No list of America’s consummate BACKPACKING trips would be complete without mention of the KALALAU TRAIL. This daunting wilderness hike follows Kaua‘i’s dramatic Napali Coast shoreline along an ancient trail still ruled by the high priests of nature.
The challenge is traversing the demanding and occasionally perilous footpath—if done in full it’s 11 miles in, 11 miles out— that climbs over steep cliff-side promontories that drop 4,000 feet to rocky surf. White-sand beaches, some the length of several football fields, give way to acres of jungle, where cooling waterfalls and cobalt-blue pools await. And always, the silent sky hangs like a sentry above this place, where only foot traffic is allowed.
The first leg of the hike, which can stand alone as a shorter Napali Coast hike, is a strenuous 2-mile stretch from KE‘E BEACH to HANAKAPI‘AI VALLEY that sees an estimated 500,000 people every year.
For backpacking vets, Hanakapi‘ai is just the overture to a much more involved symphony. Leaving the valley, committed backpackers with day-use permits climb 800 feet above the beach and cross the streams that bisect a series of valleys before arriving four miles later at HANAKOA VALLEY.
The final five miles beyond Hanakoa Valley has had many backpackers swearing they would never do anything like it again. But that’s before they emerge at the final stream crossing and the glowing white sand of KALALAU BEACH, a sight many claim to be the most stunning they’ve ever seen.
However, be warned—Backpacker magazine lists the trail as one of AMERICA’S 10 MOST-DANGEROUS HIKES. The strong currents off Hanakapi‘ai Beach have claimed lives, and hikers are frequently airlifted from the trail. A maximum stay of five nights is allowed within the NAPALI COAST STATE WILDERNESS PARK. Permits, issued by the State Parks Division, are $15 (Hawai‘i residents) and $20 (nonresidents) per person per night.
For more information, call the DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES, DIVISION OF STATE PARKS at (808) 274-3444 (Lihu‘e) or (808) 587-0300 (Honolulu).