Backpacking the Na Pali Coast


Hiking the Na Pali Coast was one of the most unique and exciting backpacking trips I have ever taken! A rugged range of cliffs along the Northwestern coast of Kauai, the Na Pali Coast offers a dramatic trail for eager backpackers from all over the world. It was the first time I’d backpacked in a tropical climate and camped out on a beach for multiple nights. The amount of beauty this landscape holds is immeasurable, but it’s a challenging backpacking route and I learned a lot! Here is a rundown of my trip, and any tips I think might be important for someone planning to backpack the Na Pali Coast.

Along the Na Pali coast runs the famous Kalalau trail. This is the only way to access the bewildering Na Pali landscape besides taking a boat or helicopter. The grueling 11 mile trail traverses up and down through 5 valleys before descending into the Kalalau Valley & Beach. The day before we planned to hike in, I met up with a group of 7 friends at the Lihue airport and piled into a rental van to make the hour drive to Hanalei (Picture 7 people, 7 backpacks, arms and legs flailing everywhere). Along the way we stopped for our last non-camping meal in Kapaa. Just as it was getting dark, we pulled into Haena Beach Park. This is a great place to camp before and after the trip. It’s only a mile or two from the trailhead, costs a few bucks per tent, and is a fun place to surf and swim. DO NOT camp near the lunch tables. Locals will throw things at your tent. Also do not camp too close to the beach. The tide comes up very high and we witnessed the morning wreckage after a rogue wave doused a man and all his gear the night before he planned to start hiking.

Packing for this trip was fairly easy since you don’t need to pack any warm layers! It is important to keep in mind that it is very hot, humid, and rains frequently. Here is a general list of what I packed:

  • 1 trusty old Kelty backpack that I didn’t mind getting covered in mud.
  • 1 tent with a VERY good rain fly. (fruit from the trees might stain your tent FYI).
  • 1 pair trusty old backpacking boots that I (again) didn’t mind getting covered in mud.
  • 1 sleeping bag and small inflatable pad.
  • Water Bottle, Packable Canteen, and Water Filter.
  • Camp Stove, Fuel, and Kitchen Kit.
  • Headlamp.
  • Scooper and Toilet Paper.
  • First Aid Kit.
  • Mosquito Head Net (never used it).
  • Deck of Cards.
  • Dry Sack for clothing.
  • Compact umbrella (if it pours rain and you want to be comfortable outside your tent).
  • Backpacker’s Pantry Meals and other food (enough for however long you’re staying).
  • Zip lock bags for packing out your trash.
  • Sunscreen & bug repellent.
  • Clothing: 1 cotton tank, 1 quick-dry tank, 2 sports bras, 1 bikini, one pair running shorts, one pair spandex shorts, 1 lightweight shell for staying dry, plenty of undies & socks for staying dry, 1 breathable cap, sunglasses with leash.

The trailhead starts at Ke’e Beach, about a mile down the road from Haena Beach Park. Be sure to have your permit out and ready for the ranger to check at the entrance of the trail. The first two miles are a popular day hike to Hanakapai’ai beach, with a quick side hike to a very beautiful waterfall (if you have time). Four miles after that, (6 miles total), you reach Hanakoa Valley. At this point you are pretty darn tired and wet. Many people split up the hike and camp here. Since we started the hike a bit late and had a whole week to explore, we decided to spend the night there. There is a stream to filter water and some plateaus around a covered lunch table for tent space. In hindsight, this was not a particularly enjoyable place to camp. It was in a wet forest valley, very mosquito-y, and fruit from the trees pummeled our tents all night long. If you’ve started early enough and you’re in great physical strength, just take a long lunch break there and keep hiking to Kalalau Valley. It will definitely be a push with your heavy backpack, but the destination is much more pleasant.


Pictured above: Billabong snapback hat, Oakley Women Forehand Sunglasses, Oakley Women tank, Nike spandex shorts.


Pictured above: Oakley Women Forehand sunglasses, Oakley Women Seamless Sports Bra, Oakley Women tank top, Lululemon shorts.


At mile 10 you reach the majestic entrance to the Kalalau Valley…and you’re STOKED! It’s literally all down-hill from there. You walk down a big hill of beautiful red earth and descend onto a grassy plane. We chose to make our lunch there and nap in the grass before hiking down to the Kalalau beach. This was where we witnessed our first small group of nudists who live off the land in Kalalau Valley.


We hiked down into the valley and around to the base of the “Heiau,” the ancient grounds of a sacred temple. The Heiau is a breathtaking hill of layered grassy plateaus, all surrounded by the ruins of the lava rock walls that once were the temple. Various campers walk over hear to meditate, pray, and do yoga. We hiked up to the top with our backpacks on and were quickly surrounded by more of the hippie-like colonists who scurried up from a ravine and sat on the rocks on each edge of the look-out- each in very god-like poses acting as if they were protecting their land. After all sitting up there for a nice rest with beautiful views but very awkward feelings in the air, I walked up to one of the lady colonists and asked some very friendly questions. We were all there for the same reason, after all. I think the hippies were slightly embarrassed to learn that we were actually a group of very kind people who also hold a high respect for the land and it’s history…and no, we were not planning to pitch our tents on the top of an ancient sacred temple. After everyone finally acknowledged each other and said their hellos, we put back on our packs and walked down to the beach to find our spot for the next several nights.

napalilunchnapalihiketobeachnapalihippesnapalibeachnapalicaveThere are plenty of amazing campsites to pick from, but you will be surprised by how crowded it actually is. All of the sites are up on a dirt hill, immediately above the sandy beach. Some are up in the trees, some are exposed and enclosed with little rock circles. The waterfall where most people filter their water is at the VERY end of the trail, so we decided to camp near there for convenience. All the campers were so friendly and giving. People do come from all over the world, but we were amused when we learned that most everyone there had come from California! The next few days were filled with lots of card games, campfires, tree-climbing for oranges, and explorations along the beach. Lots of people who come here don’t even discover the GIANT cave that’s just past Kalalau beach in the next little cove! I quickly understood why it would be such an easy place to stay and become an illegal hippie. But alas, after 3 days at the beach we decided to make the hike out in a day and re-enter civilization. We all rented a house in Hanalei for our last few days to “ball out”, eat wonderful seafood, and enjoy comfy beds. I recommend that everyone do this. It was so fun and made for a much more well-rested and clean flight home :)

Hope you enjoyed reading my story and suggestions for your trip to the Na Pali Coast! Bon Voyage,


p.s. the all-around winning Backpacker’s Pantry flavor of the trip was the Pad Thai!



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