Tips for Hiking Kauai’s Famous Napali Coast

This is an adventure I’ve wanted to do for years, but the fact I was scared kept me away.  I was not afraid of the 11 mile “level 10″ strenuous trek itself, but the thought of carrying everything I am to wear, eat and sleep on for three days on my back makes me shutter.  However, knowing that we would be backpacking through India just a month later, I knew we needed to be able to handle just about anything, and Napali was a perfect place to test our moxy.  We did it and it was worth every step.

Here’s our tips for hiking Kalalau Trail:

1. You must obtain a permit to camp here.  In the summer, you will need to apply for a permit months in advance.  Without a permit, there’s a chance a park ranger can make you turn and hike all the way back out.  Obtain all permits from the Honolulu or Lihue State Parks office. Camping fees are $15-$20 (max stay is 5 nights). Visit for more information.

2.  The journey begins at Kee Beach, at the end of the road in Haena.  It is not recommended to leave a rental car overnight here.  The best place to spend the night before the hike is Hanalei Colony Resort (, a great condo located right on the beach, just a few miles from the trailhead.

3. Leave as early as you can in the morning to avoid overexertion in the midday heat. It should take at least 8 hours going in with your heavy packs.

4. Bring plenty of water for the hike into the valley.  We used a bladder so we would not have to worry about carrying a water bottle.  Once you get into the valley, you can use the waterfall for drinking/cooking and bathing water.  However, you will need to bring water purifying tablets or a filter before drinking.

5.  Do not swim at Hanakapai Beach (mile 2).  While this beach is gorgeous, the rip currents are strong, and it is highly advised not to go into the water here.  If you are hot here, there’s a cool stream you can take a dip into, and if you hike another two miles back to the valley, there’s a breathtaking waterfall.

5.   The scenery here is indescribable.  Lush valleys around every turn, iridescent blue water, we even spotted a perfect rainbow that seemed to be painted in the sky.  However, this is not an adventure for the faint hearted or anyone afraid of heights.  At a few points, the trail is extremely narrow (less than a foot wide), with sheer, steep drop offs plummeting straight into the ocean.  Watch every step and do not step in the bushes that are along the cliff, there’s a very good chance there’s no solid ground under it.

6.  Take advice from other hikers.  Along the way, you will run into people going in the opposite direction and they are always eager to share their stories with you. My favorite: “Mile 3-6 is pure torture, man”.  You are going to want to stop, you will want to turn back, but push forward, mile 7 is heaven.”  He was right.  Sometimes you need this advice to motivate you.

7. Bring a small, light stove with you and plenty of food and fuel.  Saimin (ramin), oatmeal and military meals are key.  We also bring Power Bars everywhere we go. Any perishable food should be eaten on the first day.

8.  We slept under the stars next to the camp fire on pool floaties, which were light and comfortable.  If you can afford it, splurge on a very light weight tent, these can run from $300 and up but our $20 tent was absolutely useless.

9. Waves in the winter months can be too big for swimming but there was a nice swiming hole near Kalalau Beach.

10.  Watch your tent and keep it zipped if you are not there.  A “creature” got into ours while we were having dinner and ate half a loaf of bread.

11.  Make sure your backpack fits property.  Mine was too big, this provided me with no joy.  Also be sure there’s no sand on your back before you put it on or you will get a mean rash. Travel as light as you can, you won’t need much clothes but bring a jacket as it can get chilly at night.

12. Bring flashlights and headlamps.

13. There are compost toilets on the beach but you will need to bring your own toilet paper.

13.  Be prepared to share food with fellow campers, and vice versa.

14.  Malama Ka Aina (respect the land), bring your rubbish out with you, leave nothing but footprints.

With much lighter packs, we made it out in just over 6 hours.  The journey was difficult to say the least, but we loved every second of it.  Kalalau is a special place, you can feel the power of the mana (power) the moment you enter this sacred area. Happy trails!


  • Paulina said:

    Thanks for the great advice… I am wondering which month did your hike take place in ? We are hoping to do it in December and I am trying to find out how bad the weather will be (ie rain).

  • Allison said:

    Sooo useful, thanks so much for posting. I’m planning to hike in May and your tips were so ever useful! Can’t wait to do it!!

  • Sarah said:

    Thanks for this great info. My husband and I are planning this hike in Sept. 2011. I get vertigo, so am trying to train to the point that that does not happen while in mile 7 of Kalalau trail. Any suggestions?

  • Roger said:

    Thank’s for your Info! My Buddy and i are planning this in ealy October 2011! Any tip’s on this time of year? One more thing ,At #8 you said you had a fire, i was under the impression that Fires were prohibited?

  • Jim @ The|Globe|Less|Traveled said:

    I love this. I have done the first 4 miles of this hike, to the waterfall, seven times in my life, but I have never gotten up moxy to do the whole thing. Rachel did it all the way, one way, early in 2011, but because of her friend’s medical emergency, it ended with her and her friend being air-lifted out! This is a perfect example of how NOT to hike the Napali Coast, to compliment your great advice on how TO do it :) Here’s the story…

  • Jessica said:

    When you say you made it in 6 hours, how far was that?

  • Emele (Author) said:

    Jessica, that was the entire 12 miles.


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