A Chance to Rest and Look Through the Leaves, Kalalau Trail, mile 1.75, Kauai.
Do a Google search of the best hikes in the world and 8 out of the 10 results will include the Kalalau Trail. And most will likely have it at, or near the top of the list. For me, I rank it right up there with The Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming and The Santa Cruz Trek (with side hike to Laguna 69) in Peru as the best hikes/ overnight treks that I have ever done.
I have hiked the full Kalalau Trail three times now-- once in October 2013 and twice this past summer (July and August/September 2020). In 2013 I hiked all 11 miles each way, and camped two nights at Kalalau Beach. After I returned home, sore and hurting, I said that if I were to hike it again, I would break it up and stop in Hanakoa-- at least on the way in.
Much of the Kalalau Trail is narrow, loose and or muddy (depending on the rain) single track, high along the ocean cliffs of the incomparable Na Pali Coast along Kauai's north west shore. The Kalalau Trail, Mile 3, July 2020.
As the Kalalau progresses you soon find it's rhythm: Climb up stones and mud to level off atop a sea cliff. Then descend down into a valley, crossing streams and no name waterfalls. Kalalau Trail, Mile 1.5, July 2020.
In both July and August 2020 I followed my own advice and camped at Hanakoa on the way in and on the way out. I found this itinerary to be much more enjoyable-- especially since I carried two cameras, tripod, filters, tabis, all of our camping gear, and half of our food. :-)
One of the Many Little Waterfalls at Hanakoa, The Kalalau Trail, Mile 6.25, August 2020.
Hanakoa is at mile 6 of the 11 mile long Kalalau Trail. If nothing more it is a nice place to rest before continuing on to Kalalau. For others it's a reasonable place to make camp, and overnight before the heat of the day really sets in. If you do decide to camp here, keep in mind that there are two camping areas: one before Hanakoa stream, and a second is to be found after crossing the steam and climbing above the fast flowing waters of Hanakoa Valley. Both of the main campsites have a covered pavilion and picnic table, but only the first camping area (Ha'ena side) has a vault toilet. The Kalalau side does not have a toilet. This means that if you choose to camp on the Kalalau side of Hanakoa stream, you will have to cross the stream every time you wish to use the toilet. Both campsites are fine, and I have camped at both. Generally I choose to camp on the side closest to where I am going-- on the way in to Kalalau I choose the Kalalau Side. And on the way out, I choose the Ha'ena side. While I enjoyed my nights at Hanakoa, Hanakoa Valley (and indeed, all of the valleys along the Kalalau Trail) can be quite "buggy." So bug spray (Deet) and mosquito coil are recommended. We kept a mosquito coil burning pretty much our entire time at Hanakoa and didn't have any mosquito problems. If you can find space in your pack, I would take definitely take some.
Loose scree around mile 7 of the Kalalau Trail initiates the hiker to the more dangerous, infamous section of the Kalalau Trail: Mile 7-8. Kalalau Trail, Mile 6.9, July 2020.
After a night of blissfully listening to the rushing waters of Hanakoa stream we woke up inside a wet tent and I made a quick breakfast of mango oatmeal, coffee and energy gel. We then break camp, load our packs and begin our hike from Hanakoa to Kalalau. 5 miles ahead of us and we are a little nervous and excited for what awaits. Soon after climbing out of Hanakoa Valley, we turn the corner and see ocean blue before descending into another valley. The trail is loose and overgrown but we are soon out onto another exposed cliff. Yet this one seems a little different. It's a little wilder, a little steeper and I approach it with much more caution. Yep, we've come to mile 7-8, perhaps the most dangerous section of trail, one that culminates with "Crawler's Ledge" and will test us both mentally and physically.
Miles 7-8 of the Kalalau Trail, Mile 7, July 2020
In 2013 this section of trail terrified me. No joke. I was scared. I actually got a crick in my neck from walking the entire trail, but especially here because I refused to look down towards the oceanside. Instead, I craned my neck to look down to where the cliff met the trail, refusing to allow anything else into view. But in July 2020, on the drive to Ke'e beach, I had a little pep talk with myself, telling myself that I would respect the trail, respect the mountain and respect the ocean below. But I wasn't going to give it my fear. And I wasn't going to give it my power. This, as well as hiking with Naomi, really helped. Now, after a few times over this section in the past couple of weeks Mile 7-8 is actually one of the funner parts of the trail. Yes, it is narrow. And the drop is real, but it ain't nothin' to give your fear to. Please, don't let this section, or any other section prevent you from hiking to Kalalau. You'll be OK and your life will be better for the trek, the effort, the courage, and for the respect given to the trail, the mountain, the ocean, and the Na Pali Coast Wilderness Area.
The views along the Kalalau Trail, especially after Hanakoa Valley are truly stunning.
Piggy Back, Kalalau Trail, Mile 8, July 2020
The Colors of the Kalalau Trail, Mile 8.75, July 2020
Green and Blue, Kalalau Trail, Mile 9, July 2020
Wild goats keep you company along the trail. Keep your ears and eyes open for their call and cliffside runs. Kalalau Trail, Mile 9.5, August 2020
The Red Hill above the Verdant Kalalau Valley, Kalalau Trail, Mile 10, July 2020.
