Secret beaches and pretty bays: the Northshore of Kauai
The north of Kauai is full of little secret places! Taking the Kuhio Highway from Princeville, the road will first take us to the beautiful Hanalei Bay before winding along the first reliefs announcing the beginning of the Nā Pali coast before ending at the foot of Ke'e Beach.
In this part of the north of the island, there are many small hidden sandy beaches with little traffic. If you are looking for a beautiful beach where you can be alone in a beautiful setting, this is the place to come!
In this article we will go through the beaches and other points of interest that you will find along the Kuhio Highway between Princeville and the end of the road near Ke'e Beach one by one.
Princeville is a very nice little town north of Kauai. The impeccable green of the golf course puts us immediately in the mood! Here the luxurious villas follow one another in front of the sea overlooking the ocean with a breathtaking view on the Nā Pali coast.
We'll either love or hate Princeville, sometimes considered too posh and charmless. Personally, I love this little corner despite the luxury that emerges from it because the landscapes are simply sumptuous!
But let's get back to what interests us. In Princeville we will find 3 points of interest that may be worth the detour, as long as we manage to park here...
The first point of interest when arriving in Princeville is the famous Queen's bath, a small natural pool on the ocean's edge that the waves fill when the sea is rough. It used to be a place where access was reserved for royalty, hence its name "Queen's bath".
But beware, we might as well warn you right away: access to Queen's bath is now forbidden because of the dangerousness of the pools where many people have already lost their lives.
But why are we telling you about this? Simply because despite the ban, this place is so famous that tourists continue to access it... And yet the main access has been barricaded and padlocked, but this has not discouraged the many visitors who have found a trick to sneak through a gap in the fence a few dozen metres past the condemned access door.
Stranger still, we even had the impression that the number of visitors had greatly increased between 2017 (when access was still authorised) and 2019... to such an extent that there was a queue of 5 cars permanently in the street, waiting for a space to become available in the small car park of about ten spaces located just in front of the old fenced access.
For the rest, you will be the sole judge of what is right or wrong, but be aware that fines could be handed out to people illegally crossing the access to Queen's bath. And if all these warnings are not enough to demotivate you, don't forget that the place is really dangerous despite its calm pace in flat seas. It will only take one wave to carry you away.
If you do get there, you should also be careful because the dirt path down there is quite steep, with many roots and can be very slippery if it has rained recently.
You will soon find yourself in the middle of a thick rainforest lined with liana trees, where a river flows with pretty little waterfalls. The place is quite enchanting. Once at ocean level, Queen's bath is on the left after about 150m.
Hideways beach is a small hidden beach located below the big resorts of Princeville. It was one of our favorites when we first came. We particularly liked this small hidden beach and not very crowded because of its complex access, and which is also an interesting spot for snorkeling.
We apologize in advance for the poor quality of the only pictures we were able to take in 2017 (we didn't have the courage to go down there in 2019 with our baby).
As the beach is located to the north, it will be partly shaded most of the day, which will be nice if you want to spend some time there. There are no facilities on the beach, as it is still wild.
If you want to snorkel, venture into the rocky areas that are numerous around the beach. Stay alert for strong currents, or big waves despite the presence of a small barrier reef in the distance.
How to get to Hideways beach
To get to Hideways beach, you'll first need to find the tiny public car park next to the Saint Regis Hotel (see map at the bottom of the article). You will have to be lucky to get one of the 8 parking spaces.
Once you have passed this first step, you will have to reach the beach by following the small path that starts from the car park along the tennis court and then the swimming pool of the neighbouring residence. After this point, the path will start a rather steep descent towards the ocean. A rope will help you not to slip (and will be as convenient to go back up).
Remember to equip yourself with good shoes for the descent (I always recommend these famous "windsurfing" type shoes with a hard sole).
Once the difficulty is over, the trail continues its descent and reaches the beach. Allow a good ten minutes to reach the sand.
