Hiking the Kalalau Trail: Finding Peace and Strength Along the Remote Napali Coast

Kalalau Trail Napali Coast
Landscape View from the Kalalau Trail, one of the hardest hiking trails in the world along the Napali Coast


Along the rugged Na Pali Coast on the lush island of Kauai, was a hike I always longed to experience. A hike full of cascading waterfalls, strong surf, and an abundance of fresh fruit. The Kalalau trail is only a 22 mile out and back trail, but is a challenging and difficult hike. The only way to access Kalalau Beach is by foot or by boat, and as with everywhere you hike, it is extremely important to respect the land and to always remember to leave no trace policy.

 When I finally set my plans in motion to tackle this hike, I recognized the need for a vehicle. Although hitchhiking is common in Hawaii, and what I’d normally lean towards, I wanted the freedom of going and leaving the trailhead whenever I wanted. I knew returning from this hike I would be exhausted, and having the luxury to leave on my own accord was important to me. I found a local named Crystal through Craigslist, who agreed to rent me her car. She even offered to pick me up from the airport, so I could drive back to her, get settled, and proceed directly to the trail from there. This setup was perfect—it made my dream hike happen without a hitch.

Island Wonders: A Na Pali Prelude


I was flying over from Maui, which was a short flight on a small plane, where I was lucky enough to be the only passenger. As soon as we got into the air, I was told to look below me into the ocean. A mother and baby humpback whale were gracefully twirling through the mesmerizingly clear turquoise waters below me. I watched in awe as they breached, dove, and played with one another. The baby swimming under and over the mother, turning its body playfully in the waves. I had never seen whales from an aerial view before, still massive, but small compared to all the space the ocean has to offer, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. 

I touched down in Kauai, eagerly waiting for Crystal’s pickup. Once I arrived at her place, I discovered it was a meditation and yoga commune, offering both retreats and long-term living options. They kindly offered me a place to stay for the night, and I woke up to a breakfast of fresh fruit and scrambled eggs, made from the eggs of chickens they raised on their property. The taste of fresh papaya and mango right off a tree overwhelmed my senses with comfort and joy. I knew I’d have much to look forward to as I made my way through this trail, known for its bountiful valleys full of perfectly ripened fruit along the way. 

Filled with excitement, I soon set off in my new rental car toward the Na Pali Coast. I took a couple of days to explore along the way, stopping to surf at Hanalei Bay, checking out the swinging bridge, browsing through small local bookshops, and snorkelling in the shallow pools of Anini. Eventually I made my way to Ke’e beach, the start of the trailhead where I arrived just as the sun was setting. As a bright orange glow spread over the Pacific, I set up my tent and watched sea turtles slowly make their way back into the ocean, after spending the day basking in the sun. A wave of excitement washes over me as the sun finishes its descent below the horizon. The start of my long-awaited journey begins at dawn.

I watched the stars until sleepiness took over, and awoke to the sounds of whales spraying water, close to the shore. The sun rises, and the bright blue water beckons me in for a quick snorkel, where I was lucky enough to start my day diving with the dolphins, turtles and an array of colorful parrotfish.

Beginning the Journey  


Refreshed from my morning swim, I began my trek. I followed the coastline from Ke’e, making my way down to Hanakapi’ai Beach, where the crossing of the Hanakapi’ai Stream awaited me. The stream’s width can vary a lot; sometimes you can hop across the boulders to get over, but because of the heavy rainfall earlier in the week, I found myself having to wade through the calmer sections of the river, which were about waist-deep. These streams can become swollen and dangerous in torrential rains and storms, but luckily it was still passable at the time I needed to cross it. Following the stream crossing, I opted to hike through the Hanakapi’ai Valley to reach the falls. The Kalalau trail has multiple side trails that allow you to visit numerous falls along the way. These side trails are a wonderful option if you have extra time to complete the hike. But if you are looking to follow only the out and back 22 mile route, then it’d be best to skip these.

