If you are an avid hiker, backpacking the NaPali Coast in Kauai should definitely be on your bucket list. The Kalalau Trail is ranked as one of the top backpacking routes in the world! While there are options for day hiking the Na Pali coast on a portion of the Kalalau Trail, backpacking the full trail allows you to camp at the famous Kalalau Beach, which is also known as one of the best beaches in the world. The only way to step foot on to Kalalau Beach is to hike the full way in!
Keep reading for details to plan your trip for backpacking the Na Pali Coast, including how to get permits and how to prepare for this epic Hawaii hike!
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Kalalau Trail Overview:
- Distance: 22 miles (11 miles each way)
- Trail Type: Out & Back
- Elevation Gain: ~5,000 feet (each way, so 10,000 total)
- Trailhead: Ke’e Beach, Na Pali Coast State Park, Kauai
Getting To the Na’Pali Coast
The Na’Pali Coast lies on the Northwestern side of Kauai, Hawaii. To get here, fly into Lihue Airport (LIH) in Kauai and then it’s a 1 hour and 15 minute drive from the airport to the trailhead.
When is the Best Time for Hiking the Napali Coast?
The Kalalau Trail, being a coastal trail in Hawaii, is a year-round destination. However, I recommend avoiding the months of November – May, as these are the rainiest months in Kauai. Kauai is known as the “garden island” because of it’s lush, green landscapes and foliage, but that comes with a lot of rain! It’s the rainiest island in Hawaii. I backpacked the Kalalau Trail the first weekend of June, and got lucky with no rain the whole time.
Where to Stay Before Backpacking the Napali Coast
Some people who are short on time (or on a strict budget) will fly into Kauai and go straight to the trailhead to start the backpacking trail. However, I highly recommend spending at least a day or two (or more!) in Kauai beforehand, not only to acclimate to the time change and rest before your hike, but also to explore what else this beautiful island has to offer.
I recommend staying in the Hanalei Bay area. This is the closest town to the trailhead, and it’s beautiful! We stayed in the Princeville neighborhood of Hanalei Bay and loved it.
I recommend this spot on VRBO – it’s in Princeville, walking distance to the famous “Queens Bath” and Hideaway Beach, and is just a 5-min drive to the main street of Hanalei Bay. It’s also super affordable compared to other lodging in the area.
How to Get Permits for Backpacking the Kalalau Trail
While the hike itself is hard, getting permits to actually be able to hike the Kalalau Trail is a challenge in it’s own way. Backpacking the Napali Coast has become popular over the years, especially as it’s grown in ranking as one of the best backpacking routes in the world! Because of this, it can be difficult to get permits.
Kalalau Trail permits to backpack the Napali Coast come out 90 days in advance on the State of Hawaii website. It costs $35/person per night. The permits sell out in seconds, so make sure you are online right as they become available!
If you are having trouble securing a permit, you can always sign up to track for cancellations on Outdoor Status. You simply input your preferred dates and size of your party, and then they will text you if a cancellation opens up (at which point, you get online right away and snag it). This is how I got my Kalalau Trail permit!
Parking Permits for Overnight Parking at the Trailhead
In addition to your backpacking permits, you also need to secure an overnight parking permit for Haena State Park if you plan to drive to the trailhead and leave your car there overnight. You pay per day that your car will be there (so if you are doing a 1-night backpacking trip you will need to pay for 2 days). It cost $40 for 2 days. You can only reserve your parking permit after you secure your backpacking permit.
Alternatively, you could make a reservation on their shuttle system which runs every 20 minutes and costs about $15/person. Learn more about the shuttle here.
Day Hiking the Kalalau Trail
You do not need a permit for a day hike along the Kalalau Trail, however without a permit you are only allowed to hike the first 2 miles in to Hanakapi’ai Beach. From here, you can also do the 4 mile roundtrip detour trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls.
Backpacking the Napali Coast – Everything You Need to Know
The first thing I’ll say is: backpacking the Kalalau Trail is epic and beautiful, but do NOT underestimate this hike just because it’s a coastal trail. Yes, there’s jaw-dropping views at every turn, weaving in and out from coastal views to jungle interior. But, you are constantly gaining and losing elevation, and the trail can seem relentless at times. I’ve done plenty of epic backpacking hikes, but this one truly was more grueling than I expected, especially with the heat/humidity! We started at 6:30am and got to Kalalau Beach at 2:30pm, taking 8 hours total each way.
That being said, it’s still TOTALLY worth it and I think every hiker should experience this trail. Making it all the way to Kalalau Beach and setting up camp with an ocean view is the most rewarding feeling!
