Beautiful Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai

Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai: The Best 2024 Visitor Guide

Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai. A beautiful, secluded beach just a few minutes from Poipu on the southern shore of Kauai.

Best of all, hardly anyone was there when we visited!

Impossible? No, most tourists don’t want to hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, an easy scenic coastal hike with spectacular views, but about 2.6 miles one way to Mahaulepu Beach!

Which is a pity because there is so much to see along Mahaulepu Heritage Trail: lithified cliffs, nene (Hawaiian native geese), a sinkhole and Mahaulepu Cave, giant African tortoises, sand dunes, coastal views and pretty beaches!

Lithified cliffs and coral reefs at Kawailoa Bay, Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai
Lithified cliffs and coral reefs at Kawailoa Bay, Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai

We spent the better part of a day enjoying the hike with our kids, and spending some time on Mahaulepu Beach.

Mahaulepu Beach is a 2 mile long stretch of golden sands against clear, intense blue ocean waters, with a backdrop of sand dunes, lithified cliffs, rainforests and mountain ranges.

Locals divide the long Mahaulepu Beach into three sections, starting with Gillins Beach on the southern most end, followed by Kawailoa Bay and Haula Beach.

If you don’t have that much time or don’t want to hike the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, you can drive up to Mahaulepu Beach, and enjoy this beautiful, pristine portion of the south shore of Kauai!

Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour!

Beautiful Mahaulepu Beach from the Punahoa Point on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Beautiful Mahaulepu Beach from the Punahoa Point on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

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Mahaulepu Beach Directions

Getting to Mahaulepu Beach is straightforward, and depends on how much time you have.

Have time to kill? Start from Shipwreck Beach in Poipu and hike the Mahaulepu Heritage trail, a coastal trail with stunning views. The hike is about 5 1/2 miles roundtrip, and just the hike takes about 2 hours.

Throw in a couple of more hours and you’ll have plenty of time to explore Mahaulepu Beach.

Don’t have that much time? You can drive east on Poipu Road a few miles from Poipu past the Poipu Bay Golf Course and turn right at the fork to CJM Country Stables.

Poipu Bay Golf Course along the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai
Poipu Bay Golf Course along the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Kauai

Take a left at the next fork onto a dirt road and park alongside the road.

Note, the beach access closes at 6:00 pm, so make sure you’re out by then.

Mahaulepu Beach Parking

Parking at Shipwreck Beach, where the trailhead for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail is located, is usually ok on weekday mornings, the best time to hike the trail.

The free public Shipwreck Beach parking lot is at the end of Ainako Street, just after the Grand Hyatt Resort on Poipu Road.

If you’re driving upto CJM Country Stables, there is a small parking area at the fork in the dirt roads leading to CJM Country Stables. You can also park along the left road and walk down to the beach area.

Mahaulepu Beach Map

The Mahaulepu Beach map below shows the location of Mahaulepu Beach, and the main attractions nearby.

Mahaulepu Beach Access

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail takes you to Punahoa Point, with a spectacular view of Mahaulepu Beach.

As you continue on the trail, you will go past Makauwahi Cave Reserve (Mahaulepu Cave) and the Lida’s Field of Dreams (Tortoise Farm), and eventually end up at the southwestern end of Mahaulepu Beach called Gillins Beach after a house right at the edge of the beach that belonged to him.

Sign pointing to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Sign pointing to the Makauwahi Cave Reserve, Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

If you parked near CJM Country Stables, continue along the dirt road on the left side of the fork (expand the Mahaulepu Beach map above) and you will join up with the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail.

Turn left and follow the above directions.

Mahaulepu Beach Reservations

No reservations or permits are needed for Mahaulepu Beach. No entrance fees are needed either.

Mahaulepu Beach Amenities / Facilities

Location: Poipu, South Shore of Kauai
Lifeguard: No
Beach Amenities: None
Food Nearby: None
Parking: Shipwreck Beach parking lot or near CJM Stables at Mahaulepu Beach
Directions: Head to Shipwreck Beach if you want to hike, else to CJM Country Stables (see above for more information)

The three beaches at Mahaulepu Beach, Gillins Beach, Kawailoa Bay and Haula Beach are remote, isolated beaches, completely pristine and totally undeveloped!

You will find absolutely no amenities or facilities here.

Shipwreck Beach, the trailhead for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, has restrooms, showers, picnic tables and multiple restaurants close by.

