Without exaggeration, Kauai’s Na Pali coast is one of the most scenic coastlines in the world. The deep blue of the Pacific Ocean gives way to enormous jagged mountains protruding thousands of feet above, far beyond what the eye can see. From Ke’e to Polihale beach the terrain gives one a glimpse into millions of years into the past.
One of the coastline’s greatest assets is what it lacks: roads. People visiting the Na Pali coast can only arrive by foot or a private boat – and boat access is limited to a few months in the summer. There is no “easy way” into Kalalau.
The 11 mile trail from Ke’e beach to Polihale is rugged, steep, and exhausting. Many travel books rate the trek as the most difficult trail in all of the Hawaiian islands. The trail rises and falls hundreds of feet on a consistent basis. At several points you are upwards of 800 feet above the ocean with nothing holding you back if you fall. The weather can also play a factor, with heavy rains coming out of nowhere to make the trail even more hazardous. With no cellular service, you also must be self-reliant should an accident occur. But mostly anyone will tell you that all the risks are worth the journey.
Beginning on Ke’e beach at the end of Kuhio highway, the trail climbs steadily for the first quarter mile. The first mountain you traverse is Makana, an important location in the ancient Hawaiian culture as a site of the fire-throwing ceremony – a celebratory display where giant flaming logs were hurled off the high cliff to the ocean below.
One of the great aspects of the Kalalau trail is that you can never see too far into the distance.
Each mountain along the coastline creates horseshoe-shaped valleys, and so one’s view is limited by the next ridge line. This allows one to become immersed in their surroundings by not being able to look too far ahead. It can also be a source of frustration if you hold onto expectations of how far you have yet to go. But as soon as you let go of that need to know, your immediate surroundings are all you need to know that you are on the right path. Lush trees, bamboo, wildflowers, and waterfalls envelop the landscape every step of the way. The slower you go, the more you take in. For those that do choose to take their time there are several campsites along the way, so please do not feel like you have to get to the destination quickly. Kalalau Valley will be there waiting when you arrive.
The trail itself is only one aspect of the difficulty. The journey is full of varying weather, mosquitos, and relentless heat. Beaches along the way can be deadly at certain times of the year. But on the other hand, the trail is also full of abundant fruit, the unforgettable smell of the rainforest, and the iconic Hawaiian rainbow. At the end of the 11 mile journey is the ultimate reward: The Kalalau valley, a place of supreme beauty and wonder that is full of adventure all in itself.