Kalalau Trail Hiking Guide
The First Half of the Trail
The first mile starts out uphill on a rocky dirt path (or muddy… if it’s rained recently) before descending down on some makeshift stairs along the path. You’ll likely see several other people on this part of the trail, since this is the part that day-hikers can do. About an hour after starting, you’ll reach your first big stream crossing (I recommend bringing water shoes like these to put on to cross) before arriving at the beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach. Take a bathroom break at the compost bathrooms they have here, fill up your water if needed, and take a quick rest by the beach before continuing on. Here, you have the option to take a 4-mile roundtrip detour to Hanakapi’ai Falls (I don’t recommend doing that though, save your time & energy for the 9 miles you have left!).
Continuing on the Kalalau Trail from here, you lose the day-hiker/tourist crowds and the trail becomes much more quiet.
The next 5 miles are when it starts to get more challenging, as you weave in and out of the coves. The coastal views are amazing, but I found myself looking forward to the “weaving in” part to get into the jungle and in the shade. The trail is narrow almost this entire hike, and the plants are overgrown. I highly recommend wearing pants/leggings, as you’ll be brushing up against prickly plants pretty much the entire hike.
At Mile 6, you’ll reach Hanakoa Valley. This is a spot where you can camp if you want to break up the hike (there is no ocean view from this area, it’s in the jungle/forested side). I recommend just hiking all the way to Kalalau Beach if you have the energy for it, since the views and the vibes are much better over there!
At Hanakoa Valley you’ll find more compost toilets and a big stream to filter water. You can also opt to take a 1 mile roundtrip detour to the Hanakoa Falls.
The Second Half of the Trail
At Mile 7, things start to get interesting! The last half (starting at mile 7) is my favorite part of backpacking the Napali Coast. This is when the trail gets more exposed, and you get to go over the infamous “Crawler’s Ledge”. Crawler’s Ledge, starting right at the 7-mile mark (you’ll see a rock with the number “7” etched in and painted, marking the start of it) is a narrow part of the trail that has a cliff drop-off with the ocean below you. As long as you aren’t super scared of heights, you’ll be fine. I thought it was fun, and didn’t feel scared or in danger at all. Don’t overthink it!
You’ll still be hiking along a narrow, cliff-side, exposed trail through mile 8 as well. Also, while the trail is super straightforward and it’s very hard to get lost, we somehow got off the trail around mile 8 and ended up expending precious energy going the wrong way up a dirt scree hill. Even though the trail is relatively easy to follow, I still recommend having a map downloaded in case you happen to get off the trail like we did, to help you get back on it.
At mile 10, you’ll see the trail open up with an exposed, red dirt hill. This is the start of your descent into Kalalau Beach! You’ll cross one more big stream before entering into the campground area. Once you get there, there are plenty of campsites to choose from nestled under the shade of trees at the back of the beach.
Camping at Kalalau Beach
There is quite a community feel to the campground area at Kalalau Beach. Everyone has completed this trek and earned their campsite after an 11-mile trek! The vibes are great, everyone is friendly and just stoked to be there.
Set up camp, go swimming in the ocean, walk along the beach. There are some sea caves to explore at the edge of the beach. The views from the beach looking back at the mountains with the waterfall crashing is just insanely beautiful and unique. That waterfall is also the closest water source to filter more water while you are camping. People also shower off in this waterfall – there are PVC pipes laying next to it that you can use to press up against the waterfall to create a sort of “showerhead” from.
Lot’s of people spend more than 1 night camping at Kalalau Beach to have more rest time, and more time to enjoy the area. Personally, we just spent 1 night there and then hiked all the way back out the next morning. Since we arrived to the beach at 2:30pm and the sun didn’t set until 7:30pm, we felt we had plenty of time to enjoy the area and soak in the views.
Packing List for Backpacking the Napali Coast
- Hiking Boots (These are my favorite!)
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (to give you energy on the hike!)
- Dehydrated Meals (this one is my absolute FAVORITE! I bring it on every backpacking trip)
- Sleeping Bag (This is the one I have that I love!)
- Nano Puff Jacket (I bring this on EVERY camping trip. It packs up small and keeps you warm!)
- Travel Towel (perfect for backpacking!)
- REI Quarterdome Tent (great beginner backpacking tent. I love this thing)
- Inflatable Sleeping Pad (this is the one that I use)
- Portable phone charger (so you’ll have enough juice to take pics!)
- Deuter Backpacking Pack (I’ve used this same one for 4 years now and it’s been great!)
- Jetboil – this is a game-changer. Boils water in under 90 seconds!
- MSR Water Filter – one of the best products for filtering drinking water on the trail!
- Ultralight First Aid Kit
- Water Shoes (to change into at the bigger stream crossings. These are the ones that I have and love)
- Hiking Poles