As soon as we booked our trip to Kauai back in November, we bought permits to backpack the Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast. This backpacking trip has been on both of our lists since before we were even dating. We were both super excited to be doing it together and couldn’t wait to see the amazing scenery.
We started our backpacking adventure Monday morning by heading north to Ke’e Beach, which is where the road ends on Kauai and the trailhead to the Napali Coast begins. The only way to access the Napali Coast is by boat, helicopter, kayak or hiking; there are no roads along the whole coast. If you do want to experience a portion of the Napali Coast, you can hike two miles on the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach. The trail splits here to either the Kalalua Trail or Hanakapi’ai Falls; if you want to continue on the main trail, you have to have a permit. The first mile of this trail starts with a steep ascent to an epic view of the Napali Coast.
We made it to Hanakapi’ai beach pretty quickly. We are used to that thin high elevation air so being sea level felt amazing on our lungs. We crossed the river, saw the beach, took a few photos and continued on the trail. The next four miles were definitely the most challenging but so beautiful. Once you leave the beach, it is a very steep 800 foot climb in about a mile and a half. We were so exhausted when we reached the top of the hill but guess what? We were not even close to being done with all the ascents we would be doing. From there, we left the ridge line and headed deep into the thick lush jungle. The best way to truly describe this trail is hiking deep into a jungle and then right back out the ridge line with no level ground.
About five hours into the hike, we finally reached the Hanakoa Valley. There are some nice camping spots in the valley but we only stopped for lunch. We had talked to a few people who had tried to backpack the whole trail but unfortunately had gotten stuck on the wrong side of the Hanakoa river during a flash flood. The camping area is deep in the jungle with no views of the ocean. After our quick lunch break, we crossed the river and continued on to Kalalau Beach.
Mile seven of the hike is the most famous part of the trail. There is a section known as The Crawler’s Ledge, which as the name suggests crawling on the ledge of a cliff. There is a rocky narrow trail that goes right on the side of a sheer cliff overlooking the monstrous waves crashing in. I had done quite a bit of reading about the trail and this was definitely the part I was most intimidated by. When we finally reached it, it wasn’t actually as bad as I had been envisioning. Mostly because the trail was dry and the wind wasn’t blowing too strong. However, this wasn’t the case on our way back.
After conquering The Crawler’s Ledge, we only had three miles left of our eleven mile trek. Thankfully, the last three miles felt like a breeze after all of our climbing up cliff sides and ledges. There were a few small hills but nothing too strenuous. The last mile is a steep descent down a red dirt hill to the most amazing sight we may ever see. The beach was in view and the towering mountains of the Kalalau Valley seriously took our breath away.
There are several areas for camping, so we found a spot that was semi secluded and set up camp. Of course we brought our hammocks so we set those up immediately, cooked our nice Mountain House meals and took a few minutes to relax and unwind. We couldn’t sit around for too long because we were anxious to put our feet in the ocean. We spent the evening exploring the waterfall, sea caves, and watching the best sunset.
We woke up Tuesday morning with no agenda. We spent three hours in our hammock napping and talking. Later, we headed to the beach and played in the water. The currents are pretty wild here so we didn’t dare go in too deep but it was fun to lay in the sand and feel completely relaxed. Both Blake and I decided that we have never been as relaxed as we were that morning in one of the most amazing places we have been. There is a waterfall that doubles as a nice shower so coming from the sandy beach, we needed to wash off. There are plastic pipes that have been designed to spout water like a shower; it was pretty rad. A small community lives out in the Kalalau Valley year round so a lot of things have been quite thought out like the shower; there is also a small community garden that I found some cherry tomatoes in. My favorite!
At this point, we noticed that a storm was rolling in. We hadn’t quite decided if we wanted to stay at the beach another night or break up the hike and camp in the Hanakoa Valley five miles in. Once we saw the dark clouds looming, we chose to get on the other side of the Hanakoa river in case of flooding. We packed up our gear headed out. I was feeling so sad to be leaving this beautiful valley. We don’t know when we will be back so it was a little heartbreaking to be leaving. Both Blake and I commented on never being so sad to leave a place we had hiked to.
It had been raining pretty heavily in the deep jungle canyons so things were getting real muddy. Like I said before, The Crawler’s Ledge was where the mud started to feel daunting. A couple areas, felt almost impassible with our boots completely caked in mud and not many hand holds to keep us from sliding off to our death.
Thankfully, we were able to cross the Hanakoa river without any problems. It hadn’t risen at all so we were very happy about that. We found a nice campsite that wasn’t too muddy and set up our camp. We were both so exhausted that we fell asleep at 8:00 that night.
Since we had fallen asleep so early, we were able to get up around 6:00 pack up and hit the last six miles of our trip. We were eager to get to the end so we really didn’t make too many stops along the trail. That also meant the camera got put away so we could make faster time. I was hoping that my parents would be waiting at the end for us, but we were unsure because we had mentioned that we didn’t know what time we would finish and it might be in the late afternoon. When we had about a mile left of the hike, I heard my name being yelled! Lo and behold there were my parents and uncle Matt. It was so great to see them and to have them finish the hike with us. It definitely energized us.
We did it! We finally reached the end of our 22 mile backpacking trip! This trail was definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Around every canyon is a new view that is just as breathtaking as the last. The color of the ocean is almost unbelievable because of how blue it is. We have already decided that we are going to do this hike again in another ten years or so.
Hike stats! From Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach it took us about 8 hours. We had read that the elevation gain was about 860, but that is only your highest point. All 22 miles adds up to be about 5000 feet elevation gain. Kalalau Beach to Hanakoa took us about 5 hours in the treacherous mud and about 3 hours without any mud. Hanakoa to Ke’e beach took us about 5 hours.