Ultimate Guide to Backpacking the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali Coast, Kauai

The Kalalau Trail is a legendary 22-mile out-and-back hike along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Most people complete Kalalau as a multi-night backpacking adventure, or if you’re brave enough, you can tackle this Na Pali Coast hiking trail in a single day. 

In this guide, I’ll detail my experience from June 2024 and share what worked well for me, plus a few things I wish I had known before backpacking Kauai. If you’re gearing up to hike the Kalalau Trail, do your homework! Hiking safety on the Na Pali Coast is key! Learn about potential hazards, necessary gear, hiking tips for Kalalau trail, permits for Kalalau trail, and camping logistics to make your trek safe and enjoyable.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail around mile 7.5 of the Na Pali Coast. Photo by Ara Moses, @decapture. In frame, Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler.

About the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is renowned as one of the “most dangerous hikes in the world,” but it is also one of the most rewarding. This trail offers exclusive access to Kalalau Beach on the famous Na Pali coast, a mountainous region in Kauai, Hawaii. 

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail looking back on Crawler’s Ledge. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler.

Due to sheer cliff edges and strong water currents, there are limited ways to enter the Na Pali Coastal wilderness areas, resulting in only a few accessible beaches. Kalalau Beach is located about 11 miles from Ha’ena’s coast, and the only ways to reach it are by hiking the Kalalau Trail (which I’ll share below) or using a small water vessel like a canoe or jetski.

Nā Pali Coast (Kalalau) Trail
22 miles RT
Elevation Gain:
6,512 ft Elevation Change
Hanakoa (mile 6), Kalalau Beach (mile 11)
Permits Needed:
Kalalau Trail - Napali Coast State Wilderness Park
Recommended Time:
4-5 Days

Suggested Kalalau Trail Itinerary:

If you have the vacation time, and you can snag the permits, I would recommend doing this hike as a 4-5 day hike that way you can take your time and enjoy the different sections of the coastline, instead of just pushing through.

Here’s what I would recommend: 

Day 1: Hike to Hanakoa Campground

Day 2: Hike to Kalalau Beach

Day 3: Enjoy Kalalau Beach (swimming, relaxing, recovering, or trying other trails)

Day 4: Either hike out (~11 miles) or hike back to Hanakoa campground and then back out on day 5. If you have the time to stop back at Hanakoa, I would sugguest adding in the hike to Hanakoa Falls. 

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail of the Na Pali Coast. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler. In frame, Ara Moses, @decapture

Permits Needed:

You need a Kalalau permit to hike past Hanakapai’i Beach (mile ~2) on the Kalalau Trail, whether you’re backpacking or not. This also counts as your Hāʻena State Park entry permit, where the trail starts.

Permits allow you to camp at Kalalau Beach or Hanakoa. If you are just going to Hanakapi’ai Beach or Hanakapi’ai Falls, you will not need a permit.

Getting a permit is tough since only 60 are available per day for non-Hawaii residents. They open up 90 days in advance and sell out fast, especially in summer. Be online when they drop at midnight (GMT), create an account, and fill out all your info ahead of time. You can book permits online at camping.ehawaii.gov

It costs $35 per person per night, and you can stay up to 5 nights on the trail, including nights at Hanakoa if you want to break up the 11-mile hike.

If you can secure permits for the dates you are looking for, keep an eye on the reservation system. People do release their permits throughout the year, so you might get lucky and be able to pick them up should someone release them. 

Getting to the Trail and Parking:

The Kalalau Trail starts at Ke’e Beach in Hāʻena State Park, about 30 minutes from Princeville and 1 hour and 15 minutes from Lihue. Driving there is easy, but parking can be tricky.

The best parking is at the Ke’e Beach Parking Overflow Lot, a 0.3-mile walk from the trailhead, but you need to reserve it in advance. It’s the most hassle-free option since you don’t have to worry about pick-up times or shuttle schedules.

You can also take a shuttle or arrange a driver for drop-off and pick-up.

Parking at the Trailhead:

Once you have your permit, use your permit number to book overnight parking through GoHaena. Parking costs $20/day. Spots fill up quickly, so book as soon as you get your permit. Don’t leave valuables in your car.

