Kauai’s Ke’e Beach offers scenic beauty, top-notch snorkeling, and a bit of a sense of being at one of the ends of the Earth. You can’t go farther northwest by car on the island’s North Shore than this: This fetching swath of sand essentially marks the beginning of the roadless Na Pali Coast, one of the most dramatic oceanfronts anywhere on Earth.
Though its road’s end as far as the Kuhio Highway is concerned, Ke’e Beach isn’t exactly secluded. This is a popular destination, not only for the fantastic beachfront and snorkeling but because it’s also the trailhead for the world-famous Kalalau Trail. That’s the strenuous and sometimes treacherous footpath striking westward along the sea cliffs (or pali) of the Na Pali Coast, among Hawaii’s great backpacking adventures.
Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail’s kickoff are highlights of Ha’ena State Park, also known for Hanakapi’ai Falls. There’s a parking lot serving both the beach and the Kalalau trailhead, plus additional overflow parking a little farther down at the ultimate terminus of the road. Because it’s used to access both the well-loved beach and the Kalalau Trail, the parking lot is often full; besides the overflow lot, another option to get around this is to take advantage of the Kauai North Shore Shuttle.
Ke’e Beach is a great place to lounge on the sand, though expect plenty of company. A reef buffers the waters off the beach, so this is also a good place to slip on that mask, snorkel, and fins. That said, bear in mind that currents can sometimes be strong off the beach, and more than a few swimmers and snorkelers have drowned here. While lifeguards watch over the beach, it’s imperative you know your limits in the water. As with much of Kauai’s North Shore, the strong surf of winter makes for less friendly—and often downright dangerous—swimming and snorkeling conditions.
This far-flung beach also tempts visitors as an excellent sunset vantage. And what exactly is better than a Kauai sunset?
Ke’e Beach includes restrooms and showers, and Ha’ena State Park has picnicking facilities as well.
Here’s an important thing to know that’s lately changed about accessing Ha’ena State Park, including Ke’e Beach: Hawaii State Parks has instituted a daily visitor cap at the park, and now requires that non-residents make advanced reservations to enter. Those reservations include both a Park Entry Reservation and a Parking Reservation, and you can nail them down up to 30 days in advance.
Ke’e Beach is among the most beloved on Kauai for a reason: It’s postcard-perfect, and it’s right at the cusp of that remote and eye-popping Na Pali Coast. Expect crowds, but definitely put it on your Garden Island bucket list!
To hike the full length of the Kalalau Trail, you need to be in good physical shape, check on current conditions, and obtain the proper camping permit from Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. But you can sample the beauty and grandeur of the sheer Na Pali Coast by walking a short way down the trail to a photo-op overlook about a mile from the trailhead. It’s an easy and rewarding add-on to a hangout at Ke’e Beach!