ID MyHorse

Hanakapi’ai Beach Trail–NOT HORSE FRIENDLY!

Aloha from beautiful Kauai! Alan and I left the horses and dogs with a sitter and headed west… way west! So this will be a post about a gorgeous, albeit somewhat treacherous, hike along the Napali Coast in Hawaii. Hanakapi’ai Beach Trail is beautiful, but very muddy and slippery. Since we spend most of our trail time on horseback, we view everything through the lens of an equestrian.

I had been to Kauai a handful of times in my “past life”, but Alan’s first time was when we came here two years ago. We hiked Waimea Canyon at that time, although I don’t remember which trail. I had researched trails on the north side of the island, but wasn’t sure any of them were what we wanted to do… None of them were rated as particularly easy, predictable, or even relatively safe!

To get into the park to access this trailhead, you must have reservations. They offer park entry (must walk to the park) or shuttle plus park entry, or parking plus park entry. Reservations open a month in advance at midnight Kauai time, which was 3 AM our time in Arizona! They sell out quickly! Alan snagged us a parking and entry pass for a half day. At the time we grabbed the pass, we weren’t sure if we were going to hike. We just wanted to visit the park.

The night before our designated park day, I researched the trails again and we decided we’d hike to the “beach” on this trail. It is 4.1 miles there and back. My Garmin watch showed an elevation gain of about 800 feet, but the AllTrails site says nearly 1300. I believe the AllTrails site! This was a butt burner!

The Kalalau Trail

Since we had signed up for only a half day pass, we didn’t have the option of going on to Hanakapi’ai Falls. A camping permit was required to go on to the falls, even if you weren’t planning to camp. The section of trail we did was part of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. The Hawaii Division of State Parks website has this to say about the Kalalau Trail:

The Kalalau Trail is one of the (most) adventurous hiking trails in the world.  Originally built in the late 1800s, the trail serves as one of the only ways to access the beautiful Napali Coast via land.  In the early days, a similar foot trail linked traditional Hawaiian settlements along the rugged coastline.  The trail traverses five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer, fluted cliffs.  The 11-mile trail is graded but almost never level as it crosses above towering sea cliffs and through lush tropical valleys.  The trail drops to sea level at the beaches of Hanakapi’ai and Kalalau.

I would say that the majority of people on the trail with us were going on to the falls. However, given this description of that additional two miles (one way) on to the falls, we were not sorry we only had a half-day pass:

For experienced hikers in excellent shape, allow for a long day (8+ hours) to complete the round trip from Hā’ena State Park to Hanakoa. Day hikes beyond Hanakoa are not recommended.

Did I mention that this was a butt burner? Perhaps a more appropriate description would be a calf-burner. My calves hurt so badly about 36 hours after this hike that I could hardly walk. Alan was in the same boat.

Hanakapi'ai Beach Trail
A rocky, muddy trail where people often get hurt!

Approximately 85% of the trail was muddy and/or under water. We crossed boulders and streams and climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Astonishingly, on our return trip we encountered a couple with 3 kids… an infant, toddler, and preschooler! Dad carried the toddler, mom wore the infant in front of her, and the preschooler was holding mom’s hand and walking. There is no way Alan and I thought that was a good idea. We struggled to keep our footing on a huge percentage of the hike!

What goes up must come down

Eventually, the up turned to down and we headed to sea level and “the beach”. It was a tiny beach, and you had to cross a rocky, somewhat rapid river to get to it. The trail on to the falls continued on the other side of the river. Since we had no plans to go on to the falls, we tried to figure out how to get to the beach without crossing the rapids.

We followed the rocks down to “our side” of the river. It appeared that we could string a few rocks together and make it over to the beach. However, it was not a slam dunk… more like an assured dunk! We eyed the “beach” and decided we could see enough from where we were. We opted not to cross the river. See my post about our risk tolerance…!

A beach bidet!

While Alan was contemplating whether or not we should/could cross, and contemplating about why so many of those rocks were wet, I decided to answer the call of nature. I ducked behind one of the many large rocks, well out of sight of anyone else.

I was just getting myself put back together when I heard a loud whooosh! I looked up to see Alan looking at me with owl eyes. And then I felt the wave crash against my backside! We both scrambled away from the beach and had a new perspective of the signs warning about waves on the ledge. Sometimes we can be dumb see-nagers just like dumb teenagers!

All challenges aside, this is an absolutely gorgeous hike. Although it is rated as moderate, I would consider it closer to difficult, and most definitely not for young kids.

The day after our hike we went scuba diving. One of the other divers told us he and his family saw a guy going on to the falls with an infant in a carrier. This gentleman said the second half was worse than the first. It is a very real possibility that a hiker will slip and fall. There are rocks everywhere. It would be more likely than not that parent and child would both suffer injury. There are warnings that rescue options are few, and the helipad is there for a reason!

Next week I will describe the Kauai Humane Society. This is a beautiful facility that I have visited for many years. I am happy to report that they have made significant policy changes in the last decade. They have a shelter dog field trip program, and Alan and I spent a day with JJ. More on that next week!

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