Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii

Note to my fellow wanderers: This guide was written from my first-hand experiences. I try my best not to over-glamorize any location I travel to because I want HappyWander’s content to be as authentic as possible. My goal is to provide you real information so that you can have the best possible adventures wandering the world. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for one of the most epic hikes in Kaua’i, the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail should be on your list. This roughly 8 mile out and back trail will showcase some of the best that Hawaii has to offer, including the amazing 300 foot Hanakapi’ai Falls at the end. So why hike Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail? Read our Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail hiking guide below and get ready for an adventure you won’t forget.

Overview of Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

Located on the north side of Kaua’i, Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail is a spectacular hike running roughly 2 miles on the epic Na Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail, and roughly another 2 miles headed inland on Hanakapi’ai Trail heading towards Hanakapi’ai Falls. This hike offers a diverse range of sights, and will provide a steady amount of change throughout. You’ll get to see views of the spectacular Na Pali coast, cross rivers, and experience one of the best waterfalls in the world.

Hiking Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail Map

This is a map (via alltrails.com) of the route I did.

Here is a 3D Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail Map to give you some perspective of this epic hike:

Hanakapi'ai Falls Trails Map 3D

Where to Park

There are two options, which I highlight in more detail below in the “Permits” section.

1) Haena State Park parking lot

As highlighted below, you may not get a Haena State Parking lot pass if you’re a non-resident as they are VERY few of them given out each day. However, if you do snag a parking lot pass, here is the lot address:

2) Waipa Park and Ride Shuttle Service Parking Lot

This is the more likely place you’ll need to park, which also allows a limited number of people each day, but more than the park parking lot. Here is the address:

As you may be able to see from my image below, the shuttle lot can park quite a few cars (they park multiple rows to the right of the image):

Waipa Park and Ride Parking Lot

Distance Traveled

According to Alltrails.com, I traveled close to 8 miles. However, it may feel like longer because of the river crossings and mud traversing.

How Long Does it Take to Hike?

I arrived at around 9:30 AM and finished at around 4:00 PM, so it took a little over 6.5 hours. I did stop for 30 minutes at the waterfall, and took some areas that were very muddy, or the rivers, slowly.

Elevation Change

According to Alltrails.com, you climb nearly 2500 feet of elevation.

Hiking Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail Elevation

Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail elevation profile (via alltrails.com)

Difficulty

If you exercise regularly this hike is not too difficult. There is quite a bit of elevation gain, and the trail is lengthy at nearly 8 miles. Also, it’s quite muddy, and there are 5-6 river crossings that require some balance. If you bring the proper gear (highlighted below), and you have some exercise / hiking experience, you should be just fine.

Overall, I’d give this hike a 7.5 / 10 in difficulty.

Permits

The permit / parking situation is quite confusing at Haena State Park, which is the park at the beginning of both the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail and Kalalau Trail, which share the first few miles. To hike the full Kalalau Trail beyond the beach, you’ll need a camping permit, which requires quite a bit of planning (they open permit sales 90 days prior and they sell fast). I unfortunately booked by trip much closer than 90 days out, so I was unable to do this full hike.

I’ll highlight the scenarios for both Hawaiian residents and non-Hawaiian residents below.

Hawaiian Resident:

Parking at Haena State Park is free for Hawaiian residents, but there is a very limited number of spots available. You won’t be required to reserve a time to park, but it is a first come first serve system. The parking lot looked pretty empty when I went on a Friday in December, so you may have luck.

Non-Hawaiian Resident:

For non-Hawaiian residents, it is quite confusing. You really have 2 options:

Parking at Haena State Park: Your first instinct will be to try to purchase a parking permit, but they are VERY limited and require you to leave at a designated time, which is likely not enough time to do this hike. You will also likely not have this option available to you. This option costs $10 per car and $5 per person. This option was not available to me even 4 weeks out.

Taking a Shuttle to Haena State Park: This is the option I ended up doing, but it’s not cheap, $35 per person! For the shuttle, you’ll park at the Waipa Park and Ride parking lot. The good part about this is that you don’t have a strict time you need to leave the park (besides the last bus leaving at 5:40 PM), so you can spend more time there doing this hike, which takes about 6-7 hours.

You can purchase passes for either option here on gohaena.com.

Cost

For non-Hawaiian residents, expect to pay anywhere between $10 + $5 per person or $35 per person to take the shuttle. Not cheap, but you need to experience this hike!

When to Go

You can go on Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail year round, even in the rainy season (like I did) in December. Like any of the trails in Kaua’i, it’s better to go when it’s not raining or didn’t rain heavily the day before.

