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Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

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Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

March 6th, 2017 · 5 Comments

The Kalalau trail is located within the Na Pali Coast State Park on the north shore of Kauai, USA. It’s a one-way trail, out and back to the glorious Kalalau Beach, one of the most stunning and remote beaches in the world. There are no roads, and boats can’t land there, so the only way to experience this spectacular beauty is to hike the 11 miles along the rugged coastline and dense jungle, and then back out.

The trailhead is located at Ke’e Beach, literally at the end of the road that circles Kauai. I saw a Hawaiian Monk Seal, a sea turtle and a beautiful sunset there on the first night.

The next day was spent exploring the island of Kauai just a bit. Kauai and the other Hawaiian islands are unique in many ways: the islands are the most isolated land masses on Earth, located 2,400 miles from the nearest continent. Kauai is located at the most northern point of the islands and is estimated to be more than 5 million years old. Sandy beaches edge almost 50% of Kauai’s coastline and it certainly deserves the nickname of “the Garden Island”, with more than 2,000 species of native plants and another 5,000 introduced plants.

I visited the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge and then stopped to enjoy the views at Opaeka’a Falls.

In the late afternoon, I met up with the group that I would be hiking with: Russ and Crystal (with Backcountry Journeys ), who were the trip leaders, John and Ann, Mike and myself. We split up the food and cooking gear and ran through some safety issues and then parted for the night. I enjoyed some killer sushi and a coconut porter and then headed to Haena State park. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful evening, so I decided to camp on the beach.

It was an absolutely gorgeous night, with mild temperatures, clear and starry skies and the joyous crashing of waves just outside my tent door. I tried a bit of star photography, but it didn’t really work out very well, so I crashed and slept well until sunrise, when the rest of the group arrived, ready to start the adventure!

The trail starts at the base of the Makana Cliffs, reaching up to around 1,500 feet. It’s shaded by ironwood (Australian pine) and java plum trees and is sometimes called “Fireworks Cliff” because in days past, Hawaiians would push flaming branches off the top during celebrations.

We grabbed a quick group photo, and then attacked the steep incline, climbing up, up, up to a nice sweeping vantage point looking back down at Ke’e Beach, just a ½ mile later. The days is mild and dry, and the rocky, well worn path is in good condition, but I could see that this would be very slippery and challenging during any kind of rain. I hoped the clouds forming in the distance would hold off for a while.



We eventually reach the first river crossing and resting point: Hanakapi’ai Beach. The beach is strewn with a field of smooth round boulders and there are quite a few people here. The sand is soft and white and the water looks really inviting, but there are signs everywhere warning of dangerous riptides. It’s a nice place to take a break and check gear though. We see Akoko trees here as well, with really interesting roots structure that seem make them look like “walking trees”.

We continue on to Hanakoa Valley, our destination for the night. Some of the members of the party are having issues with footing, with slips and falls here and there. We move slowly and methodically through the jungle and climb up again, this time to the next stopping point of Space Rock.

Gliding along cliffs with the ocean at our right, we enjoy majestic and clear vistas of the impossibly blue water far below. Sea birds cruise just below us. A group of humpback whales put on a show of breaching and splashing on the distant horizon. It’s an absolutely gorgeous day!

The trail passes through a grove of Kukui trees, creating a path of glossy black nutshells, and we keep moving, except now the rain is starting to fall… and then becomes a torrential downpour very quickly! We all don pack covers and rain gear, but now the going is very slow and slippery. You do NOT want to take a misstep on some areas of this very exposed trail!

After hiking through the rain for a couple hours, we eventually make it to Honakoa Valley and setup camp. This is a seriously dense jungle! There’s a massive mango tree here and an extensive grove of coffee trees. I find a perfect campsite just above the group shelter, and the rain subsides to just a drizzle. We enjoy a fine meal of chicken curry and rice (washed down with some Green Spot of course) and call it a night. The six-mile hike today took us ten hours.

The next day we learn that two of the members of the party have decided it would be wiser to not try to continue on. The slips and falls have taken a toll. Russ decides to stay with them for the day of exploring the area and then hike out the following day. Mike and I continue on to Kalalau with Crystal.

We cross a tricky stream, climb a steep grade and then quickly emerge out into an entirely new ecosystem, much drier and open. The rain has stopped and the sun is shinning, it’s a great day for a hike! The trail here is made up of crumbly red dirt and descends down to the trickiest part of the trip: Crawler’s Ledge. It was just a bit scary, but fairly easily managed – a terrific thrill for me to look straight down to the ocean on my right and the cliff face on my left while walking on a ledge less than a foot wide!

