees.
Orange, yellow, and pink lantana bloomed
brightly on bushes the whole way. The trail
continued to climb out to the sea cliffs and
dip back into the rain forest. Every time we
reached the cliffs, we would be amazed with
the beauty of the ocean.
the map for Cori Within the third mile, we
ran into a couple returning from the Kalalau
Beach, which is the official end of the
Kalalau Trail. They said that because there
would be a full moon that evening, the
"villagers" would be "landing" on the beach
to have a big celebration with loud music
and a bon fire. Great! I said that after
hiking 11 miles into nowhere, I hoped we
would have solitude. The woman then said
"then don't come to Hawaii". She told us the
trail was really hard and the switchbacks
never let up. She also warned us that many
of the mile markers on the trail were
After talking to this
couple, I felt very depressed, and I gave up
my desire to hike to the beach at the end.
Bill kept telling me that we could camp on
the far end of the beach where it might be
quieter, but I was still wary of the
situation. "What time is it?" and "How much
longer?" Seemed to pour from my lips every
hour or so after that.
The temperature and
the humidity increased as we slowly
progressed along the trail. We would gain
500 feet, loose 200 feet, gain another 400
feet, and lose another 400 feet. My pack was
heavy, and I could not stop sweating. We
would rest and then the minute we started
hiking, we would be drenched in sweat again.
After the fourth
mile, there was a waterfall about every
mile, which gave us an opportunity to rest
and purify more water. We learned that a
water filter was not enough on the island
and that a purifier was required to kill a
bacteria called leptospirosis, which may be
abundant in the water. Feral pigs and goats
live and die near many of the streams and
can be a source of bacteria. The lepto
bacteria is small enough to fit through even
0.2 micron filter, so purification is
important. Also, it is not just the drinking
water, but an open cut in infected water
would also be a bad idea.
Around the sixth mile I decided we were
stopping for the night at the campsite at
the 8 mile marker. I also decided I would
never hike again. With that decision, it
made me wonder how I would ever get home. I
decided I did not really care at that point.
Five more miles was too much to comprehend.
We were so exhausted from hiking up and
down, up and down, that Bill did not care if
we ever made it to the beach at the 11th
finally dragged ourselves to the 8th mile
and sat around wondering if would ever move
again. A woman hiked by and told us that the
camping at 11 miles was much nicer. We would
be glad that we did it. It was only a
"little bit further". I remembered that we
did come to this island specifically to camp
on the Kalalau beach. What is 3 more miles
when we already did 8? We still had 2 hours
until sunset, so we decided to go for it. I
tried not to think how much longer our hike
out tomorrow would now be.
We continued to hike
up and out to the exposed sea cliffs, where
the ledges would only be a foot and a half
wide to hike across. The mountain goats
would gracefully hop up and down the cliffs,
laughing at us the whole way. With every
hike up to a sea cliff, came another decent
into the rain forests. One of the last sets
of switchbacks descended to a valley above
the cliffs. It was the first time in my life
that I got vertigo. The footpath was just
about a six inch strip of red sand
surrounded by grass and a grade that I would
not ski down for all of the money in the
world. I dreaded coming back up this part of
the trail on the hike home.
We finally approached
the nine mile marker. All of the markers had
been there so far. Perhaps that couple would
be wrong about the party on the beach. We
continued our hike, and found that it would
mostly be a descent to the beach at the end.
We hiked on the red sand. Steep pointy
cliffs disappeared in the clouds to our
left, and the ocean pounded against the
rocks to our right. Maybe I would recommend
this trail after all.
Our hike ended on a
Kalalau Beach, which extended about 1 mile.
The rumors about not needing clothes at this
beach were confirmed immediately. We set up
our tent and watched the sun set. We cooked
our long awaited supper, ate greedily, and
watched the stars come out.
We were the only tent on the beach. Most
people camped in the woods behind the beach.
It made us wonder how far up the tide would
come over night. I figured if I started to
get wet, I would wake up and we could move
There was no bon fire that
evening, and the campground behind us was
silent. I was so grateful that the couple we
met earlier was wrong. And to think that I
let that effect my attitude during the whole
hike! I was going to make sure that I
enjoyed myself thoroughly the next day.
I woke up several times that night and
gazed at the stars above and listened to the
dark tide wash up on to the beach and lull
me back to sleep.
we woke up the next morning, we walked to
the end of the beach and showered in the
waterfall. On our way back to our tent, we
met a man who hiked out there several years
ago and decided never to "go back". He goes
out for supplies every other month, but
other than that, he remains a resident of
the Kalalau Beach. He asked us to stay
another day and to hike in the valley.
Unfortunately, we had many plans awaiting us
the next few days, and so we had to hike out
The hike back was so
much easier. My pack seemed lighter, and the
hills did not seem as steep. (It was not
until that evening that I would realize that
I forgot to pack the tent into my backpack.
Luckily, Bill picked it up unknowingly.) I
never saw the section that gave me vertigo,
though we would have had to hike though it
because there is only one trail out there.
The scenery was twice
as beautiful and the sky was clearer than
the day before. We hiked for nine hours to
complete the hike back to the car, but only
the last mile back down to sea level seemed
painful for me. Maybe because I did not want