Recommended Gear

Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail is an incredible day hike experience. I’ll highlight the gear that I brought, as well as additional gear that might benefit you:

  • Layers: Depending on the weather, I’d recommend wearing layers. I wore shorts and a t-shirt because the weather was in the low 70s. If you do go and it starts to rain, you may want a light raincoat that can also be used as a wind shield. You should also consider wearing a pair or shorts that can be used as a bathing suit or a bathing suit underneath to get wet near the falls!
  • Hiking backpack with straps: If you don’t have a backpack with straps, I recommend you get one. They aren’t too expensive on Amazon. Your shoulders and back will thank you later. This hike, while not difficult, still has some ups and downs that can pay your body a toll without the proper gear.
  • Portable charger: If you take a lot of photos / videos like me, you’ll want to bring a portable charger for your phone. I also use the alltrails.com app to navigate so having enough battery is important.
  • Water bladder: If you want to save on weight and also help your backpack be more balanced than carrying a big bottle of water in your bag, a water bladder is important. I personally use a 3L water bladder that lasted this entire hike.
  • Hiking shoes: Hiking shoes that are waterproof will benefit you if you go in on this trail. There is quite a bit of mud on this trail, so having the proper hiking shoes for the non-water crossings is essential.
  • Water Shoes: I highly recommend purchasing some water shoes before you go on this hike. There are 5-6 river crossings and you must cross each river twice (there and back). I also saw some people with sandals that strap up (you’ll want something that sticks to your foot when you’re in knee high to waist high water with a rushing current).
  • Snacks: Who doesn’t like snacks? While hiking, even on a short hike like this, you burn lots of calories. My personal go-to’s on this hike were: Honey roasted peanuts, gummy bears, protein shakes, and protein bars. I don’t stop to eat lunch when hiking, so snacks are a must on a hike like this one that took more than 6 hours.
  • Bug spray: I didn’t experience bugs on this hike, so this wasn’t really needed. However, you may want to use some just in case, especially in summer.
  • First aid kit: It’s a good idea to bring Band-Aids, a bandage, and some cut cleaning items. I have needed band-aids in the past from slipping on rocks, but I did not on this hike.
  • Sunscreen: While a good portion of this hike is shaded in the trees, there are areas where you’ll be exposed to sun.
  • Flashlight: If you go anytime near sunset, I’d recommend having a flashlight.

Nice to Have Gear:

Here are a few items that would make your Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail hiking experience even better:

  • Shoe impact insoles: These can help as you traverse hard rocks along the way.
  • Phone tripod: If you go alone or with a group and want great pictures, a phone tripod is key. I use one on every hike I go on. You may not need to use one very often because there were quite a few people on this trail that you could ask to take a picture for you.

The Play By Play: My Route Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

So what’s it like hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii? Read my Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail guide play by play below:

Starting Point

Whether you get a parking spot at Haena State Park or take a shuttle in, you’ll start basically in the same location of a parking lot with a raised walkway that takes you towards the Na Pali coast.

Kalalau Trail

Soon after you exit the parking area, you’ll enter the world-famous Kalalau Trail. This portion of the hike is roughly 2 miles in length, and takes you up and down the coastline. Strangely enough, it was somewhat dry on the way into the hike and very muddy on the way out. I mention that because as you probably know by now, the weather can change rapidly in Kaua’i, especially on the north side where this beautiful hike is.

This 2 mile stretch of the Kalalau Trail is pretty diverse. Some parts have rocks to go up, which can cause damage to your feet if you don’t have the right shoes on.

Hanakapi'ai Falls via Kalalau Trail Beginning Rocks

On the Kalalau Trail, you’ll get some epic views of the Na Pali coast, especially when you’re up higher.

As you get lower in elevation, you’ll start getting more tropical plants that look phenomenal with the Na Pali coast as a backdrop:

Kalalau Trail Beautiful View with Tropical Trees

Towards the end of this portion of the trail right before the beach, you’ll have your very first river crossing. Get your water shoes ready!

The river was pretty swift when I crossed, so it’s important to take your time and wear the proper water shoes that won’t get swept away (such as a pair of sandals). The river is ~15 to 30 feet across, so it’s not a little creek, and the water moves swiftly.

Crossing the First River on the Kalalau Trail

Once you cross this river, you’ll know that you’ve arrived at the Hanakapi’ai Beach!

Hanakapi’ai Beach

The Hanakapi’ai Beach is a nice place to take a short break. My friend and I relaxed here for a few minutes while we switched from our water shoes to our hiking shoes again.

Hanakapi'ai Beach

Hanakapi’ai Trail

It may take you a minute to find this trail as you wander the beach (hint: it’s located strait ahead and to the left once you exit the first river crossing, right before the beach). Eventually, you’ll wander your way to the beginning of the Hanakapi’ai Trail.

Entering the Hanakapi'ai Falls Trail

It won’t take you long before you likely will hit large pockets of mud spanning a few hundred feet in length. Even with waterproof hiking shoes, it’s important to watch your step because some of the mud sinks in deep past your shoe.

