Backpacking the Napali Coast Kalalau Trail- With Video & Pictures

A few years ago my family and a family who we often travel with, went on a trip to Hawaii! While we were there we visited three islands, including the Island of Kauai, which was most definitely everyone’s favorite. The highlight of our trip to Kauai, was our 26-mile backpacking trip on the Kalalau Trail over the span of three days. If you have never heard of this trail, it winds along the edge of the Northwest shore of the island weaving to and from the coast and into the lush, narrow valleys and canyons. The mountains are absolutely beautiful (this world doesn’t even come close to describing how breathtaking they are) and the views are stunning throughout the whole hike.

Here I am telling my story and the details of my trip through my many pictures and words, plus a 12 minute video, to share how I experienced backpacking the Kalalau Trail. My hope is that you will find it useful as you prepare for your own hike there, or that it inspires you to put this hike on your bucket list. In my opinion it’s a MUST for anyone who loves hiking. (See some of my other hikes I’ve written about). Enjoy!

Map of Napali Coast's Kalalau Trail with elevation and mile markers.
Map of the Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s northwest coast.

Above is the map of the whole trail for reference so you can follow along with the pictures and text. Below I am including a YouTube video of my hike, then under that you can read and find many pictures.


Before we start, let me introduce you to our crew! For their own privacy, I will be using letters to represent their name :) So from left to right, we have A, Et, M, me (Adria), E, F, and L.

our group at the start of the trail standing with the Napali Coast sign
our group at the start of the trail

We started off bright and early in the morning with the goal of making it to the mile 6 campground, sleeping there, hiking all the way to mile 12 day two and hiking all the way back out on day three. As soon as you get on the trail, there are many warning and danger signs. make sure you have proper footwear; definitely hiking boots because the trail is tough and rocky. As unbelievable as it may sound, I can’t tell you how many times we see people hiking in flip flops! I have candid pictures from many hikes. Please do not ever do that for your own health and safety. Last year a young girl died in the Catskills because her foot slipped out of her flip flop and she fell off the ledge.

at the start of the trail hiking up a step slope with large packs on and many warning signs surrounding us
at the start of the trail

The trail starts off heading upwards right away. No resting with this trail!

me hiking up with a walking stick and sleeping pad attached to my pack
heading upwards!

It is a constant incline with some small downs and straights. Most of the time we were in the shade unless there was a lookout. When on the trail make sure you have a water filter! Because of the tropical weather combined with rigorous physical activity, everyone drinks much more water – as they should, as it is extremely important to stay hydrated!

Below you can see how high up we are already at .25 miles. (we started off at sea level). All of us were like “Oh man! Only .25 miles?? How is it not more!?” Yes, when you start off it seems like a lot and suuuper hard but don’t worry! Once you get into it you will be fine :) and remember! I was 13 when I did this hike, and E was 12, so you can do it!

View of Ke'e Beach and the coast at .25 miles of the trail.
at .25 miles

Much of the trail is like what you see below. Shady but hot. As we weaved in and out along the coast, it got sunnier and hotter the closer we were to the water because there were fewer trees to cover the sun.

Walking through a shady part of the trail, near the coast.
lovely shady part near the coast

FINALLY, we got to .5 miles! After this, it got much better. Just the initial push is hard to get into. The views were stunning! We were so excited because it only gets better from here.

View of Ke'e Beach and the coast at .5 miles of the trail, similar to the one at .25 but higher up.
Ke’e Beach and coast views at .5 miles

Here we are! All sweaty, hungry and tired. We carried dark chocolate and almond granola bars so we could eat some protein and give ourselves energy in-between meals. Because we were all carrying our own food and gear, we each had 2 a day. Just enough to get us through.

The first view of the Napali Coast with our whole group of 7 people at the .5 mile lookout.
at .5 miles

As you get farther in, these are the Napali Coast views you are rewarded by. The amazingly green cliffs (pali) and mountains that line the coast and the sparkling blue water below. If you look closely to the mountain just ahead, you can see the trail we will take!