Puu Poa beach
Just a short distance from Hideways beach is the beautiful Puu Poa beach. Although this beach is also used by guests of the Saint Regis Hotel, also known as the Princeville Resort, it is still very pleasant due to its beautiful setting in front of the ridges in the centre of Kauai.
The beach is quite long, don't hesitate to walk along the sea on the left to find a place in the calm and shade of the trees that line it. The place is perfect to relax a little with the possibility of snorkeling as well. Moreover, you can take advantage of the hotel showers to rinse yourself!
You will have understood that we appreciated a lot this beach whereas we didn't expect much from it given its location at the foot of the Saint Regis Hotel. But it is not! Don't hesitate to come and discover it as long as you can park there.
How to get to Puu Poa Beach
There are two entrances to reach the sand of Puu Poa Beach. The traditional access is from the main entrance of the Saint Regis. You will have to leave your car on the very small public car park of 8 spaces located just before the entrance (it is the same as for Hideways beach). Then follow the path that goes through the big gate of the hotel. A sign saying "Beach accessit" will show you the way to the beach.
This path will take you past the side of the hotel and down a long series of steps to the waterfront. You will only need to walk about 10 metres along the hotel fence before you reach the sand. It takes a good 5 minutes to get down there, it's relatively fast. For the ascent this is another story!
The second access to Puu Poa beach is via a path that winds down from the Hanalei Bay Resort. It will be reserved for people staying in the area because it is not really possible to park here.
2Around Hanalei Bay
You can't miss Hanalei, a lively little village famous for its large, almost perfect semi-circular bay lined with a long sandy beach. It is here that you will find the postcard landscape whose picture is quite famous, with the beach and its small wooden pier in front of the ridges of the centre of Kauai.
But Hanalei is also famous for its small town centre and its many shops and restaurants. It's a very nice place to stop for lunch or dinner. There are also several shops where you can rent surfboards or small boats, as the Hanalei River is navigable by canoe or paddle boat.
Hanalei beach and Waioli Beach Park
Waioli Beach Park offers some facilities along Hanalei Bay. With nearly 2 km of beach, the bay has something for everyone who is looking for a sandy spot to put their towel down.
Hanalei beach stretches from the mouth of the Hanalei River in the north to the Waioli Stream. The famous wooden pier, the Hanalei Pier, is located just north of the beach.
The long beach is quite wide and wild, leaving plenty of space, but there is little shade. Several surveillance posts are spread along the beach, which is also equipped with showers and toilets in some car parks. There are also picnic tables scattered all along the beach.
How to get to Hanalei beach
Several small car parks serve Hanalei beach, sometimes at the end of paths leading to the beach. As the area is quite busy, it is possible that some of them are full. So do not hesitate to try the different car parks to find a place.
Wai'oli Hui'ia Church
The small colourful wooden church of Waioli Huiia seems to have come straight out of a museum. Built in 1912, this church is perfect for taking beautiful pictures, as the setting is so enchanting.
The doors are generally open and allow you to enter and discover the rather simple interior, whose stained glass windows seem to be in harmony with nature. The small Christian church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is still in service.
Waikokos beach is one of those hidden and almost unsuspected beaches. It's a bit by chance that we found it because it's not indicated on the maps.
Situated at the end of the road, well hidden at the end of Hanalei Bay, Waikokos beach offers an idyllic and calm setting with its sloping palm trees and fine sand. Although it is not very wide at high tide, the beach will offer you a little paradise in the shade of the trees. As the beach is located to the east, it will be better exposed in the morning.
You can also take advantage of the calm waters to swim, the beach being protected by a reef quite close to the edge. However the water did not seem very deep (but unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to swim there to confirm this).
How to get to Waikokos beach
To find Waikokos, park on the Kuhio Highway to these GPS coordinates: 22.211623, -159.518147, the point being indicated on the map at the bottom of the article. You will see a small spot on the shoulder of the highway for 2 or 3 cars to park there, otherwise you can also park on the side a little further up the road.
