This 11-Mile Hike on Kaua‘i is a Pain in the ‘Ōkole, Yet the Spectacular View is Worth It
The Kalalau Trail leads to a breathtaking view of a secluded beach.
Photos: Taylor Ellis
TRAIL NAME: Kalalau Trail
LENGTH: 11 miles one way
FEE: $20 per person per day to go beyond the two-mile mark. Kama‘āina rates are $15.
WHERE: Trailhead is at Ke‘e Beach on the Nā Pali Coast, on the north shore of Kaua‘i.
The Kalalau Trail is challenging even for seasoned trekkers. You should be certain of how much weight you can carry over long distances. People have been swept out to sea attempting river crossings after heavy rains.
If you want to have extraordinary experiences, you have to put yourself in extraordinary places—but, before that, you’ll have to hike, and hike, and hike. For 11 miles, you’ll hike past the families hauling coolers and pop-up canopies out to Ke‘e Beach; past where the day hikers with their snacks and bottled water peel off toward Hanakāpīʻai Falls; and past where campers rest at Hanakoa, the 6-mile point of no return, before steeling their nerves for the infamously narrow Crawler’s Ledge. Through preparation and perseverance, you’ll hike through miles of draws and spurs, which manage to be simultaneously daunting and breathtaking, to arrive at a beach that, despite its popularity, the vast majority will never set foot on.
You’ll hang your hammock on nights you don’t want to lay a blanket on the beach and be lulled to sleep by the sound of waves crashing on the shore. You’ll explore the valley, following the stream, and take only what you need of the Brazilian cherries planted by those who came before you. You’ll look up at more stars than you’ve ever seen and realize that, until now, you may have never been in a truly quiet place.
After a day or two of sleeping under the stars and collecting water from a waterfall, you’ll shake your fist at the tour boats and helicopters of the outside world that flow around Kalalau Beach.
You’ll emerge from the jungle and experience the journey in reverse. Although it’s only been a couple of days, each layer of civilization you encounter on the trail will seem cloying. The world will seem different, but it isn’t the world that has changed, it’s you.
MAP AND DIRECTIONS
Take Kūhiō Highway all the way to Ke‘e Beach in Hā‘ena State Park. You can beach a kayak at Kalalau through Sept. 7.
WHAT TO BRING
A framed pack, appropriately sized for the distance between your shoulders and hips. When sized properly, the waist belt will take pressure off your shoulders.
Broken-in hiking boots with good insoles that provide arch support. Brand-new shoes will chew up your feet with blisters.
A water filter. Don’t follow the example of the free-spirited “permanent campers” who drink straight from the waterfalls. Kalalau’s composting toilet is an uncomfortable place for an *ahem* incident.
Slippers, headlamp, and baby wipes (see above).
A camp stove. Open fires are prohibited, but count on any firewood being damp even if they were allowed. A lightweight stove will save you from eating mixed nuts for three days.
Eleven miles isn’t impossible (my activity tracker goal each day is around five miles) but preparation is key.
Once you’ve assembled everything you “think” you need for the trek, load up your pack with food and water and take it on a couple of day hikes. If you’re packing too much, you’ll know it pretty quickly.
Pay close attention to hot spots where blisters start to form. Take the time to stop and change your socks often and apply moleskin padding before problems start.
Ditch the tent and sleeping bag. Opt for a hammock, blanket and rain tarp, which weigh less and offer a much more enjoyable experience.