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Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail | Epic Waterfall Hike in Kauai

Hanakāpī’ai Falls in Hā’ena State Park in Kauai.

Visiting Hanakapi’ai Falls in Kauai is one of the most challenging but beautiful hikes in Hawaii.  The trail ends at this 300-foot waterfall with a massive plunge pool, perfect for a refreshing swim.  Other trail highlights include tropical jungle, Hanakapi’ai Beach, and epic views of the NaPali Coast.

Hanakapiai Falls Trail is a strenuous hike due to large elevation gain (and loss), muddy trail conditions, and natural obstacles. So it’s one of the best hikes for adventure seekers.

The waterfall is a popular detour along the famous Kalalau Trail. That’s how we got experience this amazing waterfall destination. However, backpacking the entire Kalauau Trail requires a separate overnight permit and you can read our guide about preparing for that trail here.

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Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail Stats

  • 8 miles (12.8km)
  • 2,457ft elevation (749m)
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Permit: Yes
  • Bathroom: Trailhead & Hanakapiai Beach
  • Dogs: No

Getting To The Trailhead

Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail begins in Ha’ena State Park on the far north shore of Kauai.  This is about a 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Lihue Airport.  If you are staying in nearby Hanalei or Princeville, you will have quick and easy access to the trail.

However, staying on the south side of Kauai might be a 2 hour drive or longer.  There is a single road around the island that is subject to daily “rush hour” traffic.  It’s best to avoid driving past the east side of the island between 8-9am and 4-6pm.

Entry Permit For Hanakapiai Falls Trail

The hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls is within Ha’ena State Park at the northern tip of Kauai.  All visitors are required to purchase an entry pass for the park.  And the rules are quite strict, so read carefully.

Your entry pass must be purchased in advance at

Passes can be purchased up to 30 days in advance (at 12am Hawaii time), and no later than the day before.  Passes are non-transferable.  Adult IDs will be checked and must match the reservation.

There are three types of entry passes

  • Shuttle
  • Parking
  • Walk/Bike/Drop-Off

GoHa’ena Shuttle (Recommended)

The shuttle service is the most common way to access Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail.  The GoHaena Shuttle takes visitors from the nearby town of Hanalei, with a few stops along the way.  The round-trip cost is $35 for adults 16+, and $25 for kids, 0-3 yrs free (on lap).  It includes entry into the park.

The first shuttle is at 6:30am and runs every 20 minutes until the last shuttle pick-up at 5:40pm. The shuttle ride lasts 30 minutes.

The shuttle route begins at The Waipa Park & Ride.  If you have a car, you can park your car there.

Or you can ride the Kauai Bus to the town of Hanalei (Route 400 – Lihue to Hanalei).  But sadly the last stop is still 0.6 miles from the park & ride.

It’s a bummer that one of these services doesn’t close the gap between them.  But as it stands now, choosing this option will add another 1.2 miles onto an already long and strenuous hike.  Or you can try to hitchhike.

Parking Pass

To park a car at the trailhead, you need to purchase a parking permit for Hā’ena State Park (also includes entry).  These are the most difficult passes to get because of limited parking spaces. There are only 70 parking spots for visitors, and 30 reserved for locals.

Parking at Ha’ena State Park is located at the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking Lot.

The lot is open 6:30am-6:40pm.

The parking voucher is $10/timeslot, plus $5/person.

When you are exhausted after the hike, you can simply hop in your car and go.

But the negative is that you need to purchase time slots for parking.  There are three time slots each day:

  • Morning – 6:30am – 12:30pm (6 hours)
  • Afternoon – 12:30pm – 5:30pm (5 hours)
  • Sunset Only – 4:30pm – sunset (1.5-3 hours, depending on season)

You can come anytime after your time slot begins and must leave before the end of your last timeslot.

You will likely need to purchase two time slots to complete the hike.  Fast hikers might be able to complete the hike within one time slot.  However, even a fast hiker can be slowed down by factors outside their control (i.e. other hikers, slippery trail conditions, bad weather).


The last option is to arrive at Ha’ena State Park on foot, by bike, or arrange a drop-off (and pick-up).  This is the cheapest option and only requires the $5/person “Entry Pass”.

You can arrange a ride to the trailhead with a local Kauai resident, taxi, or ride share.  But there is no cell service in Hā’ena State Park or anywhere along the trail.  Thus, you NEED to make sure you pre-arrange your pick-up for when you have finished the trail.

Download or Print parking/entry passes in advance, there is no cell service in the park.

What To Do If You Don’t Get A Pass

If you don’t find an entry pass for the day you want, there is one other option.

