Kauai has one main road. The Kuhio Highway’s top speed limit is 50 mph and it meanders along the coast, but, if you look at a map, you’ll notice the road is incomplete. It doesn’t make a full circle around the island. That’s because the Na Pali Coast stands in the way.
On the northwestern side of Kauai, you’ll find arguably the most beautiful landscape in all of the Hawaii. The coast is made up of a series of cathedral cliffs and valleys, and inside each valley hides a beautiful beach surrounded by waterfalls. The cathedral cliffs are towering, and they look like the talons of an island-sized dragon reaching into the sea. They are gnarled, craggy and covered in vibrantly green plants. And you’ll laugh to yourself when you visit the Na Pali Coast because you’ll be able to see mountain goats clinging precariously to cliff sides.
There are only three ways to explore this natural treasure -- on foot, by plane or by sea. The towering cliffs and deep valleys make paving impossible, and you wouldn’t want to ruin such a beautiful place with roads, vehicles and crowds. You’ll have to earn this beauty.
You’ll find the Kalalau Valley Trailhead on the northern end of the Na Pali Coast at Ke’e Beach. Simply take Kauai’s one highway north through Hanalei until the road ends. There’s a small parking lot, so make sure to get to the trailhead early in the morning to grab a spot.
From here, it’s an 11-mile hike to the southern end of the Na Pali Coast. You’ll have to ascend and descend each and every cathedral cliff and navigate “Crawler’s Ledge” to get to the Na Pali Coast’s gem -- Kalalau Valley. The valley sits just north of Polihale Beach at the end of the road south, and there’s no getting out of the valley. You’ll have to enjoy its beach, caves, waterfalls and lush fruits before you turn around to hike 11 miles back to Ke’e Beach. There’s no way to hike it in one day, so pack a tent and plenty of food, and you’ll have to register with local authorities before starting the trek.
You can also jump aboard a cruise to the west coast of Kauai. You’ll be able to sail in the shark-filled channel between Niihau and Kauai before the Na Pali Coast presents herself. This is a wondrous way to experience the grandeur of the coast. You’ll get front row seats to each cathedral cliff and deep valley, but don’t expect to step foot on the coast. Violent surf makes landing on the Na Pali Coast very difficult and dangerous.
Lastly, you can fly over the Na Pali Coast. It will still appear massive despite the fact that you are flying high above, and you might just be able to make out hikers on the Kalalau Trail or mountain goats clinging to the cliffs.
But there’s a little Kauai secret about the Na Pali Coast. It turns out that you can see a large portion of the coast without hiking, boarding a plane or boat. Simply drive up the Waimea Canyon Road past the observatory and all the way until the road ends. Here, you’ll find the Kalalau Valley Lookout. You’ll be able to stand on the edge of the a cliff peering thousands of feet down into the most beautiful and remote valley that Hawaii has to offer. And it’s just a few steps from your car.