Book a Driver:

This is another good option. Pre-arrange your ride as there’s no service at the trailhead. Check the Kalalau Facebook Group for info on costs and available drivers.


Board at Waipā Park & Ride. Since there’s no overnight parking, you’ll need to get dropped off or find parking in Hanalei and walk to the stop. The shuttle is a last resort for backpackers.

  • $35/person round-trip
  • First departure at 6:30 AM, last pickup at 5:40 PM
  • Runs every 20 minutes; 30-minute ride

Our Kalalau Trail Experience:

We first tried to hike the Kalalau Trail in 2021, but a crazy mudslide near Hanalei Bay stopped us in our tracks. Fast forward three years, and we finally did it! Completing this hike felt like a dream come true. But let me tell you, it was one of the toughest hikes I’ve ever done, both mentally and physically. Hopefully, this guide will help you prep for your hike. 

Check out my AllTrails map with waypoints to get more info about the trail ⤵️

Essential Gear:

Before diving into our hiking experience, let’s chat about the gear you’ll need. If you’re prepping for this trail, you’ve probably done a few backpacking trips already, so you should have most of what you need. But if this is one of your first backpacking trips, pack as light as possible. This trail is tough and exposed, and the heavier your pack, the harder it’ll be, especially between miles 7-9 at Crawler’s Ledge.

Here’s a list of all the gear we took on this hike. Remember, less is more!

If you’re traveling in, you’ll need to buy gas once you get to the island. You can stop at Walmart or Ace Hardware. Hikers also leave gas at the beginning of Kalalau Beach for others to use, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Hiking essentials:

Water Purification Systems and Hydration: The good news is, you can filter water almost the entire hike. There are streams at miles 2, 6, 8, and 11, with other little streams along the way. Always test your filtration systems before your trip. Our favorite is the Katadyn BeFree Gravity Water Filtration System because it filters water quickly, but we also brought a spare, the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System, which we used when our first system got clogged. Keep water purification tablets with you as a last resort.

Have a bladder to fill between streams because heatstroke is a real risk, so drink as much water as possible. Also, carry hydration tablets and energy boosters. It’s smart to keep an extra bottle with you to mix in your hydration boosters. 

Cooking and Food: Always pack extra. We brought real food for lunch and dinner on the first day, and then had dehydrated meals, ramen, and snacks for the rest of our trip.

First Aid and SOS Device: This is essential. Make sure you have basic first aid covered, and invest in an SOS device. The trail can be dangerous, and having some sort of communication system is crucial since there’s no cell service.

Trekking Poles: Trekking poles are highly recommended. They help take pressure off your feet and legs, are useful during river crossings, and keep you steady on the cliff edges along the coast.

Sturdy Hiking Boots: Make sure your boots have plenty of traction. A lightweight approach shoe with traction is ideal. I chose boots with ankle support and was glad I did. Don’t wear new shoes on this hike—make sure you’re comfortable in them and have hiked in them before. Also, bring sandals for river crossings and to hang out in at night.

Lightweight, Breathable Clothing, and Sun Shirts: There’s a lot of brush and foliage on this trail. Wearing lightweight pants and shirts will help protect your skin. Also, bring a sun shirt if you have one, along with plenty of sunscreen and bug repellent.

Mile 0 - Hanakapi'ai Beach - The First Stretch

The first 2 miles will fly by. You’ll be buzzing with excitement, and you’ll catch some of my favorite views of the coastline early on. This section of the trail (mile 0-2) is the most crowded because Hanakapi’ai Beach is the furthest hikers can go without a permit.

Be prepared to start off strong. If you’re starting in the parking lot, the first leg of your trip is walking through taro fields, which already offer a pretty landscape until you reach Ke’e Beach and the trailhead. This is where you’ll find the cleanest bathrooms and water filling stations, so it’s smart to do your business now and chug as much water as you can while you still have a chance to fill up!

The first mile is a climb, gaining ~630ft of elevation with little resistance until you reach the top at the mile marker.

Photos captured on Kalalau Trail around mile 1.5 Photo by Ara Moses, @decapture. In frame, Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler.