After you return from Hanakapi’ai valley, you’ll arrive at the start of the permitted part of the hike, where you can begin trekking through thick jungle, following a thin trail along seaside cliffs. The trail can be rather narrow, with some areas covered with thickly overgrown jungle and others opening up to steep, exposed areas, with the ocean a dramatic 500 feet below. There are three main river crossings, along with many smaller streams. These are perfect for filling up your water or taking a quick swim provided the streams are safe for such activities. Flash floods can pose an immense threat, especially considering Kauai’s frequent and heavy rainfall. It is something I am always mindful of. As you navigate the trail, you’ll find yourself constantly gaining and losing elevation. Your journey will take you up and down through more than a dozen valleys, totalling about 10,000 feet elevation on the round trip. 

A Morning in Hanoka and Beyond

Your next main stream crossing would be the Waiahuakua stream, where I was lucky to find tons of fresh Guava. I put on my swimsuit and sank into a cool calm pool of water on the edge of the river, enjoying my fresh guava while basking in the last bit of sunlight shining through the tree line. Moving forward quickly before dark, I made my way to the Hanakoa campsite, where I would be spending my first night. As rain began to sprinkle down, I realized I needed to set up my tent before it turned into a downpour. I made myself dinner, using the dehydrated potatoes and red peppers I had prepared ahead of time.I combined that with my mix of dehydrated eggs, and filled one of my tortillas to make a delicious burrito.


I awoke to the sounds of birds, chirping loudly and melodically. They rustled through the palms above my head, flying in and out of the intertwined vines of the banyan trees. I slowly rise, and peek my head out of the tent. The rain has passed and the sun is shining brightly down on the lush green leaves that have been sprinkled with morning dew. Puddles of rain from the night before, formed in the middle of the monstera leaves, glistening brightly in the morning light. Hanakoa is another point, where you can hike back into the valley to visit Hanakoa falls and Alakai swamp. There are many pools to swim and jump into, and calmer shallow sections of the stream closer to the swamp that allow for a nice quick rinse if you’re not looking to dive into deeper water.

Any chance I had to hike back to one of the waterfalls, I took it. I didn’t have a time limit as I had worked to save money for months prior, in order to backpack around the Hawaiian Islands at my leisure. This was feasible for me, although I know not everyone has the same luxury of time while hiking this trail. If you don’t have the time for the other waterfall hikes, this is a shorter excursion that you could easily squeeze in before the second leg of your trek. 

Conquering Crawlers Ledge and the Journey to Kalalau Valley


After I returned, I made my way to mile 7, where the most notorious and intimidating part of the trail is, Crawlers Ledge. Personally, I felt safer traversing this part of the trail compared to several others. This narrow pathway is dug out onto the cliff side, with an incredibly steep vertical drop. The advantage in my opinion, is that it is rocky. Although small rocks can cause slips, which warrant caution as you navigate through this short section of the hike, it doesn’t compare to the sandy steep drop offs you must navigate during other portions of the trail. The sections that unnerved me the most were the extremely narrow paths winding through sandy dirt hillsides. The terrain is loose, with nothing to grab onto on either side. In my eyes, that allowed for less room for error.

Past these loose sections of the trail, a few dozen goats decided to join me as I made my way carefully through the soft red dirt of the valley’s edges. Whales are breaching consistently when hiking along the coastline, one that offers expansive views of the brightest blue water. The waves crash heavily into the cliff side, froth spraying up from the foam that’s gathered along the rocky edges below. Soon after the red dirt valleys, you’re making your way across another fairly loose, steep, and open section of the trail.  Luckily, after completing any difficult part of this trail, Kauai immediately rewards you with the most gorgeous sights you’ve ever seen. 

