Distance: 8 miles Round-Trip | Time: 4– 6 hours | Level: Hard
Hiking to Hanakāpīʻai Falls is hands down one of the best things to do on Kauaʻi. The trail to the falls begins on the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail and winds hikers through the jungle and along the stunning Nā Pali Coast.
Four miles of dense forests, sweeping coastal views, stream crossings, and several slippery uphills later you come to the base of the incredible 300+ foot waterfall. Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail is a must-do for adventurers visiting Kauaʻi.
In this guide, I will cover important information to know before you go, what to expect on the trail, the best time to visit, and what to pack for the hike.
Hikers craving even more Nā Pali Coast adventure should check out my Complete Guide to Backpacking the Kalalau Trail.
Table of Contents
Things to Know Before Hiking Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail
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Hā‘ena State Park Entry and Parking Reservations are Required
Advanced day-use reservations must be made to enter Hāʻena State Park. Hawaiʻi residents are the only individuals exempt from having to make a day-use reservation.
For your day-use reservation you will have the option to choose between three permit types:
- Shuttle + Entry
- Parking + Entry
- Entry only
I recommend thoroughly reading over the FAQ before making a reservation choice.
No Cell Service in the Park
There is no cell service in Hā‘ena State Park. Make sure you have downloaded your reservation and Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail map (optional) before entering the park.
Keʻe Beach Beach to Hanakāpīʻai Falls: What to Expect
The hike to Hanakāpīʻai Falls is not an easy one and should only be attempted by active individuals and experienced hikers. The hike is physically demanding and traverses over several slippery and uneven sections of terrain.
Very few parts of the 8-mile hike are flat.
The trail begins at Keʻe Beach near the old parking lot. There are bathroom facilities and water fountains located here.
Keʻe Beach is a beautiful spot to relax pre or post-hike. The calm waters and accessible coral make it a great place to snorkel also.
Right from the old parking lot the trail presents hikers with a steep uphill section. The first mile of the trail is the most crowded. As the trail continues to climb, people will naturally begin to spread out.
Just when you start wondering if the trail is ever going to ease up, you come to the first incredible view of the Nā Pali Coastline. Around .5 miles the trail levels for a step or two and you’re rewarded with an unobstructed view of the turquoise blue waters below, and the towering green ridges lining the coast.
Catch your breath here, snap some photos, and continue on your climb, the next mile or so continues uphill. The ground is uneven and mostly consists of large rocks. Use extra caution if the trail is wet as the rocks become very slippery.
Around the 1.5-mile marker, the trail begins to descend down into the valley toward Hanakāpīʻai Beach. The downhill provides a nice break for your lungs and legs. Once you’ve made it down this section of the trail, you’re faced with your first stream crossing.
Before you’re able to access Hanakāpīʻai Beach or Hanakāpīʻai Falls, all hikers must first cross the stream. Hanakāpīʻai stream is fast flowing and around knee deep. We opted to take our shoes and socks off to cautiously wade across, rather than hopping from boulder to boulder and risking slipping.
As always, use caution when crossing streams and look for signs of flash floods.
Once you cross the stream you can either go right to the beach or left towards Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail. Even if you wish to continue hiking, at least take a moment to see Hanakāpīʻai Beach. The beach is absolutely stunning with its large stretch of white sand and clear blue water.
While looking at Hanakāpīʻai Beach is a must, I do not recommend swimming. There are signs everywhere urging hikers not to swim in the water. Hanakāpīʻai Beach is a notoriously dangerous beach to swim at. To date, 83 people have drowned at the beach due to strong and unpredictable rip currents.
Upon first glance, the water may not look treacherous, but the numbers suggest otherwise. Act wisely and do not attempt swimming.
We noticed that some hikers chose to only hike to the beach and back, making the trek a 4-mile round trip. For the record, at the beach there are drop-toilet facilities — bring your own toilet paper (BYOTP).
Know your abilities and listen to your body before choosing whether or not to head towards the falls. If your legs are up for it, I highly recommend making the trip. Will you be exhausted by the end of the day? Absolutely.
But, it’s 100% worth the challenging miles.
From the beach towards Hanakāpīʻai Falls the trail intensifies once again. You begin to wind back into the valley, away from the beach.
In the next 2 miles, you will gain roughly another 500 feet of elevation as you make your way to the waterfall. The trail here is dense and lush. You will be hiking with Hanakāpīʻai Stream on your left for most of the hike. However, you will encounter a number of stream crossings. Always take your time crossing the stream and be weary of wet rocks.