New passes may become available when other people cancel.  Check the site daily for new availability between 5-6am and 5-6pm Hawaii time.

It may require some patience and persistence, but it’s the only option if you miss it the first time around.

Parking For Hanakapiai Falls

Be aware that parking along the roadside before the park is illegal and strictly enforced. The Shuttle was created to alleviate the massive traffic/parking issues that plagued the area.

Sadly, vehicle break-ins in Hawaii are not uncommon, so you shouldn’t leave any valuables in the car.  I recommend a sedan so you can keep any personal items in the trunk, not visible.

Haena State Park now uses the Ke’e Beach Overflow Parking Lot for all visitors with parking passes.  It’s the closest you can get to the actual trailhead by car.  This is where you will park your car if you have a parking pass, and also where the shuttle drops off.

Sadly this overflow lot is still 0.3 miles from the actual “trailhead”.  Which adds another 0.3 miles (0.6 miles round trip) onto an already very long hike.  And the bathrooms and outdoor showers are also located 0.3 miles in at the trailhead.

Beginning Of Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

Backpacking the NaPali Coast along the Kalalau Trail.
The first great view of the NaPali Coast around 0.5 miles.

The official trail begins with a steep climb into the jungle.  The first two miles of the trail to Hanakapiai Beach are the most well-maintained of the entire route. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Prepare for a “stair master” climb up to 600ft, only to descend right back to sea level.

At the half-mile mark, there is the first amazing view of the Na Pali Coast.  And if you look back the way you came, you get a nice view of Ke’e Beach.

A rainbow arches over Ke'e Beach, where the trail starts.
A rainbow arches over Ke’e Beach, where the trail starts.

Hanakapi’ai Stream Crossing

Jake crossing the slippery rocks to get over Hanakapi'ai Stream.
Jake crossing the slippery rocks to get over Hanakapi’ai Stream.

When you reach Hanakapi’ai Beach, you first need to cross Hanakapi’ai Stream to continue.

Depending on the water level, you may be able to cross the rocks without getting your feet wet.  It’s typically clear and about knee-deep.  However, this area is also prone to flash floods.  Be alert for changing river conditions; increase loudness upstream, muddy sediment in the water, and rain storms.

DO NOT attempt to cross if it’s flooded.  Just shelter in place until the flood water subsides.  There is a day-use shelter a few hundred feet past the trail sign for Hanakāpī’ai Falls.

Hanakapi’ai Beach

A view of Hanakapi'ai Beach from the trail above.
A view of Hanakapi’ai Beach from the trail above.

Just on the other side of Hanakapi’ai stream, you have easy access to Hanakapi’ai Beach.  With high cliffs surrounding this scenic cove beach, it’s a popular place for a snack break before continuing on. 

But keep an eye on your belongings because we saw many mice amongst the rocks, just waiting for a chance to steal some snacks.

If the ocean is calm enough, you can walk on the beach and explore.  Swimming is not recommended at Hanakapiai Beach.  A lack of lifeguards and high surf, especially in the winter months, makes swimming dangerous. Rip currents are very common here.

A girl considers battling the waves at Hanakapi'ai Beach.
A girl considers battling the waves at Hanakapi’ai Beach.

High tides and big waves can completely cover the entire beach, sometimes making it inaccessible.

There are also toilets just uphill from the beach.

Final Two Miles To Hanakapi’ai Falls

The sign for Hanakapi'ai Falls and Kalalau Trail.
Look for this sign just uphill from Hanakapi’ai Beach to direct you.

To continue on to Hanakapi’ai Falls, you will find the trail beginning just uphill from the beach.  This section of the trail is shaded from bamboo forests and rain forest trees. There’s plenty of plant life to admire along the way. We saw tons of guava, screwpine, and other exotic plants.

The trail from this point on is typically extremely muddy with lots of stream crossings.

The trail is relatively flat for most of this section, except for right before the falls.  Just before you reach the falls, you start to see little glimpses of it through the trees.

Hanakapi'ai Falls
Hanakapi’ai Falls

Enjoying The Stunning Hanakapi’ai Falls

Emily standing under Hanakapi'ai Falls.
Emily standing under Hanakapi’ai Falls.

The 300-foot waterfall is incredibly beautiful and surrounded by tall mountains.  The top of the falls cuts through between high cliffs. At the bottom of the falls is a massive plunge pool that is great for a refreshing swim.

Swimming at Hanakapi'ai Falls.
Swimming at Hanakapi’ai Falls.

The water is surprisingly cold but feels amazing after the sweaty hike. You’ll be wishing you could bottle up that coldness to savor on the hot hike back.

It’s a little slippery to get in, but the pool is plenty deep enough in the middle, so you’re not constantly worried about kicking a rock.

