Somehow, Hawaii had brought out the hiker in me. I think in Kauai I finally realized why my childhood in Upstate New York never inspired the hobby to take hold: there is simply nowhere in the Northeast United States that looks like the Kalalau Trail.
The full Kalalau Trail is eleven miles one way along the stunning Nā Pali Coast, frequently named as Hawaii’s most scenic spot — not an easy title to hold. The coast can be viewed by helicopter, by boat, or the most laborious (and also the most free!) way — on foot.
Landing in Kauai, I was still a bit too intimidated and unprepared to tackle the entire two-day, twenty-two mile trail. Luckily, there are plenty of options that take in just a portion of the trail, and also sidestep the hassle of obtaining a camping permit for an overnight stay. Just two miles along the coast from the trailhead is Hanakapiʻai Beach, a great turn-around point for day hikers. And just two miles inland from the beach is Hanakapiʻai Falls, perfect for a mid-day swim. Hiking to the falls and back makes for a strenuous but do-able eight mile hike.
On a drive around the North Shore, where the trail starts, I tentatively brought up the idea of the hike with my hosts Angie and Alex. Alex, a pretty easy-going guy, was kind enough to come along despite the fact that he’d be hiking the same route a week later with different guests.
So, starting very early to escape as much of the searing mid-day heat as possible, the two of us set off.
The first two miles down to the beach weren’t bad at all. It’s about a mile downhill and a mile uphill, but we had stunning views like this to revitalize us when we needed energizing:
Before we knew it, we had reached Hanakapiʻai Beach, where an entertainingly blunt sign warned us of the dangers of swimming in the inviting waters.
We needed a break, so with swimming in the ocean out, we entertained ourselves by speculating over the rock and sand sculptures and playing with the mysterious hiking kittens (how did they get there?).
Feeling revitalized, we started inland and upstream towards the waterfall. This was a nice change of scenery as our surroundings went from coastal beachfront to tropical rainforest.
This was a less well-marked trail, and we did get a bit turned around at times. Luckily, we could always get a general direction by following the stream — and if all hope was lost, we had a lot of clementines.
But despite our sub-par navigational skills, we soon reached the falls. They really were an inspiring sight, though I was surprised to find the shores were almost as busy as nearby Hanalei Bay when the surf is up. Who are all these people, willing to spend an entire day in Hawaii hiking through rugged terrain?! Well, us, I guess.
Alex showed off with daredevil somersaults while I, the more reserved Alex of this pair, could barely get past waist-level in the freezing water.
We picked up the pace on the return trip, though we didn’t get any less lost — although not quite this lost! For some reason we had a hard time following the trail, but we always picked it back up again. Still, it was a bit mentally taxing and I was glad when we hit the beach and were back on the coastal trail.
Those final two miles were the only part where I had that “HOLY WHY AM I DOING THIS” sensation that has defined so many of my pre-Hawaii hiking adventures — I guess it pays to get in shape! Though signs at the trailhead had warned us to leave much more time, we completed the full 8 miles in less than five hours, including leisurely stops.
I’m so happy that I was able to have this experience in Hawaii. And you know what? As soon as it was over I turned to Alex and said, “Next time, I’m doing the full twenty-two.” I’ll be back to get you, Kalalau Trail!
Have you hiked any part of the Kalalau Trail? Have you ever seen a hiking route as stunning as this?
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