The Na Pali Coast is a landmark that really puts Kauai on the map. This 16 mile stretch of coastline is the only stretch on the island that is not traversable by car, preserving the area for hikers, beachers, and snorkelers. Many people choose to admire the cliffs from afar and, as a Poipu Beach Seal, I can tell you the view is well worth the trek…or swim…depending on what kind of mammal you happen to be. Additionally, there are many who choose to enjoy the cliffs by exploring them on the mainland. Hiking the Na Pali coast is an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience that the whole family can enjoy. With a few tips, you’ll be well on your way to realizing what makes Kauai a favorite destination for travelers.
For families with younger children, I would recommend taking the shorter, 4-mile (round trip) hike from the Kalalau trailhead to Hanakapi’ai Beach. The hike is best taken during summer months when the weather is drier (thereby avoiding muddy conditions or high water) and the beach is visible. Hanakapi’ai Beach is secluded without many visitors. However, this is not a swimming beach. The waves are large and unpredictable, so don’t plan on swimming with the family (or at all). Instead, admire the ocean from the safety of the beach or trail – trust me, the waves are more enjoyable from afar! Check out this family’s experience for more tips.
If camping peaks your interest, be sure to obtain a camping permit far in advance ($20/person for non-residents; $15/person for residents). Details can be found here. This page will also keep you updated on closures and other special conditions, so be sure to check frequently.
For families with older children or groups of adults, you may want to consider hiking past Hanakapi’ai Beach and onto Hanakapi’ai waterfall (another 2 miles, making the hike an 8 mile round trip). While visitors claim this jaunt to be the highlight of the hike, remember that the trail can be slippery and rocky and presents stream crossings that can be dangerous during wet months, so plan accordingly.
All in all, hiking is a wonderful way to enjoy the Na Pali coast – you will not find a more stunning hike on the island of Kauai, or maybe even in the entire state of Hawaii. Between the lush greenery and plunging cliffs, you will rarely see topography of such diversity and beauty. As long as you check the weather and plan accordingly (dress included – remember to bring shoes that can get muddy!), the hike can be enjoyable for the entire family.
Directions: Trailhead for Kalalau Trail at end of Kuhio Highway (Hwy. 56) in Ha’ena State Park; Kalalau and Miloli‘i Valleys also accessible by kayak from May 15 through September 7. Nu‘alolo Kai accessible for day use by commercial boat tours or by private boats.