Kauai’s North Shore thoroughfare of the Kuhio Highway ends in Haena State Park, where the great cliffs of the roadless NaPali Coast rear up to dominate the island’s northwestern seaboard. The two prime attractions of this fascinating park are Kee Beach (and its swimmable lagoon) and the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail. That demanding footpath strikes southwestward into the NaPali wilderness to reach, 11 miles later, the backpacking destination of Kalalau Beach.
First off, let’s emphasize some of the basic logistics of visiting Haena State Park: As part of recent efforts to protect this well-loved place against overuse, all visitors to Haena now need to lock down advanced reservations. (If you’re passing through the park to backpack on the Kalalau Trail, your Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park permit serves as your Haena State Park entry.)
The scenery at Haena State Park is pretty darn marvelous. The park, about seven miles west of Hanalei, is situated at the western end of a narrow coastal plain. That lowland edges up against the NaPali cliffs (which, farther southwest, form some of the highest and most dramatic sea cliffs in the world) and the steep ridge paralleling the Limahuli Stream, which empties into the Pacific in Haena.
The green highlands include the much-admired, pinnacled peak of 1,280-foot Mount Makana, a beautiful backdrop to this oceanfront. The foot of the slopes in the southern part of the park includes a couple of “wet caves,” Wai a Kanalua and Waiakapulae. These are old sea caves eroded when the shoreline was higher.
Haena State Park’s immediate shore includes cobble beaches, dunes, and the sandy perfection of Kee Beach, among the most popular in Kauai. A fringing reef offshore buffers the Kee Lagoon, which serves as a reasonably safe place to take a dip during calm summer conditions. As everywhere on the Kauai North Shore, beware of strong currents and rough breaks, and generally speaking stay out of the water during the high-surf winter season.
Besides swimming, the Haena shore also offers opportunities for beach casting.
While visiting Haena State Park, keep in mind this is an important—and, in places, genuinely sacred—landscape (and seascape) for Native Hawaiians. It falls within the ancient moku/district of Halelea, the “House of Happiness.” Within the park lies the site associated with the traditional dance of hula. You’ll also see restored taro fields right around the main parking area.
Besides swimming and lounging at Kee Beach, many visitors to Haena State Park take a day hike on the Kalalau Trail. The trailhead’s located right by the beach. While backpackers holding the requisite permit for the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park brave the challenges of this famous coastal path to overnight at Kalalau Beach, a number of attractions lie within fairly easy reach of Haena State Park.
Two miles down the Kalalau, for example, you can reach the gorgeous Hanakapiai Beach. From there, it’s another two miles to the 300-foot plunge of Hanakapiai Falls (making for an eight-mile round-trip hike from Haena State Park). Keep in mind you need to be prepared for backcountry conditions even doing a day hike on the Kalalau, and be careful crossing the Hanakapiai Stream, which can swell dangerously after rainfall.
Whether you’re using it as a springboard to explore the dramatic NaPali Coast or just spending some quality time at Kee Beach, Haena State Park makes for a wonderful road’s-end destination on the Kauai North Shore!
Given parking is limited to 100 spaces at Haena State Park, it’s usually easiest to get here via the Kauai North Shore Shuttle. Keep in mind you still need an advanced reservation to enter the park via shuttle ride.