Na Pali Coast by Land, Air & Sea

Seeing the amazing Na Pali Coast is an absolute MUST for a Kauai vacation! But, how do you see it? We cover your options to help you choose what’s best for you.

Kauai’s rugged Na Pali Coast is teeming with outstanding scenery that’s practically indescribable. Jagged cliffs, waterfalls and lush valleys blend to create amazing views. You’ll definitely want to plan to see it in your Kauai vacation itinerary.

The Na Pali Coast is quite remote, as well. There are no roads in the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park and there’s only one, very challenging trail that hugs the coastline.

Today, I want to share the different options of seeing the Na Pali Coast – by land, air and sea. You’ll gain a better understanding of each method so that you can better choose the best option(s) for you.

Seeing the Na Pali Coast by land

Let’s start on land with a hike on the Kalalau Trail – a challenging 11-mile trail that hugs the coastline. Seasoned backpackers can enjoy the entirety of this strenuous trail. Since we don’t fall into that category, we choose to hike the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach and back. The shortened version can be enough of a challenge for the average person as it takes about four to five hours. It’s a popular choice. You’ll definitely burn some calories!

A view of Hanakapiai Beach and  the Na Pali Coast from the first two miles in of the Kalalau Trail from the northern end of the coastline

Along the way, the trail gives you an appreciation for all the nooks of the cliffs as well as all the trees, shrubs, ferns and flowers that make these cliffs so green. You’ll get some occasional views of the coastline.

To better understand this hike and the types of views you’ll see, check out our video.

Another way to see the Na Pali Coast from land is via the Kalalau Valley Lookout in Kokee State Park. Going here is one of the must-see attractions of Kauai and along the way you can enjoy several viewpoints of the famous Waimea Canyon. (See our article for tips on visiting Waimea Canyon and Kokee state parks.)

The Kalalau Valley Lookout from the southern end of the Na Pali Coast

Seeing the Na Pali Coast by air

If your budget allows, a helicopter tour of the Na Pali Coast is a must for your Kauai vacation. The bird’s eye-view a provides unexpected perspectives of this amazing landscape. It will make you say “Wow!” Each time you fly over a cliff, you’ll say “Wow” again, as you see waterfalls carved between cliff formations.

Most of the helicopter tours start at Lihue and fly over Waimea Canyon to the southern end of the Na Pali Coast. The tours follow the Na Pali Coast up to the North Shore. It’s a thrilling experience to slowly hover above 3000-foot tall cliffs majestically rising from the ocean.

I encourage you to review my Hawaii helicopter tour tips to help you make a good tour choice. I also recommend that you book your tour in advance online for savings.

If you’re wondering what a helicopter tour of the Na Pali coast might feel like, just check out this video for a glimpse.

Seeing the Na Pali Coast by sea

Touring the Na Pali Coast by a catamaran, raft or kayak gives you the opportunity to soak in the views at a much slower pace. From the sea, you get an appreciation for cliffs’ magnitude.

Most boat tours of the Na Pali Coast leave from Port Allen on the South Shore all through the year. On tours originating from Port Allen, they sail for approximately 45 minutes before you start seeing the Na Pali Coast. It’s still a pleasant trip and view, but I just wanted to make you aware that if you see a tour advertised as a four-hour tour, not all of those four hours are providing views of the Na Pali Coast.

In the summer months, the ocean conditions tend to be smoother along the North Shore, which allows for tours that depart from the north shore. The advantage tours departing from the North Shore is that there’s less sailing time to get to the views. It’s probably a better option, but again, these tours are only offered when ocean conditions allow it, which is generally from April-ish to October-ish. If you are traveling to Kauai on either end of that window, be flexible as the ocean conditions may not be safe enough for the North Shore tours to operate.

We’ve toured the Na Pali coast with Kauai Sea Tours and Captain Andy’s Na Pali Snorkel Adventure for morning snorkel tours. We’ve also taken a sunset Na Pali tour with Blue Dolphin. They were excellent experiences.

Here’s a video we shot from our Captain Andy’s tour. As you can see, we didn’t have good luck with the weather that day, but the Na Pali Coast still impressed us through the mist and clouds.

Some quicker boats and motorized rafts are smaller and agile enough to get up closer to the cliffs. Those tours may appeal more to thrill seekers.

One day, I hope to tour the Na Pali at an even slower place with a kayak tour of the Na Pali. These tours set out from the North Shore. They’re only offered during summer months when the surf is relatively smooth.

If you are highly prone to seasickness, you might want to avoid boat tours of the Na Pali Coast. The water can often get choppy getting in and out of Port Allen.

Final Thought

From the Na Pali Coast tour options I’ve shared, you can see that each one offers a different perspective. If you have the time, energy and budget, I encourage you to try all of three ways.

Have you toured the Na Pali Coast? What was your experience? Which methods have you tried?

4 comments
  1. What a great post Sheila, as always! You have the best info and I love the pics and videos. I have a friend that will be visiting Kauai and I will send him this link. Thanks!

  2. We took the Na Pali coast sea tour, absolutely fantastic, and used Liko Kauai Cruises. They leave from Kikiaola small boat harbor which is the closest harbor to the Napali Coast, so you do get a longer viewing of the Na Pali coast. They actually manuever the boat into one of the caves, conditions permitting!

  3. I am amazed at how you are always able to come up with fresh Hawaii advice every day. This is an great way to look at the Na Pali coast options.

  4. The Na Pali Coast Helicopter ride was so beautiful, and I was so moved by the enormity and beauty of it I cried..

    One of my favorite travel experiences ever!

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