Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park: The Complete Guide

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TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

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Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park

Address
Kapaʻa, HI 96746, USA
Phone +1 808-274-3444

The majestic cliffs of the Nāpali Coast on the island of Kauai tower 4,000 feet above the sea. Early Polynesian settlers spent time in the lush jungle valleys between the lofty spires (what is now considered the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park) growing abundant crops made so by the area's frequent rains. It’s clear to see how this awe-inspiring landscape gets its name—the word pali, directly translated in the native Hawaiian language, means "cliff."

In addition to the towering cliffs found on this shoreline in Kauai, rocky sea caves and sunken tunnels have been carved out by storms. Traces of early island settlers, dating back to 1300 AD, can still be seen today along many trails inside the park. So, whether you choose to hike, camp, boat, or fly your way around the park, a trip to Kauai is not complete without discovering the beauty of the Nāpali Coast.

Things to Do

The unforgettable views found in the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park draw travelers by land, air, and sea. Splurge on a helicopter ride with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters to check out the massive cliffs from above. Along the way, spot the waterfalls and beaches that are inaccessible to most land visitors.

Experienced hikers seeking an adventure can attempt the entire stretch of the Kalalau Trail, an extremely challenging trek along sheer cliffs, through stream crossings, and into narrow passages. You can also hike a portion of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach (but don’t get in the water unless you’re a very experienced swimmer), or head to Hanakapiai waterfall.

Viewing the coast by sea is just as memorable, as you’ll share the water with playful spinner dolphins and maybe even humpback whales during migration season. Opt for a catamaran for a more leisurely ride, or book a spot on a zodiac boat for a more thrilling excursion.

You can also visit Miloli’i Beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand protected by a vibrant reef and only accessible by kayak during calm summer seas. This is a favorite hangout spot for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, as well as the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. Camping is available here by permit only.

Best Hikes & Trails

Due to the park's rugged terrain, the Kalalau Trail (first constructed in the 1800s) provides the lone access point into the depths of Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. You can hike the entire 11-mile trail to the famous Kalalau Beach, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Once you get past Hanakoa Valley, the trail gets rough and dangerous. Luckily, other sections of the trail are more forgiving and will equally reward you with some of the most culturally significant landscapes on the island. The full hike will take the better part of a whole day, so you'll need to prepare to camp at your destination (by permit only) or hire a boat to pick you up. Do your research and plan accordingly before heading out.

  • Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Valley: The first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail, which starts at Ke’e Beach in Hāʻena State Park and ends at Hanakapi’ai Valley and beach, makes a popular day hike for experienced hikers. The first 1/2-mile gives you expansive views of the coast, and an unmaintained 2-mile spur trail (once you get into the valley) takes you to a 300-foot waterfall. Swimming at the beach can be dangerous (drownings occur regularly), and the upper half of the waterfall trail should only be attempted in dry weather. Use caution when exploring.
  • Hanakapi’ai Valley to Hanakoa Valley: Anyone continuing on past the Hanakapi’ai Valley must hold a valid overnight camping permit, even if you don’t plan on camping. It's from here that this 4-mile stretch becomes strenuous, as it switchbacks 800 feet out of the valley, and then traverses the Hono o Na Pali Natural Area Reserve before descending into Hanakoa Valley. A rest area is located along this route, complete with a composting toilet and two roofed shelters. Experienced hikers can hike this section, and back, from the trailhead in a long day hike (expect 8+ hours of hiking). An additional 1/2-mile trail up the east fork of the creek in Hanakoa Valley offers views of another waterfall, but should only be attempted by sure-footed individuals due to hazards.
  • Hanakoa Valley to Kalalau Beach: The last 5 miles of Kalalau Trail offers panoramic views from a narrow trail with steep drop-offs on the ocean side. Use extreme caution in wet weather as you traverse the stream and make your way down to Kalalau Beach, the final permitted camping destination. Exercise caution and know the local conditions and tides if you plan on swimming, and don't linger under the waterfall due to falling rocks.

