Is the Na Pali Coast at the top of your Kauai bucket list? Read on to discover how to visit this jaw-dropping coastline in Kauai!
Stretching for 17 sensational miles along the northwestern coast of Kauai, the Na Pali Coast is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll see anywhere on the planet, and is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.
Experiencing the beauty of the Na Pali Coast is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Kauai.
You’ve probably seen the jagged spires of the nā pali (“many cliffs” in Hawaiian) rising up beside the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean in photos online — the Na Pali Coast is one of the most photographed places in Hawaii.
With their red and rust hues contrasting with the rich emerald green on the slopes and valleys, the towering coastal cliffs are dramatic, and a little forbidding, in their beauty.
Some of the cliffs rise up almost straight up, as much as 4,000 feet above the ocean.
In between the cliffs are impossibly narrow, and lush, valleys. Incredibly, they were once settled.
The Hawaiians that lived here cultivated taro and other crops on terraces cut into the hillsides, and fished to supplement their diet.
They also traded with other communities, using outrigger canoes to venture out in the summertime when the waters are calmer. The only other way of transport in and out of the valleys was via strenuous foot trails.
Sadly, the population here was drastically impacted by diseases brought in by foreigners, and eventually the Hawaiians that were left on the coast departed for other places, attracted by the potential for an easier lifestyle elsewhere.
Today, even though it is remote, the Na Pali Coast is one of the bucket-list destinations for travelers to Kauai.
The towering cliffs, verdant valleys, beautiful waterfalls, pristine beaches, and picturesque sea arches and caves of the Na Pali Coast are irresistible to anyone that loves the majesty of nature.
For visitors that arrive by boat, or even hikers, there’s the added attraction of seeing marine life in the water.
Spinner dolphins cavorting in the waters are a common sight, and you may see humpback whales in the winter.
While visiting the Na Pali Coast is definitely an adventure, a first visit to Kauai isn’t really complete without admiring this place of infinite beauty, provided the weather gods are on your side.
And once you visit, you’ll want to put the Na Pali Coast on your Kauai itinerary every time you visit the Garden Isle!
Excited? Let’s show you how to visit the spectacular Na Pali Coast of Kauai, along with our tips for the best experience!
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The Three Ways to Visit the Na Pali Coast of Kauai
There is no road access into the Na Pali Coast.
Currently, you can admire the beauty of the Na Pali Coast in one of three ways: from the air, from the water, or by hiking.
We describe each of the three ways in more detail below.
We’ve done a doors-on helicopter tour over the Na Pali Coast, and we’ve enjoyed a sunset catamaran cruise to the coast. We loved both these ways of experiencing the Na Pali Coast!
While we aren’t big hikers, we’ve also hiked a portion of the Kalalau Trail to get up close to the beauty of the coast.
Whichever option you choose for your Napali Coast adventure, note that visiting this beautiful part of the Garden Isle requires some planning!
1. Soar over the Na Pali Coast on a Helicopter Tour
Probably the most thrilling way of experiencing the spectacular beauty of the Na Pali Coast is to take a helicopter tour over Kauai.
Although most Kauai helicopter tours are whole-island tours, you can bet that the Na Pali Coast is high on the flight itinerary on most tours!
If the weather permits, your helicopter pilot will fly low over the serrated ridges, so that you can ooh and aah at the magnificent scenery unfolding beneath you.
Viewing the cliffs, with their red and green hues, rising up by the side of the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean is a thrilling experience that will stay with you for a long time.
You may even fly low enough, or hover, to see the lush narrow valleys up close, waterfalls flowing down the slopes, and the pristine coves that line the coast.
While both doors-on and doors-off helicopter tours offer great views over the Na Pali Coast (most of the photos here were taken on a doors-on tour), there’s no doubt that having nothing between you and the beauty of the Na Pali Coast is quite an experience!
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Morning or afternoon flight?
