“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” We feel this quote from Helen Keller sums up hiking the Hanakapiai Falls Trail. If you heed her advice, you’ll be rewarded with seeing a waterfall so tall, even craning your neck will limit you from spotting its summit.
But be advised, this trail is rated difficult. Even seasoned hikers accustomed to climbing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains admitted that the Hanakapaiai Falls Trail is a different animal.
Before you get fearful or too gung-ho with courage, we want to present as objective an overview as possible, so you can assess whether to attempt the hike or not.
Your first challenge: get a permit from Haena State Park. Despite the challenge of the hike, it’s extremely popular. Prior to being regulated, the trail is estimated to have had over 2,000 hikers a day! That’s why the Haena State Park issues permits: to manage crowds and protect the beauty of Kauai. Be sure to visit their website for the link to secure your spot. The process is simple, but it does fill up fast. Also, be sure to check out the shuttle services. And if you do opt for this transportation, be certain to know when you have to return for the last shuttle.
Once permitted, your next challenge is the trail. The out-and-back is 9.1 miles and has an elevation gain of 2,664 feet. Adding to the difficulty is the weather. If you’re lucky to hike when it hasn’t rained, the trails will be relatively dry and the rocks and streams easier to cross. After heavy rains, the path becomes muddy, boulders are slippery, and the river crossings treacherous.
The wonderful attribute of Hanakapiai Falls Trail is its two trails. The first 2 miles end at the Hanakapiai Beach which many hikers use as their turnaround point. Here, you can relax on the golden sand, sunbathe on rocks, and take in some much-needed food and water. The small crescent-shaped beach, guarded by steep cliffs, makes your stop perfect for a photo op. Swimming is discouraged even when the swells are small because the current at Hanakapiai Beach is very strong. If you plan on doing this hike, factor four hours to complete the 4-mile round-trip hike.
If you’re up for more adventure, the next 2 miles guide you inland through the jungle to the falls. Experienced hikers add that this section is more difficult and technical than the hike to Hanakapiai Beach. Aside from climbing, you swing around trees, hop rocks, and sidestep large mud puddles. Soon after entering the jungle, the sounds of the ocean disappear, and you’re greeted with a new sound, the rushing river. You’ll cross the stream several times and the deeper you go into the jungle, the more humid the air becomes. But for those who persevere, you’ll be greeted by one of the most famous and towering waterfalls.
-Due to the steady rainfall on Kauai, Hanakapiai Falls flow year-round. When the rainy season hits, the waterfall becomes a behemoth that thunders down the cliffs, drowning out voices, and exploding into the pool sending mist and wind outward. So strong is the mist and winds that hikers stand with their backs to the falls wearing rain gear. Plan on 8 hours to complete the 9.1 mile trek.
-Feel free to park at Haena State Park. Parking here can fill up quickly, however, so it might be best to take a Kauai North Shore Shuttle.
-During seasons of less precipitation, the silver waterfall spills into a pool, beckoning young and old alike to swim. Be advised the water is cold!