The northwestern seaboard of Kauai encompasses one of the world’s most jaw-dropping meetings of land and sea: the legendary Na Pali Coast. This roughly 14-mile stretch of soaring cliffs, razor-edge ridges, sharp pinnacles, and hidden coves is ravishingly rugged—and ravishingly roadless.
In other words, it’s not an easy place to see in the “usual” way many such world-class seacoasts are: that is, by driving along some cliff-edge road, pulling off at scenic overlooks, and switchbacking behind the wheel down to the beachfront.
That, however, is very much part of the allure of the Na Pali Coast: a genuinely breathtaking oceanfront that’s resisted getting paved over and littered with development. And fortunately, there are multiple ways to clap eyes on its magnificence, which really has to be seen to be believed.
Here are the three top ways to experience the Na Pali Coast of Kauai: by land, sea, and air!
Seeing the soaring, jagged, waterfall-strung green walls of the Na Pali by air basically puts you inside Jurassic Park—without the roving carnivorous dinosaurs, thankfully. This coastline made some big-time cameos in that Spielberg blockbuster. Indeed, you may well find yourself humming the theme song if you book a seat aboard a sightseeing helicopter or airplane taking in the tropicbird’s eye view.
You’ve got more than a few choices for flight tours showing off the Na Pali Coast. Air Ventures Hawaii, for example, includes this world-famous seacoast on its Big Kahuna Kauai Air Tour (aboard a GA-8 Airvan), its Kauai Air Tour by Biplane (aboard a 4MF-5 Waco), and its Private Luxury Air Tour (aboard a C-182).
If you’d prefer taking in the glories of the Na Pali by chopper, you might consider Safari Helicopters, which flies over the coast on its Deluxe Waterfall Safari and Canyon Landing Safari as well as on chartered private tours.
Another option is Island Helicopters Kauai, which incorporates the Na Pali Coast in its Grand Skies Island Tour and its Jurassic Falls Tour (the latter landing at 400-foot Manawaiopuna Falls, another Jurassic Park icon).
The fluted cliffs of the Na Pali Coast look just as amazing from the bottom up as the top down. It’s a dream to view this stunning landscape from just offshore, and, here again, you’ve got your pick of ace tour operators.
Na Pali Riders, to take one example, leads combination sightseeing and snorkeling tours via 30-foot, rigid-hull inflatable Zodiac rafts. Along with the Na Pali walls and sea caves, it’s not uncommon to spy Hawaiian spinners and/or bottlenose dolphins on these tours.
A 32-foot-long custom-built catamaran, the Anini I, is the vessel run by North Shore Charters, meanwhile, which prides itself on keeping a low number of passengers to maximize enjoyment aboard scenic and snorkeling cruises. These are available as both group tours and private/custom charters.
Hiking – Like the Olden Days
Native Hawaiians have long journeyed the tricky terrain of the Na Pali Coast, and hiking remains the most immersive, direct, and intimate means of experiencing this very special place. One history-drenched trail threads the coastline itself: the legendary Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile adventure linking Kee Beach in Haena State Park with remote Kalalau Beach in the heart of the Na Pali.
It’s not an easy undertaking. The hike, which crosses the Hanakapiai, Hoolulu, Waiahuakua, and Hanakoa valleys before reaching the almost Edenic Kalalau Valley, involves multiple stream-crossings and some hairy drop-offs. A backpacking permit is required to do the whole thing, with camping at Kalalau Beach.
Some choose to tackle just a portion of the Kalalau Trail via the four-mile round-trip day hike to Hanakapiai Beach (or the eight-mile round-trip trek to Hanakapiai Falls), which does serve up westward views down the cliff-walled seaboard.
Meanwhile, a few scenery-bedazzled trails do yield limited but unforgettable looks down upon the Na Pali Coast from the landward highlands. Visitors to Kokee State Park blessed with clear weather can peer down the Kalalau Valley from the Kalalau Lookout, or hike ridge crests to incredible vantages on such rough trails as the Awaawapuhi and Nualolo.
See the Na Pali Coast – Whichever Way You Can!
The Na Pali Coast isn’t only one of the signature landmarks of Kauai: It’s also among the most incredible sights in the entire Hawaiian Islands, and, indeed, the world. So whether you do it by foot, by sightseeing flight, or by boat tour—and we recommend trying all three!—put this dreamy coastline on your bucket list.