Don’t worry, you’ll have a nice descent as you approach the beach. This will be your first river crossing. Look for a safe spot to cross the river—there are plenty of rocks to hop over. You can stop at the beach for some rest, but my suggestion is to push on. The next stretch will be one of the most difficult.

Photo captured of Hanakapi’ai Beach by air. Photo by Ara Moses, @decapture

Hanakapi'ai Beach - Hanakoa Campground - The Tough Climb

Once you leave Hanakapi’ai Beach, you’ll pass another bathroom. Warning: only use this restroom if you really need to. Also, take your own wipes or toilet paper (but don’t flush them).

The next section is known as the switchbacks from hell. You’ll climb almost 800ft of elevation through a forest, weaving in and out of sun and shade until you reach mile 3. There is some shade for relief, but be cautious—this is where I almost got heat exhaustion. Use me as an example and drink lots of water.

You’ll get a bit of a break as you weave through the trees down to mile 4, before heading back up again. Just before you reach the trail marker for mile 4, there’s a quick climb. But once you make it up the hill, you’ll start seeing some epic views of the coastline and jagged mountain line.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail near mile 4. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltravelerand Ara Moses, @decapture

This section of the trail is tough. It’s all about endurance and will test you. There’s little opportunity to filter water during this section, so make sure you fill up at mile 2 if you need to. Then you’ll reach mile 6 and Hanakoa Campground.

At Hanakoa Campground, you’ll find 2 picnic shelters, a restroom, about 20 first-come, first-serve camping spots, and the Hanakoa Stream, which flows from Hanakoa Falls. The falls are an additional 2-mile hike, but I’d save this for your return trip. Don’t push your energy just yet—you still have a long way to go.

Mile 7 - Crawler's Ledge Hike

This is the part of the trail you don’t tell your mom about. After leaving Hanakoa Campground, you’ll have a pleasant hike for roughly a mile until you approach mile 7, known as Crawler’s Ledge. Just before reaching this mile marker, there’s a steep descent down a thin layer of sand and gravel. Your hiking poles will be handy for keeping you on the trail. Keep an eye out for mountain goats; they might keep their distance, but you may have to share the trail with them.

Crawler’s Ledge: We were surprised to find that the main exposed cliffside section was actually pretty short. That said, be very cautious because there’s little room for error. One wrong step and you could be in serious trouble. Personally, I thought it was mild, though the wind picking up made me a bit nervous. My boyfriend, who’s more scared of heights, found it stressful, but after he finished, he said it wasn’t as bad as he thought.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail before Crawler’s Ledge. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler . In frame, Ara Moses, @decapture

Crawler's Ledge to Kalalau Beach

Once you complete Crawler’s Ledge, remain cautious. Some of the most dangerous parts of the hike are still ahead. There are sections of the trail that don’t seem exposed because of the shrubs, but behind the shrubs is a steep drop.

You’ll face one more big climb between mile 7.5 and mile 8.5. The good news is there are a few streams where you can filter water, and you’ll be hiking along the coastline, offering phenomenal views. About halfway through mile 8, you’ll begin your descent to Kalalau Beach.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail near mile 9. Photo captured by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler . In frame, Ara Moses, @decapture

A few things to note about this section: while the excitement of reaching the beach sets in, this part of the trail is pretty exposed. Find shade when you can. You’ll hike down a vibrant red hill, with rocks bursting like a rainbow with color. Once you reach the Kalalau Stream, you can either fill up water there or wait until you get to the beach where there’s a waterfall to filter from.

The stream is also great for swimming and soaking. There are small and large watering holes to relax in. From the stream to the beach, keep an eye on the trail and your GPS (we use AllTrails for all of our hikes). We had to navigate through some crazy flower bushes that tore us up. We couldn’t find the trail, even after going back and forth a few times. We ended up hiking down to the coastline and walking over to the camping area.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail of Kalalau Beach. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler.

