22 miles in 2 days on the Kalalau Trail, Day 1

Lihue Airport, 6:30 a.m.

We touched down at the Lihue airport, located on Kauai, Hawaii, at 6:30 in the morning, hopped in our rental car, and headed north to the trailhead located at Ha’ena State Park. Along the way, we stopped for some final snacks and Smartwaters at 7/11. On the ride up we saw rainbows, ocean views, and immense valleys. There were several one-lane bridges similarly found on the Road to Hana on Maui. As we approached Princeville and Hanalei, our adrenaline spiked.

As Oahu residents (just one island away from Kauai), my boyfriend, Austin, and I have heard many a tale of the famous 22-mile, out and back Kalalau Trail. We were told of its intensity and beauty but were also given advice from previous hikers.

“Make sure you get there early!”

“Don’t make a river crossing after it rains!”

“You will definitely need more than two days!”

We listened to most of the advice. We spent a few months planning the overnight trip and searching for gear at our local hiking store, Uloha, and on Facebook Marketplace. With great confidence in our gear and ourselves, we felt ready to take on the trek.

Ha’ena State Park, 8:15 a.m.

Finally, we arrived at Ha’ena state park. We pulled out our two permits to present to the park’s attendant, one for parking and one for camping. Next, we parked the car, threw on our packs, and made our way to the trailhead, which is roughly a quarter mile from the parking lot. Clocked in at around 8:30 a.m.

Miles 1 and 2, Hanakapi’ai

The first two miles of the trail are open to day hikers. The trail is wide and offered some great views of Ha’ena beach. Technically speaking, the first two miles were simple enough. The only difficulty to be wary of was slippery rocks. We ascended about 500 feet during the first mile and descended to our first water crossing at the end of the second, which led us to Hanakapi’ai Beach.

Hanakapi’ai is a stunning beach. We noticed hikers taking a plunge into the water and setting up picnics. This was the ending point for the day hikers, which meant we would start to see a lot less people as we moved forward. We had not yet put a major dent in our water supply or our energy, so we decided to continue on without stopping.

Miles 3 to 5

Immediately after the two-mile marker, we noticed the trail had narrowed and the technical difficulty increased. There was much more foliage lining the path that brushed against our legs and an increased angle of elevation that began to put more strain on our bodies. This is where we began to break a sweat. At this point we also met a hiker we communicated with on the Kalalau Trail Facebook page (this page is excellent, with 30,000 members, people post trail updates and share their experiences). We continued to walk and talk with him for another two miles or so until we paused to talk to a couple heading back. The woman seemed overwhelmed and fearful as she warned us,

“When I saw Crawler’s Ledge, I thought NO WAY! we have kids at home! I am not risking my life for this.”

Hearing this put a lump in my throat. I had read about Crawler’s Ledge before we started the hike. In just two miles I would have to decide if I was brave enough to cross it. Around mile 5, I decided I needed a break. It was a mix of fatigue and fear from hearing about Crawler’s. We set up on some big smooth rocks and I pulled out my dry ham and cheese sandwich. Luckily for me, I was able to get some mayo packets and pack them prior to the hike. SCORE!

Mile 6, Hanakoa

At this point it was around noon. The sky’s color changed to a dark grey and we got some very light rain, not enough to cause any change in our plans. In Hawaii the weather is unpredictable, and it is hard to rely on weather forecasts, especially on the coast. One minute the sky is blue and the next its grey. If it does rain, it often subsides quickly.

We continued forward and began to notice a pattern in the trail, descending into each valley and ascending back out to the coast. Over and over again, each valley had its own personality with different textures and plants. After another mile, we reached Hanakoa at mile 6. Hanakoa is a campground that offers a waterfall an extra half mile off the trail. Here, we ran into hikers we saw previously on trail. We stopped again to filter some water from the stream and continued on.

Mile 7, Crawler’s Ledge

Around mile 7, we turned a bend and saw a steep drop to the ocean below. We had reached the valley that led to Crawler’s ledge. Standing at the top of the valley, we could see the rock cliff that was Crawler’s ledge. This particular valley and the ledge were by far the most technically difficult and scary parts of the trek (to me – possibly a breeze for experienced hikers).

Leading up to the ledge, we were met with a dry, sand-like texture on the trail that I equate to a slip and slide. The trail was so narrow, so steep, and so slick, I hung on to whatever tree or rock was available while we descended to the ledge. During, I let out a few yelps and lost my footing, but I successfully made it to Crawler’s Ledge. Austin so generously offered to go first. Below is the front and back of Crawler’s Ledge.

Crawler’s Ledge was… quick. So quick in fact, I asked Austin, “Was that it?” It was as if the anticipation leading up to the moment was what scared me, not the ledge itself. From the path after the ledge, we looked out into the water and saw whales breaching. An incredible sight.

Miles 8 and 9

Miles eight and nine continued with valley-coast-valley-coast pattern. However, these valleys were a bit smaller than the previous ones, so it felt like were going faster. I was so tired at this point, it was around 3:00 p.m. and we had been moving since 8:30 a.m. We were holding on to the hope that Kalalau Beach would soon appear in the distance. It was quiet around this section of trail, and we really did not see anyone besides the occasional mountain goat. Eventually we made it to the sacred Kalalau valley. Seeing the beautiful wooden sign gave us an extra boost to push through the last two miles.

Mile 10 and 11

As we turned the corner from the Kalalau sign, we could spot the beach down the coast! Huzzah! It looked like downhill too, we were happy about that. The next section I called “Mars” because the red-orange clay and the texture reminded me of it. We descended down Mars and were met with a narrow trail covered in beautiful flowers. I got a boost of energy at this point and started speed walking down the path of the flowers all the way to the beach. As soon we got there, I threw on my bathing suit and jumped in the water. The salt water soothed my feet and legs.

Kalalau Beach

When we finished the hike, it was 5:30 p.m. We only had an hour and change to filter water at the waterfall and set up camp. After meeting some other hikers, they warned us that roaches come out at night, so we made sure to set up quickly! We only had a few minutes to enjoy the beach in the fleeting light. We then went to bed until a surprise woke us at 4:30 a.m. More on that on Kalalau Trail Day 2. Thank you for reading!

Some Stats on the Kalalau Trail

  • Location: Na Pali Coast of Kauai, Hawaii
  • Distance: 22 miles (11 out and 11 back)
  • Elevation gain: roughly 6,000 feet (3,000 out, 3,000 back)

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Comments 8

  • Dan Rhodes : Apr 5th

    Great blog! Helpful information for those looking to hike the trail!

    • Alli Bacher : Apr 5th

      Hey dan!!! Thanks for the compliment!

  • Katia Young : Apr 5th

    You guys are incredible!! Can’t wait for day ✌️

    • Alli Bacher : Apr 5th

      Thank you Katia! Should have it out by the end of the weekend 🙂

  • LInda Kracht : Apr 5th

    is this a recent hike or when was it??

    • Alli Bacher : Apr 6th

      Hi Linda! This was April 1st of this year, just a few days ago!

  • Michelle Bacher : Apr 6th

    My brilliant daughter! ❤️

    • Alli Bacher : Apr 6th

      Hi <3


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