Backpacking, Hawaii, Hiking, Top Trips, Travel

Kalalau Trail

For our spring trip/annual vitamin D booster this year, we decided to go to Hawai’i instead of Utah. I really, really love the red rock desert, but from now on I think all of our spring breaks will be spent in the South Pacific. Man alive, it’s awesome down there.


Anyhoo, we decided on the island of Kaua’i since it’s known as the adventurous isle, and definitely the best island for hiking…but we didn’t end up doing much hiking at all. We quickly decided that it would be foolish to not spend as much of our time as possible fully submerged under water, snorkeling with all sorts of non-shark ocean dwellers.

We did manage to sneak in one backpacking trip between all the strenuous beach trips; the (in)famous Kalalau Trail.

Kaua'i is an ugly sort of place

The first time I read about this hike was in an article in Backpacker Magazine entitled America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes. You would think that would give me, an incorrigible exposure wuss, pause, but I am used to reading guidebooks from Washington, where any minor trail inconvenience is described with a sense of impending doom. The Kalalau Trail goes up and down and up and down, hugging the cliffs along the majestic Na Pali coast. Pssht, I thought. How bad could it be?

Kalalau Trail

Luckily I came to my senses when I found photos like this on the intertubes a couple of weeks before our vacation. I realized this would be no place for me to freak out/freeze up/stagger around like a nervous drunk, so we (I) decided that we would only hike to Hanakoa, a mile before the sketchy stuff starts, and camp there.

Private pool

Hanakoa Falls

In the end, I was relieved when we made it to Hanakoa and could relax. The trail itself is not that challenging, but the heat and humidity were really getting to me. Since my body pretty much consists of a series of tubes filled with Norwegian blood and enveloped in copious amounts of insulating blubber, it’s clear that all my time on a tropical island should be spent in the water or in the shade of a coconut tree. Anyway, it was heavenly to take a bath in creek and hike up to beautiful Hanakoa Falls.

Kalalau Trail

Postcards from the Edge

The next day, we packed up our things and headed back towards civilization – but we weren’t ready to leave quite yet. We still had a night left on our permit, so we decided to camp on Hanakapi’ai Beach, a mere two miles from the trailhead. The weather didn’t feel as oppressive on the hike out, so we spent more time admiring the gorgeous views of blue, blue water, green, green plants and red, red flowers.

Feels like Vietnam Swimming hole Yes, again

We set up our tent in the purdiest campsite we’ve ever seen, then set about sunbathing, cooling off in the creek, playing with the beach cats and generally just loving life.

The sweetest campsite

Sunset and sunrise? Magnificent.

Take two

Sunset stroll

Good morning Kaua'i

On the third morning, we packed up and made quick work of the remaining two miles. Our immediate reward was a cleansing swim on Ke’e Beach and a strawberry smoothie from the roadside stand. All trailheads should have access to tropical beaches and fruit snacks.

Final two miles


All in all a great trip – in an ideal world I would be less of a nervous idiot and actually make it all the way to Kalalau Beach, but alas, even the slightly eroded section on the way to Hanakoa made me all shaky and stumbly.

Along the trail, we ran into several of the year-round beach dwellers (real live hippies!) heading out on resupply trips. Barefoot and carrying nothing but tiny rucksacks with some water, they all looked so peaceful on their journey. I’m sure the fact that they were all stoned out of their minds had nothing at all to do with their blissful existence, but still, it felt kind of poetic when I was lumbering along with my huge pack, struggling with my emotional baggage and my actual baggage. We could all be more island-like.

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  • Reply Libby May 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    As you know I loved your photos but it was good hearing a bit more about your trip. That photo of the trail looks REAL scary – actually I thought what you walk on was scary enough for me.


  • Reply Amy May 28, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    SO that really should have been spelled Kaua’i. It’s late and I’m tired. And a bad speller.

  • Reply Amy May 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Um, don’t know if I submitted the comment that sould have preceded my last comment in which I spelled the island name wrong. Not you. I’m going to stop now. Love the photos. Right. Good night.

  • Reply Ashley May 31, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Completely amazing!!! What an amazing trip. Keep me posted on your Vibram progress!!

  • Reply mtoyama June 10, 2010 at 7:53 am


    Followed your comment on my Mt. Bandera TR to here. Funny thing, you went to Hawai’i to hike eh? I’m from Hawai’i and will be heading out there this weekend to visit family. No hiking though!

    You have some excellent photographs here and it sounds like you really enjoyed your trip. That trail looks pretty dangerous but fun at the same time.

    Thanks for the comments, I’ll be checking out more stuff on your blog when I can.

    Mike T.

  • Reply jeri June 22, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I stumbled onto one of your post from 2008 where you called Las Vegas one of the most disgusting cities on earth (or something like that)…I couldn’t agree more. Now, Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth! Your photography is stunning.

  • Reply Sonia Mascaro June 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Just amazing trip!
    I have been looking around your blog and I loved it!
    Best wishes from São Paulo, Brazil.

  • Reply Josie July 11, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Finally got a chance to catch up on your blog while avoiding writing my blog and now I am actively dreaming of a trip to Kauai. Great write up ~Jo

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