Hikers on the Na Pali Coast Trail

Campsites With a View: Kalalau Beach

Photo: Noah Couser

Earn the seclusion of your own private Hawaiian beach campsite with an 11-mile hike into Kauai’s rugged and iconic Na Pali coast.

Camping on a secluded beach in Hawaii with rugged, moss-covered cliffs, a waterfall, and the clear blue Pacific Ocean: Can it get any better? Probably not. But accessing the amazing Kalalau campsite on the island of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast takes a lot of effort. You’ll have to secure a permit and backpack along the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to reach your destination. But once you’re there, you’ll be able to kick off your shoes to enjoy the white sandy beach, where you and a maximum of 59 other people (there’s a 60-person permit limit, per night) can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime camping opportunity under magical starry skies.


On the north shore of the island of Kauai, the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail, where you’ll start your arduous hike in, sits at the end of the road—literally. Kuhio Highway (state Route 56) travels through the town of Hanalei and ends in the Ha’ena State Park parking lot and Ke’e Beach, where parking and backpacking permits apply (see Details below). The trail is graded, starting and ending at sea level but rarely level as it traverses five valleys to the cliff-bound beach with a one-way elevation gain/loss of 5,000 feet (budget a full day of hiking accordingly, with appropriate hiking shoes or boots for steep/muddy terrain, rain gear, and trekking poles recommended).

Best Campsites

You seriously can’t go wrong with any of the designated camping areas here. Choose white sand, or grassy terraced sites, both with views of the blue Pacific and dramatic fluted cliffs. You may also get a grand view of the Ho’ole’a Falls on the west end of the beach.

When To Go

Your best bet is between May and September. The lush, tropical hike in will be hot and humid, but the trade winds should give you a nice breeze, as will the occasional rainstorm (which often produce rainbows). The longer days between March and October will allow plenty of daylight to both reach your destination, and enjoy the view for more hours.

From October to April, you’re more likely to have steady rain showers and storms that can create flash flooding and dangerously high surf. Flooding can make the stream at Hanikapi’ai unpassable, foiling your plans to reach your blissful camping spot.  

Camping in Kalalau Beach, Kauai Photo: RaiPhoto/Shutterstock


The adorable town of Hanalei is 7.3 miles from the Kalalau Trailhead, and you have to pass through it to get to the trail. There’s a Big Save market on Kuhio Highway (HI-56), and a Foodland just up the hill in Princeville (before Hanalei).

For more options to stock up, the larger town of Lihue, where you’ll land if flying in, is 38.8 miles away. (The drive can take 90 minutes or more due to one-lane highways and traffic.) There’s a Costco, Target, and Safeway in Lihue, among other stores.

Nearby Activities

Waterfall hiking

On either end of the backpacking trip, consider the side-hike to the magical Hanakapi’ai Falls. Two miles into the Kalalau Trail, you’ll head inland for another 2 miles, cross the stream a few times, and end up at the spectacular, 300-foot waterfall cascading into a picturesque pool from the top of the cliff. Hiking to the falls will add a rugged, slow-going 4 miles to your hike into Kalalau Beach—not a recommended detour to add if you’re en route, backpacking to or from the campsite. (Otherwise, it’s an 8-mile out-and-back from the trailhead; no permit necessary.)

On the way to Kalalau Beach, and especially if you’re camping for a night at Hanakoa on the way there, hike the half-mile trail inland to Hanakoa Falls. The trail is rugged and not well-marked, but the sight of the tiered waterfalls pouring out of fluted cliffs is magnificent.

Explore the Kalalau Valley

While camping at Kalalau Beach, spend some time exploring the Kalalau Valley and its archaeological ruins. From the beach, backtrack on the Kalalau Trail for a half-mile before heading inland on the Kalalau Valley Trail. Rock terraces marking abandoned taro fields dating back thousands of years when inhabitants made their home in the valley.

Surf Hanalei Bay

You’re in Hawaii, after all, so hit the water and surf. Hanalei Bay is a sandy-bottom beach, which means you don’t have to worry about cutting your feet on coral when you fall off your board. The 2-mile stretch of beach offers easy waves in the summer but picks up to sometimes monstrous swell in the winter. Surf schools abound in Hanalei.


You can’t hike past Hanakai’ai, or camp at Kalalau Beach, without securing a permit. Once you reserve your spot and secure your hiking/camping permit, you’ll also need to  secure a parking spot at the trailhead by visiting GoHeana.com. More info: dlnr.hawaii.gov 

At the beach, you’ll be one of 60 people maximum, with no cell coverage. There’s also no potable water at the beach, so be prepared to boil or filter from streams. No fires are allowed, so you’ll need a camp stove to cook food and boil water. And you’ll be packing out all trash. More info: camping.ehawaii.gov 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.