When I finally reached Kalalau Valley, a profound sense of peace washed over me—a feeling I’ve experienced in many corners of Hawaii. Whether it be from interacting with the incredibly kind people on the island, or being immersed in the constant serenity of the gorgeous natural surroundings. This peace deepened when the cool air from the trade winds brushed through my hair or when I heard the waterfall’s spray and felt its mist gently caress my face. It was in the moments like witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat or seeing the most vibrant rainbows nestled by the lush bright green valleys.

There I was at the edge of the sea, standing there above the valley, gazing down at the beach overwhelmed by a profound sense of peace. What I hadn’t seen coming, however, was an overwhelming feeling of strength washing over me—I had finally done it! Despite knowing deep down was capable, worry had occasionally crept in throughout the more treacherous sections of the trail. Looking down at this beautiful beach, on the edge of one of the greenest valleys I had ever seen, I felt at home. 

Kalalau Beach: A Haven of Rest and Exploration


As you descend the final stretch of the hike into Kalalau Beach, you’re greeted by dozens of campable spots dotted along the stunning mix of white and golden sand, with many more nestled among the trees just above the shoreline. Filled with excitement, I hurried towards the end of the beach, where the famous waterfall cascades directly onto the sand and merges seamlessly with the crashing waves. I chose a secluded camping spot nestled among the trees near the waterfall, yet still on the sand. The daytime heat can be intense, so finding shade was crucial for me. I discovered an avocado tree and fresh Lilikoi (passion fruit) growing right beside the clearing I picked. I took it easy for the rest of the night, lounging under the waterfall, bathing in the nearby stream, reading my book in the hammock I had set up under the nearby palms, and drifting off to sleep to the soothing sound of waves crashing onto the shore. 

Living Off the Land and Making New Friends


The next day, I took it slow, just absorbing the beauty around me. I explored some nearby caves, swimming through certain sections to reach dark but secluded small beaches. I played in the river and treated myself to fresh Lilikoi juice. I read, ate, and slept—finding happiness in life’s simple joys. I woke up the next day to a gentle sprinkle, opting to lie in my hammock while the wind rustled through the palms overhead and the rain kissed my face delicately. Back in Oahu, I had learned the art of climbing palm trees to retrieve coconuts. Opening a coconut without a proper machete is no easy feat. I managed to loosen some low-hanging coconuts and planned to attempt opening them using a sharp rock and my knife. If I managed to open them within an hour’s worth of work, I considered myself lucky.

It’s a challenging process, and I often lost about half of the coconut water in between. But when I finally broke one open completely, a surge of strength flooded through me once again. I cooked up some of the coconut meat for breakfast which I enjoyed with some fresh bananas from the valley.I had packed enough basic food to sustain me for a week, but on top of that, Kalalau Valley is teeming with wild chickens, many of which lay eggs that are safe to eat. Additionally, there are plenty of ginger plants where you can responsibly harvest small pieces of the root without harming the plant. Taro is also abundant in the valley, along with guava, avocado, hala, bananas, mangos, coconuts, and so much more.

Eating off the land wasn’t a new concept to me; in fact, it was one of the most enticing aspects of this hike. The ability to sustain myself from the land that surrounded me made me feel deeply connected to nature. I hold immense respect for our Earth and for all the living things we share our lives with. When I choose to camp and live off the land like this, I’m filled with gratitude every time I pluck a mango from a tree or stumble upon fresh drinking water. Given the bountiful land in Kauai’s Napali valley, you can easily forage enough food to sustain yourself. Throughout the next few weeks, that is exactly what I did.



A little over a week into camping down there, I met a couple of locals, who had stopped by the beach to grill up some of the fish they had caught spearfishing earlier that day. They kindly offered me some, and as we ate together, I asked them if they knew about the nearby sea caves. Aware that these caves are only accessible by boat, I knew that visiting them wouldn’t be possible on this trip. Instead,I was eager to hear some fun stories from this adventurous group of fishermen. They quickly confirmed they knew exactly where I was talking about, and encouragingly hoped I’d join them to check the caves out for myself. Depending on the tides and currents, the beach break at Kalalau can pose a significant danger for swimmers. The shoreline isn’t always accessible by boat, and at times, it’s not even safe to wade into. While some days the swell may calm down, it’s crucial to remember that the shoreline quickly transitions into deep ocean, and the tides in this area can change suddenly.