Reaching Kalalau Beach

You made it to the beach, hooray! You just checked Kalalau Beach camping off your bucket list. When looking for a camping spot, you have plenty of choices. Some great spots are towards the beginning of the beach. The plus side is you won’t have to walk as far to get back on the trail. The downside is that you’ll be further away from the waterfall, which is your on-beach water source.

The best camping spots are near the falls, but they fill up quickly. On your way through camp, you’ll find the Kalalau Beach facilities. If you need supplies, you’ll pass a little community area where people leave extra gas or items they don’t need anymore to help other campers. Remember to follow Leave No Trace principles and pack out everything you bring in.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail at Kalalau Beach. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler and Ara Moses, @decapture

You might have heard stories about a small community of people who live at Kalalau Beach. This is true, and you’ll likely pass them on your hike. Be respectful of their choice and culture. However, a word of caution: we found fish guts at our campsite the morning after our stay, which were not there the night before. While we can’t say for sure if it was intentional, we heard that locals sometimes do things like that to tourists.

The waterfall is a great spot to shower off. Someone brought a piece of pipe to create a makeshift shower. Thank you, kind person, for your invention.

The beach is beautiful, and during calmer waters, it’s a great spot for swimming. Remember, there are no lifeguards, so enter the water at your own risk. There are also sea caves to check out, which are a short walk from the beach.

What to do at Kalalau Beach

The obvious answer: enjoy Kalalau Beach! But if you’ve got a few days or just want to explore more, here are some ideas.

Kalalau Valley Exploration: It’s packed with unofficial trails leading to swimming holes and waterfalls. One popular trail is the 2-mile End of Valley trail to Big Pool, starting from the Kalalau Stream junction sign. It’s marked on AllTrails but not well-defined, so be ready for some route-finding.

Take a dip in Kalalau Stream. Follow it out to where it meets the ocean for amazing views of the ridges behind.

Other ways to access Kalalau Beach

I touched on this a bit before, but there are a few other ways to access Kalalau Beach without hiking.

If you’re experienced, you can rent a canoe and paddle in from the north, camp at Kalalau Beach, and then exit from the south. Do your own research on this, as it’s not something we’ve tried, but we camped next to a group from Maui who did. They said the journey was tough, and landing on the beach required skill.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail at Kalalau Beach. Photo by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler 

You can also hire a small vessel to take you in or out. Since boats can’t dock on shore, they get as close as possible and drop you off. You’ll have to jump off the boat with all your stuff and swim to the beach. If you have a dry bag and no important equipment, this could be an option. We had professional cameras, so it wasn’t for us.

Photo captured on Kalalau Trail at Kalalau Beach. Photo by Ara Moses, @decapture

We met some people who couldn’t hike out, so they connected with a local who had a satellite phone and arranged a jet ski pickup for about $200 per person. Their backpacks got fully submerged, and the trip looked rough, but it’s an option if needed. Check out the Facebook group ahead of time to arrange something.

Regardless of how you travel, you’re supposed to have a permit to camp at Kalalau. No one checked our permits except at the parking area, and I don’t think there’s anyone on-trail assigned to that job. I’m not saying to do this hike without a permit, but if you need a few extra days for safety, it would probably be fine.

Other Fun Experiences in Kauai

If after reading this, you decide that this backpacking trip isn’t for you, or you struggle to get permits during your trip to Kauai, don’t worry! There are still so many fun hikes and incredible experiences to have during your trip.

Some of my favorite hikes are in Waimea Canyon, which is literally the top of the Na Pali Coast. You’ll get similar stunning views with fewer miles. Check out the Awa’awapuhi Trail or the Waipo’o Falls via Pu’u Hinahina and Canyon Trail in Waimea Canyon. If you don’t have time for a long hike, at least pop up to the Waimea Canyon Lookout to see the falls and dramatic canyon.

The photo on the left was captured at Waipo’o Falls and the photo on the right was captured at Awa’awapuhi Trail. Photos by Faith Calhoun, @prettyliltraveler and Ara Moses, @decapture

You can also see the Na Pali Coastline from the sky or by water. We did a Na Pali Coast Sea Cave tour with Captain Andy’s, and it might have been the coolest thing I’ve ever done in Kauai!

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Have fun, and mahalo. Hope this blog article helped!

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