One of my favorite things about waterfall hikes is how the waterfall always seems to appear out of nowhere. One moment you are hiking in a thick canopied forest, and the next thing you know you look up and there it is.
Once we spotted Hanakāpīʻai Falls through the trees every single one of us let out an excited holler. It seems as though you can never truly prepare yourself for how magical a waterfall is in person.
Hanakāpīʻai Falls is powerful and awe-inspiring in size. The waterfall is situated as the main attraction, with the towering cliff walls bowed around it. Walking up to it feels like stepping into an amphitheater.
Can you swim at Hanakāpīʻai Falls?
Yes, you can swim at Hanakāpīʻai Falls! The waterfall has a large pool beneath it perfect for swimming.
We got so excited once we saw the falls in full view we quickly scrambled over the rock field, stashed our gear, and stripped down to our swimsuits. We wasted no time jumping in. Everyone stared at us smiling, as if we’d gone mad. Maybe we had.
The water was absolutely freezing, but there is nothing as adrenaline igniting as swimming at the base of a 300ft waterfall. It’s something I will remember forever.
Please note, you should always be on guard for falling rocks when swimming near waterfalls.
For the best view of the falls, climb up the rocks to the left. There’s a mossy-covered platform at the top that delivers a unique view of the falls and pool below.
Best Time to Visit Kauaʻi
Let’s be honest, there’s never a bad time to visit any of the Hawaiian Islands. However, you do want to keep the wet season in mind when planning your trip if you’re hoping for sunny and dry weather.
April to September are Kauaʻi’s driest months of the year. While it rains during these months as well (that’s how the island stays so vibrant and lush, after all) it’s nowhere near the amount of rain that’s likely during say, December.
While rain makes for beautiful flowing waterfalls, it also makes flash floods more common and severely dangerous. Devastating floods are not uncommon on the island and something all hikers should be on watch for.
Planning your hike during the dry season is the safest bet; however, Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail can be completed during any month of the year, weather pending. Just be diligent when checking the weather pre-hike.
What to Pack for Hiking Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail
The hike is lengthy and taxing, and, therefore, requires some thought and preparation for what to bring along.
I recommend wearing a comfortable pair of hiking shoes. Due to the length of the trail, you’re going to need shoes that are supportive with good tread. Rain is common on the north shore of Kaua’i and the trail is often wet and slippery. My go-to trail shoes are the Saucony Peragrine ST 11s.
As with all-day hikes, a small, compact backpack is also helpful. I always hike with my Gregory Nano 16L. It’s the perfect size for your hiking essentials. Having a pack makes sure your hands are free during the hike and keeps all your things in one place.
I also love my Gregory pack because it has a slip for a water bladder. We passed several other hikers carrying their water bottles in their hands the whole way. Not only is this a nuisance when hiking long distances but it’s also not enough water. I recommend packing at least two liters of water for a hike this length — three liters if you want to play it safe and not have to monitor your water intake.
Next, you’ll want to make sure you throw on a hat or sunglasses. Hopefully, you’re lucky with the weather during your hike and get a beautiful sunny day to visit the waterfall. If that’s the case, you’re definitely going to want some sun protection. Apply some reef-safe sunscreen while you’re at it.
Mosquitos are also something to prepare for as half of the hike follows closely alongside Hanakāpīʻai Stream. We only noticed the mosquitos when we were standing still, but in that short amount of time, we easily racked up 50 bites. If mosquitoes tend to annoy you, bring along some bug spray.
Lastly, come prepared with a packed lunch or snack. It’s important to keep your energy levels high during the hike. I never hike without at least a protein bar in my pack. For a hike this lengthy and beautiful though, why not pack a lunch and enjoy it by the stream or ocean? Just make sure to pack out all waste and dispose of it properly post-hike.
Hiking the Kalalau Trail
If you were to continue hiking past the Hanakāpīʻai Falls trail veer off, you would continue hiking along the Kalalau Trail. I cannot recommend backpacking the Kalalau enough. The trail is breathtaking and provides endless views of the stunning Nā Pali Coast. Of all the places we’ve hiked, this trail is officially one of our favorites.
However, if you are interested in hiking any more of the trail past Hanakāpīʻai Falls, either to Hanakoa Falls or the entire Kalalau Trail, you must have an overnight permit.
I go into detail on how to secure a permit, as well as how incredible our experience on the Kalalau was in my Complete Guide to Backpacking the Kalalau Trail.
Looking for More Adventure on the Island of Kaua’i
If you have any further questions about hiking to Hanakāpīʻai Falls or Kauaʻi travel in general, drop me a message in the comment section below.