Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail

Length: 8 miles round trip

Difficulty: Extremely strenuous

 Consider the Time

It takes plenty of time to get out to this trailhead, park, and hike. The end of the hike takes place in a deep valley where the sun effectively sets below the valley walls long before the actual sunset, and you don't want to be caught hiking out in the dark as there are plenty of high seaside cliffs to navigate. Navigating deadly cliffs with the light of your cell phone is no fun.

Always check the sunset time, and understand that it may take you longer to hike out as you'll be tired. It's always a good idea to get to the trailhead early in the morning, but, if you must hike in the afternoon, give yourself plenty of time to get off the trail before the sun goes down. Keep track of the time on this long, arduous, and beautiful hike.

Getting There

Hanakapi'ai Falls TrailYou'll find the Hanakapi'ai Falls (many times spelled Hanakapei) trailhead at the very same spot as the Kalalau Valley trailhead at the Ke'e Beach parking lot. Just take the Kuhio Highway north to the end of the road. It's a beautiful drive that takes you down to Hanalei Town on a switchbacked cliffside road. When you reach sea level, you'll cross your first one-lane bridge.

Cross the bridge if there is no oncoming traffic. If traffic is flowing in the opposite direction, just count out the cars. It's a local courtesy to let five cars pass before it's your turn to cross. This same rule applies to the many one-lane bridges along the road to Ke'e Beach and the trailhead.

The highway will meander through Hanalei, hug the bay, cling to ocean cliffs, cut by massive water-filled caves, through organic farms, by houses on stilts and then the road will finally end at the small parking lot at Ke'e Beach.

This beach and trail are popular, so you might find parking a bit difficult. It's best to get to this trailhead early in the morning to grab a spot, but, if you're not keen on getting up early during your vacation, you can always use the overflow parking lot down the street. It's a rough patch of dirt that can wreak havoc on your rental, but it's better than parking on the street between the two parking lots. You're virtually certain to get a ticket parking on the street as police love to prowl the parking lot looking for rentals.

The trailhead is well signposted on the southern side of the parking lot under the canopy of trees. It's a brown sign with yellow writing that says, “Kalalau Trail.” And you'll often find a local with a pickup truck cutting ice-cold coconuts for hikers right at the beginning, and end, of this out-and-back hike.

The Trail to Hanakapi'ai Beach

Hanakapi'ai Falls TrailYou've reached the northernmost cathedral cliff of the world-famous Na Pali Coast at the Ke'e Beach and the Kalalau Trailhead. The Na Pali Coast looks like the massive talons of some dragon reaching into the Pacific, and you're about to climb over the first finger. The trail begins by ascending this cathedral cliff on a stone staircase under the cover of trees.

The stone staircase soon gives way to a dirt track that leads hikers out into the open. Bring plenty of sunscreen on this hike as you'll be exposed to the sun for a good portion of the cliff walk. But right when you burst out into the open, look back. You'll be peering down at the reef of Ke'e Beach below. It's a stunning sight, but there's so much more beauty to discover. Save some space in your camera.

It's about a mile on a steep ascent to the Na Pali Coast lookout. When you get to the top of the cathedral cliff, you'll have a breathtaking view down the craggy cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. The trail you're on leads to up and over all of these cliffs to the gem of the Na Pali -- Kalalau Valley -- but you'll only be making the trek over the first cliff to get to Hanakapi'ai Beach, Valley and then the Falls.

It's about another mile down the other side of the cathedral cliff to Hanakapi'ai Beach. The beach, with its unbelievably blue water, will present itself on the descent. You'll get sweeping views of the beach's notoriously rough surf. The waves at Hanakapi'ai Beach can be especially massive during winter when the west and north coasts of the island see a seasonal surge.

You'll have to rock hop over a crystal clear and cooling stream at the bottom cathedral cliff. Or you can choose to refresh yourself by wading into a deep spot after the sunny, dry and hot descent. Once over the stream, you'll be on the sands of Hanakapi'ai Beach.

You'll see signs, but it's worth mentioning -- do not attempt to swim at Hanakapi'ai Beach. The surf is rough, can rip you out to sea, there are no lifeguards and you're a strenuous trek away from help at the trailhead where there's a lifeguard stand at Ke'e Beach.

The beach is worth exploring, however. The rocky upper part of the beach is usually covered with attractive cairns. These are piles of rocks carefully balanced on top of each other. They are usually used to mark the way for difficult-to-follow trails, but here they are just ornamental; built by hikers to add to the beauty of the beach.

You'll also find a cave in the cliff on the southern end of the beach. It's a shallow cave worth a peak, but it can go underwater at high tide. Just make sure to keep an eye on the ocean if you wander over there.

The Trail to Hanakapi'ai Falls

Hanakapi'ai Falls TrailFollow the trail a bit inland to a bathroom facility to find the split. It's well signposted, but you'd turn right to keep on the 13-mile Kalalau Valley trail. You'll be taking the left-hand trail into Hanakapi'ai Valley to find the 1,600-footfalls. At this point, you're halfway there, but the going is about it get tough.

