Kauai is famous for its Na Pali Coast, which encompasses nearly 18 miles of raw, untouched beauty. Though the Kalalau Trail is the path that leads hikers west along the coast, there are other places to visit that are far off that beaten path. Hanakapi'ai Beach is the most easily accessible out of all the Na Pali beaches, and is the first stop along the Kalalau Trail. But that doesn't mean it's actually easy: it's all relative with this trail.
For those looking to explore the Na Pali Coast but not get too deep into the boonies, this beach is an ideal adventure. It's home to a freshwater stream, and it's a favorite campsite for hikers who make the trek out there. It's about two miles and a 1.5- to 2-hour hike from Ke'e Beach (a top snorkeling beach) to Hanakapi'ai Beach. The first mile goes uphill to about 800 feet, with the last mile going down and ending at the beach.
Depending on the season, you may get lucky and see some brave and slightly crazy surfers out here. During low tide only and during the summer, caves on the beach are good for camping. But on the far side of the stream up from the beach is the best place.
Hanakapi'ai Beach at a rocky time — Photo courtesy of Grant Montgomery
If you make it to the beach and would like to explore a bit further, a waterfall that shares a name with the beach is an amazing adventure. From the west side of the stream at Hanakapi'ai Beach, the Hanakapi'ai Trail starts, leading two miles inland up to the valley to the beautiful Hanakapi'ai Falls. Along this trail, you'll pass old taro fields and crumbling rock walls.
You will cross the stream several times on the way up, so if the stream looks full and rushing, just turn around and head back. It can be dangerous during high water. If the stream is low, then keep going. This is a vital rule to follow; hikers have been swept away and never found during stream flooding that occurs during and after storms.
The hike to the 300-foot falls is rewarding and worth it, resulting in peaceful seclusion in the jungle. There is a wonderful ice-cold, swimmable pool at the the bottom, but don't swim directly under the falls. From Hanakapi'ai Camp near the beach, the hike should take around two to three hours, and it's about five to six hours from Ke'e Beach.
The stunning Hanakapi'ai Falls — Photo courtesy of Paul Bica
It's extremely important to pack and plan according to weather and trail conditions, and to be prepared. Water is absolutely necessary, as there isn't any drinkable fresh water beyond Ke'e Beach. Serious hikers and campers sometimes bring iodine tablets to cleanse waters. However, water bladders (rather than bottles) are popular, as they alleviate weight by replacing glass or thick plastic with light plastic bags. Hearty food and snacks are also important, as there's nowhere to get food once you're on the trail.
Begin hiking by 9 a.m. and always check the weather and surf before tackling this adventure.