Backpack the Na Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail

Kalalau Trail, Kilauea, Hawaii, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn, Winter

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    22 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    900 Feet


Named by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful trails in the world, this 11 mile out-and-back trail wraps its way around the jagged outer edges of the island's North side, at times coming within reaches of the Pacific Ocean. It feels as though you're on the set of a Jurassic Park movie, hiking through lush forests with gaping views of towering waterfalls and the majestic Na Pali cliffs. Also named as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world by Outside Magazine due to storm conditions that can often create dangerous conditions on the more exposed sections, this hike is not for the faint of heart.Permits can be obtained here.

This hike begins at the parking lot of Ke'e Beach at the Northern most point you can drive to on the island. This is where the Kalalau Trail begins. From there, you immediately start hiking upward, with great views of the beach down below. The first two miles of the trail are the busiest, as no permits are required to hike this section, and often many families like to hike this stretch to get a taste of the Na Pali coast, and see Hanakapi’ai Beach and waterfall. Hikers should not wander out in the ocean at this beach though, as the currents are very strong and warning signs are posted to prevent anyone from doing so. At this point, you can either hike two miles to Hanakapi’ai Falls, or continue on if you possess a permit. This will be the first stream crossing, and often the most dangerous. During severe rain storms this stream rises very quickly, and one false slip can sweep you out into the Pacific Ocean.

Continuing on, you'll often be hiking on a very narrow, and muddy trail full of ups and downs. At mile six around the halfway point, you'll be rewarded with amazing views of Hanakoa Valley and the towering Hanakoa Falls. The falls is only 0.5 miles off trail, so may be your best bet if you have the desire to do some waterfall exploring. Campsites are also available at Hanakoa Valley, and make for a great first night stop. Also note, this is great place to stop and refill a water bladder.

If you continue on to mile seven, you'll reach the notorious Crawler's Ledge, which sounds slightly more daunting than it actually is, but should be taken with a little precaution, especially in adverse weather conditions. This section is fairly exposed, and can become dangerous in the rain. Around miles nine through ten, precaution should also be taken as these sections are even more exposed and really only contain a narrow path along the red dirt that can often become very slippery when wet.

If your heart hasn't sank into your chest yet, then you'll be rewarded once you hit mile ten, with gaping views of the Na Pali cliffs and your destination shortly ahead - Kalalau Beach. This was my favorite section of the trail, as you hike down mounds of red dirt hills, surrounded by endless views of Kalalau Valley and the rugged coast that you only see in pictures.

One more mile through the forested Kalalau Valley and along the sandy trail that leads to the beach, and you have reached paradise, otherwise known as Kalalau Beach. I personally preferred the campsite further down towards the waterfall, or even directly on the beach. Once you set up camp, take a stroll out on the beach and enjoy some of the best scenery this world has to offer. Also note, there is a perfect waterfall at the end for rinsing off in and obtaining water from. Spend as much time as possible at the beach and exploring nearby areas. You'll wish you had when it comes time to pack up and hike the 11 miles back.

Pack List

  • Kalalau Beach Permit
  • Backpack/dry sack
  • Water & water filter/tablets
  • Backpacking stove
  • Tent w/ rainfly
  • Sleeping pad
  • Sleeping bag
  • Hammock
  • Backpacking food/snacks
  • Beach sandals
  • Lightweight shoes/sandals that you don't mind getting dirty
  • Raincoat/rain gear
  • Swimsuit
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Lot of bug spray
  • Fresh guava along the trail
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Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

This was my first backpacking trip and I did it solo. What a life changing experience, full of emotions, gorgeous views, waterfalls, stream crossings, sounds of waves, birds, boats, and helicopters. I started at 5 am each day with the sweet sound of song birds, and arrived by 12:30 pm. I was glad to have lightweight hiking poles, and I didn't need a sleeping bag or pad. I showered and filtered water from the waterfall near the beach, and pitched my tent in the sand. I enjoyed the boat tour on the third day for a new perspective of the beautiful Na Pali Coast.