Where to Camp

Primitive camping in Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park is only allowed within the Kalalau and Hanakoa Valleys, and by valid permit only (which means you can't pitch a tent at the trailhead). There are no campgrounds with commodities inside this park. There are, however, composting toilets available in the Hanakapi’ai and Hanakoa Valleys, and at Kalalau Beach, and all camping areas are located on shaded terraces near streams.

The rates for camping are $25 per person per night for Hawaii residents and $35 per person per night for non-residents, with a maximum stay of five consecutive nights. Permits can be obtained through the State of Hawaii Department of Land & Natural Resources.

Where to Stay Nearby

Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park is located in close proximity to Koke'e State Park and Waimea Canyon State Park, allowing you to choose from several lodging options suited to state park travelers. Stay at a cabin within neighboring Koke'e State Park, or venture further into the town of Hanalei for beachside offerings.

  • The Cabins at Koke'e: Kauai's Koke'e State Park sits adjacent to Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park (within a 3-mile drive) and offers one- and two-bedroom cabins for rent. Some cabins come complete with a full kitchen and wood-burning stove for heat. All cabins have private bathrooms, refrigerators, linens, and towels.
  • Hanalei Inn: Approximately 9 miles away in the town of Hanalei, the Hanalei Inn sits one block away from the famous Hanalei Bay. This tropical inn offers single rooms that come complete with a full kitchen, queen bed, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. It also has four apartment-style studios, including one with two queen beds and two private baths.
  • Hanalei Colony Resort: The Hanalei Colony Resort is a beachfront resort nestled at the base of the mountains and approximately 7 miles away from Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. This sustainable retreat offers two-bedroom condominium suites set in traditional low-rise plantation-style buildings that blend with nature. There is an on-site grill, bar, and spa, but no televisions are located on the premises (or in the rooms), in an effort to urge guests to unplug and relax.

How to Get There

The Kalalau trailhead, which gives you access to Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, actually begins inside Hāʻena State Park at the end of Kuhio Highway (Route 56) on Kauai’s north shore. The park is about 41 miles from Lihue Airport, which is roughly an hour and a half drive. The most economical and convenient way to get there is to rent a car and drive. This will also offer you the freedom to check out other sights along the way. If you prefer to take public transportation, a bus route runs from the airport to Hanalei. From there, you can catch a cab to the trailhead.

Accessibility

Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park is located in a remote wilderness setting that can only be accessed by foot via rough hiking trails. Very few facilities are provided in this park, in general, and the few primitive ones that are (like composting toilets) are located in the wilderness and are not handicap accessible. The best way for people with different ability levels to enjoy this park is by booking a boat or helicopter tour and viewing the Nāpali Coast from the ocean or the sky.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Day visitors must make advanced reservations for entry into this park through Hāʻena State Park (the exception is for those who already have valid camping permits or those coming to the park by boat). In an effort to keep this pristine park protected, the state limits reservations to a certain number per day. So, reserve your park entry pass well ahead of your planned visit.
  • Always check the weather before hiking in Kauai, as the rainfall can cause treacherous conditions in a short period of time. Consult the Division of State Park's guide for safe hiking preparation.
  • Bring plenty of water with you, or a way to properly treat creek water, when hiking into the Nāpali Coast backcountry. Drinking water is not available at the backcountry campsites.
  • Prepare to pack out what you pack in, as there are no trash cans inside this park.
  • It's best to visit the park during the summer, as rain is frequent in winter, causing treacherous conditions and flash flooding.
  • The sun in Hawaii has a higher ultraviolet index than in other parts of the country, so don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, even if it appears cloudy.
  • Ke’e Beach at the Kalalau trailhead is one of the best spots for snorkeling on the island. It offers shallow pools with a protected reef and lifeguards, making it much safer for swimmers than other area beaches.
  • Hanalei is the closest major town to the park. Because of this, most of the Nāpali Coast charters leave from Hanalei Bay.
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Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park: The Complete Guide