Hanakoa Falls

Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii, USA

About Hanakoa Falls

Hiking Distance: 13 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 10-12 hours

Date first visited: 2006-12-25
Date last visited: 2006-12-25

Waterfall Latitude: 22.1877
Waterfall Longitude: -159.6157

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Hanakoa Falls is the other of two well-named waterfalls featured on the Kalalau Trail along the famed Na Pali Coast.

This one is much taller than Hanakapi’ai Falls.

Hanakoa_Falls_019_12252006 - Looking up at Hanakoa Falls
Looking up at Hanakoa Falls

However, it has lower flow (at least in my experience).

Although I’ve seen it said that this waterfall can top 1,000ft in height, I was only able to see the last 300 or 400ft of it.

If the height figure is correct, then perhaps there are more hidden tiers unseen from the ground.

I did recall seeing more tiers from helicopter rides that wouldn’t have been visible from the ground.

Being situated well into the Na Pali Coast, this impressive falls is nestled within one of the cathedral-like wrinkles in the mountains backing Hanakoa Valley.

It was roughly at the half way point of the Kalalau Trail.

Hanakoa Falls Permit

Hanakoa_060_12252006 - The trail was narrow and constantly had dropoffs.  I could see why permits were required even for the day hike!
The trail was narrow and constantly had dropoffs. I could see why permits were required even for the day hike!

In order to get all the way to Hanakoa Falls, I had to obtain a hiking permit (or a camping permit) because it required me to hike beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach.

I managed to pick it up in person from the Department of Land and Agriculture building in Lihu’e.

Moreover, I was able to get a day hike permit a couple of days before the hike.

Ordinarily, I understand that permits to do the Kalalau Trail beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach would typically require bookings six months in advance!

However, I was able to secure my permits last minute because I wasn’t seeking a camping permit (for Kalalau Beach).

Instead, I only needed the day use permit for Hanakoa Falls.

Hiking to Hanakoa Falls

Hanakoa_030_12252006 - Looking back at Hanakapi'ai Beach from the permit side
Looking back at Hanakapi’ai Beach from the permit side

There was a reason why the authorities required permits to do any kind of hike beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach.

I even struggled big time with the day hike because it was brutally narrow, hilly, and slow.

It was wrought with hazards such as the nearly constant long drop-offs on the makai side.

I also had to contend with slippery and narrow sections of track that almost forced me to scratch myself against some of the overgrowth protruding onto the trail.

All said, it easily took me from day break to sunset to cover the 13 miles round trip to do this hike.

Indeed, it was a pace that was nowhere near the usual 2mph from more normal hikes.

Hanakoa_064_12252006 - Looking ahead at the Na Pali Coast on the narrow Kalalau Trail beyond Hanakapi'ai Beach
Looking ahead at the Na Pali Coast on the narrow Kalalau Trail beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach

I also nearly dehydrated and suffered a heat stroke after running out of water.

So the lesson learned here was to bring a filter (you can read about my adventure here) or iodine tablets.

The Spur Trail to Hanakoa Falls

In terms of logistics, the turnoff for Hanakoa Falls was after the crossing of Hanakoa Stream about 4 miles beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach along the Kalalau Trail (or about 6 miles from the trailhead).

There were picnic shelters nearby that kind of hinted to me that the easy-to-miss signed turnoff was near.

It easily took me nearly 5 hours just to get to this point.

Once I managed to find the overgrown spur trail, there were bright ribbons tied to twigs to help identify the difficult-to-follow Hanakoa Falls Trail.

Hanakoa_122_12252006 - I was far enough along the Kalalau Trail that I could see fluted pali on the mauka side
I was far enough along the Kalalau Trail that I could see fluted pali on the mauka side

At times the trail hugged eroded ledges overlooking Hanakoa Stream.

Other times, the trail disappeared into the dense shadows of vegetative overgrowth providing plenty of headscratching and doubling back moments for me.

The falls finally became visible through the foliage about 1/2 mile from the turnoff heading inland from the Kalalau Trail.

A posted sign warned against falling rocks, and the field of large boulders that have already tumbled down the hillside provided an additional warning against me venturing any closer.

Even though I managed to reach the falls at around midday, I took an extended lunch break until around 1:30pm.

Therefore, the hike back seemed even longer and more difficult as I gave myself less time to get back before dark (though the break was very necessary).

Hanakoa_Falls_028_12252006 - Direct look at Hanakoa Falls
Direct look at Hanakoa Falls

So do keep in mind that this hike is not for the faint-of-heart!


Hanakoa 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.

Hanakoa_012_12252006 - The familiar first two miles as I started the hike very early in the day
Hanakoa_016_12252006 - Going past the Hanakapi'ai Beach warning sign
Hanakoa_032_12252006 - Sign indicating that a permit was required to proceed
Hanakoa_056_12252006 - I met up with some backpackers who kept me company for half the hike
Hanakoa_060_12252006 - The trail was narrow and constantly had dropoffs.  I could see why permits were required even for the day hike!
Hanakoa_066_12252006 - We encountered mountain goats
Hanakoa_074_12252006 - Tall mountains still providing shadow from the sun this early in the morning
Hanakoa_085_12252006 - Finally entering the shallow Hanakoa Valley
Hanakoa_Falls_002_12252006 - A shelter and some signage.  I must be getting close to the falls
Hanakoa_Falls_005_12252006 - Crossing the Hanakoa Stream
Hanakoa_Falls_034_12252006 - These pink ribbons helped me figure out where I was to go amongst the overgrowth to continue onto the falls
Hanakoa_Falls_009_12252006 - Finally approaching Hanakoa Falls
Hanakoa_084_12252006 - Some infrastructure at the mouth of Hanakoa Valley
Hanakoa_099_12252006 - Looking back at Hanakoa Falls
Hanakoa_118_12252006 - Now on the long trek back to the trailhead
Hanakoa_154_12252006 - Looking ahead at the coastal scenery along the Kalalau Trail on the return hike
Hanakoa_161_12252006 - Fluted cliffs in the background
Hanakoa_165_12252006 - I noticed this shameful display of litter near Hanakapi'ai Beach

This hike shares the same trailhead as the Hanakapi’ai Falls trail (let alone the Kalalau Trail). We’ll reproduce the driving directions here for convenience.

From Princeville (30 miles or an hour drive north of Lihu’e), follow Route 560 west for 10 miles to its end near Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail trailhead. Note that the 56 (Kaumuali’i Hwy) becomes Route 560 (Kuhio Hwy) just west of Princeville. The primitive parking lot has very limited space, especially considering the number of large trucks, SUVs, and RVs parking here.

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Tagged with: na pali coast, princeville, kauai, hawaii, waterfall, kalalau, beach, stream, permit, difficult

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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