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Explore the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii

Corie Russell is a Midwest-born writer living in New York City. After dabbling in the office life as an editor, she joined the ranks of full-time freelancers and writes about everything from home decor to the recession.

adventure travel in Hawaii

The Kalalau Trail certainly isn't for the fainthearted. This 11-mile (one way) trail along the Na Pali coast of Kauai, Hawaii offers magical views of beaches, towering cliffs and lush valleys but can be just plain dangerous without preparation and precaution. The steep cliffs, slippery trails and unpredictable currents make it a destination only suitable for the true adventure traveler.

Kalalau Trail

"If your mother-in-law complains that she has to walk 'all the way across the parking lot to get to the mall,' it might be better to leave her back at the hotel," says Dave Burckhard of San Jose, who has hiked the trail. Travelers and area experts offer their advice on embarking on this treacherous but rewarding journey:

What to see

The first two-mile section of the trail goes from Ke'e Beach to Hanakapi'ai. Within the first half-mile, visitors will see amazing views of the coast, according to the Kalalau Trail Web site. An unmaintained two-mile trail into Hanakapi'ai Valley leads to a waterfall.

"[The hike] really is worth it, even though it's a lot of hard work," says Angie Orth, whose favorite part of the trail was the waterfalls.

The next four-mile stretch goes from Hanakapi'ai to Hanakoa, where more difficult hiking begins as the trail climbs 800 feet out of Hanakapi'ai Valley, according to the site. The trail crosses the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve in the small valleys of Ho'olulu and Waiahuakua before entering Hanakoa Valley.

The final five-mile stretch is from Hanakoa to Kalalau Beach, where portions of the trail become extremely narrow and the drop-off to the ocean is steep. The trail crosses Kalalau Stream near the valley mouth before ending at Kalalau Beach and a waterfall.

"Of course my favorite part of the hike is toward the end ... you see the beach, and the magnificent cliffs. It's truly amazing," says Dan Nainan, who has hiked the Kalalau three times and visited Kauai more than 10 times. Camping in Kalalau is allowed only behind this beach, according to the site.

What to bring

Burckhard recommends wearing sturdy hiking boots, as the trail can be slippery and uneven. It's also wise to bring a brimmed hat and plenty of sunscreen to protect yourself from the rays, as well as lots of water and food to prevent dehydration and delirium.

"We met a doctor who had been left behind by his hiking partner and was walking back completely dehydrated and delirious, carrying only his Michael Crichton novel and white Calvin Klein underpants," recalls Sandra Marquardt, who honeymooned there 14 years ago. "We stopped him and made him drink water and eat a sandwich and sit in the shade at the next stop out."

Burckhard also suggests bringing rain gear in case of showers. Trekking poles will help your balance, as the trail can be slippery from the rain.

Monika Mira, an 18-year Kauai resident who has done the trail numerous times and has worked in the streams in Hanakapi'ai as a biological stream surveyor for the Department of Health, suggests additional items to bring: A mess kit, bug repellent, vinegar stick for stings, a first-aid kit, a lighter, and toilet paper or wipes, which need to be taken out with you or burned. 

Most importantly, you should be in great shape and exercise in advance for this vacation.

Be aware

"You cross several rivulets along the trail that can practically turn into rivers when it rains," says Kendra Kroll, who has also hiked the trail. "People can get trapped up there, and the last time I was there they had to bring hikers out of there with rescue baskets and ambulances."

Visitors should also be aware that the surf at the beaches is extremely dangerous and many people have drowned, Mira says. 

In addition to your own safety, be mindful of the lives of creatures along the trail. It is important to be careful in the streams, as things like sunscreen, bug repellent and soap may hurt animals, Mira says. That's why it's important to bring along environmentally friendly items.

Regardless of the trail's dangers and difficulty, hikers seem to share a positive sentiment: "The views from the trail are amazingly beautiful and the trail is very worth taking," Kroll says.

Photo credit - KalalauTrail.com

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