The Na Pali Coast, which is officially a State Park, may be one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen. It's hard to describe in words and even in pictures don't really do it justice. The entire coast is inaccessible to cars so you have to drive to the end of Kauai's only main road (Kuhio), park at the beach at the end of the road, and hike the coast. This 15-mile stretch of rugged coastline is on the northwest shore of Kauai. It literally means "the cliffs" (remember, Pali means cliffs). The coast is inaccessible because of its sheer cliffs that drop straight down thousands of feet into the ocean.
The Kalalau Trail from the end of Kuhio Highway (the only major road on the entire island) provides the only land access. This trail is a strenuous 11-mile hike and crosses five major valleys (and many smaller ones) before reaching Kalalau Beach at the base of Kalalau Valley. If you hike the 11 mile trail, you have to set up camp and then hike back the next day (camping requires a permit). We didn't have that kind of time (or a permit). The trail is no joke. I have written before about hikes I've done that kids and old people can do. This trail got a 9 out of 10 from the Sierra Club in degrees of difficulty. In fact, you can't even hike the trail if it has rained within 24 hours because it is so dangerous and becomes one slippery mountain of mud. It takes an entire day to do the 11 miles. Of course, here I am saying how tough it is and there were plenty of kids and locals hiking barefoot or in flip flops (most were not, though). Another great way to see the Na Pali Coast is by boat. We didn't do this, but we said at the end of the day it would have been amazing. By boat you can see the entire coast and you don't have to deal with the strenuous hike.
Fortunately, the trail can be experienced in pieces. The most popular section is from Ke'e Beach (at the end of Kuhio Hwy) to Hanakapi'ai Falls. This section of the trail winds through a tropical rainforest and ends in a lush river valley. The falls are 4 miles from where you park your car (8 miles roundtrip, it's not a loop). If you aren't up for the whole hike to the falls, though, about 2 miles in is the Hanakapi'ai Beach. This isn't the most beautiful beach in the world, but it's a great place to rest before taking on the next 2 miles of the trail to the falls. The river flows into the ocean here and when we went, a lot of people were playing in the river. Apparently, the tide and currents are so strong that no one goes in the ocean. In fact, before we left, someone specifically said not to go in the ocean because "it's not worth your life, guys." There is a sign along the trail that literally tallies the number of people who have drowned. We weren't dressed for swimming anyway. Since a lot of people kayak the Na Pali coast, there were a few kayakers resting on the beach as well.
I can't emphasize enough how intense, but gorgeous, this hike was. We're talking 3,000 foot climbs over unstable and slippery rocks, rivers and streams to cross, trees to climbs over, and valleys with smaller waterfalls. We had to watch every step we took. The first 1/2 mile took 40 minutes. The entire 4-mile hike to the falls takes about 3 hours...and we were going quickly. It can take longer. The views were incredible, though. There are various points along the trail where the trees open up and the entire coast is visible. You're literally standing on a mountain (covered in mud) looking out over shimmering blue water, 4,000-ft cliffs, and lush tropical rainforests. After 2 miles (and about an hour and a half), we made it to the beach where we stopped to have lunch. Apparently, we were lucky and didn't even know it. During the winter months this beach is often washed away. When we went, though, there was a huge sand beach full of people.
After we ate, we hiked the rest of the way. The second half consists of more streams (high probability of getting wet - we fell in up to our knees when we slipped off a rock - so bring waterproof hiking boots or water shoes), more jungle, and more climbing. At the end of the trail, though, is a gorgeous 300-ft waterfall with a swimming pool at the base. Since you just hiked 4 miles in 3-4 hours (and you still have to turn around), take a dip, cool off, and forget about Leptospirosis. Also, since nothing on this blog comes without a fun history lesson, I thought you'd want to know that the falls are named after a Menehune princess descended from the first human settlers to canoe here from the Marquesas Islands (part of modern day French Polynesia). Here is a video of the falls: