Coastal USA / Travel

Hike the Kalalau Trail, Kauai

The first time I heard about the Kalalau Trail – it was when I was in Kauai in March 2011.

We drove up to the North Shore of Kauai, past Hanalei and all the way to the very last point of land accessible by car to Ke’e Beach. If you’ve been to Kauai before you know how beautiful their Northern Shore is. And you also know how simply magestic the Na Pali Cliffs which Ke’e Beach gives way to are.

Some call it “the most gorgeous dead end God ever made.”

Last year we saw them by helicopter. This year I wanted to see them by foot. 

yes. that is real life.

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Perfect Getaway you may be familiar with this trail. It was the star of the movie. You know – alongside the amazing Timothy Olyphant (I heart him.) After seeing the movie earlier this year – I was determined more than ever that I needed to do this trail.

Conveniently, I had a trip to Kauai planned for August.

Now. The real Kalalau experience is an 11mile hike to Kalalau Beach that isn’t for the faint of hear nor the unfit. It is the only way to see the Na Pali Coast by foot. The full length hike takes you through 5 valleys, several river bends, some hair raising cliffside paths and stunning cliff-drop views.

This time around, traveling on vacation with my mother, we thought it best to just tackle the initial 2 mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach. Equally awesome and the more popular route for tourists and hiking enthusiasts looking to experience the breathtaking views of the Na Pali Coast without the 11 mile hike.

Needless to say – 2 miles wasn’t enough. I want to experience all of it. 

But. Until then, here’s our adventure. Picture heavy. You’ve been warned.

August 31, 2012

We left Poipu at 6:30 am and drove to the North Shore and Ke’e Beach arriving around 8:30 (there’s quite a bit of road work being down heading down into Hanalei Bay right now.) We started the hike at 8:45am and we were pumped.

You know. Despite all the warning signs.

 Falling Rocks? Flash Floods? NBD.

You realize immediately why they say the hike isn’t for the un-fit. It is pretty much either ALL uphill or ALL downhill. There is really no such thing as level ground on this trail. Because where would be the fun in that?

 a taste of the trail ground

The continual climb gave way to some seriously amazing views very shortly into the hike – it seriously takes away from all the climbing and utter exhaustion you’re feeling.

 I wasn’t lying when I said cliff-edges

When we reached the 0.5 mile marker – we’d probably been walking almost an hour. Of course at that same point, we got one of Kalalau Trail’s breathtaking money shot views.


 My mom is slightly (and by slightly I mean extremely terrified of heights – that’s her happy/terrified face)

We sort of assumed once we started getting get the epic cliff views, that things would start to go downhill (trail-wise) but oh no. You continue to go up up up and down down down then up up up then down down down.

Those white dots? Those are people. We were up along that ridge at one point, looking down on where this photo was taken.

 up up up

 down down down

Now. You may be thinking – wow. Some of this looks dangerous. It sort of kind of is. And the even better part? There is zero cell service. Which may have you now thinking – wow, Crystal would go without cell service for hours? Let me tell you. For this experience? I’d go without cell service for days. 

So what happens IF there is an emergency? Well, the answer is helicopters. Since the trail runs along the Na Pali Coast, there is a constant flow of helicopters flying by all day. The general 911 protocol is to flag one down to radio the local police chopper that will come back and land to assist you.

We only saw one helipad on the treacherous 2 miles in. Odds are maybe not in your favour?

Luckily – no helicopter rides on this hike.

After reading through countless websites and Facebook posts about the trail, I had some visuals in my head about what to expect. And I kid you not – suddenly a clearing ahead, tree branches, glimpses of the cliffs came into view. And I braced myself because I knew what I was about to see through the trees.

It was heaven.


happiest Hiker of LIFE

At this point, I wanted to race down to the beach. Wanted to feel my toes in the sand. See the Na Pali Cliffs from beach level. And as per the warning signs – not go swimming.

that’s A LOT of people

With one quick hop over a river bed….

that dog made it look so easy.

We were finally at Hanakapi’ai Beach. And it was perfect. And so so pretty – even if it got a little misty when we arrived.

We had a picnic on the beach and enjoyed the company of the cutest stray cat who decided to join us. No idea how these cats got there – it’s not like they swam or flew there. I’m pretty sure I wanted to kidnap them in my backpack and bring them back home.


We arrived at the beach around 11:15am – a two and a half hour hike in and left to head back to the trail head around 12:30pm. If you want to know the hardest part of the hike – it’s definitely the hike back. On the hike down to Hanakapi’ai Beach – there is a steep drop that seems to go on forever. You aren’t really complaining about it going down but coming back up?

Holy. Hell. Exhaustion.

We thought the hike back would take less time but it took about the same. On the way back, we enjoyed the stunning views all over again, from different angles it seemed and we got some great views of the famous Bali Hai cliffs which were a bit hazy in the early morning when we’d started the hike.


They say the Kalalau Trail is life changing. I may not have done all 11 miles of it and back. But let me tell you. Just experiencing two miles of it will make you appreciate beauty like you never have before.

Kalalau Trail? EPIC.


Want more info on the Kalalau Trail? I’d highly recommend the Facebook group where I got a ton of info (especially tips about camping/hiking permits – you need them after the 3 mile mark at Hanakapi’ai Valley.) I highly recommend a good pair of hiking shoes with treads. We saw people doing it in flip flops – I don’t know HOW. And wear something comfortable. As you can see in pics – I wore a yoga skort (skirt with built in shorts) a bikini top and a tank top. WEAR sunscreen and I recommend a hat.

Only do this trail in dry conditions. The valleys and river beds are prone to flash flooding and a lot of the trail is very slippery when wet. We brought several bottles of water – they recommend water purification tablets if you plan on filling up your water bottles at the natural springs (there are a few!)

We highly recommend bug spray. The ant situation on the trail is ridiculous. I’m talking hundreds swarming all over your feet and shoes. It gets REALLY hot on the trail and it’s humid. Stay hydrated. All the time. And bring snacks just in case! We brought a few ziplock bags for valuables in the event of rain. It IS the Na Pali Coast and weather is unpredictable. 

Pay attention to warning signs. Don’t go swimming – no matter how refreshing it looks! People die in those waters all the time. Take caution when crossing streams – my mom wore ocean shoes for extra grip. I just hopped across rocks to cross the riverbed but I have good balance ;)

And most importantly – have the time of your life. It’s freakin amazing.


  • Brittany
    September 19, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Beautiful Crystal! Oh my god those pics are amazing. The “white dot” ppl shot really gave you an idea of what a crazy hike it was!! Also, the pic with the amount of ppl who have died was especially chilling in that they’ve left room to keep including ppl on it haha

  • naturemummy
    September 20, 2012 at 3:42 am

    I want to be like kitty and live there!

  • jwink22
    September 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    I agree…I felt like you should have brought the kitty home. Hey, I’m going to have another liter of kittens here in a few weeks. Want to come get a few? lol.

    Seriously though, your pictures are amazing!

  • Trisha
    September 11, 2015 at 12:13 am

    Amazing. My sister and I are doing this in honor of my mother in February. Hope we make it to the beach ! Thanks for the beautiful photos. I am inspired. I would love to know how old your mother is since sis and I are ladies of a certain age

    • crystalrichard
      September 11, 2015 at 11:36 am

      I love that :) Bring LOTS of water and the most comfortable, light pair of shoes you own! My mother was 58 when we did it! She is terrified of heights, so she had a few moments of terror but she was able to make it through and still talks about it to this day! :) If you have any other questions – don’t hesitate to reach out! You can always email me too


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