You’ll venture through several forests of bamboo, like this one:

There are points on this part of the hike where we got lost a little or couldn’t find the right way to go. But don’t worry, wait for a minute and you will likely see people emerge from the trees to guide you in the right direction. This happened at least 3 times on this trail.

Towards the last 1/4 of the trail, you’ll start running into more and more river crossings. At this point, I’d recommend permanently keeping your water shoes on if they allow you to hike 1/4 to 1/2 mile.

In this crossing, my hiking friend decided to quit trying to keep her shoes dry (she never changed into her water shoes!) and just jumped in the water:

Then, all of a sudden, you’ll see the falls for the first time:

Hanakapi’ai Falls

After being covered in mud after falling on my butt in epic fashion, crossing through streams, and hiking 4 miles, I was thrilled to finally arrive at Hanakapi’ai Falls.

The water was freezing, but it didn’t stop me from getting in up to my waist. While I didn’t jump in from the back rocks like I had originally planned (my only regret), I still had an amazing time taking in the magnitude of this 300+ foot masterpiece.

Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii 2

Going through my photos and videos while writing this reminds me of the kind of day this was. What a thrill, what a joy, what an adventure life is when we just go!

After Hike Dinner

After hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail, I got take out at Wailua Drive-In, a Hawaiian take on classic noodle dishes with hearty ingredients. I ordered the Chili Pepper Chicken Combo with Hawaiian mac salad (delicious). It also came with rice, and what i think is panko-crusted ahi topped with dynamite sauce and furikake, although I could be wrong! This was a pretty heavy meal (not a huge fan of fried) but it hit the spot after a long 8 mile hike.

Wailua Drive-In Dinner Meal

About My Experience Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

Overall, hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail was memorable. It was probably a top 3 hike for me in Kaua’i. Anyone into hiking needs to do this hike. I would have loved to do the full Kalalau Trail but it requires an extra camping permit with a VERY limited number given out 90 days in advance (they sell out quick).

Favorite Parts

Here are a few of my favorite parts of hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail:

River Crossings:

Some people may not like this part, but I thought it was great! I highly recommend having a 2nd pair of water shoes in addition to your hiking shoes for the river crossings. There were 5 or 6 of them on this hike, and you have to do them going and coming back.

Hanakapi’ai Falls:

This is the main attraction on this hike, obviously! At approximately 300 feet tall, this remote waterfall is INSANE in person! It takes quite a bit of work to get there, but once you do get there, I recommend spending at least 30 minutes basking in its glory, and maybe jumping in the water! It was quite cold when I visited in December, but I still partially got in the water and felt the cold mist from this behemoth.

Views of the Na Pali Coast:

The Na Pali coast is spectacular. On this hike, you’ll do about 2 miles each way on the Kalalau trail, which offers great views of the Na Pali coast, especially when you’re higher up earlier in the hike.

Least Favorite Parts

Here are my least favorite parts of this hike:

Muddy:

It hadn’t rained for 2 days and the trail was VERY muddy in stretches, particularly on the Kalalau Trail portion midway between the starting point and beach. Also, it’s very muddy in a stretch just after the beach when you head inland on Hanakapi’ai Trail.

Closed My Initial Hike Date:

Okay this has nothing to do with the actual hike, but when it rain overnight, there is a high probability that your hike will be canceled. Don’t be like me and show up to the shuttle parking lot without checking your email. They sent an email to me notifying me of the cancelation at around 6:30 am, woops!

Overall Score

Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail offers a change in scenery at every turn. It takes quite a bit of effort to get to Hanakapi’ai Falls, but it’s fun along the way! I started this hike solo but met a new hiking friend and we did the entire hike together, so that was an added bonus. I give this trail a 9.4 / 10. I recommend doing this hike for the diverse scenery, river crossings, and of course, the beautiful and majestic Hanakapi’ai Falls.

Final Thoughts on Hiking Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail in Kaua’i, Hawaii

Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail is one for the ages. I set out to hike this one solo, but ended up meeting a new hiking friend. The hike itself offers so many variations in style that it keeps you on your toes, not knowing what’s coming around the corner. The Na Pali coast is stunning, the river crossings were exciting, and Hanakapi’ai Falls was breathtaking. If you’re staying on Kaua’i, I highly recommend adding this to your itinerary.

Happy wandering to you!

Anthony Bart
Author: Anthony Bart

Hello! Welcome to HappyWanders! My name is Anthony, I'm on a mission to live a life full of adventure and to help you to do the same. As an ex-corporate worker and current entrepreneur, I've been working to design a life with more time for adventure and less time for the 9-5 grind. If you're ready for an adventure, you're my type of person!

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