Because of the permit system, you are always going to be sharing the trail and falls with many other day hikers and Kalalau Trail hikers.

Permit systems are a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, they ensure that natural areas aren’t destroyed by overcrowding. But on the other hand, if they pretty much guarantee that there will be a steady stream of people there all day every day.

Hanakapi'ai Falls basin filled with many tourists.
Hanakapi’ai Falls basin filled with many tourists.

The best way to avoid the crowds is to start as early as possible. You can also go later in the afternoon, but I don’t recommend this plan because you might be racing against daylight to hike out. Or you could miss the last shuttle of the day.

Luckily the pool and area surrounding the falls are large enough to accommodate many people at once.  So it’s possible to find your own space to put your gear down and enjoy a rest.

It’s best to avoid swimming directly under the falls because sometimes rocks and other debris can come down. Though I’m sure you will see people taking the risk, or just not knowing there is a risk of injury.

Some people cannot resist swimming directly under the waterfall.
Some people cannot resist swimming directly under the waterfall.

But just remember, this is a wild untamed place, not a water park.

Returning To The Trailhead

After you are done enjoying the falls, you hike back the way you came to the trailhead.

Day hikers are not permitted to continue hiking onto Kalalau Beach (read more about backpacking the Kalalau Trail here).

If you have more time left in your time slot, or until your scheduled shuttle, you can relax and swim at Ke’e Beach.

If you get back to the trailhead before your scheduled shuttle, it’s possible to hop on an earlier shuttle (subject to availability).

What To Bring For Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls

This hike is recommended for experienced hikers with proper equipment.  The trail is almost always muddy in sections, especially the second half (the section between Hanakapi’ai Beach and Hanakapi’ai Falls).

The trail also includes several slippery river crossings. So proper footwear is a must!

Trekking poles are very helpful if you have them or can rent a pair. But remember, trekking poles cannot be brought in carry-on luggage.

Often times you can complete all the stream crossings without getting your feet wet. But that depends entirely on the level of water in the stream. And even with good traction, there are slippery rocks that might cause you to fall in. It’s a good idea to bring an extra pair of dry socks in case that does happen.

Some people may prefer to switch to water shoes or hiking sandals for the river crossings or when they reach the falls. But we personally don’t like switching footwear that much.

We prefer to just tread carefully with bare feet for the few sections that may require getting your feet wet. But that’s a personal preference.

The weather in Hawaii is hot and humid year-round, so bring sun protection and plenty of water (at least 2 liters of water per person).  Rain showers are always a possibility in northern Kauai, especially in the winter months. The trail will become a lot more challenging after heavy rains.

Hanakāpī’ai Falls
A camera with a wide angle lens (like a GoPro) is a good way to capture the massive Hanakāpī’ai Falls in a single photo.

If you plan on swimming, you can bring a towel and a change of dry clothes for the hike back out. However, there isn’t a formal changing room along the trail. You could also bring a bag for wet bathing suits, or just strap them to the outside of your bag.

You can also bring a dry bag to protect your camera and other electronics. The possibility of rain showers, slipping into a stream, and the mist from the falls are all reasons your gear might get wet.

And for my fellow photographers, if you want to capture the entire falls in one photo, you can use a wide angle lens, a GoPro, or vertical panorama on your phone.

Hanakapi’ai Falls Checklist:

  • Hiking footwear with good traction
  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Bathing suit
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Trekking poles (helpful)
  • Extra dry socks
  • Change of clothes
  • Towel


At the trailhead you will find bathrooms with flushing toilets and outdoor showers.

At Hanakapi’ai Beach there are several vault toilets.

It’s not a bad idea to bring hand sanitizer, since we have found many bathrooms in Hawaii are lacking soap or sanitizer. Also, a good idea to bring toilet paper, as they often don’t have any in remote toilet areas.

There are no trash services anywhere along the hike, so PACK OUT everything you bring in with you.  And as always, practice Leave No Trace ethics to keep Hawaii clean and beautiful for everyone!

Conclusion | Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

Hiking to Hanakapi’ai Falls is one of the best adventure experiences on the Hawaiian islands.  The trail is challenging, even for fit experienced hikers, but the payoff is spectacular.

I have seen and visited many waterfalls in Hawaii, but this one is my favorite.  The plunge pool is so large with clear water.  And even if you don’t swim, the size and setting of the waterfall is pure magic.

Here is the link to the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail on Alltrails, our favorite app for planning and tracking our progress on hikes.

We hiked Hanakapi’ai Falls as part of a larger backpacking trip on the Kalalau Trail. You can see our Youtube video of that adventure here.

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Hanakapi'ai Falls