On this sunny, warm day, fortunately, the ocean was calm. Without access to a boat or enough funds to charter one myself, I reluctantly accepted that seeing these Kalalau caves was out of the question for me. When they offered to take me out with them, I was bursting with excitement. I quickly gathered my diving gear, a towel, and some bananas I had found during an early morning walk in the valley—the only thing I could afford to offer these kind men in return. I waded into the water until it was time to board their small boat, and off we went around the bend. Seeing the Napali Coast from the ocean was breathtaking. I was unable to articulate the emotions that were swirling in my heart.

Seeing the vast land, the steep cliff sides stretching into the distance, and realizing I had hiked all the way to the spot where they picked me up, I was overwhelmed with that familiar sense of strength. But this time, it was overshadowed by an immense feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for these kind men who changed their plans so I could explore some caves that I had that had previously only existed in my dreams. As we rounded the corner, the spray of the crashing waves hitting my face intensified as we drew closer to the cliffside. Suddenly, an opening in the rocks appeared—we had made it! They anchored the boat, and we quickly put on our dive gear. 

They led me into the cave, where it was still choppy from the ocean’s waves. A beautiful tall waterfall cascading down the right side of the cave and into the water below, sending a shockingly cold current beneath my feet. Although rock surrounded me, looking down at its depth was a gentle reminder that I was still in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They led me to the edge where we slowly sank underneath the face of the rock, holding our breath and making our way through a small tunnel. Light began to fade and a flashlight flickered on in front of me, illuminating the thin coral pathway. This brought us into a dark cave with an air pocket about the size of a small surfboard. If I wasn’t so in awe of what I was doing, I might have started to feel a bit more claustrophobic. Luckily, we moved on quite fast. After one more short stretch underneath the rocks, the light poured back into my view. I arose from the dark into a beautiful, perfectly calm pool of water. 

Above my head, a large opening in the ceiling of the cave revealed greenery hanging down around the edges, with light streaming brightly into the pool of warm emerald green water that surrounded me. Once again, I felt at peace and strong. I couldn’t believe I was here. I thanked them profusely as I floated freely, letting the sunshine melt over my body. We spent some time leisurely swimming around in that cave, but since there was nowhere to stop and rest, we made a quick exit back through the tunnels and out to the boat. We snacked on some bananas, drying off in the heat of the day, and watching dolphins follow the hull of the boat until they dropped me back off to shore. I thanked them again, waving as we parted ways, and proceeded to spend the next few days soaking in all of the incredible experiences I had thus far.

Facing the Storm and Returning Home


Days passed, and as the sunshine began to fade, clouds gathered overhead, filling the distant valleys with rain. This marked the beginning of the rains, and they showed no signs of stopping. Initially, I thought to wait a day or two, hoping for a change in weather. However, it soon became apparent that a storm was approaching.I was fortunate to have spent a couple of weeks camped out in the Kalalau Valley, but I felt it was best not to push my luck any further. Early the next morning, I packed up my gear and began my journey out. On the way back, it was pouring rain the entire time. The mud was thick and deep, easily coming up to my knees in certain portions of the jungle. The water pooled up in areas making it almost impossible to cross. I knew the weather wasn’t letting up, and I needed to try my hardest to get as far back towards the trailhead as I could. Water was flowing like a river through the narrow rocky parts of the trail. Rivers and streams were swollen and rushing, forcing me to hoist my pack above my head as I carefully navigated through the currents. Fear of being swept away with the currents washed over me as I waded deeper into the water. 

Thunder began, and with that followed the lighting. This was quickly becoming unsafe, and I knew I needed to make it to higher ground. Approaching one of the potential campsites, I decided it would be in my best interest to press on further. While it’s possible to hike back the entire way in one day, it’s certainly not easy. Aware of the rivers I’d have to cross on the way back, I didn’t want to risk camping out there for one more night. So, I decided to give it my best shot and attempt the hike back in one go.

