Kalalau: 2 Day Coastal Hike along Kauai’s Na Pali

Over Spring break, Ikaika and I decided to hike Hawaii’s best known trail: Kalalau. The trail is 11 miles long one way and ends at a famous camp spot. Originally planned as a 4 day and 3 night event, we ended up shortening it to 2 days and 1 night while still completing all of the 22 miles, camping at the beach, visiting one of the major waterfalls, and capturing the Milky Way along the way.

The trail starts at the end of the road on the North side of Kauai and a parking lot is provided for hikers. We would arrive in Kauai from Oahu around 6 AM where Ikaika’s uncle picked us up and drove us to the trail. After filling up our packs with water and catching up with his uncle, we would start the trail just before 8 AM. The first 6 miles are open to all hikers but you will need a permit if you decide to stay at the camp spot at this point or go beyond.

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Overall, the trail is a gentle roller coaster with many switchbacks. It is not too different from the Maunawili Demonstration Trail that shares the mileage and gentle gradation. The difficulty of the trail comes with the weight of your pack as even the gentle hills can be taxing with an overly heavy pack. There are also a few streams to cross which can be a problem during heavy rains. On a sunny day, the trail is very safe. The abundance of streams allows you to skimp on water if you choose as you can easily refill every ~2 miles along the way.

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The very well-marked and maintained trail ends at Kalalau Beach where you’ll find up to 25 other hikers with permits. It is also possible to Kayak to this point and there are some hippies residing in this location. We would camp near the beach along with everyone else. Along with the beach, you can also explore the valley in this area. Ikaika and I would get to the beach in about 7 hours. The camp spot was dry with barely any wind and I would end up using just a space blanket as a mat and a sleeping bag for the night. There was no need for more shelter as it did not rain. Some spent the night on a hammock.

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I would end up falling asleep before the sunset on the first night and woke up around 4 AM. While I missed a sunset that Ikaika described as ‘intense’, I would wake up on time to catch the Milky Way rising from the beach. For Hawaii, the Galactic Core of the Milky Way starts to become visible just above the horizon in March around 4 AM. It will rise earlier in the following months. Check out how the star shots were shot here.

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I originally planned on keeping my pack light but decided to bring my tripod (~7 lbs) in case we did get clear skies. In the end it was worth it. My pack for the trip wasn’t too different than the one I used for my 3 day trek on the KST. It included:

  • 28L Pack
  • 3L Bladder
  • 1L Bottle
  • 1x GPS
  • 1x Sleeping bag
  • 1x Bivy
  • 1x Space Blanket
  • 1x Steripen
  • 1x Spare clothes
  • 2x Large chocolate raisin bags
  • 8x Single slice Spam packets
  • 5x Gatorade chew thingys

My tripod, camera, and camera bag would total about 14 lbs and over half of the weight when I didn’t have any water. The hike can be done roundtrip in one day with smaller packs and we would run into one couple that completed the 20+ miles on our second day.

The return trip on the second day would take us closer to 9 hours. We would visit Hanakoa Falls, located near the 6 mile marker, along the way and come out after sunset (we left the beach at 10:30).

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Ikaika’s uncle was nice enough to pick us up on the 2nd day. He didn’t expect to see us again for at least one more day. He also let us stay at his place over the next 2 nights. With some unexpected free time, Ikaika and I rented a car and did some (more) touristy things like visiting Waimea and driving up to Kokee lookout. While that lookout was socked in, we did get some good views at Waimea Canyon lookout.

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All pictures by Marvin Chandra

About Marvin

Endurance hiker and our resident daredevil with a heart of gold. Extreme chocolate raisin eater and master of sensory dominance.

11 comments

    • About 23 miles on 1 bag of choco raisins and 3 slices of spam + the Gatorade chews. Drank a lot of water (~10L) and never got too hungry. If we stayed a third day I might have gone through much more on the last day though

  1. Spam really is the perfect food. The Milky Way pic is stunning! I’m incredibly jealous and can’t wait until I can do the trail next summer. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Rizza. The single pack Spam also isn’t as heavy as the cans and easier to manage as I am guessing most of us don’t eat a whole can in one setting.

  2. hi, thanks so much for the blog , im heading out there from new york , without a clue what im getting into ! must say im a bit worried about leptospirosis. did you get ill at all ? did you sind that your water filtration was sufficient ??
    thanks so much !

    • Hi, yes the steripen worked well on this trip and my other hikes. Generally you won’t have to worry about lepto in flowing streams (and Kalalau is generally very active). It’s the stagnant water where you have to worry about it

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