Taking a break and soaking in the views of the Napali Coast stretched before us.
taking a break and soaking in the views

The first stop on the hike is Hanakapai’ai Beach at about 2.5 miles. We are almost there! This was the first full view of the beach.

Mountains covered in greenery with the blue green ocean and the view of Hanakapai'ai Beach coming up.
first glimpse of beach #1 – Hanakapai’ai Beach

 

Warning sign before Hanakapai'ai Beach which includes that 85+ people have died due to currents.
warning sign before the beach

To get to the beach you come down a slope and have to boulder-hop to the other side of this stream where the beach is located. When I was there (2015) the preserve was working on building a bridge to cross so there may be one to cross over by now!

Boulder hopping before the beach onto the other side of the small Hanakapai'ai Stream.
Boulder hopping before the beach

When we reached the beach, we stopped right away to filter water. We used a drip bag which filled a bladder and through the bladder, we filled our bottles. We also carried iodine drops for backup.

Filtering water from the stream in a bag hooked on a tree to prepare for the rest of our hike.
E and I filtering water from the stream for the rest of the hike

Hiking to Hanakapai’ai Beach is a great option for someone not looking to backpack but still has the motivation to do part of the Kalalau Trail. We saw many people come to the beach and go back to the parking lot! The mileage to the beach is approximately 2.5 miles so it is definitely doable for most hikers :) Still make sure you have good hiking boots or hiking shoes because the trail may be short, but it is strenuous. Most hikers were day-hikers and either turned back here or they hiked another 2 miles into the canyon to Hanakapai’ai Falls and then headed back.

Sandy Hanakapai'ai Beach with the tide pool and cave carved by the Pacific Ocean.
beautiful Hanakapai’ai Beach

Wow, the beach is stunning! But DO NOT swim! There are super strong rip currents all along the Napali Coast that pull swimmers out to sea. The tide pool that you can see in the image above is a better alternative for cooling off.

Braiding hair with beautiful Hanakapai'ai Beach views.
braiding as always :)

If you didn’t know already, one of my big hobbies is braiding and it was on this trip after this hike that I started my hair Instagram! I wore my hair in two french braids for the first two days of the hike to keep it off my neck and face.

Continuation of the Kalalau Trail after mile 2 and Hanakapai'ai Beach.
back on the trail!

After resting we got back on the trail and continued on. The trail gets a bit tougher here but definitely doable. Here you can see me in the front then M, E, L, A and Et.

Fence and sign signaling entry into Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Preserve.
entering the preserve

Soon after you start hiking you will enter the Hono O Na Pali Natural Area Preserve. This is approx at mile 3. After this point, you need a permit to hike and camp. If you need a permit or want more information about them click here!

Palm tree leaning over Kalalu Trail.
loved this tree over the trail

Along the whole hike, you will see amazing nature slaps. This tree that bent over the trail is one of my favorites! I love trees and the natural seat on this one was super cool :)

Napali Coast view from the hiking trail.
looking back

You can see F looking back along the coast we came in. You can’t even see where we started anymore and it is only around 4 miles! I was prepared for the stunning coasts and scenery when we came on this hike but I had no idea just how jaw-dropping it would be. Make sure you bring your camera although I think this picture can not even do it justice. You will definitely want to capture this one for the books!

Gorgeous exotic flower next to the hiking trail.
one of the many stunning exotic flowers we encountered

We are in Hawaii so of course we saw all sorts of exotic flowers like the one above. There were also guava, mango, and avocado trees all along the trail.

Hikers resting and filtering water from the stream at mile 6.
resting at the mile 6 campground and filtering more water

When we got to the mile 6 Hanakoa campground we all felt as if we could finish the 12 miles today! So we decided to go all the way today and then return in two days because we would be more tired. I really recommend doing all 12 miles the first day if you are only going for three days. When I woke up day two, I felt like I could not really hike 12 miles so it worked out perfectly!

