After hiking two miles of rugged terrain to Hanakapiai Beach along the Kalalau Trail you may be tempted to turn back and head back towards Ke'e Beach. But if you aren't too tired and have some time, consider taking a two-mile (four miles round trip) hike inland to see Hanakapi'ai Falls. It can take up to two hours just to reach the falls, and requires numerous stream crossings.
Total elevation gain to the falls from Hanakapi'ai beach is 760 feet. This is a fairly strenuous hike. You can view the trail by opening Google Earth and viewing our Hanakapiai Trail map. Please note we only have included the return trek as a part of our Google Earth file, so the elevation and hike technically starts at the falls; but you can still see the whole route. As with many Kauai hikes, you may benefit from a guide who can educated you and your travel party about the history of the area, the plants, and animals of the trail. Where can you find such a guide? We highly recommend the team at Kauai Hiking Adventures. The trail can be rough in spots, but the 300-ft waterfall at the end is worth the trek. Take notice of the numerous mountain apple trees as well as the small bamboo forests you will pass through. The trail crisscrosses the stream several times, so be mindful of water flow. Make sure to pack rain gear because showers pop up frequently and carry drinking water since it is not safe to drink stream water without sterilizing it.
Once you reach the falls feel free to reward yourself with a dip in the pool and a swim behind the waterfall, just watch out for any falling rocks. Total hiking time is between 3-5 hours.
IMPORTANT SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS FOR HANAKAPI’AI BEACH AND STREAM:
Use extreme caution crossing Hanakapi'ai 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 at the river mouth area, however the general rule it to not cross unless you are sure you can do so safely. Although Hanakapi'ai Beach is 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, even if you are caught on the other side and are trying to get home – just wait; eventually the flood waters will subside!