Should you pick a morning flight or an afternoon one? There isn’t a clear-cut answer!
Mornings usually tend to be less prone to weather disruptions. Clouds usually roll in and winds kick up as the day progresses, making later departures more likely to be canceled.
On the other hand, the Na Pali cliffs tend to be in the shadow in the morning. The sun shines on the cliffs in the afternoon, making it much nicer for photography.
If you are a serious photographer, though, check to see what the company you choose for your tour will allow in terms of gear.
Which time of day you choose is up to you, but we suggest booking the tour early in your itinerary so if it does get canceled, you have the option to reschedule before you have to leave!
Flights over the Na Pali Coast
This popular doors-off Kauai helicopter tour offers you morning or afternoon departure times. The total flight time is 45 to 50 minutes.
Prefer a doors-on experience? We loved our flight in the Eurocopter ECO Star. Morning and afternoon departures are offered.
The flight time is 50 minutes and the window glass is expansive, allowing for great views over the emerald spires of the Na Pali Coast.
You can also fly over Kauai in a small aircraft. The slow-flying airplane with large windows is made especially for sightseeing.
This super popular airplane tour over Kauai lasts about an hour and you’ll fly over many Kauai landmarks, including, of course, the Na Pali Coast.
Several departures are offered through the day and the tour is narrated.
You can bring a camera on board, and, if you have a GoPro, they may even mount it on the exterior of the plane for an extra fee.
2. Admire the Na Pali Coast from a Boat!
Boat tours are by far the most popular way of experiencing the Na Pali Coast.
Not only can you admire the coast at leisure from the water, you may even be able to get close to one of the may Na Pali Coast waterfalls!
While boat tours are still pricey, they aren’t quite as pricey as helicopter tours.
And, one of the advantages of boat tours is that you may see marine life on your way to the Na Pali Coast and back!
Plus, you can choose to snorkel in the turquoise waters if you choose a snorkeling tour.
Boat Tour Departure Points
In the summer, some smaller vessel Na Pali Coast tours depart from Hanalei on the north shore. Year-round, boat tours depart from Port Allen on the south shore.
So no matter when you visit Kauai, weather permitting, you can take a boat tour to the famous coast.
The advantage of departing from Hanalei is that the Na Pali Coast is very close, so you do not spend a lot of time getting to and from the coast. 50-foot catamarans and smaller vessels depart from the north shore.
But the very largest catamarans only depart from Port Allen, so if that’s the type of boat you choose, plan on departing from the south shore.
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
What type of boat should you choose?
When it comes to Na Pali Coast boat tours, you have several choices. You can pick a large catamaran, a smaller boat, or a raft!
The largest (60-foot) catamarans depart from Port Allen. While you’ll be sharing the boat with more people, larger boats tend to be more stable.
The waters around the Na Pali Coast can get very choppy, so if you prefer a more stable Na Pali Coast boat experience, a larger vessel is definitely the way to go!
The larger boats are also likely to offer more amenities, such as restrooms.
But be aware that the larger boats may not be able to maneuver in and out of sea caves along the coast, or get you close enough to be sprayed by a Na Pali Coast waterfall.
For a more intimate experience, you can choose a slightly smaller catamaran or other boat, and there are even some sailing options available.
Adventure lovers may want to consider a zodiac raft tour of the Na Pali Coast!
A zodiac raft is an inflatable rigid boat, agile enough to get in and out of the sea caves along the coast, and get under waterfalls, for a much more thrilling and immersive experience.
You’ll also be closer to marine life en route, such as spinner dolphins.
And some raft tours can actually land at Nu’alolo Kai, where you can explore the remains of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village.
On the flip side, however, your ride will be much choppier, so it’s not for visitors that are prone to motion sickness or those with back or neck problems.
Plus, given the small size of the raft (generally about 12-14 people or so), there are no bathrooms or other amenities on board.