Making my way back with only about 5 miles from the beginning of the trailhead, I noticed a helicopter landing not far off. It’s uncommon for this to happen, so I wanted to make sure nothing alarming was happening. As I approached, I could see the helicopter was having trouble landing due to the wind, and I felt it was important to wait until they landed so I could check in about the weather and if they had any information on the stream crossing up ahead. They informed me that a tropical storm had changed course, and they predicted flash floods in the near future. They cautioned that waterfalls and rivers in the mountains were already increasing in speed, and they anticipated lower portions would be cut off by mid-afternoon tomorrow. This meant that getting back to the beginning of the trail would soon become impossible.

They had landed there because there was a nearby campsite, and they were alerting all hikers of the possible flash flood warnings. They presented me and the other campers with two options: to continue hiking and finish the hike by the end of the night, or to be airlifted back out to the trailhead. Some campers requested an airlift out, while others chose to continue on. If I waited for the helicopter to return, there was the possibility it wouldn’t be able to land again. Realizing I didn’t have enough food to camp out there for several nights due to the flooding, I asked them to confirm that it would be safe for me to cross the river tonight, and they reassured me it was. With just under five miles to go and nightfall approaching, I knew I needed to move quickly.


Trudging through mud and needing to watch my every step on slippery cliff sides didn’t necessarily allow me to move at a fast pace, so when I got into the dryer sections of the valleys I began to jog.I finally made it to the last river crossing, and I could immediately tell how much it had swollen since I crossed it a couple of weeks back. The water was rushing hard, and there was no chance I was getting through that main section of the river. A couple of people were waiting at the edge, presumably coming to the same realization I had just made. I suggested we make our way further down the river, in search of the smaller portions of streams I knew existed on the map.The mud and sand toward the bank of the river were getting deep, with no clear pathway in sight. But I knew this was my best chance if I wanted to cross before dark. The sun had only just set, so luckily there was still enough daylight to see. Once I crossed this part, I knew I only had about two miles to go until the trailheadI could easily navigate that part of the trail in the dark with a headlight, as it was wide, flat, and easily accessible to all tourists. 

Making my way to a portion of the river where it forked, I realized I would now have to cross two parts, but they appeared thinner. I noticed many trees had fallen along one edge of the second stream.I was able to cross safely, taking my time balancing along solidly fallen logs. It was comforting to see all of us strangers sticking together, ensuring that each one of us made it through safely. A few miles in the dark flew by, and soon after, a sense of relief washed over me as I caught sight of my rental car off in the distance. Descending the last part of the trail, I arrived safely back at the parking lot. Given that it was fully dark at this point, and the rains were heavy, I stripped off my wet muddy clothes and crawled into the back seat.With the rain pounding down on the metal roof, I lay there in deep appreciation of the fact that I had been able to make it ‘home’ safely.

Thanking nature with immense and deep respect for the entirety of my experience, I lay there for a few minutes, breathing in the cool, wet air and realizing that I was finally safe and sound. Gradually, a smile spread across my face. Finally, I had accomplished my dream of hiking the Kalalau Trail and witnessing the spectacular beauty of the Napali Coast, not just by land but also by sea.It truly was a dream I had always cherished, and I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for having lived it. Living off the vibrantly colored and abundant fruit that thrives in the hills of Kalalau was an experience I’ll never forget. Exploring the lush valleys, basking on the warm sand, and swimming in the pools of the roaring waterfalls filled my heart with joy. As I lay there, a smile spread across my face, replaying every moment of the past few weeks in my mind. Thoughts of peace and strength enveloped me once more as I drifted off to sleep, eagerly anticipating the magnificent adventures that awaited me in my dreams.

Discover more of my adventures in my Los Todos, Baja article !

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