The Na Pali Coast is a holy area distinguished by the outstanding natural beauty that stretches for 17 kilometers along Kauai’s North Shore. These jagged, emerald cliffs rise dramatically out of the Pacific and expose stunning beaches and cascading waterfalls below.
The steep and narrow valleys seem much the same as they did look like hundreds of years ago when thriving Hawaiian communities lived off the land and the sea.
Located on the northwest side of Kauai, Na Pali Coast spans a total of fifteen miles from Ke’e Beach in Haena State Park to Polihale State Park in Mana.
When you see the sea caves, lush green valleys, and flowing waterfalls that trek to the beaches from thousands of feet above, you won’t be able to help but gasp in awe at this rocky coast. The pali (high cliffs) rise as high as 4,000 feet (1,200 m) above the Pacific Ocean.
The Na Pali Coast may be reached in a number of ways, but the finest and safest ones are from the water or the air. Tour boats leave from Port Allen on the West Side, and in the summer, you can get up and close to the towering cathedral cliffs on a guided kayaking adventure. When the weather is pleasing, raft cruises can take you to secluded beaches and sea caves.
The Kalalau Trail leads hikers to the Na Pali Coast State Park. The trailhead is located at Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, at Ke’e Beach. The first two miles, from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Valley, are the most traveled on the path.
Hanakapiai Falls, located two miles farther inland, can satisfy your demand for excitement. The final nine miles of the Kalalau Trail are reserved for experienced hikers who have acquired the necessary permits and camping equipment.
Since the island’s beginning, some 4–5 million years ago, the Na Pali Coast has been at odds with mother nature. The volcanic mountain range has been eroded to the point where only its jagged peaks remain, shooting directly up to heights of 4,000 feet above sea level and being so near to the coast that the summits appear to be lookouts over the ocean.
As the saying goes, the more wrinkles a Hawaiian mountain range has, the older it is. Kauai residents may attest to this fact since water has shaped Mt. Waialeale into a series of enormous valleys, little coves and caves, and high slopes. This mountain range is extremely worn since it is one of the moistest areas on Earth; the north coast of Kauai receives the lion’s share of rain and storms from the northeast.
History of Na Pali
Na Pali’s coastal cliffs and hanging valleys are the result of millions of years of erosion. Large winter surf repeatedly hits the Na Pali Coast, enlarging sea caves, triggering landslides, and washing away the cliffs.
The valleys are continuously shaped by the constant trade winds and the freshwater erosion from running streams. The beautiful environment we see today is the result of a combination of these natural processes.
Almost all of the Na Pali Coast valleys have been inhabited by Hawaiians for hundreds of years. To make ends meet, people in these groups farmed, fished, and traded with one another. Families in Hawai’i became dispersed after the arrival of Europeans and Westerners. Around 1930, all of the Na Pali Coast’s valleys had been abandoned.
Kalalau Valley was featured in an early 1960s National Geographic story that referred to it as “the Garden of Eden.” This resulted in a flood of interested “hippies” looking to establish their own isolated community, which prompted the implementation of the permission system.
The authorities finally decided to dissolve the hippie community and institute regulations for outdoor activities throughout the whole Na Pali Coast after several years had passed.
Hikers from all over the world continue to make the journey to Kalalau Valley, although they are now limited to a maximum stay of five nights. Starting from Ke’e Beach, the route to the valley (also known as “The Kalalau Trail”) then passes through five valleys until arriving at its namesake on the other side of the island.
The Kalalau trek is one of America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes, and while it is a wonderful way to explore the “accessible” section of the Na Pali Coast, it is not for the faint of heart.
Boat tours are the most popular way to see the coastline between Kalalau Beach and Polihale State Park because visitors can’t get to any of the valleys, beaches, caves, or waterfalls on foot.
Three different ways to explore the Na Pali Coast
Numerous organizations provide boat excursions of the Na Pali Coast, departing from either Port Allen in the south or Hanalei Bay in the north. These tours can be as easy as a boat cruise and snorkeling or as complex as a zodiac expedition. Kayak cruises are offered between April and October when the water is more tranquil.
More of the shore may be seen from a boat than on foot, and activities like snorkeling can be incorporated into your voyage. The warm summer months are ideal for boat cruises. There are still trips available during the winter, but bad weather is more likely to prevent or delay your trip.
Every day, tourists may take a helicopter ride over Kauai’s Na Pali Coast and other natural attractions, including Waimea Canyon. Lihue Airport, Princeville Airport, and Port Allen Airport are all departure points for air tours. These excursions may be rather pricy, costing as much as $300 per person for a one-hour flight. Find the greatest price, but only fly with a trusted airline like Blue Hawaiian, Maui Loa, or Sunshine.
When traveling along the shore by foot or boat, you can truly appreciate its majestic beauty. From above, though, you can see the shoreline as a whole and gain a better sense of its overall features. The aerial view of the shore is a photographer’s dream.
Starting from Ke’e Beach, the Kalalau Trail continues down the Na Pali Coast for 11 kilometers. Backcountry camping is popular at Kalalau Beach among hikers who have earned the right to do so with a permit.
Camping on the beach in Kalalau Valley, beneath the steep, craggy peaks, is as nice as it gets, but getting a permit is extremely difficult. However, if you are successful, you will be rewarded with spectacular vistas as you wind your way up and down the coast.
Hanakp’ai Beach and Falls can be found about two kilometers into the Kalalua Trail. Hikers looking to spend the day exploring the Na Pali Coast and a waterfall often choose this trail, which requires a permit. This section of the trail is a must-do, in our opinion.
The two miles to Hanakpa’ai are doable for most reasonably fit persons, despite the trail’s ups and downs and slick sections (going farther on the Kalalau Trail is suggested for expert hikers).
Bring some food, drink, and a camera. Please do not go in the water at Hanakp’ai Beach as it is exceedingly harmful to swimming. Keep your distance from cliff edges and trek in pairs at all times.
Things to know before visiting Na Pali Coast State Park
From Polihale State Park in the southwest to Ke’e Beach in the north, the Na Pali Coast State Park covers the whole island. You may only enter the park on foot through the Ke’e Beach entry. However, boat trips leave from two other spots (detailed further below).
What sets the Na Pali Coast apart from other beautiful stretches of shoreline is the fact that no roads lead into or out of it. The seashore has been left to be in its natural, wild form without the disruption caused by automobiles, roads, and development.
As part of an initiative to ease congestion and better the lives of island inhabitants, new parking and driving limits have been implemented on Kauai’s northern coast. Reservations are now necessary for entry and parking at most beach parks. From Princeville/Hanalei, you can now take the new park-and-ride shuttle to Ke’e Beach. To ease traffic, we recommend that guests take the shuttle.