Something about Hawaii makes me want to be outdoors. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe it’s the warmth. Maybe it’s all the natural beauty surrounding, well, everything. Maybe it’s the prospect of a dip in the water after sweating it out. For whatever reason, I feel like Hawaii calls you to get outside.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a very outdoorsy person. I don’t mind hiking, but only if there is something awesome to see during or at the end of it. One such amazing hike, and likely the toughest I’ll ever do in my life, is the Hanakapiai Falls hike in Kauai. I’m still in awe of the fact that we made it through!
- The hike is composed of two parts: 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach, up and down the coast, then another 2 miles inland to Hanakapiai Falls. There is no other way to reach the falls.
- The first mile is a steady incline, but with amazing views of the Napali Coast. Then you’ll come back down to Hanakapiai Beach.
- The trail can be muddy, especially if it’s been raining.
- You’ll cross streams multiple times, and if it rains, the water can run pretty high.
- At the falls, you can go for a dip (this is freshwater, so it can be pretty nippy).
- It’s an out-and-back trail; you go back the way you came.
8 miles in all, with only a composting toilet by Hanakapiai Beach, and no food or water anywhere. Be prepared! Bring lots of water. Pack high energy snacks. Wear comfortable shoes with a good grip, and be ready to get down and dirty and wet. And look forward to some awesome sights.
Does that sound fun yet? Read on for more details!
This hike starts out on the same trailhead as the Kalalau Trail. Head to Ke’e Beach, as far north as you can go on Highway 560, as far north as you can go on the island.
The Kalalau Trail, for all its difficulty, is a popular trail and people camp out on Kalalau Beach. Arrive early if you want parking by the trailhead. You’ll need to start early anyway if you’re heading all the way out to the falls. If this is your first time at Ke’e Beach, take a few moments to check out the shore and the view of the Napali Coast from the ground.
The first part of the hike is to Hanakapiai Beach. The first mile is rough–you’re going uphill all the way. Still, there are many wonderful views of Ke’e Beach behind you and the Napali Coast ahead. Breathe in and snap some photos. Take your time. You’ll need your energy for the rest of the hike.
After the first mile, you go downhill (literally) until you hit a stream. Crossing this will deposit you at Hanakapiai Beach. It’s really only a beach in the summer. In winter, like when we hiked this trail in January, you will just see a lot of rocks and some rather violent waves. Do *not* go into the water. It’s dangerous and could kill you, as a wooden sign helpfully points out.
During our hike, it started raining at about mile 1, and didn’t stop the rest of the day. It wasn’t a torrential downpour, but it was more than a drizzle and fairly steady.
After a quick snack break at Hanakapiai Beach, we continued on. The trail only gets harder from here! It’s less maintained and closely follows the river. In some places, the trail can be very narrow, and can require some very careful footing. (That’s why I have fewer photos.)
You do get some amazing experiences. In one instance, we stood on a ledge with a small waterfall flowing above and below us. We crawled over rocks across a stream. We clung to a rope while crossing a river.
And all this in the rain! The nice thing was, we didn’t have to worry about getting too hot. Or dirty–it became inevitable after a while.
The falls themselves… well, here’s where I regret that we started late, and where I stress that you go as early as you can. We made it to the falls at around 3 PM (4 hours after we started) and only had enough time to sit by the river a bit, eat our spam musubis, and watch the water for a little while.
It didn’t help that we were drenched head to foot, so it was cold sitting there in the spray. No way were we going in the cold pool below the falls either. But it was still a great experience to look up at that 300-foot tall waterfall, only reachable on foot, and know we had made it through this tough hike to see it.
Returning to Ke’e Beach
Going back was much quicker, because we didn’t care about cleanliness anymore, and because we wanted to be sure to make it out before sunset.
Luckily, Ke’e Beach has some showers. We desperately needed it after the hike. Even then, our poor rental car!
Was I glad I did it? Hell yeah! I felt so accomplished at the end of the day–or was that just exhaustion? Anyway, even David, who’s a much more experienced hiker than I, found it amazing that we managed that. I look back on it now and shake my head at the craziness of it. It took us 7 hours to hike 8 miles, most of it in the rain. But, oh, the Napali Coast, and the waterfall! And it was a great experience for us to share.
Would I do this hike again? Maybe in dry weather!