About Hanakapiai Falls
Hanakapiai Falls (or Hanakapi’ai Falls) is a very tall (maybe 300ft) waterfall nestled deep in the back of Hanakapi’ai Valley – one of the valleys within the famously scenic and rugged Na Pali Coast in northwestern Kaua’i.
While I’ve learned that most of the waterfalls within the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park were difficult to access, Hanakapi’ai Falls was perhaps the most accessible (and most scenic) of such waterfalls.
In fact, we liked this waterfall enough to put it into our Top 10 List of Hawaiian Waterfalls despite the work involved to reach it.
Indeed, Hanakapiai Falls demanded a good deal of effort from would-be visitors, and that’s because it involved hiking at least 8 miles round-trip (a distance made slightly longer if using the shuttle, which dropped off hikers a bit before the actual trailhead).
The first two miles along the scenic Na Pali Coast between Ke’e Beach and Hanakapi’ai Beach was already pretty strenuous, but that was actually the “easiest” part of the famed Kalalau Trail.
The next two miles veered inland into Hanakapi’ai Valley, and that involved more stream crossings, dicey ledges, and lots of mud.
Indeed, when I first did this hike to the falls in December 2006, it took me somewhere around 5 hours to complete though I was both younger and able to park right at the Kalalau Trailhead.
When I came back to do this hike in November 2021, it took me over 6 hours to complete (not counting the shuttle itself), which I blame on my older age combined with the slightly longer distance to hike from the shuttle drop-off point.
By the way, that shuttle system started in 2019 to alleviate the congestion situation that had gotten worse over the years.
The two-mile stretch between Kalalau Trailhead and Hanakapi’ai Beach was shared with the much longer Kalalau Trail to Kalalau Beach, which was 9 miles beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach (11 miles from the Kalalau Trailhead).
Beyond Kalalau Trail, you need to secure a permit for reasons that are more apparent, which I show in the Hanakoa Falls write-up.
What Is The Meaning Behind The Name Hanakapiai Falls?
I’ve read in the literature that Hanakapiai Falls was named after a Menehune princess who apparently died in childbirth while the Menehune were en route to Ha’ena to leave Kaua’i.
In the Hawaiian oral lore, the Menehune were said to be (almost mythically) dwarvish people who were the first humans to have settled the Hawaiian Islands from the Marquesas Islands.
They lived in caves within the mauka (mountains) of the island and often were elusive to the more conventionally-sized humans that would eventually come and settle the island of Kaua’i.
Speaking of the others, they were said to have also come from Tahiti (both Marquesas Islands and Tahiti’s Society Islands are part of modern day French Polynesia).
Trail Description from Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking to the Kalalau Trailhead
When I first did this hike back in December 2006, I was able to find parking near the Kalalau Trailhead and Ke’e Beach, and then proceed to hike on the Kalalau Trail.
However, when I came back and did this hike in November 2021, a shuttle system was in place as self-parking required advanced booking, which was very difficult to procure.
This shuttle actually dropped us off at an established parking lot labeled on Gaia GPS as the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking (I didn’t remember noticing such a parking lot the first time I was here).
Anyways, from that overflow parking, the path started on a boardwalk flanking what seemed to be taro ponds or something being grown in an open area beneath some impressive and imposing cliff on the mauka side.
Immediately after the boardwalk ended, I then followed a wide path surrounded by tall trees providing a good deal of shade (if it’s sunny).
Then, after a quarter-mile from the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking, I picked up the actual Kalalau Trailhead, which was immediately across the street from a restroom facility.
Some hikers lost their way when the went past the end of the road towards Ke’e Beach, but the Kalalau Trail began before the end of the road, where there’s a shelter and lots of signage around it.
Hiking the Kalalau Trail en route to Hanakapi’ai Beach
From the get-go, the Kalalau Trail immediately started climbing moderately steeply for the better part of the first half-mile.
With the combination of the muddy, rocky terrain and the moderate incline, it was as if the trail warned hikers what they’ve signed up for in terms of the difficulty of the overall hike.
After the first half-mile, the trail still climbed but it wasn’t as steep as the beginning, and it went through a couple of minor gulches where the trail would dip to a low point to cross a minor stream before climbing out of that gulch.
Such undulations certainly added to the level of effort while also slowing down the overall pace.
Meanwhile, the trail started to reveal coastal features like Ke’e Beach and reefs looking back to the northeast while keeping straight on the trail revealed the scenic pali of the Na Pali Coast.
At roughly 1.5 miles, the trail curved around an emergency helicopter landing site before the trail then started its descent towards Hanakapi’ai Stream and Hanakapi’ai Beach.
Along the way, I was able to get a top-down look at the secluded beach where the thud of powerful waves could be both heard and even felt!
Eventually, the trail would complete its descent with an unbridged crossing of the Hanakapi’ai Stream, which took me around 75 minutes to reach this spot from the Kalalau Trailhead.
This stream crossing was deceptively tricky to stay dry (the main reason why I hiked in water shoes instead of hiking boots that couldn’t get inundated).
In hindsight, it might be wise to bring a change of shoes since hiking in Keens for long distances tended to induce chafing and blisters on my feet.
Going straight and veering to the right from the crossing of the Hanakapi’ai Stream ultimately ended up at Hanakapi’ai Beach, which was actually a dead-end.
For many visitors, Hanakapi’ai Beach would be a suitable turnaround point (making the hike 4 miles round-trip).
When I first came here in December 2006, the waves crashing into the beach were violent, and I even noticed a death tally sign that counted the number of people who have died at this beach (underscoring the obvious danger of swimming here).
When I came back in November 2021, I didn’t see the death tally sign anymore, and the waves were less violent than I remembered.
Nevertheless, it was possible to check out an alcove or cave when it wasn’t high tide, and there was ample shade towards the back end of the beach for a picnic on a sunny day.
Anyways, I know when I first did this hike, that continuation of the trail from Hanakapi’ai Beach was easy to miss, and I definitely noticed more people trying to figure it out on my second time here.
To continue on both the Kalalau Trail and Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail, I had to backtrack to a directional sign by the stream crossing and then continue roughly 200ft upstream to another signed fork in the trail.
Deviating from the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls
From the aforementioned signed fork, the path on the right continued towards Kalalau Beach along the Kalalau Trail while the path continuing straight on the left went to Hanakapi’ai Falls.
Continuing straight to proceed further into Hanakapi’ai Valley, the path briefly went past another clearing and shelter acting as a helicopter emergency landing site.
Then, the trail narrowed considerably as it went into a denser jungle flanked by large bamboo groves and hanging onto ledges over the eastern banks of the Hanakapi’ai Stream.
Roughly a mile into Hanakapi’ai Valley from the deviation from the Kalalau Trail (taking me roughly 30 minutes to reach), I encountered the first of the remaining four crossings of Hanakapi’ai Stream.
From this point forward, the hike became progressively muddier, wetter, and even sketchy in spots, where I even took a spill on one of the stream crossings given how slippery the rocks were.
Beyond the last of the stream crossings, the trail was especially sketchy as it clung to doubtful-looking muddy ledges by intermediate cascades.
Meanwhile, there were other sections containing false trails as well as landslide detours (typically aided with pink ribbons as hints), where it was easy to lose the path.
But eventually after some persistence, I could start to see Hanakapi’ai Falls up ahead, and ultimately after two miles from Hanakapi’ai Beach, I finally arrived at the base of the waterfall itself.
It took me roughly over an hour from Hanakapi’ai Beach or nearly 3 hours from the start of the whole hike to get to this point.
The falls sat at the head of Hanakapi’ai Valley, which was surrounded by imposing cliffs on three sides (so I was keenly aware of the potential for rockfalls here).
Given the level of effort it took to get here, it was common to see people reacting with relief after finally witnessing the falls and momentarily forgetting the struggle it took to get here.
So the natural reaction would be to swim in the waterfall’s plunge pool, and I even witnessed some people swim all the way to the backside of the falls’ base.
As for the return hike, I had some old maps that claimed the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail was a loop hike, but from what I was able to tell, that loop no longer existed.
Therefore, I pretty much had to hike back out the way I came for a grand total of roughly 5-6 hours round trip on the trail.
The Shuttle Schedule
One thing to consider when taking the shuttle is that they essentially run every 30 minutes from 6:30am to noon from the Waipa Park and Ride (see directions).
Note that when I booked for a shuttle, I had to find an available departure time online and then book the ticket there. I happened to book a 7:30am shuttle departure, which left exactly as scheduled.
From the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking area, the shuttles take off from 2pm to 5:30pm on a first come, first served basis.
This means that between noon and at 2pm, the shuttles do not run.
So this is something to consider when deciding how far you want to go, how much time you want to spend, and any other coordination being done on your own outside the shuttle service.
Hanakapiai Falls resides in Napali Coast State Wilderness Park in the island of Kauai, Hawaii. For information or inquiries about the general area as well as current conditions, you may want to try visiting the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) website. For parking and shuttle reservations, you can visit Go Haena.
The Kalalau Trailhead sits at the very end of the Kuhio Highway (State Highway 560) on the North Shore of Kaua’i about 7 miles (roughly 20-25 minutes drive) west of Hanalei Town.
When I first did the Hanakapiai Falls hike in late December 2006, there was a primitive parking lot with very limited space, especially considering the number of large trucks, SUVs, and RVs parked there.
Indeed, even back then, I had difficulty finding parking though I did show up at around 11:15am, which was kind of late.
Eventually, I found some spot in an unpaved muddy road turning towards the beach from the main parking lot.
But in general, I figured that the early birds get the worm (i.e. a parking spot) in this case.
When I returned to do this hike in November 2021, the parking spaces could only be reserved in advance.
Since I wasn’t able to book such a parking spot with an entry pass as they sold out quickly, I then opted to do the shuttle with an entry pass.
That meant that I would park the car (or get dropped off in my case) at the Waipa Park and Ride, which was a mile west of the main part of Hanalei Town.
From there, the shuttle would take me the rest of the way between here and the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking Lot, where I then had to hike another 1/4-mile to reach the actual Kalalau Trail.
More information about securing parking reservations as well as shuttle reservations can be found at the Go Haena website.
For some geographical context, Hanalei was about 4 miles (10 minutes drive) southwest of Princeville, 23 miles (over 30 minutes drive) north of the main part of Kapa’a, 31 miles (about an hour drive) north of the main part of Lihu’e, 43 miles (about 75 minutes drive) north of Koloa / Po’ipu, and 54 miles (90 minutes drive) northeast of Waimea.
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