Etched into the cliffside of Kauai, the narrow Kalalau trail clings to an oceanic ridge, bestowing ethereal views to all who travel along her ancient volcanic soil. The grandeur and mystery of the Kalalau trail captivated my adventurous spirit right away, because I grew up playing in the Colorado mountains. Voted one of America’s most dangerous hikes in 2008 by Backpacker Magazine, the route follows the Na Pali coastline.

Timid hikers can opt for a quick half mile excursion to a scenic overlook of Kee beach ringed by coral reefs. Continue on and in another mile and a half you’ll find yourself at the isolated Hanakapiai Beach. Another two miles will bring you to Hanakoa Falls with a camping area for tired backpackers. The final seven miles take courageous and hardy trekkers to Kalalau Beach and waterfall. Camping is also available here.

Since Dan and I are in reasonably good health, not afraid of heights and equipped with water, sturdy boots and snacks, we decide to hike the two mile leg to Hanakapiai Beach. If you want to go further than this you’ll have to get a permit. Go slowly and deliberately and stay on the path. The steep trail varies between dry and crumbly, slippery with mud from mountain runoff and paved with moss-slicked lava. People senselessly die in this unforgiving arena. Carelessly disregarding the rules, folks fall down eroded lava faces or drown in the fierce ocean current.

We are perched on the narrow footpath, taking a big drink of water. Lush green vegetation frames the sweeping panorama. A palette of blue; the turquoise ocean meets a cobalt horizon and blurs into a baby blue sky. Breaking up the tranquil Pacific, white capped waves thunderously crash into the cliffs hundreds of feet below us.

Coming down the steep trail and into Hanakapiai beach, I immediately put my hot feet in the cool water of the shoreline. Shrouded in sea spray, jagged peaks loom over the isolated cove. Nature uncompromisingly pounds the prehistoric lava caves as a monk seal sleeps off a mid-afternoon meal, booming waves crashing behind him. He arches his head up, opens his drowsy eyes and lazily looks back at us. Content, we race the sunset back.

Photos by Dan Lane


  1. I've only experienced the Na Pali coast from the water on a catamaran cruise. A hike on the Kalalau trail sounds like a great excursion for an active baby boomer visiting Kauai, especially the first few miles of it. Since I have a problem with heights, I probably wouldn't make it beyond Kee beach. But that's okay. Thanks for the tips for hiking Kalalau trail.

  2. Donna if you have a problem with heights maybe your right, but it sure is beautiful! Paul, if you pace yourself it's no too bad plus the beauty is distracting =)

  3. Oh my goodness! I had no idea you could camp along this hike! Thank you so much for this information and beautiful pictures. We have a trip planned to Kauai this summer, and I'm really looking forward it.

  4. Thanks for sharing your adventures.  My husband and I love Kauai and have visited often.   Several years ago, we hiked into Hanakapiai and out again.  boy were we sore….so out of shape.
     B U T, back in 1973, when I was young and single and adventurous, I was visiting the islands for the first time, hitchhiking and camping everywhere I went.  A group of us hiked the complete trail, camping at Hanakapiai the first night, and then hiking the rest of the way.  I don't like heights either, and freaked out a bit on some of the cliffs. But I had no choice, had to keep going.  Then we stayed a couple weeks back there (rules weren't so strict).  There were people living in the valley; one crazy guy called Valley Bill (who was very nice, lived high in the valley on terraces and next to a creek).   There was a full moon feast on the beach with a big bonfire, and lots of people hiked in just for that night.  Awesome memories and views, and stories…….and something I am very proud of 🙂

    • Hello, in 1973 i camped on Kauai up in the valley at the place Bill Kauffman (Valley Bill) established. I lived there close to a year and just came across this old post. Sending you this mail with no expectations of hearing back, but couldn’t resist the potential opp to connect with that time in my life. Sounds like you actually were there and perhaps i even met you! I fear that Bill must have passed on by now but who knows? If you per chance get this, please respond!

      • Valley Bill was my dad. We used to visit him there in the summers when we were kids. Four of us went last Friday 1/13/17, to spread his ashes in Kalalau. He died on 1/13/2011. My dad did his own thing in his own time, we would appreciate any stories you have about him. I am on Facebook: Suanne Kauffman

    • That was my dad, he died on 1/13 2011 and four of us just went to scatter his ashes in Kalalau last Friday 1/13/17 It was nice to hear from you. If you have any memories to share I am on facebook: Suanne Kauffman

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