Nā Pali Coast : discover Kauai's most beautiful reliefs

Written by Flo Updated on 04/06/2018

Breaking news: Following the impressive floods on the island of Kauai in April 2018, the entire Kalalau Trail is closed. Damages are also very significant on the Kuhio Highway (Route 560) which is closed to visitors from Hanalei (the road is only open to permanent residents). The renovations are very important and there is currently no specific date announced for the re-opening. Nevertheless the beaches of Miloli'i and Nu'alolo were reopened in May. These beaches are accessible only by sea by kayak excursions.

On the western part of Garden Isle (Kauai), there is a wild and preserved area: the Nā Pali Coast. Let's not go by four roads, this area is the most beautiful region of what we consider to be the most beautiful island of Hawaii, that's to say!

This area, located in the northwestern part of Kauai Island, is very difficult to access. What could be a disadvantage is in the end an advantage because it is its difficulty of access that preserves it from mass tourism. But there are different ways to discover it, whether on earth, in the air or on the water. That's what we're going to see in this article.

Discover the Nā Pali Coast on foot

The Kalalau Trail

This mythical hiking trail allows you to admire the Nā Pali Coast after about 1 km of walking. Here, the famous coast will be discovered from the bottom, very close to the ocean. It is not the most grandiose views, but walking in the heart of the jungle, on the side of the mountains and along the ocean will make you forget the hike to get there.

The walk is accessible to any walker up to Hanakapi'ai beach, located 2 miles (3.2 km) from the car park.

If you are a good walker and not prone to dizziness, we recommend that you continue the trail beyond Hanakapi' ai beach, the first beach on the course. It is from this point that the scenery becomes even more fascinating, but beware, you will need a permit to borrow this part of the Kalalau Trail. If you are motivated, you can try the entire trail to Kalalau Beach, but you will need 3 days of walking to make the 22 miles, or 36 km round trip and bring your tent. But this trail is absolutely incredible!

For more information on the Kalalau Trail, we advise you to read our full article: Kalalau Trail: Kauai's must-see hiking trail

Admire the ridges of Nā Pali Coast at Koke'e State Park

Only the Koke' e State Park provides access by car to the peaks of the fabulous Nā Pali Coast. This park is located in the north of the Waimea Canyon, in its direct extension. The advantage is that it is easily accessible and if you are not a hiker, you will be able to discover incredible panoramas near the road.

Kalalau Valley Lookout and Pu’u O Kila Lookout

To make the most of this show, there are 2 main points of view on the Kokee Road: the  Kalalau Lookout shortly after the dome, and at the end of the road, the Pu'u O Kila Lookout.

Here, suspended between ocean, earth and sky, the Nā Pali Coast offers a unique and enchanting scenery seen from above.

It is necessary to be there to realize the beauty of these places, and I will never be able to transcribe in this article the feeling of fascination and humility that invades us in front of what Mother Nature has offered us to contemplate here.

Both points of view are located close to the car park. We advise you to get there early in the morning, before 10:00 a. m., because as the hour progresses, the more you have the risk that clouds will form and clog the view. If so, you will see absolutely nothing. So, to avoid ruining this magnificent view, come early!

Kalepa Ridge Trail

From the first point, in Kalalau Lookout, you will have the possibility to go on the Kalepa Ridge Trail which is not official, and therefore you will borrow at your own risk. This hike takes you from Kalalau Lookout to Kalalau Valley, offering breathtaking views of the Kalalau Valley. The best time to admire this green vegetation and the Pacific blue is late morning before the humidity rises too high and results in cloud formation. Allow 2:30 hours for the round trip. For more information on this trail, you can visit this website.

Pihea Trail

From the second point, at Pu' u O Kila Lookout, the Pihea Trail runs along the ridge and offers a breathtaking view over several hundred metres to the Pihea Vista Junction. The trail is sometimes on the edge of the ridge and is relatively flat and rather shady, which makes it a very pleasant walk with always the Pacific side view.

At the end of the crest at the Pihea Vista Junction after about 1.8km, you will have the choice to either turn back or continue on the right and descend into the wetland to reach much more sporty trails such as the Alakai Swamp Trail (12km) which has the originality to be done partly on wooden footbridges because of the dampness of the soil (here, you will find the Alakai Swamp Trail 12km). Or go down towards the northeast part of Waimea Canyon and join the road 550 at Kokee Campground, which will force you to stop or walk up the road for a good hour and a half to reach the Pu' u O Kila Lookout car park.

In any case, it is advisable to start your hike early in the morning.

Other hikes at Koke'e State Park

Other hikes are possible from Route 550, always along ridges, such as the Nualolo Trail and its 13km round trip starting at the Koke' e Lodge and joining the Lolo Vista Point. Notice to the brave! Speaking of courage, those who want to try the Awa' awapuhi Trail, whose car park is located about 1.2km before the dome in the direction of the ascent, will have to be courageous. With its 20km, it is one of the longest trails in the area but it allows to reach an apparently splendid point of view on the Nualolo and Awa' awapuhi Valleys. You'll tell us that ;)

Video of our experience at Koke'e State Park

Fly over the Nā Pali Coast by helicopter

For a breathtaking view of the ridges of the Nā Pali Coast, you can opt for the air solution. Of course, this will not be the least expensive, but it will allow you to have an exceptional memory of the island of Kauai.

On the budget side, you will have to pay about $250 to $300 per person for an overview. Don't forget to add taxes and tip to the prices shown. The price will vary according to the duration of the flight and the type of helicopter. We advise you to choose a model without a door, which will allow you to take pictures without worrying about reflections in the glass.

As for us, we finally opted not to try the experiment after having seen dozens of helicopters following each other in an incessant broom along the coast. The "too commercial"side, combined with the price and the risk of discovering the coast in the fog, discouraged us from trying the experiment. Nevertheless, it seems to be sensational ;)

Approaching the Nā Pali Coast by kayak or boat

This last option allows you to discover yet another facet of the steep coastline, but access is usually only possible in the summer, when the ocean is calm. During the Hawaiian winter, the waves are stronger, making access more dangerous.

To do this, several companies will offer you day trips by boat, catamaran or kayak. Another original way to get closer to Kalalau beach, and to be able to snorkel in a quiet and beautiful setting!

The translation may not be accurate. If you detect any errors, please let us know , and we will correct them immediately. Thank you and sorry for this inconvenience. Sandrine & Flo

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