Best Things to Do at Mahaulepu Beach

1. Admire the Natural Beauty at Mahaulepu Beach

Golden sand dunes. Intense blue ocean waters. Ironwood tree forests fringing to the ocean. Lithified sand cliffs. Sinkholes and caves.

Beautiful sand dunes along Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Beautiful sand dunes along Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

You have so much natural beauty around Mahaulepu Beach, pristine and waiting to be explored!

Walking along Mahaulepu Beach from Gillins Beach through Kawailoa Bay to Haula Beach is a beautiful stretch of coastline.

Gillins Beach, part of Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai
Gillins Beach, part of Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai

2. Mahaulepu Beach Snorkeling & Swimming

Mahaulepu Beach is not one of the best Kauai swimming beaches or best Kauai snorkeling spots!

Waters here can be rough, especially during summer, when summer swells are common.

Rough waves crashing into exposed coral reefs at Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, in summer
Rough waves crashing into exposed coral reefs at Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, in summer

In winter, ocean waters on the south shore beaches of Kauai tend to be calmer (definitely better than the north shore Kauai beaches)!

But if you do enter the waters at Mahaulepu Beach, exercise caution and stay closer to the shores. Apart from the rocky coral reefs near shore, there may be rip currents as well.

3. Sunbathe or Relax with a Book on the Mahaulepu Beach

With wide stretches of finely powdered, golden sand beaches extending across all three beaches at Mahaulepu Beach, and excellent sunny weather on the south shores of Kauai, finding a private, secluded spot to relax is a breeze!

Golden sands and shade trees all along Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai
Golden sands and shade trees all along Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai

If you just want to chill with a good book, you’ll find shade trees all along the beach, with plenty of ironwood trees and coconut palm trees.

4. Admire Turtles, Monk Seals and Other Wildlife on Mahaulepu Beach

With the beach mostly deserted during the week, you’ll find a host of wildlife enjoying the golden sands!

We saw many Hawaiian monk seals, and chatting with a local couple, we learned that Mahaulepu Beach is a popular breeding and nesting area for this endangered species.

Endangered Hawaiian monk seal resting on Mahaulepu Beach
Endangered Hawaiian monk seal resting on Mahaulepu Beach

Hawaiian green sea turtles, another endangered species, is also common here, especially in winters, when the ocean waters are calm.

Both species are protected, please keep your distance (at least 10 feet per NOAA).

Also in winter, we spotted migrating humpback whales along the coast, while hiking on the Mahaulepu Heritage trail.

Ghost crab on Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Ghost crab on Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai, on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

5. Kite Surfing & Wind Surfing & Kite Boarding at Mahaulepu Beach

If you continue northeast along Gillin’s Beach, you’ll come to Kawailoa Bay, a deeply inset bay, protected but with a vast ocean expanse where the winds pick up!

And due to the winds, a very popular haunt for the local kitesurfers, kiteboarders and windsurfers!

Kite surfers and kite boarders enjoy riding the windy open ocean waters at Kawailoa Bay, Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai
Kite surfers and kite boarders enjoy riding the windy open ocean waters at Kawailoa Bay, Mahaulepu Beach, Kauai

Just standing on shore and watching the kitesurfers and kiteboarders enjoy the ride is almost as thrilling, a picturesque tropical paradise setting!

6. Hike Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

If you drove directly to Mahaulepu Beach, spend some time hiking at least a portion of the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, one of the best Kauai hikes.

Mahaulepu Beach from the Punahoa Point on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail
Mahaulepu Beach from the Punahoa Point on the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

Closer to the Mahaulepu Beach, you can take detours to explore the Mahaulepu Cave and view the African giant tortoises.

As you walk along the coast, you get spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, and often you can spot spinner dolphins or humpback whales (in winter) breaching the ocean surface.

A bit further up, along the greens of the Poipu Bay Golf Course, our kids spotted nene, endemic Hawaiian geese, named for their characteristic nene honking!

You can see ancient ruins of Hawaiian rock temples (Waiopili Heiau) further along the trail!

7. Explore Mahaulepu Cave (Makauwahi Cave Reserve)

A giant sinkhole exposed the entrance to one of the largest limestone caves in Hawaii, now an archaeological site to research the remnants and fossils, some thousands of years old!

