Razor sharp ridges layered in vibrant reds and yellows, reaching from towering sea cliffs down to the beckoning blue waters of the Pacific. Deep valleys with lush forests disappearing into the island’s mysterious interior, crisscrossed by babbling streams formed from endless rainfall tumbling from the peaks above. Such is the Na Pali Coast, the breathtaking and secluded cliffs of the remote northern Kaua‘i coastline. With eye-popping, out of this world scenery, it is no wonder that the Napali Coast is world-renowned for its rugged beauty. Enticing, seductive, and alluring, the only way to experience this Lost World is on foot, hiking the serpentine route of the Kalalau Trail.
Visiting the Napali Coast
These pali (Hawaiian for “cliff”) are among the steepest and most foreboding in the world. While the Kalalau Valley is accessible only on foot, visitors can see the breathtaking cliffs numerous ways. Helicopter charters and boat tours enable you to get up close without the exertion, and the cliffs of the Napali Coast are magical from any vantage point. Alternatively, rent a kayak (summer only) and paddle along the coast to take in the majesty of the summits and secret beaches from the sea, hike to the overlook vantage points in Kokee State Park above Waimea Canyon, or simply soak in the views from the beginning of the Na Pali Coastline at Ke`e Beach. Less experienced hikers – including small children – can always tackle the trail for as long as they feel comfortable, with each ridge ascended offering spectacular view after spectacular view of the Napali Coast State Park.
A World Famous Trail
Of course, if you are up for it, the Kalalau Trail hike is unlike any other. Stretching for 11 miles from Ke`e Beach to Kalalau Beach, it is a must see for any serious hiker. Rising and falling with the rugged terrain, the trail fords two streams and crosses through five valleys along its route to the hidden Kalalau Valley. 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, comprising a series of relatively easy ascents and descents up to the first of two stream crossings. Here at Hanakapi`ai Beach you can relax, catch your breath, and even frolic in the stream (beware of ocean currents, however). A 2-mile side trail leads inland to the majestic waterfall at the head of the stream. At eight 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.
The Kalalau Trail is not for the faint of heart, but this day-long expedition is a once in a lifetime journey into some of the most spectacular back country on Earth.