Hanakapiai Valley is a tropical nirvana tucked away on Kauai’s exquisite Napali Coast. Due to the ability to gain access to this remote location by foot, this slice of heaven is one of the only hidden valleys on the Garden Isle regularly frequented by visitors. Make no mistake though, getting here is not for the faint of heart—hiking the trails requires endurance, strength and dedication. The two-mile trek to Hanakapiai Beach is an adventure in itself, let alone the next two miles of trail that head inland through a thick rainforest to Hanakapiai Falls.
Legend has it that this valley was once home to a sprawling native population who used the land from the mountains to the sea, or ahupuaa, to sustain their lifestyle. Stories have been passed on that Hanakapiai Falls was named after a Menehune chieftess who died at this location following childbirth complications. She was a descendent of a race of people, presumably from the Marquesas Islands, who are believed to have once inhabited Hawaii.
To get to this mysterious natural wonder and explore its heavenly realms, you must drive to the end of Kuhio Highway on the North Shore to Kee Beach. You’ll want to get here early because parking gets sticky later in the day, especially during busier seasons like summer and winter. But before heading out, however, make sure rain (that could cause flash flooding) is not in the forecast. It could be deceivingly sunny where you’re located but pouring rain at higher elevations in the mountains, which makes water levels spike at any given moment. In fact, this scenario has caused many hikers to unnecessarily endanger their lives or become stranded in this distant location and has prompted numerous serious rescue efforts. It’s also advisable to have all the important accouterments you’ll need before heading out on this challenging trip, such as waterproof hiking shoes, sunscreen, a swimsuit, rain gear, water and food.
If the weather checks out, you’ve got all the requirements for this daylong journey and the physical stamina to boot, then get ready for some stunning visual treats. First, you’ll embark along a two-mile exploration to Hanakapiai Beach along the cliff-hugging Kalalau Trail. The rugged ocean landscape adorned with emerald cliffs will help you forget about the strenuous 500-foot elevation you’re climbing. Once you hit the top of this ascension, you’ll make your way back down to sea level where you’ll encounter a sublime shoreline. You must carefully cross Hanakapiai stream, however, before digging your toes into the sand. Beware, however, as this is the location where many visitors have gotten into trouble. Issues occur when the stream is ragging with water due to heavy rain. Also, the tumultuous ocean along this part of the island does not make this a safe place for swimming. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect spot to relax for a while and breathe in the salty air while adoring the sights.
The next leg of this expedition takes you to Hanakapiai Falls but not before another two miles of leap frogging slippery boulders and crossing the stream on several occasions, all while gaining another 700 feet in elevation. This terrain is much more rugged and the jungle much more thick than the Kalalau Trail; it’s also not as heavily traversed or maintained so proceed with extreme caution. From Hanakapiai Beach, you’ll add another 4-miles (about four hours) to your journey by taking this trail. Reaching the back of the valley with its several hundred-foot tall waterfall and secluded fresh water pool, however, is your reward. This pretty paradise is the ultimate place to recharge by taking a dip in the cool water and enjoying a picnic.
Time will fly while you’re indulging in this ornate wilderness, but don’t forget that you still have to conquer the return trip. That means descending two miles back down to Hanakapiai Beach, then two more miles and another 500-feet in elevation before reaching your vehicle back at sea level. In other words, give yourself plenty of time to get back; you don’t want to be stuck trying to plod along at night—that’s far too dangerous.
Do yourself a favor and plan accordingly, making sure safety is your number one priority, before setting off on this magical adventure. Because providing you do everything right, this could be the most memorable experience of your visit to Kauai.