Taking a rest from the long walk close to the first campsite of the Kalalu Trail.
still resting :)

We rested and ate some lunch which consisted of beef jerky and trail mix. Then we hit the trail again!

Steep trail with dramatic cliffs (pali) in the valley.
back on it with some more uphill!

When you pass mile 6, there is some uphill and the trail is mostly exposed to the sun.

Breathtaking first view of the rugged Napali Cliffs.
the extraordinary cliffs of the Napali Coast

 

Napali Coast's famous and most dangerous part at mile 7.
Approaching the legendary mile 7!!

Mile 7 is the legendary mile of the Kalalau Trail. It is the most dangerous and it has a suuuper narrow trail which winds along the cliff. Mile 7 passes Crawler’s ledge which is the most narrow and dangerous part.

Start of mile 7 of the Kalalu Trail.
E and I at the start of mile 7!

You can see here at the start the trail is still wide enough for comfort but it was SUPER windy. At some points, I felt like I could blow away so be extremely cautious and make sure you have enough weight in your backpack to keep you from being pushed over by the wind.

Narrow path leading around the cliffs with steep drop offs and Pacific Ocean below.
the super narrow path

Below is the legendary Crawler’s Ledge! The trail is very narrow and still on an incline. We read a lot about this part and how safe it is to do with children. What the warnings are telling you sounds much worse than it actually was. We all thought it was not too bad; we all just had to stay serious, not fool around, lean in at some points, and proceed slowly with caution.

Crawler's Ledge is the narrowest part of Kauai's Kalalau Trail.
even narrower!

After the adrenaline of mile 7, the trail continues along and before you enter the last Kalalau Valley which is held as a sacred place, your entrance will be marked with this sign below.

Wooden Kalalau sign asking for care to preserve the sacred Napali Preserve.
Kalalau sign before entering final valley

Shortly after entering you came to a very different area with super red dirt which our group nicknamed “Mars”. It gets even hotter here and you will be in direct sunlight so make sure you stay hydrated.

Trail leading through the huge red area with the dramatic Napali Cliffs in the background.
coming up to “Mars”

 

Walking in the hot sun and super dry red dirt under the Napali Cliffs.
Et on Mars

 

Very dry, cracked red dirt on the side of the Kalalau Trail.
incredible dirt “mosaic” on Mars

Here you can see how dry and sunny Mars was in this close-up of the dirt. It was also dusty and we were all covered in Mars dirt!

River crossing close to the end of the 12 mile one way Kalalau Trail.
crossing the river to get to the final stretch

Before you make it to the final 2 miles of trail, before the campsite, you will boulder hop one last time and then come to a trail T, there you will keep left to continue to the final campsite!

Kalalau Valley trail sign showing mileage and directions.
Kalalau Valley trail sign

Here it is, the last sign! Only two miles on basically flat ground to get to a nice “shower” and sleep :)

The final stretch of the Kalalau Trail with the beach and the cliffs in the background.
The final part of the trail to campsites

The trail winds by the water where you can see campsites to the left and the beach to the far right. The stunning coastal mountains and cliffs continue on into the distance past the final campsite. This view from here was a “stop and sit down” stunning view for me.

Arriving at Kalalau Beach on Kauai's Northwest shore.
The last beach with the beautiful rocks washed up by the tides.

 

Campsite in the woods at Kalalau Beach.
our campsite

We found a really nice spot to fit our three tents and it even had a fire pit! Which not all sites have. If your group is hammocking, there are also some great spots for that too. The great part about the campsites on the Kalalau Trail is that they tend to be in spots with trees, they provide shade and a great place to hammock!

Setting camp after the 12 mile hike to Kalalau Beach.
more of the campsite while we were setting up

 

The end of Kalalau Beach with the cliff and waterfall.
at the end of the beach and the waterfall (aka shower)

When we were done setting up camp, we went to the far side of the beach and up to the waterfall to rinse off in the cool water and get somewhat clean. Make sure you do not swim in the ocean, the rip currents are dangerously strong here as well.

