Pacific Northwesterners are known for our love of any activity that can be done in the great outdoors, especially hiking. And many people who live in the perennially rainy Pacific Northwest count sunny, easy-to-reach Hawaii as a favorite vacation destination.
So why not combine the two interests in the adventure of a lifetime—
a hike along Kauai’s rugged Napali Coast?
The 22-mile round-trip isn’t for the out-of-shape—the Sierra Club rates the often vertical trail at nine out of 10 on their difficulty scale. But hikers who take on the challenge are rewarded with access to pristine Kalalau Beach at the turnaround point—not to mention memories of incredible views that will last a lifetime.
Robert Coello/Hawaii Visitors Bureau
The Hiking Route ABOUT THE NAPALI COAST Many historians believe that the Napali Coast, part of the northwest coast of Kauai, was the first part of the island to be settled by ancient Hawaiians. The dramatic-looking coastline was named for its steep, 4,000-foot sea cliffs (“Napali” means “the cliffs” in Hawaiian). Kalalau Trail is the only beaten path along the coast (though Kalalau Beach can also be reached by boat when the seas are calm). Originally built in the late 1800s, the trail was partially rebuilt in the 1930s, though many portions are uneven because of protruding roots and rocks. The trail is almost never level as it crosses above the towering sea cliffs and through lush valleys before dropping to sea level at Kalalau Beach. Kalalau Trail can be broken down into three segments. Most experienced hikers can hike the 11 miles to Kalalau Beach in one (long) day, but should plan to camp there overnight. Less-
experienced hikers should allow two days to reach the beach; there are a few designated camping areas along the way for overnight stays. (A permit is required to camp past mile 2; call Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources at 808-274-3444 for information.) Segment 1: KE’E BEACH TO THE HANAKAPIAI VALLEY (2 MILES) Kalalau Trail begins at Ke’e Beach—the most popular snorkeling site on Kauai’s north shore. There is parking available at the trailhead if you get there early, but as car break-ins are not uncommon, many hikers choose to make other transportation arrange-ments (such as taking a shuttle from their hotel).
From Ke’e Beach, the two-mile hike to Hanakapiai Beach, at the mouth of Hanakapiai Valley, is the easiest part of the trek and is a popular destination for day hikers. The second mile is steep at times, but keeps hikers motivated with amazing views of the coast. Be warned: though the ocean waters look appealing from Hanakapiai Beach, the variable surf and rip currents make swimming dangerous. There are campsites available at Hanakapiai Valley for hikers who want to spend the night. From the campsites, a two-mile trek up an unmaintained trail leads to picturesque Hanakapiai Falls—
a memorable side trip for the adventurous. Segment 2: HANAKAPIAI TO HANAKOA VALLEY(4 MILES)
The writer on the trail
The second leg of the hike is the most strenuous. The trail climbs out of Hanakapiai Valley by way of switchbacks that rise 800 vertical feet—but the scenic surroundings make all the exertion worth it. During this section of the hike, the trail traverses the Hono o Napali Natural Area Reserve, home to many rare native plant and animals species, including wild mountain goats.
Hawaii Visitors Bureau
After passing through several valleys and climbing to some of the highest points on the cliffs, hikers must cross Hanakoa Stream—not as daunting as it sounds, as the water is usually only ankle-deep. Two of the most interesting campsites on the trail are located near the stream—a pair of roofed shelters within a complex of old agricultural terraces, where Hawaiians once planted taro and coffee. (Writer’s note: During my hike along the Napali Coast, I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the Hanakoa camp, thirsty and exhausted, and discovered a lemon tree teeming with luscious, ripe lemons. We used the lemons to flavor our less-than-appealing treated water.) A worthwhile side trip is the (poorly) marked half-mile trail up the east fork of Hanakoa Stream, which leads to the cascading, 100-foot Hanakoa Falls. Segment 3: HANAKOA VALLEY TO KALALAU BEACH (5 MILES) The third leg of the hike will appeal to thrill-seekers. Portions of
the trail are loose and crumbling, and it traverses near-vertical cliffs, so hikers are advised to use extreme caution. After surviving this section of the trail, hikers cross another (gentle) stream, Kalalau Stream, before dropping down to Kalalau Beach—a breathtaking descent that offers panoramic views of the cliffs and coastline.
Once hikers reach the mile-long beach, most pitch a tent in the designated sites near a waterfall and spend a few days relaxing on the beautiful, secluded sands. (A permit allows for five days of overnight camping.) The fact that a camping permit is required means that the beach is never overcrowded. Unfortunately, swimming is considered hazardous at Kalalau Beach—but those who aren’t completely wiped out from the past day or two’s exertions can trek two more miles to a pool in Kalalau Valley for a well-earned dip. What to Know Before You Go These tips will help make your Napali Coast adventure safe and enjoyable.
Kalalau Beach sunset.
♦ Be prepared to pack in all your food (and pack out the trash). ♦ There is no potable water available on the Kalalau Trail. All river water should be boiled or treated. ♦ The sun is strong, especially on the third leg of the trail, so a hat and sunscreen are essential. ♦ The trail can be muddy (especially the first leg), so wear shoes that grip, such as Tevas or light hiking shoes. ♦ There are no emergency services on the trail, nor is there cell phone coverage. In case of emergency, be prepared to hike out for help or signal a passing helicopter or boat. ♦ Rockslides and falling rocks are a hazard, so avoid narrow canyons,
waterfalls and the base of steep cliffs. ♦ Carry your camping permit with you at all times. Rangers patrol the trail and beach, and they will check!