Kauai’s Na Pali coast is one of the most iconic places to visit on the island. It’s remote, untamed wilderness looks like it’s been taken straight from Jurassic Park. There are just three ways to see the Na Pali coast – by helicopter, boat and on foot. Arguably the best way to experience it is on foot by hiking the Kalalau Trail.
But, this hike is not for the lighthearted. From the infamous Crawler’s Ledge, to unpredictable flash floods, it’s a challenge for any outdoor adventurer. Here’s everything you need to know about this Na Pali coast hike in Kauai.
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Na Pali Coast Hike: Getting To The Trailhead
There’s really only one road that wraps around the North Shore of the island of Kauai to the Na Pali Coast. At mile 10 of this road near the northwest corner of the island, you reach Ke’e Beach, which is both the end of the road and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail hike.
Depending on the time and day that you arrive, there is plenty of parking at the trailhead and overflow parking about a mile up the road (see below on cautions about parking). If you intend to do the entire Na Pali Coast hike along the Kalalau Trail, start early before it gets too hot and to ensure you get to Kalalau Beach for sunset. I left at 630-7am.
Pro Tip: Use the toilets here before heading to the trailhead.
Na Pali Coast Hike: The First 2 Miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach
The trail itself is eleven miles if you go the entire way to Kalalau Beach. It winds around the outer rim of the Na Pali Coast with a series of inclines, declines and switchbacks as you cross each ridge.There are several stream crossings to navigate which are normally manageable but can become quite dangerous if the water level is high from recent rains (read this article for more).
At mile two, you reach Hanakapi’ai Beach. The water here has a very strong current so despite how tempting it is, stay out of the water. This is as far as you can go on the Kalalau Trail without a hiking permit (State of Hawaii Dept of Land & Natural Resources). But, you can turn inland and hike through the Hanakapi’ai Valley for about two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls. I did not do this section of the hike, but am told it’s beautiful!
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Na Pali Coast Hike: Hanakapi’ai to Kalalau Beach
For permit holders, the Na Pali Coast hike along the Kalalau Trail continues for another nine miles. There’s a great place to stop for lunch around mile six near Hanakoa Campsite. Cool off along the stream, refill your water, and relax on the boulders while you eat. Take some time here to recharge! It felt so amazing to dip my feet in the cool water.
Shortly after Hanakoa, around mile seven, you reach the first ledge which is famously referred to as Crawler’s Ledge. I did a ton of research on this section since I’d heard nightmare stories about it. Many seasoned hikers told me it wasn’t as bad as it looks on the videos online. In my honest opinion, it’s exactly like it looks in videos online.
I don’t say this to scare anyone but you really need to know what you’re getting into. You’ll have a pack on (mine was 20-25 lbs) and trekking poles while navigating a twelve to eighteen inch wide path with rock on one side and a steep drop-off into the water below on the other. The ledge is maybe fifty feet long and at the end there’s a section of rock you have to climb up and over.
What I didn’t appreciate is that after Crawler’s Ledge there are more ledges to cross. Some are similar in that they are narrow with a steep rocky drop-off. Others involve the trail crossing a steep gravelly slope down into the water. Watch your step on these to make sure you’ve got solid footing.
Following the ledges, the last two miles of the Na Pali Coast hike are a steep and steady decline in red clay-like dirt. As you descend, enjoy the amazing view of Kalalau Beach from above.
Na Pali Coast Hike: The Campsite at Kalalau Beach
As you arrive at the beach, there will be campsites to the left towards the rock formations. Walk past those to the far end of the beach where there are beachfront campsites. These have an amazing view of the sunset and are away from falling rocks. Also, at this far end of the beach, there is a freshwater waterfall that you can rinse off in!
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Na Pali Coast Hike: Tips For Enjoying the Trail (And Not Dying)
I did loads of research prior to the Na Pali Coast hike. It’s so important to me to be prepared! On the way back from the hike, my friend and I talked through what came in most handy and what we wish we would’ve done differently. Here’s our list:
Are required past mile two and sell out months in advance so plan ahead! There can be last minute cancellations though, Use this website to check availability.
There are cases of car theft for even minor items being left visible (phone chargers, etc) in the parking lot at the trailhead. We left our bags at our previous hotel and put small items in the trunk without an issue.
I highly recommend bringing some. They were helpful to navigate boulders and stream crossings as well as to take the stress off of my knees! I used these poles from Hiker Hunger because they were collapsible (fit in a small suitcase), lightweight, with corked handles. NOTE: Trekking poles are NOT allowed in carry-on luggage according to TSA.
The first six miles are shaded, but the remainder has a lot of sun exposure. Drink water more often than you think is needed and plan to fill up water at every stream. I used a Steripen and Prefilter for purifying the water and would suggest bringing a hydration pack (CamelBak) for easy access. Some people drink the water without treating it, but there is a risk of leptospirosis. Electrolyte powders like Gatorade or Propel came in handy as well. Remember, water is heavy, so don’t carry more than you need but balance that with staying hydrated on the long sections without access to water.
Plan for bad weather:
The Na Pali Coast hike is along the western side of the island where the weather changes rapidly and is difficult to predict. Kauai gets more rain than any other Hawaiian island so it’s likely you’ll get wet at least once. Remember all those ledges, streams and declines in clay? Well, you have to traverse those on the way back. So, if it rains overnight, the trail conditions can change dramatically. Bring extra food in case you need to stay an extra day and use good judgement.
First aid supplies:
Ideally, you have hiking shoes that give you no blisters, but for most of us who hike more than ten miles, you’re going to get at least a hot spot. Bring blister pads, moleskin, first aid tape, and extra pairs of dry socks (you know, in case you dunk your feet at the stream like me). Other nice to haves were Advil and Icy Hot Patches (they felt amazing on our backs/ shoulders over night).
Minimize pack weight:
Seriously, ounces and grams matter. Every little thing adds up along the eleven miles. Remove extra clothing, except socks and rain jacket, and water as you can refill along the trail. When packing, I made two piles: “essential” (e.g. tent, trekking poles) and “maybe” (toiletries, change of clothes). Ninety five percent of my “maybe” pile got left behind. For two days, we targeted twenty pounds each, including water, and I would carry less if I did it again. As a comparison, here’s a camping gear packing list I’d use if I weren’t carrying everything on my back. Use it as a starting point, but pare this down to the absolutely essentials.
The views are spectacular, so take time to really enjoy them! Inevitably, you’re going to want to snap some pictures. Plan ahead on how you’re going to secure your camera for easy access. The trail is very narrow in some spots (brush on either side) so keep your camera safe and dry!
The key is to plan out your food ahead of time, with weight in mind. My friend has a nut allergy so we brought nut-free granola bars, dried fruit, tuna salad pouches, crackers, summer sausage, fresh fruit, goo, and some chocolate covered coffee beans (among other items). My friend won the day with her discovery of vodka pouches!
There is a small percentage of people in the world who will ever complete this hike, so you’re in good company to start with. Swap stories while you rest on the trail or on the beach at the campsite. You never know when you may need help or advice. During my hike, I saw groups of people who live in the wilderness along the Na Pali coast. They know the land better than anyone else and, in the event that you are injured, will know how to get you the quickest help.
Don’t let your pride influence your judgement:
As mentioned, weather changes quickly and so do the trail conditions. The ledges may be more challenging than you expected. Remember that if you are nervous on the way to Kalalau Beach, you have to go back the opposite way. Helicopters and boats will not help you unless you are critically injured. So don’t rely on this! If your gut is telling you to turn around, just do it. For all it’s beauty, the trail is no joke!
Mahalo, my friends.