Hiker's dirty feet after the full day hike.
my tan and dirt lines from the day XD

When I took my boots off I found that not only did I get tan from the sun, all the dry earth had also left its mark where my socks cut off :)

Using the waterfall as a shower.
waterfall where we, and all other hikers, showered

Preparing to shower; you can see there is a PVC pipe that many people use as a showerhead. What I did was that I put my hands above my head and leaned against the rock on my back and front, this got me well cooled off and somewhat clean. The waterfall was ice cold, but it felt so refreshing after the long hike and heat.

Kalalau Beach sunset.
sunset

 

Sunset over the Pacific at Kalalau Beach.
The Kalalau Beach at sunset

We stayed the night on our campsite and watched the sunset over the ocean before bed. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The next morning we packed up and prepared for our hike to the mile 6 campground, Hanakoa Camp, where we would spend the next night.

We got back in good time and still had most of the afternoon to spare! There is an offshoot trail by the campground that leads into the canyon to a beautiful blue hole. There is an extremely tall waterfall that looks like something out of Jurassic Park. We were all joking that we would not be surprised at all if a dinosaur would walk out of the trees – that is how surreal it looked. Make sure to stop by if you have a chance! The trail to it is about 2 miles and slightly overgrown; several times we were thinking of turning back when we could not see the trail. Definitely be careful because it can be easy to get lost on a trail like this, but do not get discouraged when the trail seems to be unrecognizable. We just pushed through some leaves and there it was! We were all awestruck when we saw it.  It was awesome that there were no other people around and we had this incredible natural wonder all to ourselves.

The super tall Hanakoa waterfall.
The waterfall

 

Hanakoa waterfall trickling down on the rocks into the blue hole.
the blue hole

We stayed at the blue hole for over an hour swimming, standing under the waterfall, and relaxing on the large rocks surrounding it. It was the perfect way to celebrate and relax after working so hard for two days.

A four-strand braid by the Hanakoa blue hole.
hair pictures everywhere haha

A four-strand braid I did on myself at the waterfall to keep my wet hair out of my face.

Hanakoa Camp on the Kalalau Trail.
Campsite #2, Hanakoa Camp

Setting up our final camp!

Hammocking at the Hanakoa Campsite.
relaxing :)

We had plenty of time to chill out at the campsite, I would definitely recommend some kind of small portable hammock our chair to relax in. We had this one hammock and we were all fighting to sit and relax in it haha :)

Cooking dinner on the camp fire.
cooking

Et, M and I cooking up our dinner of quinoa, rice, and wild mangoes.

Slicing wild mangoes for dinner.
cutting up wild mangoes

All along the trail, there were wild mango and avocado trees which we took advantage of. Almost every day we had mango along with our usual rice. Once in a while, if we were lucky we found guava trees. Those were the absolute best <<33 I still miss them!

Our daily dinner - rice and quinoa with mangoes.
rice and quinoa meals

For our final night, our parents surprised us with marshmallows! They were a great treat after rice, mangoes and the occasional guava for two days.

Roasted marshmallow at Hanakoa Camp.
marshmallows

In the morning we woke up and sadly had to depart the beautiful Kalalau Trail :/ We were all sad to go but super happy that we had the opportunity to make the trip that so few people do all the way.

Climbing a rock on the Kalalau Trail.
fooling around on the trail

Here we are, we made it! If you look back to one of the first pictures in this post you can see the before and after pictures of our tired group haha :)

Our group at the Kalalau Trailhead after the 3 day hike.
after picture by the sign

 

This was still to this date the most rewarding and awe-inspiring hikes I have been on. If you have been looking for a sign to go, here it is. Go! It was the most fun that our group had ever had hiking.

Thank you so much for reading about my journey! I hope that you will make it too and if you do, make sure to let me know how it was! <3

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions on how I can improve this post so it’s more helpful, please leave them in the comments below! And remember always keep exploring!

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