From here, walk about 50 meters south and look for a small path that goes down to the beach (be careful of the roots). There are several that go down to the ocean, knowing that the further south you go, the easier access will be.
After sneaking down to the sand, walk along the ocean. In places, the beach is extremely thin, sometimes requiring you to walk under palm or tree trunks.
3Hidden beaches along the Kuhio Highway
We are now entering the steepest part of the Kuhio Highway. The road was impassable for many months between April 2018 and June 2019 as a result of terrible floods that washed away many bridges on the road and caused serious landslides. The work is now completed but most of the bridges remain single-lane. Please be patient when crossing them and follow the signs.
Lumahai is a wide and beautiful sandy beach camouflaged between trees and rocks, which will delight the whole family! It consists of two parts separated by a small rocky relief. The most beautiful area is to the east, the west part being closer to the road.
The eastern part of Lumahai is not visible from the road. You will have to go down via a small path to reach it and discover it. Once at the water's edge, you will discover a beautiful strip of sand that is very wide and surrounded by trees with some rocks, which makes the place really charming. It will be very easy to find some shade on the beach.
A quiet swimming area is located on the right side of the beach. The locals usually go to the rock opposite the access path to jump into the sea when the wave comes.
If you decide to imitate them, make sure you have the skills to go back up because it is still quite dangerous and the beach is not supervised.
As for the western part, it is directly visible from the road. Here there are fewer trees and the sea is a little more turbulent. However the access will be much easier.
Prefer the eastern part which is worth the detour as long as you manage to park because there are few parking spaces here. There are no facilities on site.
How to get to Lumahai beach
Access to the eastern part is at the second parking lot on the bend of the Kuhio Highway coming from Hanalei. From here, a small path where you can guess a few steps goes down in undergrowth to reach the beach. The descent is rather short and goes up quietly (for having done it without any problem with a baby in my arms).
The access to the West part is very easy, the Kuhio Highway passing just in front of the beach at its end. You just have to park on the shoulder of the road and cross the few trees that separate the road from the beach.
Wahinia beach starts at the small village of Wahinia, near the mouth of the river of the same name. At this level, the beach forms a sandbank that protects the river, creating a small pond at the mouth, but the beach is not the most beautiful here.
You have to continue a little to pass Wahinia Bay and find the continuation of the beach that runs along the road after a rocky section forming a small point. Here the waves come ashore on the often deserted beach. The beach is pretty and quite wild. It is very pleasant to walk there, the most beautiful area being towards the west when the road goes a little further away.
Swimming is also possible, but it is preferable in summer or on calm sea days, as the reef is close to the beach and causes large rollers that can make swimming dangerous. There are no facilities on site.
How to get to Wahinia beach
It is easy to park here using one of the roadside parking spots along the beach. You only have to walk a few meters to be on the sand.
In the extension of Wahinia beach, Kepuhi is a superb beach very little known, bordered by some coconut trees in an enchanting setting in front of the ridges of Kauai.
We were enchanted by this beach where we decided to stop for a little swim with Lena. We were alone, a delight!
Here the reef does not completely protect the beach which will be more agitated than its neighbour, Tunnel beach whose end can be seen at the west end of the beach.
The most beautiful part is at the YMCA campsite, but beware of the currents and waves there, although swimming can be enjoyable during the summer when the ocean is calm. The area to the east of the beach, after the small point is more exposed to the wind with a reef strip very close to the sand which makes it a little less charming. There are no facilities on site.
How to get to Kepuhi beach
The beach can be reached by two small accesses from the residential area next to the beach. It is possible to park quite easily on the shoulder of the road. Then go to one of the passages that lead to the beach.