And it’s so noisy, with the waves and the motor of the boat, that no commentary is usually possible.
Morning or afternoon boat tour?
The waters along the Na Pali Coast are usually calmer in the early morning, so if a stable ride is important, pick a morning tour.
But even on morning tours, by the time you head back, the trade winds will most likely have kicked up, creating some motion on the return journey.
The light is better for photos on afternoon tours, as the sunlight falls on the cliffs during the afternoon, bringing out their colors vividly.
The Most Popular Na Pali Coast Boat Tours
This deluxe Na Pali morning snorkel tour on the Lucky Lady is a half-day excursion that will take you past the spectacular scenery of the coast.
You’ll see the jagged cliffs, lush valleys, and waterfalls from the water, and perhaps spot dolphins and turtles, and whales in the distance in the winter.
There’s time for snorkeling and swimming, and lunch is included.
There’s also an afternoon Lucky Lady cruise option that includes sunset and dinner.
This Napali 1/2 Day Snorkel Adventure by Raft zips you in and out of caves and gets you under waterfalls on an exciting exploration of the Na Pali Coast.
En route, you will stop to swim and snorkel at one of the best coral reefs in Kauai. The 5.5-hour excursion includes a deli lunch and beverages.
You can pick a morning tour or an afternoon one. Prepare to get wet!
This sunset sailing cruise is on a motorized catamaran, but when wind and weather allow, they hoist the sails for a lovely experience going up the coast.
The 5 hour excursion leaves from the Port Allen marina and includes dinner. You’ll see the cliffs in the best light of the day!
Kayaking the Na Pali Coast
You can also paddle down the Na Pali Coast in the summer, at a time when the surf is small.
On a kayaking tour, you’ll start at Ha’ena, the eastern part of the coast, and end at Polihale Beach, on the western end.
It’s best to join a guided kayaking tour, and you need to be in top shape, a strong swimmer, and experienced kayaker, because it’s not an easy trip.
On a guided tour, you’ll likely have a lunch stop at Miloli’i Beach. Miloli’i, and Kalalau Valley, with a camping permit, are the only two places along the coast where you can legally land.
With an overnight permit, kayakers can camp at either Kalalau Valley, or Miloli’i Valley (only in the summer).
3. Hiking the Na Pali Coast
A helicopter tour or a boat tour is a wonderful way to experience the Na Pali Coast, but if you want to get up close to its beauty — see rare plants at touching distance, or swim in the plunge pool of a Na Pali waterfall — then you have to hike!
The Kalalau Trail is the hiking trail that traverses the coast. It’s the only way to access the Na Pali Coast via land.
The epic trail is 11 miles each way, and most hikers do it as a backpacking trip, spending one or more nights at a campsite.
An overnight camping permit is required to hike the trail beyond Hanakapiai Beach, and permits can be obtained here.
Starting at Ke’e Beach in Ha’ena State Park, the trail makes its way through five valleys along the Na Pali Coast and ends at Kalalau Beach, where it is blocked by vertical fluted cliffs.
Along the way, the trail drops down to the ocean at Hanakapiai Beach and then at Kalalau Beach.
The trail is much like the old foot trail that connected settlements here in earlier times!
En route, hikers are treated to glorious views, both over the ocean and along the coast.
Native and introduced Hawaiian plants are abundant along the trail, and many rare and endangered species grow along the cliffs.
Look for wild goats on the cliffs and whales spouting in the waters below in season!
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
Day Hikes at the Na Pali Coast
Hikers that want to experience the Kalalau Trail but not want to do the entire trail have several day hike options!
You can hike just about one half of a mile to a viewpoint for fabulous views over Ke’e Beach, or hike the moderate to strenuous trail two miles each way to Hanakapiai Beach and back.
And if you want to experience one of the valleys in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, you can hike four miles each way to Hanakapiai Falls, one of the best waterfalls in Kauai. You may even be able to slide into the plunge pool here for a dip.
