Hiking in Kauai: Na Pali Coast

Our first hike in Kauai, the Queen’s Bath, was a great starter hike. From there we moved on to hiking the Na Pali coast, which was by far our most strenuous hike on the trip. However, it was completely worth it. The views we saw on that hike, from gorgeous coastlines to an amazing waterfall, were some of the best on the trip.

About the Na Pali Coast and Trails

We’ve been hearing about the Na Pali coast since we first started planning the trip. The Na Pali trail begins on the northwest coast of the island where the C-shaped highway that runs around the island ends, and no roads run near the rest of the trail, so you have to hike back the way you came. We read that at one point the state tried to extend the highway through the mountains to complete the circle around the island, but ultimately that project was abandoned because it was too difficult to try to run a road through the mountains.

So, if you were to hike the full length of the trail along the coast, it would be an eleven mile hike one-way (not counting any side trips along trails that branch off of the coastal trail), meaning you’d have to camp overnight before hiking back. At the end of the trail, you could visit a secluded beach which can only be reached by swimming half a mile from the end of the trail around an outcropping cliff to the cove containing the beach. It sounds amazing, but we had so many things we wanted to see in Kauai that we decided a day hike was better suited for us.

Our Hike

We decided to hike two miles along the trail to the first beach, then hike two miles on a side trail to the Hanakapi’ai Falls, then hike back to the beach and then back to our car. So altogether it was about an eight mile hike. We packed our lunches, our cameras, two bottles of water each, a few first aid items like kleenexes, aintibiotic ointment, and bandaids, and otherwise tried to pack light since we’d be carrying everything the entire way.

Altogether, it was a gorgeous hike. The views along the trail to the first beach were gorgeous.

As we approached the beach, we saw a warning sign about the danger of going in the water, similar to that of what we saw at the Queen’s Bath.

The views at the first beach were also amazing! I loved the cairns that hikers had built all over the rocky beach.

The hike to the waterfall also had some great views along the way, including massive stands of bamboo trees in the center of a clearing since their root system prevented any large plants from growing nearby.

And the waterfall was absolutely breathtaking. Photos don’t do it justice.

We were lucky that it wasn’t rainy and hadn’t just rained when we did our hike, as we probably wouldn’t have been able to hike much of the trail since slippery mud and high waters would have made it pretty treacherous.

As it is, there were times on the side trail to the waterfalls when we had to cross streams and small waterfalls that made us a little nervous (especially when the trail was narrow and steep), but if you’re careful you’ll make it past those fine. Just don’t try to do it if it’s wet and raining, and especially if there are high waters.

Tips for Hikers

We learned a few lessons from this hike:

  • We should have packed an additional bottle of water each, at least, despite the added weight: While we weren’t dying of thirst by the time we returned to the car, we had run out of water despite trying to pace ourselves and we were feeling pretty thirsty, and that was on a fairly cloudy and mild-temperature day.
  • The only restroom on the hike was a structure near the first beach that looked like something out of a serial killer movie. This isn’t so much a lesson learned as something that might be useful to other hikers to know before starting their hike.
  • Distribute weight evenly between the hikers, both when you’re adding and when you’re removing weight. We didn’t notice at first that we were only drinking water from one of our bags, so once we noticed that we tried to lighten both of our bags evenly with water-drinking. :)
  • When you’re on a hike where you hike back the same way you came, time perception on the initial hike is completely different from that on the hike back. We passed several people returning from the waterfalls who said we were getting close far before we ever reached the waterfalls. When we returned from our hike, well rested, hydrated, and no longer hungry after having relaxed at the base of the falls with our lunches, we caught ourselves telling hikers they were close long after we’d left the falls. But then again, I guess thinking you’re close keeps you going even if you’re getting tired, right? ;)
  • If you hike the side trail to the waterfalls, pay close attention to the way you came and hike at a time of day when there are lots of other people around, because the trail isn’t marked especially well so it’s easier to find your way there than back. On the return hike, we accidentally ended up on side trails or things that looked like trails a couple of times, and seeing other people along the trail reassured us that we were on the right trail.
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