A sinkhole exposes the entrance to Makauwahi Cave near the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Poipu, Kauai
A sinkhole exposes the entrance to Makauwahi Cave near the Mahaulepu Heritage Coastal Trail, Poipu, Kauai

The Makauwahi Cave Reserve is a fascinating (and FREE!) exhibit, open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Apart from fossil discoveries, the land around the area is also used for preserving some of Hawaii’s endemic plant species.

The entire Mahaulepu area is of immense interest to archaeologists, and you’ll see signs marking ancient Hawaiian ruins, petroglyphs and the like along the Mahaulepu Beach. Gillin’s Beach, in particular, has petroglyphs on submerged rocks.

8. Tortoise Farm (Lida’s Field of Dreams)

We had to make a detour to Lida’s Field of Dreams, east of the Makauwahi Cave and home to giant African spurred tortoises, an interesting byline to Hawaii’s native plant conservation efforts.

The Burneys were cultivating a nursery to preserve some of Hawaii’s rare native plants, and were faced with an overgrowth of weeds.

Tortoise Farm off the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA
Tortoise Farm off the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

The ingenious solution was to import African giant tortoises that loved munching on the weeds, but left the rare plants alone!

Snorkeling and Water Activities Gear Checklist

Though you can rent snorkeling gear or use the ones that come with tours, we invested in our own gear, mainly due to Covid-19 (why take the risk?).

Remote, secluded beaches further up the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai
Remote, secluded beaches further up the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Kauai

Ocean Safety Tips

Hawaii’s beaches are beautiful, but ocean activities can be dangerous. Ocean conditions are dynamic and can change without warning.

Here are some tips to enjoy the ocean and beaches safely:

  • ALWAYS heed posted warning signs.
  • Check conditions just before you arrive at your chosen beach, and watch conditions at the beach for a bit before you decide to enter the water.
  • Swim at a lifeguarded beach and ask the lifeguard for advice before you enter the water.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean, whether you are standing at the shore or on a cliff above. If you see wet rocks or sand, it means the water has been here recently.
  • Know your limitations, especially if you are not an experienced swimmer. If in doubt, do not go out.
  • If you choose to enter the water, go with a partner or in a group.
  • Know that alcohol can impair judgment and motor skills in the water.
  • Keep children close and always keep your eyes on what they are doing in the water.
  • Watch for sharp coral or rocks or sea urchins.
  • Check advisories regarding water quality at various beaches here.
Ironwood Trees on Kawailoa Bay Beach, Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Best Kauai Tours

Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?

Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)

Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)

Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)

Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)

Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)

Entire Kauai Island Air Tour (super popular, less expensive than a heli tour, large bubble windows for flightseeing!)

Renting a Car in Kauai

The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.

Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle

Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!

This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

Where to Stay in Kauai

Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.

Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.

We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.

>> Look for a Kauai vacation rental on VRBO now!

Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!

Exposed Coral Reef on Mahaulepu Beach, Mahaulepu Heritage Trail, Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

More Kauai Travel Inspiration

Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!

If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.

Planning to split a week between Kauai and another island? We have a 3 days in Kauai itinerary article you must read to help flesh out what you would like to see and do!

Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei and Kauai’s scenic north shore, the best things to do in Poipu and Kauai’s south shore, and the most exciting things to do on Kauai’s Coconut Side or east side.

Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.

Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.

We also have visitor’s guides to popular parks like Waimea Canyon State Park, which protects the namesake canyon, nearby Kokee State Park, and the remote but beautiful Polihale State Park.

Also check out the ultimate guide to visiting Haena State Park on Kauai’s north shore, and a full guide to hiking the epic Kalalau Trail.

Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight. We also have an article on everything you need to know to visit Secret Falls Kauai on an exciting kayaking and hiking tour.

Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.

And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!

Hiking enthusiasts will want to read our article on the best hikes in Koke’e State Park: the trails here are some of the best hikes in Kauai!

We have detailed trail guides for the most popular Koke’e hikes, from the scenic Canyon Trail to the top of Waipo’o Falls, to the epic Awa’awapuhi Trail, challenging but very rewarding!

Also discover the best hikes in Waimea Canyon State Park, and the best hikes on Kauai’s north shore.

We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.

Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.

Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore!

We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches, and an article on the best Kauai south shore beaches!

And if you love watching the sun go down in a burst of color, be sure to read our article on where to go for the best sunsets on Kauai!

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Discover the complete guide to the remote but beautiful Mahaulepu Beach on the south shore of Kauai, Hawaii!

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