Tunnels Beach sits near the end of the road north on Kauai. The drive is stunningly dramatic. The Kuhio Highway drops down a massive cliff side to give you views of Hanalei Bay against the backdrop of misty, waterfall-covered mountains. The road then crosses the first of many one-lane bridges before hugging Hanalei River towards town. You'll meander through taro fields before slowing down for town which is filled with surprisingly high-end shops.
The road emerges from town to hug the western side of Hanalei Bay before zig-zagging the rest of the way. The road is pinched between towering mountains and ocean cliffs while occasionally breaking out into flat areas that feature secluded beaches, sleepy villages and massive caves.
The first cave that you cross will mark Heana Beach Park. You'll know it by the five-acre patch of grass covered in pitched tents. One of the best ways to approach the beach is to take advantage of the abundant parking at Heana Beach Park and then walking West down the beach 0.8 miles to Tunnels. Otherwise, you're at the end of the road and parking is about to get very limited.
If you want to drive on, you can keep an eye out for two signposted roads leading to Tunnels Beach each with a narrow strip of parking. They'll be on your right just before the road comes to an end at Ke'e Beach. The first is 0.4 miles past mile marker 8. The second and better road sits 0.6 miles past the same mile marker.
Parking is extremely limited on these narrow roads, and you will be ticketed and even towed for parking on the main road or on private property. There is overflow parking down on a dirt lot near Ke'e Beach at the end of the road, but this lot will have you walking almost a mile to Tunnels Beach.
However you decide to get to this snorkeler's paradise, the beach is picturesque. It seems as though the thick jungle walks right out into the water. The trees give Tunnels plenty of shade, so you can make a longer day at this popular beach by staying out of the sun. And the beach sits right at the north end of the Na Pali Coast which gives you impressive views of the first towering cathedral cliff.
The coral reefs can be seen through crystal clear water from the soft golden sand at Tunnels. The water is almost always calm even during the winter months of rough north coast surf. The protective reef is teeming with fish and other ocean critters just waiting to be discovered. This is unequivocally Kauai's best snorkel spot.
And it just may be the island's best diving spot, as well. You may see divers just off the back end of the reef exploring the many underwater lava tube tunnels that give this beach its name. The tunnels are famous for sharks, but you shouldn't worry about any attacks here. The docile sharks come into the protected tunnels area for a rest, and you are protected by the reef up near the beach.
There are no lifeguards at Tunnels Beach, so you swim at your own risk. You should always check the online surf reports before heading out to Tunnels as the ocean can get up and over the protecting reef. Rough ocean conditions are rare at Tunnels, but you should always take great caution when swimming in Hawaii.
After spending your energy in the water snorkeling, the golden sand of Tunnels Beach is the perfect place to lay out. You can take a moment to feel the isolation in this tropical paradise. There are no roads west of you in America. You're at the edge of the country, under the shade of trees, looking out over a tropical paradise that is framed by towering waterfall-covered mountains. There's not perhaps, a more beautiful sight in all the world.