How to Conquer the Kauai’s Killer Kalalau Trail in 2 Days
Ever since I was in the film called A Perfect Getaway starring Timothy Olyphant and Milla Jovovich, (a murder mystery which was based on the island of Kauai on the Kalalau Trail) I’ve always wanted to conquer it in real life. But it always seemed too daunting. We actually shot on location in Puerto Rico, and although my scene in the film was left on the cutting room floor, I made it to the trail in real life years later!
All the blogs and research I did prior to going years later dissuaded me, talking about how dangerous the Kalalau Trail can be, especially when you consider how remote it is, no cell service, but its a pretty well traveled path. Honestly, it also was hard to get someone to want to come hike it with me and I thought I was going to do it by myself until my friend decided to join me a few days prior to leaving.
It was one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done!
About the Kalalua Trail
If you are looking for isolation, lush rain forests, and spectacular views away from the typical tourist traps, the NaPali coast is the place to get lost and soak it all in. The Kalalau Trail just recently re-opened after 14 months due to torrential rains and flooding.
Residents had gotten used to a nearly tourism-free existence since an April 14-15 storm in 2018 produced massive flooding that shuttered popular attractions, including the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, Ha‘ena State Park, Kee Beach, Kalalau Trail, Haena Beach Park and Limahuli Garden & Preserve.
But even with all the hoops you have to jump through, I think it’s one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done and well worth the trek. Its some of the most amazing coastline I have ever seen and pictures just really don’t do it justice. I have flown over, boated around, and now hiked the Na Pali coast and this was one of the most memorable experiences to date.
Its not for the faint-hearted, but its definitely a do-able hike for anyone who is relatively fit. (For reference, I work out 3-5 times a week and am pretty active). I would consider it an advanced hike because of the terrain. There were a lot of quick ups and downs in elevation (quick temperature changes), but no steady incline or many switchbacks as some hikes like Half Dome.
The sketchy parts were very narrow. There is one part called Crawler’s Ledge where you are literally hugging the side of the cliff. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you follow the well-marked trail with markers at each mile, you will be fine.
If you are looking to go, I definitely recommend you make reservations with plenty of advance planning as it seems there are much stricter guidelines on this trail.
My Experience Hiking the Kalalua Trail
I ended up doing the trail in two days, which is quite quick, too quick for many people, but we didn’t want to carry too much on our backs, and I’ve come to know myself as a glamper. I don’t like sleeping in the dirt, but I like camping and being in the outdoors! I enjoy the creature comforts of home and not so much the creepy crawlers and bugs that usually love to bite me. There were surprisingly not as many mosquitoes as I would have thought, I think because we went on a shoulder season in March when the temperatures were more moderate.
My friend and I didn’t pack any cooking gear or even a tent. We simply took a rain fly to sleep under, which was poor planning on our part, but if I was do it again, I still probably wouldn’t bring a tent. If you can time your trip right, the weather is perfect for sleeping outdoors. One thing to prepare for are the sudden changes in weather. We were very lucky, but the day after we got back a storm rolled in and the path got super slippery and dangerous when that happens, and another reason why its considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.
We did run into quite a few people and the trail is pretty busy, especially the first 2 miles. Around mile 6 is where the day-use hikers stop and either turn around or head inland to the half way point campsite or waterfall. Mile 6 through the end is much more isolated, but the scenery is so stunning. I think the most dangerous thing is keeping your eyes on the path! It took about 12 hours each way to complete the 22 mile round trip hike. Its the same way back so don’t feel like you have to take photos or stop for everything on your way the first day.
We arrived at the beach just in time for sunset which was an amazing award. To our surprise, there were about 20 or so people and camps already set up with tents - some people were much more prepared than us. You can’t really go for a swim in the ocean at this location. The current is really strong and its not advised, so we just soaked in the rewards of golden hour on the relatively remote beach and later the amazing star show above in the night sky.
There is a little waterfall to clean up and get drinking water from at the end of the beach. The area is so remote and pristine you could drink the water straight without filtering it.
I think I'm in pretty good shape, but the next morning I woke up and when I tried to stand, I felt like a newborn giraffe with legs that weren’t working! It took 30 mins or so for me to feel ok! So make sure you STRETCH before you go to bed. The lactic acid build up eventually subsided while hiking another 11 miles back, but by the end of the second day, my legs were shot. It took all the mental fortitude I could muster up around the last 2 miles.
I still wouldn’t trade that experience for the world, and would do it again. Who’s up for an adventure?
Here’s a list of the items we brought in our light hiking packs:
A roll of duct tape - this saved my shoe later on when my hiking boot fell apart!
A few ziploc bags to pack out trash
NOT PICTURED: We got a giant sub sandwich from Foodland and packed it to ration for two days (Not the best idea but it works for a quick trip!)
List of Clothing to Pack:
For clothing, you definitely want to bring the minimum. I ended up wearing everything I brought on me for the one night we were there because the temperature does drop (I think it was about 60) . Plus, it gets breezy if you are sleeping outside. Even sleeping under a rain fly, it can get dewy.
Here’s what I packed:
2 work out tank tops
2 running shorts (quick dry material)
2 long sleeve running tops
1 uniqlo puffy jacket (they are light and pack down)
1 pair of yoga pants
1 pair of rubber flip-flops
Wool hiking socks (2 pairs)
A hat and visor
A small bag of toiletries
Tips for Hiking the Kalaulau Trail:
Make sure you bring a water purifier. Fill up at Mile Marker 2. Its a while away to the next water stop. Keep drinking water and stay hydrated. You are in the tropics and its humid so the last thing you want to do is feel dehydrated.
Best times to go are shoulder or drier seasons mid-April to mid-June and September and October. We went in March and got lucky with the weather!
Take a walking stick right behind the sign at the beginning of the trail head, or invest in walking poles, you won’t regret it.
Pack as lightly as possible.
Give yourself time to plan ahead… especially with all the new regulations.
Stop and enjoy the breathtaking beauty, even if you don’t have much time, its worth every second of pause.