Hiking (part of) the Na Pali Coast

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 21-27, 1998
Family vacationing at Acadia's Echo Lake Camp
To tour or not to tour in Alaska
Hiking (part of) the Na Pali Coast
Selecting a walking vacation that's right for you

Hiking (part of) the Na Pali Coast
Question: I'm going to Kauai with some friends. We want to do a small bit of the Na Pali track and would like some details. What's the scoop on just a mile or two in and out? We heard there's a small beach you can reach at the beginning that's not too far or strenuous a walk. Thanks for you help.

Karen Burlet
New Orleans, Louisiana

A thin, windy trail on the Na Pali
Coast overlooks the ocean

Adventure Adviser: If you don't want to hike the full 11-mile trek, you can join the throngs of day-trippers and do the stunning first portion of Na Pali's renowned Kalalau trail. I'd suggest starting at Kee Beach in the north and hiking to Hanakapiai Valley, with a side-trip option to Hanakoa Falls. Although hiking permits are required for the full Kalalau trail, they are not necessary for this first portion.

From Kee Beach, it's a short 2-mile jaunt to Hanakapiai Valley. The trail weaves through kukui and ohia trees, and dips in and out of clearings where you can catch site of the much-revered Na Pali Coast. Even on this short segment, you'll see lots of orchids, wildflowers and waterfalls. After about a half-mile, you're greeted with a perfect view of Kee Beach and the surrounding reef; soon after, the stellar vistas of the full coastline come into site.

At Hanakapiai, there's a nice sandy beach with a fern grotto on the western side. Though it looks enticing, the ocean here is extremely rough, with rip-roaring tides and trade-wind currents. This little beach is Kauai's number-two drowning spot, so don't join the ranks of people who get swept away each year.

If you want to indulge in some safe swimming, and hike a bit further, follow the side trail inland toward Hanakoa Falls. Although the 2-mile trail is a bit rough in spots, prone to floods in wet weather, and crosses several streams, you're well rewarded. En route, you'll pass guava and mango trees, bamboo and eucalyptus, before reaching the cool falls, and the gentle wide pool ideal for swimming.

Total round-trip mileage for this excursion is 8 miles, 4 if you skip the falls. Excluding stops, the longer route will probably take four to five hours. I'd suggest setting out in the morning, so you'll have the sun at your backs both ways, and plan to enjoy lunch on the beach or at the falls. Once you get to Kauai, stop in at the state parks office in Lihue and pick up a Kalalau Trail brochure. And before you set out, call 808-241-3446 for up-to-date trail conditions. One last thing — if you want to see more of this rugged coastline without hiking, you can always go by boat. Call Na Pali Zodiac at 808-826-9371 for details.

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