Tucked away in the back of the first valley on Kaua’i’s North Shore, Hanakapi`ai Falls is a hidden gem missed by many but remembered by all who make the inland trek to witness its majestic tumult down the face of the towering pali cliffs. Born from the hundreds of inches of rain that grace the heights of the Na Pali mountains, the cataclysm freefalls for 300’ into a pristine pool, casting out rainbows with the mist when the sunlight hits them just right. From here, the water’s endless journey continues down the valley in the course of the Hanakapi`ai Stream until it flows into the Pacific. Hikers of the Kalalau Trail know the stream well: it is the first benchmark on that world famous trek, and the turning back point for most day hikers. However, if you have some energy left, don’t hurry back to Ke`e Beach as the two-mile hike to the falls is well worth it, being one of the best hikes in Kauai.
The Na Pali Coast
A series of razor sharp ridges hundreds of feet high separating deep, mysterious valleys carved by frequent rainfall, the Na Pali Coast is an iconic landmark painted in vibrant earthy swaths of reds, greens, yellows, and browns. Spanning 11 miles of switchbacks and elevation changes from the trailhead at Ke`e until the terminus at Kalalau Valley, the Kalalau trail is one of the most rugged – and breathtaking – hiking experiences in the world. For those interested in a shorter excursion, the falls offer the perfect day hike, with no need for overnight permits while still experiencing the magic of this amazing coast.
To reach the falls, set out from the trailhead at Ke` Beach (the end of the road past Hanalei). A lookout marks the half-mile point (bet you thought you had hiked farther!) but keep on following the rise and fall of the trail for two miles until you reach the stream crossing. Along the way you will be treated to stunning panoramic views of the craggy Na Pali Coast stretching out before you. Once you reach the crossing, relax on the secluded beach and rest in the shade of the ironwood trees before turning inland. It is another two miles to the falls, rising 760’ in elevation through mountain apple trees, native forests, and groves of bamboo. You will cross the stream several times, so be prepared to get wet and muddy. The reward for your hard work? Breathtaking views from the base of the falls, and a relaxing dip in the collection pool in a magical grove surrounded by vertical cliffs and majestic old-growth forest, alight with native birds and the exotic scents of the jungle’s flowers. There is a reason it is considered one of the best hikes in Kauai!