Napali Coast State Wilderness Park
Brave Hawaii’s Deadly Jungle Trail
The Kalalau Trail, in Kauai’s Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, snakes through jungle, past volcanic cliffs, and down to isolated beaches. Long before Instagram, I knew of the 11-mile footpath, one of Hawaii’s most dangerous hikes, from backpacker lore. During a vacation when I was 19, I got into a fight with my parents over whether I could drive the rental car. Fed up, I decided to hike Kalalau alone—my first time on the trail. For an hour, the path weaved through jungle, then everything opened up: Green cliffs fell into rolling ocean. Crashing waterfalls threw mist skyward.
I hiked through a steep valley, then braved the one-slip-you’re-dead Crawler’s Ledge. When I finally reached Kalalau Beach, I spread a tarp in a sea cave. At sunset, in the salt spray and char of my fire, I found my center again. Whatever troubles I’d hiked in with suddenly felt tiny in this big wilderness. In the morning, I hiked to the trailhead and called my folks from a pay phone, happy to have had time alone but grateful to see them again soon, no matter whether they’d let me drive the rental or not. —M.R.S.
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