Hiking the Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Our friends and clients often ask what our craziest travel experience has been. The first one that comes to mind is hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. How we ended up on Kauai's Na Pali coast was also an interesting experience and resulted in a spur of the moment, epic adventure.

Sam and I spent months planning a trip to Southeast Asia and a few days before we left, our flights were cancelled by the airline due to political unrest. So the airline gave us an option to go somewhere else for the same amount of time without having to incur any change fees.

It honestly felt like a movie where someone is standing at the airport looking at the flights and trying to decide where to go. We had a few hours or so to decide where we were going and when to coordinate flights. We chose to take a three week trip to Alaska and Hawaii. This post will focus on our time in Kauai, but I'll go into more details on the entire trip in another post.

We'd heard of the Kalalau Trail, but didn't know much about it or anyone who'd done the full hike. Sam heard that we needed a permit to hike the trail and they are capped at a certain amount per day, so we were lucky to snag one at the last minute.

Getting the permit was the easy part! We flew into Kauai after a brief stop in Oahu, rented a car and picked up our permit from the county permit office. The trail is a 22-mile roundtrip hike that weaves through lush valleys and along narrow footpaths on some of the steepest cliffs I've seen.

We found out from meeting others that most people take three to four days to hike the trail, but at only 22 miles long and since we have both hiked a decent amount, Sam thought we could easily manage out and back in two days. We had no idea what we were in for!

Knowing we needed to get an early start to beat the Hawaiian sun, we camped at Haena Beach State Park which is about a mile from the start of the hike. There's also a parking lot at the trailhead, but we heard break-in's were common since people are often hiking for days. We met another couple that had been preparing for the hike for over a year. I should have been more worried when they told us this. They saw the food that we packed (last minute grocery store finds that included granola bars and peanut butter), and offered us one of their freeze dried meals which was so kind.

We woke up around 4am and started the hike. The first couple miles aren't too difficult and many people do this section as a day hike. But after that, it gets increasingly more difficult and more remote. The most famous or infamous section of the trail is called Crawler's Ledge, an incredibly narrow section right on the massive sea cliffs. I was SO glad when that part was over.

After Crawler's Ledge, the trail is difficult and changes elevation a fair amount, but anything is possible once you conquer that section. At one point on the trail, I was exhausted and was really thinking about stopping to take a break when we saw a group of guys come up behind us running and carrying their surfboards over their heads. They told us they were locals and loved the surf at the end of the trail. If they could run the entire trail in one day, I could surely walk half of it.

When we got to the end of the trail, it felt like we were in a hippy paradise. Many people live out there in tents, disconnected from the rest of the world. We even met an former Google employee that had been living there for a few months to reconnect with nature.

The beautiful, unspoiled beach at the end of the trail made the arduous hike worth it. It was completely unspoiled and nestled between two cliffs. We spent a couple of hours exploring the beach and surrounding valley, ate the freeze dried meal from the nice couple that we met and hiked back out the next morning at dawn. The picture below probably captured the most exhausted I've ever been.

The way back was easier mentally, but we were exhausted from the trek the day before. Our plan was to spend the night camping on the same beach as we did at the start, but by the end of the trail, the thought of pitching a tent and setting up camp seemed like too much effort. We splurged and paid for a night at a beautiful resort on the beach nearby to rest our sore, tired muscles.

If you are thinking about hiking the Kalalau, we highly recommend it and can help with the preparation and planning.

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