If you’ve ever traveled to Kauai, Hawaii, odds are you've heard of the Kalalau Trail. Outside Magazine lists it as the 9th “Most Dangerous Hike”, while Backpacker Magazine has it comfortably in 6th place on its “America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes” list. Does the trail live up to its reputation, or is the echo of risk a mere discoloration by inexperienced and unprepared hikers? We set foot on the Garden Island to find out.
Located on the Northeastern part of Kauai, the 11 mile pilgrimage to the Kalalau Valley starts at the trailhead near Ke’e Beach. In my years hiking the Pacific Northwest, I’ve never witnessed a trailhead with such deeply saturated foliage stretching along a coastline.
Most adventurers travel only to Hanakapi’ai Beach or Hanakapi’ai Falls. If you want to reach the beautiful Kalalau Valley, you have to start early. A 6:00am wake-up call is prime.
Kicking off the first leg of the trail, you climb up toward the coastal viewpoint. Standing only a couple hundred feet above sea level, the Nā Pali Coastline emerges. The razor-sharp ridges soaring from the valleys are breathtaking. The waves crashing along the Nā Pali Coastline are visible for miles. The feeling is tranquil, but it’s only the beginning.
After a little under an hour, you reach Hanakapi’ai Beach. Strong, ripe currents and flash flooding at this beach have taken over 85 lives. Warnings are sprinkled along the path notifying hikers that the inviting waters can be unpredictable, in some cases deadly.
Cruising along the trail, at mile four, you begin to get a false sense of security. The deep jungle perfectly conceals the 100+ft cliff drops that are, in some sections, merely feet away from the trail. The beauty of the trail is difficult to describe. It’s part tropical beach, part Amazonian jungle. Nearing the cliffs, you can hear thunderous echoes of the waves drumming on the cliff sides. The feeling is serene. In the jungle you see mountain goats mingling with wild chickens. It’s an experience unlike any other.
At mile 6.5 you will catch your first glimpse of what people have lovingly nicknamed ‘Crawler’s Ledge’. Although intimidating, the footing is secure and the cliff side provides a solid place to rest your hand. Is it high? Of course - there’s a 300ft cliff. What if you fall? It may be fatal. But if you keep an eye on your footing and stop to enjoy the breathtaking views, this stretch will be over before you know it. Did I mention the breathtaking views? On a sunny day, the ocean is a piercing blue color that is hard to ignore.
After successfully navigating Crawler’s Ledge, you'll reach the home stretch. The last three miles to the Kalalau Valley fly by. Once in the Kalalau Valley, the beauty emerges in the distance. You witness dense, saturated jungle with spines traveling up the mountains. The beauty is everywhere. It’s no wonder the Garden Island has starred in so many films like Pirates of the Caribbean and King Kong, to name a few.
After reaching Kalalau Valley, it’s only a half mile to the beach. The most important advice I will give you about the trail is stay the night! There is too much to explore and not enough time. A hammock and light cover is plenty for the night. As we fell asleep, distant lightning strikes lit up the night sky. In the morning, you will awake to the beauty of the razor sharp ridges of the valley.
It’s crazy to think that we originally planned to hike-in and hike-out in one day. What a big mistake that would have been! So glad we spent the night to fully enjoy the beauty and serenity that Kalalau Beach has to offer.
If planned appropriately, you will emerge ecstatic about having completed the best 23 mile hike on the Hawaiian Islands.
Written by Michael Demidenko. See more of Michael's amazing adventures on Instagram: @michael_goesoutside