Soon after lunch, Kalalalu Valley emerges in our sights and we can see the fabled beach far below! I want to be down there soooo bad! But we take our time, relishing the views and shooting lots of photos and video. We descend down Ka’a’alahina Ridge and pass by a stone with grooves worn in them – people used these rocks to sharpen their stone implements.

We cross a scenic stream and then we’re finally here! I find a perfect campsite right on the beach, under the shelter of a Tropical Almond Tree. Of all the places I’ve camped in my life, and there are MANY… this is the finest one I’ve ever had! And it would be my home for the next two days. I set things up, hang my wet clothes on a line and head straight to the ocean just steps away.



I really feel like I’m living in a dreamworld! There is absolutely no one on this remote beach. The waves are crashing fiercely, the sand is soft and smooth. The sun is warm and starting to lower toward the horizon. I turn around to survey the cliffs behind me. Soaring jagged and inaccessible – this is the landscape made famous in the movie “Jurassic Park” – it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, and just when I thought things couldn’t be any more epic, I notice a dramatic waterfall off to the right… okay now you’re just showing off!

I check in with Crystal and Mike, who have found a nice spot further up along the beach, under the canopy of trees. I wander over to the falls and then down to the sea caves at the far end of the beach. We hear about three guys who were caught in a riptide and had to be helicoptered out – I hope they’re okay.



There are perhaps about a dozen people camped around the area surrounding the beach, showering in the falls, playing in the surf, lying in the sun. Some are naked, so I figured what the heck, and stripped down for a swim! I return to my epic campsite and relax while waiting for the sun to lower into position for sunset photography. There are cats everywhere here! They must have been introduced to the area back when it was farmed for taro many years ago, perhaps to control the rodent population. Two of them are sitting near my tent, curious and looking for food.

The sunset was really nice – not as good as I hoped for, but still, in this location, everywhere I point the camera is stunning. The waves catch the light as they crash against the rocks. The smooth pools of water reflect the colorful sky. I shoot like crazy and get a couple good keepers, then join Mike and Crystal for a dinner of Loaded Mashed Potatoes (and whiskey).


The evening was warm and the sound of crashing waves made for a restful night. The morning was looking pretty gray though. We decide to take it really easy today, just hanging out at the beach and exploring the area. Crystal cooks up some Blueberry Cranberry Walnut Pancakes with Coconut Demi-glace. Tasty!

Mike and I head out for a bit of photography but the conditions are not great – it’s starting to cloud up and the rain slowly starts, light and misty and then a constant soft shower for most of the afternoon.

The next day we dine on pancakes again and then prepare to hit the trail back to Hanakoa. A jetski arrives to pickup hikers who didn’t want to make the walk out – about a dozen people left by boat! We head out and immediately have to cross a deep and raging river – slowly and carefully.

We pass by a herd of wild goats nibbling on the grass above the ocean. Again, it’s a perfect day for hiking – with breezes, blue sky, puffy clouds and a warm sun. We meet up with Russ early in the day and enjoy a relaxed hike back to our jungle campsite in Hanakoa. After setting up camp, we hike to an absolutely breathtaking (and quite chilly) Hanakoa Waterfall – probably at least 400 feet high – the power of the water crashing to the giant pool was spectacular!


We enjoy a nice meal of pasta with sausage and zucchini in tomato sauce. A couple from Tulsa who have been leapfrogging with us during this entire trip, Chris and Jenna, are here as well and we pretty much have the place to our selves. We’re all planning an early start the next day, so sleep comes early.


The fifth day is another fine day and we enjoy fantastic views of the surreal blue ocean on our left as we make our way to Hanakapi’ai Beach. It’s jarring to suddenly see a mass of people again, but we don’t care because the sun is shinning warmly and the surf is irresistible and Russ and I jump in for a refreshing swim. We’re now just two miles from the trailhead and I don’t want it to end! After a few final vistas, we reach Ke’e Beach and congratulations are passed around.

This was one of the toughest but most beautiful adventures I’ve ever been on. Thank you to Russ and Crystal for making the arrangements and providing guidance and meals! I need to return here someday soon…






















Tags: Camping · Cooking · fauna · flora · Landscapes · love · Travel · Weather · wildlife

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 paul // Mar 6, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Love every shot more the prior! Thanks for sharing!

  • 2 Chris // Mar 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    What spectacular photos!
    It must be one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

  • 3 Sam // Mar 6, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    What an epic journey! Thank you for sharing a glimpse of this exciting trip.

  • 4 Kathilee Porter // Mar 7, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing. Inspiration for Tim and I.

  • 5 Ann // Mar 12, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Stunning photos. Russ sent us your link. I now know I ruptured my ACL…I guess miraculous I got as far as I did.
    Thank-you for the finished product! 😉

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