Hiking to Hanakapiai falls on Kauai's Na Pali Coast

Despite some of most stunning scenery on the island, the beauty of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast is only a small reason for its appeal. It’s true that the lush forests, steep mountainsides, and endless ocean views are commonly accepted as some Hawaii’s most scenic. But to judge the area on beauty alone is like judging a cake for the icing. The true power of the Na Pali coast can’t be viewed through other people’s photographs—one must come and experience it for themselves.  The majority of people visiting the coast do so from offshore on a sightseeing boat. For those who wish to feel the Mana of the land, the only way to access the coastline is by foot. Most of the trails along the Na Pali Coast are the same ancient routes that Hawaiians have used since they first arrived. Now the coast is a protected state park, and the trails maintained by the parks allows for improved access that keeps getting better. One of the most popular trails in the park is the trail to Hanakapiai falls. This 8 mile round-trip hike is no easy walk in the park, but is by no means grueling. The halfway turnaround point is the namesake falls, a 300-foot beauty that resembles what many would consider an ideal picture of a Hawaiian waterfall. The pool beneath the falls is large enough to swim around in, and the surprising chill of the high-altitude source serves as a refreshing way to recharge yourself for the way back. The trail begins along the famous Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile epic that takes you into the heart of the Na Pali Coast at Kalalau Valley. For two miles you hug the coastline along this iconic trail. If in season, fresh guava line the trail for this portion of the trip. You will be able to smell when they are ripe as the entire seaside walk will have a sweet, fruity aroma. The fruit is in such abundance that there are times when that is all you will be stepping on along the trail. Two miles in at Hanakapiai beach is where the trail to the falls leaves the Kalalau trail to head inland. While the beach here is beaming in wild beauty, one must use extreme caution when near the water. A tally board where the trail meets the beach shows the dozens of lives claimed here by the vicious rip currents hiding only a few feet below the surface. This is one place where showing respect to the ocean usually means staying away. As you get deeper into the valley, the forest canopy and steep mountainsides create a very intimate setting. Indeed there is only way to go, and that’s upstream to the falls. Along the way is a giant bamboo grove, housing some of the largest bamboo stalks on the island at up to 30 feet tall. The canopy creates a welcoming cool shade, yet lets in enough light for an array of wildflowers to pop out everywhere you look. When you get to the falls, chances are you’ll be craving a swim. The 4 mile journey takes most people between 3-4 hours with considerable elevation change. The falls provides the perfect backdrop for photo opportunities, a picnic lunch, and is a great space to spend some time to simply take in your surroundings. The trail doubles back from the falls the same way you came. But each direction offers a different perspective of an area that is hard to tell someone about—it must truly be experienced to be understood. Hopefully you will have a chance yourself. by Steve Andrews