One of the world’s most famous coastlines, the North Shore of Kaua‘i and NaPali Coast are as beautiful as they are remote. Here razor-sharp ridges edged in reds and yellows form balustrades for towering sea cliffs draped in green. Deep valleys, lushly forested, beckon the explorer to adventure into the island’s mysterious interior. Crystal clear waters tumble down from the peaks above, creating babbling streams and cataclysmic waterfalls that shape these valleys before feeding into the inviting turquoise waters of the Pacific. Enticing, seductive, and alluring, the only way to experience this Lost World is on foot by hiking the serpentine route of the Kalalau Trail, be it for 2 miles or 20.
A World Famous Trail on NaPali Coast Kauai
Stretching for 11 miles from Ke`e Beach in the east to Kalalau Beach at the western end, the Kalalau Trail is on every serious hiker’s bucket list. Rising and falling over the ruggedly beautiful ridges and pristine terrain, the trail fords two streams and crosses through five valleys. The path is graded but seldom flat, and rarely does it return to sea level. Setting out from the trail head, the first two miles are easy enough, a series of rises and falls leading to the first stream crossing.
Here at Hanakapi`ai Beach you can relax, catch your breath, and even frolic in the stream (swimming in the ocean is not advised due to high waves and strong currents). Those on a day hike can turn back or head inland on a 2-mile side trail to the majestic waterfall at the head of the stream.
At 8 miles round trip, this is a great day hike for those who want to experience the Kalalau in all its glory but only some if its intensity. Proceeding from Hanakapi`ai requires an overnight camping permit (whether you camp or not), and the switchbacks and elevation gains get considerably more difficult.
Crawler’s Ledge and Kalalau Beach
Hiking up a steep 800’ ridge out of the valley brings you to the wildlife reserve, home to native lowland forest plants. At the Hanakoa Stream crossing is the first camping shelter, built near the site of terraced coffee plant farms from the 19th century. Wild coffee trees still grow here today, just off the trail. After crossing the stream there is an eroded trail which leads to spectacular falls up the valley, though it can be impassable at times.
The main trail continues on for 5 miles to Kalalau Beach. The most harrowing section comes at mile 7. Nicknamed “Crawler’s Ledge,” this narrow portion of the trail offers jaw-dropping views of the ocean, but with precipitous drops and treacherous conditions. Once through, you drop down the switchbacks into the verdant valley below, the site of ancient Hawaiian fishing villages and taro fields. The valley is rife with waterfalls and scenic hikes, with sea caves at the water’s edge.
The Kalalau Trail is not for the faint of heart, but this day-long expedition is a once in a lifetime journey through NaPali Coast Kauai, into some of the most spectacular back country on Earth.