Tunnels Beach is the most famous snorkeling spot in Kauai! Located in the extension of Kepuhi beach, Tunnels Beach is famous for its semi-circular reef that will delight all snorkeling enthusiasts. The beach is large and wide enough to cope with the crowds which are high here compared to previous beaches, although the lack of parking space still limits access.
Here the water is generally clear, fish are easily visible and turtles frequently come here to eat the numerous algae. It is a spot not to be missed during a passage in Kauai!
Above all, do not attempt to go out after the reef and avoid the eastern and western ends where the currents are strongest. For safety, stay in the central area without getting too close to the reef.
As for the beach, although it is not exceptional in itself, it is still very pleasant thanks to its setting overlooking the first reliefs of the Nā Pali coast in the background. There are no amenities on site.
How to get to Tunnels beach
The fame of Tunnel beach makes it difficult to access because there are very few parking spaces here. There are two pedestrian accesses to the west side of the beach, both located at the end of dead ends where it is possible to park a few vehicles. They are indicated on the map at the bottom of the article. You will then just have to take the paths that lead to the beach and then walk along the waterfront to position yourself in front of the reef.
It is also possible to reach Tunnels beach by parking at Ha'ena Beach Park located about 1km to the west, or leave your car at Kepuhi beach to the east and walk another 1km along the ocean to reach the famous beach.
4The end of the Kuhio Highway
Here we are almost at the end of the Kuhio Highway which ends in a cul-de-sac at the Ha'ena State Park. The last kilometers of the road are quite wooded and also serve two small cavities that it is possible to visit if there is no water.
It should also be noted that it is no longer possible to park on the shoulder of the road from the Ha'ena Beach Park, as the area has been protected from mass tourism and restricted to a limited number of daily visitors since June 2019.
Ha'ena Beach Park
The Ha'ena Beach Park is located a little after Tunnels Beach, still in the continuity of the beaches that follow each other here along the coast without really stopping.
A pond can sometimes form on the beach level, the water accumulating there after having gone down the ridges during the heavy rains that the island regularly experiences.
Ha'ena beach is interesting for the facilities of its Beach Park (toilets and showers), as well as for its surveillance post, which will appeal to families. However, we find that it has a little less charm compared to its neighbours because here the beach is quite wide and quite busy, although the ridges in the background give it a very attractive setting.
How to get to Ha'ena Beach Park
The beach is very easy to access as it is served by a large car park along the beach. The disadvantage is that the car park is very often full in the morning. The fault lies with the many walkers who could not get a parking pass to park at the Ha'ena State Park car park further down the road and therefore park here.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
The Limahuli Garden and Preserve is a botanical garden that identifies and protects many plants that grow, or were once grown, in Hawaii. We even find there some plants on the verge of extinction where only a dozen individuals remain!
The setting is charming and green, by the river and at the foot of the Na Pali coast. A path is laid out with several stairs and allows to make a loop of about 1km, passing close to many plants and trees. A detailed guide in English will give you many explanations about the plants, their history and their use in the daily life of the first Hawaiians. We regret that there are not more flowers.
This garden will be of particular interest to English speakers (who can read the guide) and who want to learn more about history and botany. For the floral side only, prefer other gardens such as the famous Hawaii Tropical Botanic Garden on Big Island which is much more spectacular.
The entrance fee is $20 / adult (free for children under 17 years old). We found it a bit high even if the establishment is non-profit, because you can go around it in about 1 hour. There are also guided tours at $40, to be reserved as well. The garden is only open from Tuesday to Saturday.
How to come and reserve at Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Since the introduction of the Ha'ena State park parking restriction, the Limahuli Garden and Preserve has implemented a reservation system to prevent the small parking lot of about ten cars from becoming saturated.
- If you come by car, you will therefore have to reserve online before coming and choose the time slot of your visit among those proposed (you will be refused entry without reservation even if there are still places available). It is generally possible to book the same day.
- If you come with the shuttle bus from Hanalei or Princeville, there is no need to make a reservation.