9 months ago
9 months ago

I solo hiked this back in October. In short, it was one of the most rewarding experiences in recent memory. I often daydream about returning; hopefully in 2018. The hike wasn't at all as dangerous or challenging as the blogs and guide books made it out to be. I would recommend hiking poles to help getting around slick rocks and muddy sections. The campsites on Kalalau beach are beautiful. Take the side hike up to Big Pool and allow yourself to get lost in the valley (always easy to follow the river back down to the beach). Keep your eyes out for a community garden in the valley full of fresh papaya, avocado, banana, taro, sugarcane, lilikoi, and guava. Bring some chocolate, tobacco or coconut oil for trading with the locals living in the hills. It's worth the trip.

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

This is such a beautiful hike! Bring proper shoes!! :)

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

Somewhat challenging hike my dad and I did. Very slippery and unstable rocks at some points, as well as mud. Just be carful because it's worth it! Took us almost a full day which gave us time to rest and spend more time at the falls and beach.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Kalalau is a literal paradise within a paradise. The trail to Kalalau Beach can be treacherous at times, but with immaculately sunny weather I was fine. Albeit the mud. So. Much. Mud. In the first 6 miles or so of the trail, mud is inevitable cause it rains a little every day. Trekking poles are necessary. My pack was very heavy (43 lbs with water) and I survived! Kalalau Beach has a ton of picturesque, well located campsites. If you walk towards the waterfall (great for showering) at the very end of the designated camp area, those are the best ones. The ocean current made swimming impossible, but walking down the beach there are a ton of caves. The last one was the size of an Olympic swimming pool, filled with still, clear water. ABSOLUTE HEAVEN. There were some hippies living in Kalalau full time. They didn't bother me, they were actually very welcoming and told me stories about the land! I can't wait to go back one day. I went solo and I feel like no one believes me when I say I found actual utopia. I hope you do. And I hope you go.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Kalalau is the core of Hawaii. It encompasses everything the islands stand for. The hike is, hands down, the best hike I've ever completed. We made this into a three-night backpacking trip (November of 2013) with some buddies at the peak of our college years. This is not an easy hike (especially with a 40 pound pack), but the views will absolutely blow your mind along the way. Lots of uphills, downhills, and switchbacks as you weave through the numerous valleys of the ancient Na Pali Coast. There are some semi-treacherous spots, so mind your step. It will test your endurance and you will be exhausted by the time you reach the campsite. Same goes for the trek out. Kalalau Valley and the beach are stunning, to say the very least. The beach is huge, the sand is golden and soft. The stars are untouched by light pollution; the universe felt literally at our fingertips. The red cliffs emit a feeling of royalty. The valley is covered in lush green foliage and is crawling with life. I think the strenuousness of the hike adds to Kalalau's majesty. Lots of preparation is required for this hike so study up! Understand that the island's bi-polar weather is not to be underestimated - be ready for both sunny and rainy days. DO NOT attempt to cross any river or streams if they are swollen from recent storms. You should be in good shape for this (although I was not in shape and relied on pure youth. Not recommended). Please be respectful of the land here. It is among the most beautiful places in the world and is held in high regards by the locals. You will never forget this journey, I promise you.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

This is one of my all time favorite hikes and places to camp. I recommend staying out there for at least two days (one day to hang out on the beach and one day to explore the valley). Check the weather before going and be prepared to get wet. Not recommended for people afraid of heights.

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Only made it to the falls due to weather - we will be back! Check trail condition reports - can be pretty dangerous out there!

almost 3 years ago
almost 3 years ago

Traveling May 21st-28 and cannot get the permits to camp and backpack the Kalalau Trail. They are sold out on the DNR sight. Anyone know how I might obtaian a permit any other way? I am willing to pay extra

almost 3 years ago
almost 3 years ago

Pack light and go early. This is an amazing trip and absolutely something that should be done!

over 3 years ago
over 3 years ago

If you're just interested in a great day trip, you can do the 4 mile hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls, which was absolutely spectacular! The hike takes about ~6 hours (8-miles roundtrip) and goes through Hanakapi'ai Beach.

about 4 years ago
about 4 years ago

Trip planned for October! Can't wait...

over 4 years ago
over 4 years ago

I'll be going here in October! Any tips for that time of year? Is this trip suited for hammock camping? (I assume I'll have to invest in a good rainfly, unless the mosquitos are too prohibitive)

over 4 years ago
over 4 years ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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