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The Na Pali Coast. Cathedral-like mountain peaks and crevices, verdant and textured like the scales on the back of a chameleon, beaches beyond even the most secluded in Hawaii, and dramatic scenery like no other. Situated along Kauai's west facing shores is one of the most impressive sights in all the islands, and is also touted as one of the most revered. 15 miles of rugged coastline, the Na Pali coast is a must-see while visiting the island of Kauai. And for the nature enthusiast, you'll be happy to know it can be accessed in a variety of ways. Today we're going to give you the details on this renowned place, so that you might be able to glimpse it for yourself someday.
First off, the best time to check out this coastline is during summer, hands down. Not only is it the calmest, but it's also the safest time and the most visually pleasing. It's not uncommon for access to the Na Pali to shut down during harsh winter months because waves make it non navigable for boats and rain makes it impossible for hikers. We don't recommend attempting to view the Na Pali coast under rough conditions, and this includes stormy weather, high surf advisory, and recent flooding (which all happen regularly on the north shore during the winter). In the summertime, you'll find much more agreeable weather, and the ocean conditions are typically pristine. Nothing beats a view of the Na Pali with turquoise waters at the base of its sheer cliffs- it is simply unbeatable.
The two most popular ways to view the Na Pali coast are via the hiking trail from the north shore and a boat tour from the west side. Depending on how you'd like to witness the scenery, each method has its pros and cons. Hiking the trail gives you breathtaking views of the staggering mountains, plus you can hike into one of the secluded beaches and hike further inland to a beautiful waterfall. It is a 2-mile hike to the beach and another 2 miles to the Hanakapi'ai waterfall. An intermediate-advanced hike, this is a great daytime activity and doable for just about anyone who is in good health. You definitely get a hands-on experience of the trail and the view, and walking along the landscape gives you an incredible vantage point of the sea cliffs and ocean horizon. There are so many gorgeous look out points you'll probably max out your camera storage! And the beach at the end of the 2 miles is spectacular, especially on a calm summer day. Stay out of the water during large swells though, this beach has been known to sweep swimmers out into the undercurrents. While this hike is truly spectacular, you won't see it quite like you would from a boat with its sweeping panoramic views, and ocean versus land views.
Onboard a tour boat, you'll travel along the secluded coastlines of the entire Na Pali coast, weaving in and out of caves (depending on your tour boat size), exploring the depth of the mountainsides, and mooring just off the desolate beaches for a snorkel and a swim. Tour companies typically set sail from the west side (particularly Ele'ele), which gives guests views of the entire west side of Kauai. The secluded beaches you'll see of the coast are mostly only accessibly via boat, and unfortunately, the tour will not take you to them. They will however, point out the various movies that you might recognize the strips of sand and cave archways from. Taking a boat ride along the Na Pali coast gives you a broader aspect of its beauty, but you won't ever get to set foot on the land like you would if you were to hike the trail. Each method of viewing is equally fantastic, just different in their own ways.
The last method to experience the Na Pali coast, which also happens to be the most intimate but only for true experienced nature enthusiasts, is to kayak into the beaches. This can only be done on a calm summer day, otherwise there is too big of a danger of rising swells hitting powerful waves against the sea cliffs. But kayaking into and along the Na Pali coast will allow you to take in the sweeping vistas and paddle ashore the secluded beaches to walk the landscape. However, before you embark on a kayak mission to the Na Pali, you should be familiar with the terrain or at least have some prior knowledge on how to navigate to and from your take off spot. It's also important to be prepared with the necessities, such as enough water, sun protection, and food.
An experience along the Na Pali coast is unlike any other, and if you want the breadth of the adventure, we recommend exploring Kauai via all three travel methods (hiking, boating, and kayaking). Each approach gives a different perspective of the coastline and surrounding beauty, and offers a very unique Hawaii activity than anything else you'd find on Kauai. There are also hiking tour guides you can book if you want to do the trail but are unsure of it or are an inexperienced hiker. The Na Pali coast really exemplifies everything that is authentic about the Garden Isle, from it's tumbling waterfalls to the lush greenery to the seclusion and untouched beauty. If you're going to Kauai, then you better be going to the Na Pali coast.