This golden sand beach is your reward for completing the challenging first two miles on the Kalalau Trail. In the summer time, the sand is thick and beautiful and there is plenty of room to lounge around on the beach and have a picnic either on the sand or on the rocks. There are also several sea caves which are accessible and can be explored at either end of the beach. In the winter, however, all the sand gets taken out by the ocean current only to be returned again the following spring. In the winter, the ocean crashes directly onto the boulders.
Notice the sign just before descending to the beach which warns of the drownings at Hanakapiai. As a general rule, the ocean is quite dangerous here with a nasty shore break and multiple cross currents and rip tides. Expert surfers will paddle out from Ke'e to surf here when the conditions are right and then hike back along the trail barefoot with their surfboards.
If in doubt, don't go out! You can always take a nice refreshing dip in one of the river pools which is what most of the local do.
Hanakapiai Beach is also the starting point for a hike to Hanakapi'ai Falls which is a rocky two miles inland. Take a poncho...it's worth it.
IMPORTANT SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS FOR HANAKAPI’AI BEACH AND STREAM:
Use extreme caution crossing the stream and if there has been consistent heavy rain recently or the flow is high, do NOT cross at all. If you want to cross without getting your feet wet, you can sometimes skip across the rocks if you head inland a few meters; however it is far safer to get your shoes wet (or take them off and put them back on the other side) than it is to potentially slip on a rock and fall. For anybody carrying a heavy backpack; standard safety protocol is to unbuckle the waist and chest straps prior to crossing the river; that way if you fall in the river you can easily escape your pack and come up for air.
At times there is a rope tied across the river to help with crossings, however the general rule it to not cross unless you are sure you can do so safely. Although Hanakapi'ai Beach is indeed a dangerous swimming spot, most drownings and near-drownings in Hanakapi'ai are in the river when people try to cross in water that is too fast and deep and they are swept away by flooding river waters. The water at Hanakapi'ai is usually clear and ankle-knee deep with enough rocks visible above the surface to rock-hop across – if it looks like a muddy, raging torrent; do not try to cross!. Crossing the river in waist high water requires skill and extreme care. If the water is over waist high, do not try to cross the river in any circumstances – just wait; eventually the flood waters will subside!
Please do not place yourself at risk by walking on boulders that are wet with sea water - if the boulders are wet it means that the waves come up that high (even if they are far away when you are looking at it - wave heights vary greatly between sets and getting washed off the rocks is a very common way people get injured or drown). Even in the summer time, when the beach is deep with white sand; people sometimes venture along the lava rock shelves on both ends of the beach. Many people have met their demise by being swept off these shelves by large waves after venturing on them at a low point in between sets. If the rocks are wet - stay off! A local rule of thumb is to watch the ocean for 20 minutes before going in or walking in a tidal zone.
Total elevation gain is about 1060 feet between Ke`e and Hanakapi`ai (that's coming and going) and the hike takes approximately an hour and a half at a moderate pace.