The reservation is made on this website. You will reserve the parking, but the entrance to the garden is included in the price.
The Kalalau Trail
Round trip of 6.4 km - 2h00 - Easy or Round trip of 36 km - 3 days - Difficult
This mythical 18 km one way hiking trail allows you to admire a very large part of the Nā Pali Coast. Here you can discover the coast from the bottom, close to the ocean. These are not the most grandiose views, but you will love to walk through the jungle, along the mountain side and along the ocean.
It is not necessary to walk long to discover the first views, the first panorama after 400m allowing to have already a very beautiful view of Ke'e beach and its reef.
Most walkers follow the Kalalau trail until they reach Hanakapi'ai beach in 2 miles or 3.2 km one way, or 6.4 km round trip, a hike that is accessible to all and that will already allow you to enjoy the views! (red line on the map at the bottom of the article). Others will want to venture as far as Hanakapi'ai falls, adding a 4 mile round trip, or 6.4 km in addition to the initial route.
Finally, experienced walkers not prone to vertigo can reach Kalalau beach in 9 miles or 14.8 km one way (red dotted line on the map at the bottom of the article). For this last option, it will take 3 days of walking to cover the entire trail on the way there and back. It will also be necessary to apply for a special permit to do the trail from Hanakapi'ai beach.
Please note that the Kalalau Trail car park is now subject to payment and reservation. It is common to Ke'e beach (see below for access conditions).
To learn more about the Kalalau Trail hike, its access and itinerary, please read our dedicated article: Kalalau Trail: The must-see Kauai hiking trail
Ke'e beach is located at the end of the Kuhio Highway in the Ha'ena State Park. It is an ideal place to relax after a few kilometres on the Kalalau Trail, which starts just a few metres from the beach.
The beach itself is very pleasant, as it is located at the foot of the beautiful and impressive Nā Pali Coast in a small haven of peace and quiet. A reef is located all along the beach, part of which is right on the beach. This barrier makes it a quiet place for swimming and makes the area suitable for snorkeling. Finally, since the construction of the parking lot, there are fewer people, which is not to displease!
Swimming is supervised, but be careful because of the currents. Don't hesitate to walk a little to the right to find a quiet spot in the shade of the trees.
Finally Ke'e beach is also famous for its beautiful aerial view that can be seen from the beginning of the Kalalau trail. From the top the colors encourage swimming, highlighting its beautiful coral reef.
How to get to Ke'e beach
As of June 2019, access to Hāʻena State Park is now restricted to a limited number of tourists each day. A car park with about 100 spaces has been set up at the entrance to the park and only those with a parking permit will be able to park their vehicles. There is also a shuttle bus service from Hanalei.
As the spaces are very popular, we recommend that you make your reservation as soon as the spaces are available for sale, i.e. one month in advance.
To do so, go to: https://www.gohaena.com/ and select "Park reservations". Parking will cost you $5 per vehicle and per time slot (morning, afternoon, end of day). It is also possible to walk, bike, take a taxi or carpool with a Hawaiian resident. To do so, you will have to purchase a pedestrian pass, valid for the entire day at $1 per person.
If all parking spaces are sold out during your stay, you will have to use the shuttle bus. Shuttles run regularly every 30 minutes and make several stops between the Waipa Park parking lot (located just past Hanalei) and Hāʻena State Park. Reservations can be made at this link. The price of the ticket is $15 per person and includes admission to Hāʻena State Park.
Once you arrive at the parking lot with your car or by shuttle, just follow the composite walkways and then the wide path that will take you to Ke'e beach in a few minutes.
A shower and sanitary facilities are available above the beach at the start of the Kalalau Trail. There are also a few picnic tables.
Here we are at the end of this article which I hope will have made you want to put your towel on one of the beaches of the north of Kauai! Hopefully the weather will give you a great view of the Kauai ridges, because when the weather is good it's just... spectacular!