One of Kauai’s most popular day-hike destinations is beautiful Hanakapiai Beach. To get there you must walk the first two miles of Kalalau Trail, which begins at Kee Beach. The hike to Hanakapiai takes about 1.5 hours and another 1.5 for the trip back.
What To Do At Hanakapiai Beach
The beach itself is within a small pocket at the mouth of Hanakapiai Valley. It’s a great place for taking pictures and just enjoying the tropical environment, but swimming here can be treacherous (see below). You can also camp here, but only for a single night, then you must either move on further along the Kalalau Trail or hike back to Kee Beach. Camping permits are required.
Some Interesting Sights at Hanakapiai
At one time there was a Kauaian fishing and farming community that lived at Hanakapiai. If you travel from the beach into the valley you can actually see the remnants of their agricultural terraces. There were even thousands of coffee trees in the valley. W. E. H. Deverill planted these during the late 1800s. Some of them can still be seen if you take the 2-mile trail from the beach to Hanakapiai Falls, which I highly recommend you do. Hanakapiai Falls is a little challenging to get to, but is very beautiful.
Play it Safe When Visiting Hanakapiai Beach
Hiking to Hanakapiai Beach is fairly difficult due to its steep and usually very slippery trail. Because of that fact, you may be tempted to take a plunge into the ocean to cool off upon arriving at the beach. But doing this is not recommended – and neither is snorkeling for that matter. There is no reef to protect the Hanakapiai Beach, which means there are almost always very dangerous rip currents. These rip currents can drag even the strongest swimmers out to sea. When that happens, it can be impossible to swim back to shore.
More people have drowned at this beach than any other beach on Kauai. The victims are almost always visitors from out of state that are ignorant of Hawaii’s surf and powerful currents. There are occasions when experienced locals surf the waves of Hanakapiai, but if you’re not a local expert then just stay out of the water.
Fortunately, Hanakapiai Beach does have some shallow water that’s protected by a sandbar. So if you need a place to cool off after the tough hike, then opt for this spot instead.
The thing to remember is that Hanakapiai Beach is part of an isolated wilderness park. There are no lifeguards or rescue personnel to help you. The only way to contact help is to hike back. Or, if you’re lucky, you might be able to signal a passing helicopter or boat. But by the time help does arrive it may be too late.
Hanakapiai Beach Changes With the Seasons
Hanakapiai Beach can sometimes look very different between the winter and summer months. When the sea is calm, which occurs mostly during the summer, you’ll notice that most of the beach is covered with sand.
In the winter, things change. The entire Na Pali Coast is pounded by high surf, eroding and carrying away much of the sand. What’s left is a beach covered in boulders, frequently assaulted by the pounding shorebreak and turbulent waters.
If you plan to visit Hanakapiai Beach, I definitely recommend going in the summertime. Besides causing turbid water, winter also brings the rainy season in Kuai. That means the trail to Hanakapiai is likely to be very slippery.