Sunset at Kalalau Beach, Kalalau Trail, Mile 12, July 2020.
After arriving at Kalalau Beach we chose a permitted campsite in "the woods" about a a half mile after crossing Kalalau Stream. All of the campsites in the permitted wooded area are quiet, and most of the campers here hiked in. Closer towards the main portion of Kalalau Beach, by the waterfall (shower!), the campsites tend to be a little more populated and can be noisy as many boaters tend to arrive-- especially on the weekends and likely, without permits-- with partying on their mind. Please, I encourage you to keep this area wild. Get permits; hike or Kayak in and out; and leave no trace. If you do decide to boat in, please, do so legally and take out what you bring in. Respect sacred Kalalau. Mahalo nui loa.
If you don't want to hike it, why not try kayaking in and out? A summer paddle on the Na Pali Coast may be the perfect adventure.
Kalalau Beauty, July 2020
Looking for Waves, Kalalau Beach, July 2020
And Finding Them (Toes to the Nose), Kalalalu Beach, July 2020
Sunrise Kalalau Beach, July 2020
Kalalau: Where Rainbows are Raised, Kalalau Beach, August 2020
A Rainbow Falls into Kalalau Valley, Kalalau Valley, July 2020
The weather moves in and out all along the trail, catching on the mountains and rain showers often pass, offering blessings to the hikers and the landscape alike.
Hope for an hour or two of rain one day and use the time to rest, listening to the rain tap-tap against the tent or lush foliage of the valley.
As soon as the showers come, they pass, revealing spires and flutes, hinting at the mysteries left behind. Kalalau, July 2020.
The mountains and clouds of the Na Pali Coast, Kalalau, July 2020.
If you have the energy, explore the Valley Trail to Big Pool. I didn't make it back there until my third trip to Kalalau, but Big Pool because it a really cool spot. Think short hike to a cold mountain stream where you can frolic and sun on the warm rocks of the valley wall while listening to a tropical waterfall.
Valley Stream, Kalalau Valley Trail, July 2020.
The Big Pool (Born Free), Kalalau Valley, August 2020.
Coming out of the valley to catch a rainbow, Kalalau Valley, July 2020.
Going to Kalalau is like entering a new dimension. Sea Cave, Kalalau Beach. August 2020
Night Sky above Kalalau Beach, July 2020.
Hiking The Kalalau Trail is truly a life changing experience. You truly become part of the landscape and by extension the entire experience becomes a part of you, never to be removed.
When packing, go as light as possible. Consider only taking a few items of clothing. It really isn't going to be cold out there unless if you are doing night or very early morning photography. If you are walking around, hiking, exploring then I don't think you will ever be cold. So no need for hoodies or anything like that. You may want to consider a light rain jacket though as it will rain and if it is windy one morning before sunrise you can always throw it on to block the wind.
If you are going for photography take everything that you think you may need because you may not ever make it back there again.
I find a wide angle zoom (16-35) and a medium, telephoto zoom (70-200) to be very useful. I carried the following gear in July and August 2020:
I carried all cameras and camping gear in an F Stop Gear Tilopa pack and F Stop Gear tripod bag.
In 2013 I used a Clik Elite bag and carried a Canon 5D3 and a Canon 16-35, f/2.8 II. If you were to only carry one lens I would go with a wide angle zoom. Wider the better out here because the mountains are so close to you.
October 2013 Trip-- 3 Days and 2 Nights (Kalalau x2)
July 2020 Trip-- 4 Days and 3 Nights (Hanakoa- Kalalau x2- Hanakoa)
August/September Trip-- 5 Days and 6 Nights (Hanakoa- Kalalau x3- Hanakoa)
In July and August 2020 we ate Trailtopia backcountry food for most of our meals. I really love this company and their delicious vegetarian meals. You can find their products here at Trailtopia.com
I used a MSR Hubba Bubba 2P Tent, Patagonia quilt, and Nemo inflatable sleeping pad and pillow. Hammocks are popular sleeping options, but be prepared for rain.
Tabis (felt soled neoprene booties) are useful for the stream crossings as they add safety to otherwise sneaky tricky sections of trail.
Slippahs are a luxury for camp and are highly recommended. They are comfy, and they let your feet dry out. A clothesline is also useful to hang dry any wet items like socks, shirts, swim shorts, etc...
A medicine kit and duct tape/athletic tape are also recommended. This may come in handy in all kinds of various situations. Check out Naomi's hiking boots from our July 2020 hike. She had a massive blowout right at mile 7-- on the way in! We had to make several repairs at different times both on the trail and at camp. Thank goodness we had tape and a positive attitude!
Legend. Kalalau Trail, July 2020
If you would like to see more images from my hikes to Kalalau click the link here, The Kalalau Trail.
Likewise, if you have any questions about the hike, my experiences or the gear I took, please feel free to reach out to me in the comments section below. I would love to hear about your experiences as well. Mahalo and happy trails!
PS-- All mileage is approximate.