So, Kauai is incredible. I know what you’re thinking, “No, Hawaii? Amazing? You don’t say.” Hear me out. I had never even heard of Kauai, but a few people wouldn’t shut up about it. Now having been there, I completely understand why.
The first stop on the north side is Queen’s Bath, a series of tide pools that are impressive to watch and relaxing to swim in (when it’s safe). Getting to tide pools aren’t difficult, but finding parking is. You have to drive through a neighborhood to find a small parking lot. Queen’s Bath is a pretty popular spot, so be prepared to wait for a while. Since the trail entrance is located in a neighborhood, I wouldn’t recommend parking anywhere else. It could result in your car getting towed.
The hike down to the pools is relatively easy and should only take you about ten to twenty minutes. It’s easy enough to go barefoot (although I wouldn’t suggest it) and there’s a really cool waterfall along the way. Once you reach the end of the trail, you’ll see that the rest of the route to Queen’s Bath is all lava rock. That’s why I mentioned not going barefoot. Don’t make the same mistake as me; my feet were pretty gnarly afterwards.
Now, there are several tide pools throughout Queen’s Bath. The first, and most popular, is also the most dangerous of the three. The inlet is wide open to the waves and, depending on the weather, can be extremely rough. Check out a video here to see what it’s like in bad conditions. You’ll most likely see locals jumping off the 15-20 foot cliffs into the water, but be wary of both the tide and any feeding sea turtles! We saw several turtles in the hour we were there.
There are two more pools several hundred yards down the beach, and they’re increasingly more secluded from the surf. This means they’re much calmer and easier to swim through. Always be mindful of the conditions, and enjoy yourself!
See that waterfall? That’s what awaits you four miles into the Hanakapiai Trail. If that doesn’t motivate you to get a cardio workout, nothing will. This hike is strenuous, with large elevation changes, and requires you to cross a river several times. The entire hike to the falls takes about 5 hours, so be prepared, pack water, and be sure to wear good hiking shoes.
Hanakapiai Trail is one of the most popular spots on the island, so that means parking will most likely be an ordeal. Going early will make that a bit easier and the trails will be a little less crowded. Most visitors will park on the side of the road, so follow their lead and find a spot wherever you can. There are port-a-potties, bathrooms, and a shower at the trailhead; this is your last chance to use them. There are two caves worth visiting along the road to the trailhead, the Maniniholo Dry Cave and the Waiakanaloa Wet Cave.
The trail has several stops: Hanakapiai Beach, Hanakapiai Falls, and Hanakoa Valley. The first two locations can be hiked in a few hours, but Hanakoa Valley needs to be camped. It also requires a permit, which you can get here.
Hanakapiai Beach is the most popular and is only a two mile hike to the shore. You’ll experience the most elevation changes on this part of the hike, but the views are absolutely breathtaking. Stretch out the hamstrings, because the switchbacks closer to the beach are brutal! The trail here is muddy most of the time because of the frequent rainfall. Shade is rare for these first two miles, so lather up on the sunscreen!
Hanakapiai beach is pretty incredible. There’s a cave inset into the cliffside, and the erosion of the beach traps some of the water inland. That means it’s perfect for cooling off your feet after your hike. Again, the waves and current can get really bad, so do not swim in the ocean. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the wild cats that hang out in the area!
The trail to the falls has less elevation change, but is more intense because of the multiple river crossings. There are several distinct parts to this part of the hike. You’ll pass through an incredible bamboo forest, cross huge boulders across the river, and climb the cliff on the side of the riverbank. It’s all worth it once you lay eyes on the falls for the first time!
Hanakapiai Falls is over 300 feet tall. That doesn’t sound huge until you actually see it in person, but it’s massive. The water is deep enough to easily swim through the falls and sit underneath. The water is COLD and really takes your breath away. The frigid temperature of the water is the perfect balm for tired legs. The hike back is difficult, so rest up and relax before starting on your way!
So, I have a bit of bad news. Turtle Cove is a semi-secret spot, which means I’m not going to tell you exactly where it is. You should be able to find it yourself with a bit of digging, but I’ll leave that up to you. I’m doing this because this spot is still relatively unknown to most of Kauai’s visitors, and I was told the locals would like to keep it that way. That being said, it’s absolutely worth finding. Almost like a treasure hunt, right? Time to Nathan Drake your way to a sweet cave with some turtles.
Once you find the pathway down to the cove, it’s a pretty straightforward trail down the side of a cliff. Now, just because I said it was straightforward doesn’t mean it’s easy. The bottom half of the trail is pretty steep and there are ropes to help you on the way down. The last part of the descent requires climbing down lava rocks and jumping off into the water to wade to the shore. The water’s about three or four feet at your entry point, so be sure to be careful and hold your valuables over your head!
The cave is a large horseshoe, so you’ll come out the other side to a different cove. It’s pitch black inside, so be sure to pull out your flashlight (or cellphone). You’ll want to see any turtles that might be there because stubbing your toe on a turtle or having one bite you would probably ruin your day. Or maybe it wouldn’t, I don’t know what you’re into.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any turtles when we went. I’ve heard their cove-napping schedule is completely random, so it’s just a game of chance. It’s a win-win though, because you get to swim in an amazing, relatively untouched cove in beautiful, clear water no matter what! If you explore further and climb over the rocks on the right side, there’s a defunct rope swing (that you should absolutely not use, it’s sketchy) and another cove.
Turtle Cove is one of my favorite spots from Kauai, primarily because it’s not overrun with other tourists. If you do go, please don’t geotag your photos at the cove. That’ll help keep it semi-secret.
Food Suggestion: North Shore General Store
Neat name right? Now say it five times fast. While it might not seem like it from the outside, there is some awesome food at this particular gas station. There’s an entire kitchen inside the lobby, and they have a variety of foodstuffs: from sandwiches to pizza to hot dogs. The hidden gem is the chili pepper chicken. If you like spicy food, you’ll love this. Trust me.
That was the Kauai North side!
Kauai is absolutely incredible and I can’t wait to share more of it with you. Which of these spots would you want to visit the most? Comment below and let me know! And if you haven’t already, subscribe to my email list! I’ll be giving out my first freebie this month, so check it out!