Na Pali Coast State Park

By Land, By Sea, or By Air 

The NaPali Coast is the gem of all gems on the island of Kauai. Na Pali Coast State Park, part of the famous Na Pali region, makes up a significant part of the breathtaking, beautiful northwest coastline of Kauai.

Stretching across a road-less expanse from Polihale Beach in on the West Side to Makana Mountain and Kee Beach in Ha’ena on the North Shore; the NaPali Coast is filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, rugged hiking trails, and extensive archaeological sites. The NaPali Coast is an environment of immense power where natural forces are continually evolving the shape of the land.

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Ways to Visit NaPali Coast

There are 3 ways to visit the NaPali Coast: by land, by sea, or by air.

NaPali Coast By Land

By far the most popular way to hike the NaPali Coast is on the Kalalau Trail which begins at Kee Beach.  11 miles of hiking through both large and small valleys, snaking one's way around cliff faces, enjoying amazing views, and exerting a lot of energy will take you all the way to Kalalau Valley, the official end of the trail.  It is a minimum 3-day round-trip journey for most people to hike all the way to Kalalau and back, which means that you have to be well outfitted and prepared for the journey.

Hiking NaPali Coast

If the timing is not right for you to have such an in-depth and intensive experience; there are other ways to see the NaPali Coast by land. Taking a shorter hike to Hanakapiai Beach or Hanakapiai Falls is a very popular option which many people choose. For avid hikers who prefer to get another perspective, there are multiple trails along the ridgetops above the NaPali Coast. These trails are not for the faint of heart; hiking along the tops of the Pali often entails coming close to the edge of 2500’ sheer drops.  For people who enjoy cliff edge, panoramic views it is an experience that is well worth the effort.

Driving NaPali Coast

Finally, if you are not a hiker, you can see the NaPali Coast by driving to Polihale Beach or Kee Beach where you have stunning views down the coastline or by driving past Waimea Canyon in Kokee State Park and stopping at either the Kalalau Lookout or Pu’u o Kila overlook which is the start of the Pihea Trail. Both of these overlooks take you to the back of Kalalau Valley where you can peer down on one of the most spectacular valleys in all of Hawaii. 

NaPali Coast By Sea

Traditionally, the NaPali Coast was accessed by sea via the gateway at Polihale. Canoes would travel what used to be inland waterways in a large estuary between Waimea and Mana (the springs that provided the freshwater to this delicate environment were plugged and diverted in the 1950s to make way for large-scale agri-business) and then continue along the NaPali Coast to the settlements at Miloli’i and Nu’alolo Kai. All along the NaPali Coast, valleys are named for the features seen from the ocean such as Ho’olulu (the sheltering place) and Waiahuakua (the water altar of the Gods). There are multiple sea caves, waterfalls, and other fascinating features along the NaPali Coast, and even if you have hiked the coast many times, exploring it by sea is a fantastic and original experience.

Today, most people who explore the NaPali Coast by sea chose to either go on a motorized vessel or by kayak. Most of the motorized tours leave from the west side near Port Allen and include snorkeling as part of their day.  Many of the tour boats stop at Treasures Beach for their snorkel and do a quick drive-by of one of the most amazing sights in all of Hawaii – Nu’alolo Kai.  If you are going to spend a day on the water along the NaPali Coast, make sure that you go with a company that stops at Nu’alolo Kai and allows time for both snorkeling and exploring the fantastic archaeological site there.  

Another thing to be aware of is that most of the sailing catamarans which operate along the NaPali Coast are under motor for the entire morning as they head upwind and then motor sail back down the coast to Port Allen.  It is still an enjoyable experience, as the large catamaran provides plenty of room to move around on deck; however, they are too big to take their boats into the open ceiling cave, which is one of the highlights of tours on smaller boats.

Kayak NaPali Coast

If you are in relatively good physical condition and are more adventurous in nature, you may want to consider taking a kayak tour along the NaPali Coast. It is truly an incredible experience to paddle in and out of the sea caves and stare up at the massive cliffs above you.  The kayak tours all start in Ha’ena and end in Polihale. On most days this means that you are going with the wind and the swell; however, this is not always the case. They usually stop for lunch at Miloli’i, which is a wonderful stretch of white sand protected by a reef.  

NaPali Coast by Air

The aerial view of the NaPali Coast is also incredible and dramatic. Numerous helicopter tour companies operate on Kauai and almost all of them plan a flight path that includes winding in and out of several of the major valleys along the NaPali Coast.  After flying up Waimea Canyon, the pilot will fly out to the NaPali Coast somewhere near to Makaha Ridge and then turn right taking you back to the North Shore.   

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