Na Pali Coast Travel Guide
The Na Pali Coast is an incredible cliff range on Kauai that has been featured in many Hollywood movies due to its iconic rigid landscape. As the oldest island in Hawaii, Kauai has undergone ages of erosion and the dramatic mountains created by what's left of Kauai's volcanoes make the island a truly unique destination.
About Na Pali Coast
If you’re coming to Kauai, you have to see the Na Pali Coast because its geography is so very different from anything else you'll see on the Hawaiian Islands. There are several options for touring the coast including boat tours, helicopter tours, and one of the most amazing backpacking adventures in the world. We’ll cover each of these options, as well as everything else you need to know to explore this surreal location.
How To See The Na Pali Coast
There are many tours, excursions and activities that will give you a great view of the Na Pali Coast. If you're an adventurer, we at Shaka Guide adore the Kalalau Trail and backpacking trip. But, if you'd rather not spend several days in the wilderness, both boat and helicopter tours are phenomenal experiences as well.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ben Ono
Na Pali Boat Tours
One of the most popular ways to view the coast is to take a boat tour. Out from sea, you'll be able to really take in the massive mountains that make up the Na Pali Coast Wilderness Park. The green ridges and blue ocean will make for some of the best photographs you'll ever take.
There are a variety of boat tour packages all offering different experiences. Some boat tours are snorkeling trips, while others include trips ashore to beautiful beaches along the coast or explorations into sea caves. The boats also come in a variety of styles such as sailboats, catamarans, and even luxury cruise ships with full amenities. You can also choose your boat activity such as snorkeling, diving, dinner, rafting, or even a combination of these. Tours run all through the day, but the most popular would be during the sunset hour when the coast lights up with color.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ben Ono
Boat Tour Cost
With so many different options, it’s hard to say how much a boat tour will cost you. The most affordable boat tour we could find cost about $150 per person; however, you can see the FAQ section of this article for more money-saving ideas. On the other hand, there are also premium options for as much as $400 per person. These tours are typically on small cruise ships that provide food, drink, and other services.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Ben Ono
Na Pali Helicopter and Flying Tours
Seeing the Na Pali Coast from above is a special experience. From the sky, you can take in the coast all at once and appreciate Na Pali’s beauty in its entirety. You’re able to see the coast from light aircrafts such as small planes and biplanes, or you can take a helicopter.
Planes are usually much more affordable in the $150 to $300 range. Helicopter rides typically fall in the $250 to $500 range.
Backpacking and Hiking
If you’re a hiker looking for adventure, the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is one of the most remote places in all of Hawaii. You can take the Kalalau Trail as far as you’d like into the park, but the full journey will take about 22 miles and at least three days. If you’re just looking for a good day hike, you can get to the first of the park’s beaches, Hanakapi’ai Beach, in about two miles by following the Kalalau Trail.
Winding Kalalau Trail
There are two camping grounds along the trail. The first, Hanakoa, is about six miles into the trail. If you’re looking to do an overnight backpacking trip, this is probably your best bet. Kalalau Campground at the end of the trail is about 11 miles in. To stay at either of these campgrounds, you’ll need to register for a permit. Only campers need to acquire one of these limited overnight permits, but all hikers still need to make a reservation to enter the park as the number of visitors allowed is limited.
Campers should remember to bring plenty of water since there is no potable water at either campsite. You’ll also want hiking shoes, sunscreen, a tent and sleeping bag, food, and a copy of your camping permit. In addition, please always remember to pack out everything you pack in to preserve the natural beauty of this area.
Permits and Reservations
Everyone who enters the park must make a reservation, but only campers need permits (to stay overnight). Reservations cost $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian if you’re taking the shuttle in. Reservations run out fast so book these as quickly as possible.
Camping permits fill up much faster. They can be reserved up to 90 days in advance and usually fill up about two months before a given date. You’ll want to plan and book as early as possible to make sure you’re able to get a permit for the days you want.
Camping permits cost $15 for residents of Hawaii or $20 for non-residents per night, five nights maximum. Overnight parking is available and can be purchased via the same website after acquiring a permit. There are also shuttles (book here) that will pick you up at the Waipa Park and Ride west of Princeville that will drop you off at the trailhead.
Most of Hawaii only experiences two seasons, and this includes the Na Pali Coast. There is a dry summer from April to October and a wetter, slightly cooler winter from November to March. Monthly average temperatures on the coast range from the mid-70s to the low 80s. If you're on a boat tour, check the weather forecast in advance so you are prepared for any changes in schedule for your booked activity.
However, if you are hiking the Kalalau Trail, it's important to note that the reason why it's so lush and green in this area is because of the frequent rainfall it receives, especially the higher up you are. Be ready for rainfall at anytime because weather changes high up can happen suddenly and without warning.
Getting to the Na Pali Coast
You can drive or take a shuttle to the Na Pali Coast. Parking does fill up fast, so if you don’t leave early you’ll want to plan on using a shuttle.
To get to the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, take Kuhio Highway west until it ends, where you’ll find the Kalalau trailhead. If you’re coming from further than Princeville, take HI-56 until it turns into 560 Kuhio Highway.
Is it open?
Na Pali was closed for several months in 2019 due to construction and renovations. As of June 2019, the park is currently open, but you should still expect some travel delays on your way to the park. In addition, construction delays sometimes results in road closures that prevent access to the Na Pali Coast Wilderness Park. Hawaii Department of Transportation keeps this website up-to-date with road closure information and will not sell access permits when the park is inaccessible.
How to save money?
There are several ways to save on visits to the coast. If you’re able to book a tour with several other people, Groupon has great discounts. Many tour guide agencies also offer a 10% or more discount for booking at least ten days in advance. Tours and activities also sometimes have a local, military, senior and/or children's discount, but you'll have to inquire with them directly to find out their rates.
When is the best time to visit?
Traveling to Kauai during an off-season or shoulder season is also a great way to save a few bucks on travel fare, lodging, and tours. The fall shoulder season is in September before the holidays, and the winter shoulder season occurs when most visitors have returned home for the second half of January.
These are also the best times for avoiding crowds and ensuring permits and reservations will be available if you are hiking or camping in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.
How much time to spend there?
How long you might spend on the coast depends on how you’re seeing it. You can day-hike to the first beach along the Kalalau Trail, Hanakapi’ai Beach, in about two miles, so plan a few hours to enjoy your time on the beach if you’re stopping here. Experienced hikers might also be able to make it to the second beach and back if they allot the entire day, but you should probably plan to spend the night there. If you’re doing the whole Kalalau trail, plan on spending several days, but the maximum is five.
Most boat tours take 5 - 7 hours, while some plane tours take as little as one hour.
What should I pack or bring?
If you’re just visiting for the day remember to bring hiking shoes, sunscreen, snacks, and plenty of water. If you’re staying longer, you’ll also want to bring a tent, food, and a copy of your camping permit. Regardless of how long you stay, please remember to pack in what you pack out!
How to travel responsibly?
You'll most likely encounter wildlife if you're on a snorkeling or diving boat tour along the coast. Besides tropical fish, you might spot green sea turtles, monk seals, and even dolphins. Please be respectful of our sea creatures as many of them are endangered. Do not touch, harm, or get close enough to distress them as that could drastically change their behavior and affect their health and population.
While hiking through the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness park, please be respectful of the land, animals and plant species you come across. Hawaii's ecosystems are fragile. You can show your aloha by leaving the trail better than you found it. Always dispose of your trash properly and never trespass on private property. For more on how to be a safe and responsible traveler when you visit Hawaii, click here.
Visiting Kauai? Shaka Guide has 4 tours on the island. Check them out here!