If you are coming to visit Kauai (or are already here), the odds are good that you’ve heard of the Na’Pali Coast. Maybe someone who’s been here already said, “You gotta see this!” or you saw one of the many advertisements from companies offering tours of the area.
Here at Makana Charters we would be the first to say that the Na’Pali Coast of Kauai is a must-see. After all, our business revolves around Na’Pali Coast tours. But there’s more to it than that. As a group of locals whose family histories on Kauai are older than the record books, we simply want people from around the world to experience what we consider to be one of the most beautiful coastlines on the planet.
But there’s so much to see in Kauai that, if you’ve never been here before, you might be torn about what to spend time doing. With that in mind, we wanted to share the can’t-miss spots on the Na’Pali Coast from our insider perspective. Take a look at the local’s guide below, and be sure to add these activities to your itinerary for your upcoming Kauai trip.
Where is the Na’Pali Coast?
Geographically, the Na’Pali Coast is on the northwest corner of Kauai. The State of Hawaii recognized how special it is here and designated the area as a state park (Na’Pali Coast State Park), which means there are no roads on the Na’Pali Coast. There are only two ways to see it: by taking a boat tour or hiking the intense 22-mile, round-trip journey that many guidebooks rate as one of the toughest hikes in Hawaii. There are two “easy” ways to access the coast, whereby you can get to viewpoints by driving a car: the North Shore, Koke’e State Park, and Polihale State Park.
The Na’Pali Coast’s northern endpoint is at Ke’e beach, at the end of Highway 560. From here you can hike the Kalalau Trail, but keep in mind that if you wish to go all the way to Kalalau Valley, you need a permit. You do not need a permit to hike to Hanakapia’i Beach and falls, about two miles along the trail. This side of the coast can be wet, as evidenced by the lush green vegetation.
- Kalalau Trail: This 22-mile, round-trip journey careens along one of the most scenic coastlines in the world. But this Na’Pali Coast hike is also incredibly difficult. The length and difficulty of the hike can scare some people away from the journey. But if you want to explore the sights of the Na’Pali coast (and you’re willing to spend the time and energy), then you definitely should try making the trek to Hanakapia’i Beach. This beach sits two miles down from Ke’e beach, giving you plenty of trail time to marvel at the steep cliffs, gorgeous plant life, and scenic ocean views every step of the way. You should be able to make it from the Ke’e beach parking lot to the falls and back within about 6 to 8 hours.
- Hanakapia’i Beach and Falls: From the Kalalau Trail you can access Hanakapia’i Beach. If you’re feeling adventurous, from the beach you can hike two miles up the lush valleys to the foot of Hanakapiai Falls. This waterfall shoots over 200 feet with a beautiful pool below, the picture perfect tropical waterfall setting that many come to Kauai to experience. You can get details on the Na’Pali Coast hike to Hanakapia’i Beach and Falls here.
Koke’e State Park
If you drive up all the way into Koke’e State Park, past Waimea Canyon, you will find Kalalau Lookout. Drive just a little bit further to Pihea trail. Depending on your level of fitness, you may want to try the lookout, or try walking along the ridge line of the Pihea trail. Both these stopping points are fantastic places to view the magic of the Na’pali Coast from 4,000 feet.
- Koke’e & Waimea State Parks: Kokee and Waimea State Parks are adjacent to each other and together form a brilliant duo, attracting a lot of tourists to the western part of the island. At nearly 4,400 acres, Koke’e has so much to explore that even the most seasoned locals still haven’t seen it all.
- Waimea Canyon and Waimea Canyon Drive: One of the top three things to do on the Na’pali Coast of Kauai is to explore Waimea Canyon in Kokee State Park. Called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” it’s Waimea Canyon’s bright red contrast that leads to its beauty. The canyon is also home to waterfalls and hiking trails that lead to some of the best views on the island. Driving up the Koke’e road will prove to be one of your best road trip experiences on Kauai; the frequent lookouts offer breathtaking panoramic views of Waimea Canyon and Kalalau Valley. Our complete guide to this area will answer all your questions and provide even more detail for planning your Na’Pali Coast trip.
- There are tons of amazing hikes and trails to check out in this region of the Na’Pali Coast. You can find details on 15 of our recommended hikes in the Hiking Kokee Kauai section of our article, Exploring Koke’e State Park & Waimea Canyon–The Ultimate Guide.
Polihale State Park
Highway 50 is the main road for Kauai’s south side. It runs from Lihue westward, winding through various towns and villages as you make your way down the coast. But eventually that road ends due to the ruggedness of the Na’Pali Coast, and at the end of Highway 50 you’ll find a bumpy dirt road that takes you into Polihale State Park.
Polihale State Park is a favorite for locals; the scenery at Polihale State Park is one-of-a-kind, and it is a fantastic place to camp out or simply spend an afternoon watching the sun go down (sunsets here are unbeatable—check out this time lapse video to see why!). The cliffs of the Na’Pali Coast rise from the beach, heading off into the distance. The dry climate means there’s not much shade here, so many people bring their own shade canopies or umbrellas, which is a very good idea to avoid getting scorched by the sun. Locals also bring in 4x4s, as the rugged old sugarcane road down the beach won’t be navigable by your average car.
A couple notes about Polihale: Camping passes are required if you wish to spend the night in the park. Also, swimming can be very dangerous at certain times of the year, even with small waves. Only one sheltered lagoon at the southwestern edge of the beach is safe for swimming and snorkeling.
Traveling around Polihale you can feel a certain energy, which explains why this area was a sacred site for our Hawaiian ancestors.
The Best Way To See The Na’Pali Coast
A trip to Kauai won’t be complete if you just try to go as far as you can in a car. Even if you drive to trailheads, the trail ends at Kalalau Valley, leaving out almost half the coastline. The only way to truly see the entire coast is aboard a boat.
A boat excursion aboard Makana Charters provides you with views of the entire Na’Pali Coastline. It’s an experience you won’t forget, as you see the spectacular coastline up close—even going inside the coastline into sea caves (weather permitting). You will also have time to snorkel on the coast, see some amazing underwater life, and take photos of the unbelievable Na’Pali Coast scenery from a vantage point only accessible by boat. It’s a can’t-miss experience, and a perfect way to spend a fun-filled half-day on the water.
Looking for reviews? Read what our guests have to say about their trips, and look at our photo gallery to get a glimpse of what you’ll see on your cruise. We’re certain you won’t be disappointed.