If you plan to explore the Na Pali Coast by foot, advance preparations are necessary, unless you are planning to go no further than Hanakapiai Beach. The trails begins at the end of the road at Kee Beach and is one of the most popular short hikes on Kauai’s North Shore (it’s only 2 miles long). Once you have reached the Hanakapiai Beach, it’s another 2 miles inland on a round-trip hike to Hanakapiai Falls. It is a beautiful journey, but can be challenging during rainy periods. The hike to the falls is for experienced hikers only.
The initial hike from Kee to Hanakapiai is about 2 miles each way, easily navigated by most ages. We recommend allotting two to four hours for the entire hike. The trail, which is part of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, ascends quickly to an elevation that affords wonderful views of the coastline, another reason for the hike’s popularity with residents and visitors alike. Even though the hike is relatively short, it is still a good idea to wear hiking boots or sturdy walking shoes. It’s also prudent to bring along some water and snack bars. Experienced hikers recommend at least one liter of liquid per person. Truly akamai (smart) hikers bring along picnic fixings or at least sandwiches that can be enjoyed on the rocks above the beach. Seasoned hikers also bring along a hiking pole, which helps with the ascent and descent at both ends of the trail.
Just before the trail descends to the beach, you’ll see numerous memorial markers, reminding everyone that the ocean along Kauai’s North Shore is a force to be reckoned with. Lives continue to be lost in the ocean despite the warnings. Even when the water appears calm the rip currents and deceptive undertows are notorious. It is for this reason that we recommend waiting till you return to Kee Beach to take a swim. The ocean at Kee is protected by shallow reefs and sandy pools, whereas the waters at Hanakapiai Beach drop off drastically, and waves can sweep beachgoers off their feet. There are no lifeguards on duty, so take the opportunity to throw your feet up, have some liquid refreshment and a snack and enoy the fantastic view. Save your swim for the end of the hike.
A stream fed by the waters of Hanakapiai Falls flows out to sea at the beach. Some hikers recommend bringing along reef walkers to cross the stream, which is lined with often slippery lava rocks. Better yet, this is a good spot to terminate your hike unless you have secured advance permits to camp at Kalalau Beach, located much farther down the coastline.
If you plan to hike the full 11 miles to the end of the trail at Kalalau Beach, you must contact the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park at www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/kauai/napali for details on permits to hike beyond Hanakapiai and to camp overnight.
Photos by MN Studio, Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock; Brett Uprichard