The Hike to Hanakapiai: An Intro to Kauai’s Napali Coast

A Perfect Intro to the Na Pali Coast

Hanakapiai-hike-kauai4The famed Na Pali coast of Kauai is a region unlike anywhere in the world. Massive peaks protrude out of the sea creating a razor-edged horizon that can sometimes look like another world. There is everything you’d expect in a tropical island getaway (despite the fact that, technically, Kauai is jusst outside the tropics). I’m talking about waterfalls, jungles, beautiful birds, flowers, and wild fruit.

The epic hike on this coastline is the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. The reward at the end is one of those situations where the destination is better than the journey.  The hike in is long and grueling, with constant elevation change throughout.  But the end result is something you will never forget.

But many people simply do not have the time or physical ability to hike the entire Kalalau trail during their visit to Kauai. The hike is one day each way, not to mention you need to haul camping gear and food with you.  If you want a simple day hike, you can do the first leg of the trail and see Hanakapiai beach and falls.

It takes two miles to hike to Hanakapiai beach, and another two miles up the valley to the falls.  You can estimate to go roughly 2 miles per hour in good shape.  This might not seem very fast, but when you factor in the elevation it’s actually a pretty reasonable pace. Factor in more time if you are the type of person who likes to take photos, as there are more than enough places to take some epic photos.

The view of Ke’e Beach right at the beginning of your hike, setting the tone for what is to come.


Looking southward toward Kalalau. The small island of Lehua is visible in the distance.

Getting There

Hiking the trail with Makana behind
Hiking the trail with Makana behind

The trail starts at Ke’e beach, which is at the far end of the road on the North Shore of Kauai about 10 miles past Hanalei.  Depending on how busy it is that day, you might need to park a ways back from the beach. Once you find a parking spot, the trailhead is pretty easy to find on the left hand side of the road near the lifeguard station.  From there you can follow the trail all the way to the beach.  There aren’t any real deviations on the route so as long as you stick to the trail it’s pretty difficult to get lost.

You’ll wind past Makana Mountain, an important historical site for the Kauai people who would hold the Fire Throwing Ceremony there.  It’s one of the most unique mountains that you’ll see as it’s been shaped by millions of years in both directions where it sits at the corner.

The trail continues on through different valleys until the final descent toward Hanakapiai beach. One thing to keep in mind when you reach the beach is to stay out of the ocean. There are many vicious rip currents here that have claimed the lives of more than a few people.


The ominous warning sign that too many people did not listen to.

Once you reach the beach, you can take a breather and relax for a bit.  Here you have the choice to continue on up to Hanakapiai falls, or head back to Ke’e beach for a nice 4 mile round trip journey.

Switchbacks are a common sight on this trail.
Switchbacks are a common sight on this trail.

Stay tuned for info on the falls!

The view up Hanakapiai Valley toward the falls. A great rest point as it serves as the halfway junction to either turn around or head 2 miles up toward the falls.