This trail is strenuous and involves detouring inland from the Kalalau Trail at Hanakapiai Beach. There are several stream crossings!
The trailhead for the Kalalau Trail is within Ha’ena State Park, one of the most-visited state parks in Kauai. Entry and parking reservations are required for Ha’ena State Park, and can be obtained here.
Note that visitation to the park is regulated and spots get snapped up as soon as they become available. Stay on top of the reservations calendar to make sure you do not miss out!
We have a detailed guide to visiting Haena State Park that you must read if you plan to visit.
Taking a dip and watching the sun set at Ke’e Beach, one of the best swimming beaches in Kauai, is a great way to end your hiking adventure in the Na Pali Coast!
Tips for Visiting the Na Pali Coast
Get oriented: where is the Na Pali Coast?
The Na Pali Coast is located in the northwest part of the island of Kauai in Hawaii (see map).
Ha’ena State Park is the eastern end of the coast. From Ke’e Beach, inside Ha’ena State Park, you can actually see the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast.
The trailhead for the Kalalau Trail into the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park also starts by Ke’e Beach.
Polihale Beach in Polihale State Park is the western end of the coast, and you can view the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast from here as well.
You can also admire the Na Pali Coast from viewpoints in Koke’e State Park, which is located along the west coast of Kauai.
The Kalalau Lookout and the Pu’u O Kila Lookout offer fantastic views into the ridges and valleys of the coast on clear days.
Visit the Na Pali Coast in the summer for the best weather!
Kauai can get very rainy in the winter months, especially along the northern portions of the island.
Since the scenery is the primary reason to visit, and helicopter and boat tours can be expensive, you’ll want to schedule your trip for a time when the weather isn’t likely to dampen your adventure.
Not only is it usually cloudy and rainy in the winter, the ocean is also very rough along the north shore of Kauai, with huge waves.
In fact, boat, raft, and kayak trips to the Na Pali Coast only depart from the north shore during the summer months, because the ocean can get really rough along the north shore in the winter.
Hiking the Na Pali Coast is also more uncomfortable and more dangerous in adverse weather.
For your best shot at a bright sunny day for your Na Pali Coast adventure, plan to visit in the summer, between late May and early September.
Book your Na Pali Coast boat or helicopter tour early in your trip
Weather on Kauai can turn at any time, and both helicopter flights and boat tours are subject to cancelation if weather is unfavorable.
Since admiring the Na Pali Coast is likely high on your wish-list for Kauai, book your boat or aerial tour for as early in your stay as you can.
If your tour does get canceled for some reason, this will give you the opportunity to reschedule or book another tour for a later day in your stay.
Book a morning tour for clearer skies and calmer waters
Mornings on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast tend to be better weather-wise. The ocean is generally calmer, if you are planning a boat tour, and the skies clearer if you are planning an aerial tour.
In the afternoons, clouds usually roll in, and by late morning, swells in the ocean kick up.
Afternoon helicopter or boat tours are usually more apt to be canceled on account of weather than morning tours.
Although our captain was able to get our boat very close to one of the Na Pali Coast waterfalls despite choppy waters, I imagine it’s much easier in the mornings when the waters are calmer.
Book an afternoon tour for better light for photography
If you are very particular about the light for your photos, pick a bright sunny afternoon! When the sun’s rays fall on the cliffs, as they do in the afternoons, the colors of the cliffs look sensational.
In the mornings, the sun is behind the cliffs, so they are in the shadows for the most part.
Bring a rain jacket on your Na Pali Coast boat tour or hike!
On a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast, if the swells kick up, you will likely be sprayed as you travel back and forth.
Bring a light rain jacket with a hood to stay protected, especially if you choose a smaller boat or a raft!
A rain jacket is also useful when you are hiking the Kalalau Trail, as showers (and misty weather) are possible at any time.
The 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!)
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.
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!
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.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north 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, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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