The trail will meander through some dry forest. You'll pass a helipad for stranded and distressed hikers to illustrate the difficulty of this indomitable hike before entering a very wet and slippery rainforest.

You'll know that you've hit the rainforest when the trail dwindles down to the width of a single sneaker. This is where you'll first encounter Kauai's infamous red dirt mud. This slender track, which hugs the banks of the Hanakapi'ai Stream, will be incredibly slick. You might find it hard to get your footing but fight the urge to keep your shoes clean. Walking straight and true down the path is your safest bet no matter how dirty your legs get with red muck. After all, a slip on the path could lead to a tumble through the brush into the stream below.

The trail crosses the stream to open up a bit. It'll continue to meander through the dense, wet and slippery jungle. Embrace the humidity and muck as the payoff for this difficult hike is well worth it. It's two miles through the jungle to the falls from the beach.

You'll pass through a mesmerizing giant bamboo forest near the ruins of an old building before the track ascends up the side of the valley a bit. But, when you're down in the rainforest, look for the awapui plant. It's a ginger fern with a red bulb standing on a central stalk about a foot off the ground. If you find one, pick the whole stalk; bulb and all. Try to lash it to your backpack to carry the whole thing out of the forest with you.

That bulb is what ancient Hawaiians used to wash their entire bodies. It's also what Paul Mitchell bottles to sell to mainlanders to make millions in profits. Just look at the packaging of his shampoo. You'll see the plant in a logo at the top of the bottle.

Squeeze the bulb and a white substance bleeds through the leaves. It's the same consistency and smell of Paul Mitchell hair products without any processed chemicals. And you can put the stalk in a glass of water, keep it in your shower and use it for the next few days. Just make sure to respect the island. Only take one stalk as it'll be plenty for your vacation.

Make sure you're well-rested for the final push to the falls as it can be a bit dangerous. The trail hugs the northern side of the valley as the stream turns into a series of roaring falls and deep, clear pools. You'll be forced to walk on some precarious cliff edges with deep plunges into the rocky river below.

You'll eventually hear the roar of the 1,600-footfalls. Get your camera ready. It's one of the most beautiful sites in Hawaii.

The Falls

Hanakapi'ai Falls TrailHanakapi'ai Falls is 1,600-feet tall, but you won't be able to see it all from the base. The falls start deep inland and the water cascades down plenty of drops before the final fall. That last fall is what you're seeing, and it's as impressive as a waterfall gets. The roaring water is robust and you'll have to crane your neck to the see the “top.” It's difficult to capture the might of the falls with one pic, but that shouldn't stop you from trying.

At the base of the falls, you'll find a deep pool of cold water surrounding by massive rocks that have come over the falls during past storms. You can walk up the sides of the crater for a better picture, or you can dive right into the water after a long, hard hike. It's unexpectedly brisk and the spray of the falls should give you a taste of the water's frigid temp.

The pool is plenty deep, and you can swim all the way underneath the falls. Expect the rushing water to sting a bit if you choose to sit right underneath the cascade. And you can sit there. You'll find a natural bench carved into the rock right under the falls. It'll bring you up and out of the deep water. And you can even walk behind the falls in shin-high water along the bench. It's a good rest after a brisk swim to the falls. However, be warned, that water is not the only thing that can go over the falls. Go with caution.

This hike takes you through very different terrains. The cathedral cliff is hot, dry and exposed. The rainforest is humid, wet and slippery. Meanwhile, here at the end of the trail, you'll be a bit chilly. The sun is hard to find deep in the valley unless it's high noon, and the spray of the falls is sure to keep the entire pool area nice and cool. Expect to shiver just a bit. You can try to pack for all the different terrains, but you'll certainly heat up again on the way out.

You can dream of coconuts on your trek out. You'll likely be greeted by a local cutting open ice-cold coconuts out of the back of a truck at the trailhead. Drink in the electrolytes as you celebrate with your dirty friends.


Tell someone that you'll be making this hike and always hike with a friend. There are a few pitfalls along the way and a sprained ankle is not out of the question.

Pack plenty of sunscreen as much of the first portion of the hike is exposed to direct sunlight.

Pack bug repellent as you'll be trekking into the thick jungle with standing water.

Wear sturdy shoes that you don't mind getting dirty and wet. In fact, it's best to wear shoes as you swim in the pool at the base of the falls. The pool is full of large, sharp rocks that can hurt your feet.

Do not swim at Hakakapei Beach, and never turn your back to its surging surf is down on the beach.

Pack of plenty of water. In fact, you should pack more water than you'll think you'll need. Hikers are frequently rescued off the Kalalau Valley Trail. You may encounter a distressed hiker who needs hydration.

Remember that rocks can tumble down a waterfall, and the hike out is just as hard as the hike in, so take caution standing under a waterfall.


When you book on Hawaiian Planner, you are booking directly with the tour companies that provide the tours. If you need to adjust or cancel your tours, please contact the company directly from the order. Some of these tour companies will provide Hawaiian Planner with a referral fee that helps us maintain this site. Please book through our site wherever possible to help us continue to add new features to help plan your Hawaiian vacation. Aloha.
Price: Free
View Notebook
Kapaʻa, Kauai