The formidable and intimidating Kalalau Trail. Just the thought of considering a hike along this very challenging trail on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast was overwhelming. On a recent trip to Kauai, we had thought about making the long hike, but without overnight permits, camping equipment or the ‘moxie,’ we decided to hike only the first two miles of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach.
Most hikers in fairly good physical condition will find the first, short piece of this 11-mile hike is an easy to moderate hike. It may be muddy, with some rocky creeks to plow through, and crowded, with the occasional traffic jam while some hiker ahead lingers to gaze out over Ke’e Beach or snap some photos of the coastline. Oh, wait — that was me. However, all the slippery mud, knee-skinning boulders, high density traffic conditions are far surpassed by the spectacular coastline and majestic mountains of Na Pali Coast, and beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach and Valley.
Before our party of four started out, we packed up our gear. Although hikers will travel this short piece of Kalalau in about 3-4 hours round-trip, we thought we’d spend more time at the beach. So we packed some fruit and sandwiches and filled up our 100-ounce Camelbak MULE packs. (This isn’t really an endorsement, but we’ve had these well-used packs for about 14 years now and they’re still in very good shape.) We were also equipped with our Keen sandals, which we found gripped the mud-slippery boulders well, and one walking pole each, to add that “third leg” of stability and balance.
We arrived at the trailhead early in the morning before the Ke’e Beach parking lot overflowing. If we had waited until late morning, we would have been driving around in circles until someone left. Hikers may find additional spaces in the overflow parking by the caves, which is just a five-minute walk from the trailhead.
After the first half mile on the trail, we stopped and looked back to see we were far above the coast. We could almost see the full-length sandy expanse of Ke’e Beach, until it curves around to the northeast. We then marched onward, following the trail and the single rank and file of hikers up and down through stream beds, over ridge lines and around hillsides. On the final descent to Hanakapi’ai Beach we could hear the crowd who had already arrived, plus the crash of breaking waves.
Hanakapi’ai Beach is a small spread of white sand with the creek from the mountains spilling in to the Pacific. Upon arrival, we immediately kicked off our sandals to soothe our feet and ankles in the fine sand and warm pools. (We visited during June.) We staked out several large boulders to set up lunch and watch the skilled surfers in the waves. It’s safer to stay out of the open ocean here, since the rip currents can be treacherous. Hikers have been reminded many times, online, at the trailhead and with signs along the trail. We decided not to add a few more hours to our trip by venturing upstream to Hanakapi’ai Falls. That side trip, plus the next nine miles of the Kalalau Trail will have to be added to a future Kauai vacation itinerary.