Kauai’s North Shore past the town of Hanalei is one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. This is a truly remarkable place, a tropical paradise with verdant mountains, lush jungles and golden beaches. The area was hit hard by record-breaking flooding a couple years back. Several huge landslides caused by the flooding closed the North Shore’s only road, and the area wasn’t reopened to visitors again until a couple years back.
With the reopening of the North Shore to visitors, new rules have been introduced to better manage the number of visitors to this very popular destination while also ensuring local residents are not overwhelmed with traffic through their rural neighborhoods.
A shuttle service has been initiated to cut down on traffic, and prior reservations are now required to visit Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail. The new rules, and various types of permits, can be somewhat confusing, especially to new visitors to the island. Moreover, a few local residents have disseminated false information to tourists about access to the North Shore, claiming there is no parking at all beyond Hanalei without a permit.
Hawaii residents are exempt from the fee/reservation requirement for Ke’e Beach and the first two miles of the Hanakapiai Trail. Proof of residency is required at the time of entry. Proof of residency includes a Hawaii Driver’s license or state ID. Visitors accompanying state residents are not exempt from the entry fee.
This is absolutely not true, and in fact, with the exception of Ke’e Beach, access to all Kauai beaches is the same as before the flood. The following information is intended to help you on your visit to Kauai’s North Shore.
First, a little information about the area. After Hanalei, the two-lane road continues for another 7.3 miles. The road follows the coastline. Some sections are next to the coastline, while other sections are set back behind beaches and coastal homes.
There are a number of beaches along the way, all beautiful beyond words. Lumahai Beach and Tunnels Beach are two noteworthy beaches. All beaches on the North Shore, and parking where available, are open to visitors without a permit except Ke’e Beach at Haena State Park.
Lumahai, favored by local residents, has an expansive beach but dangerous waters. It’s best not to go in the ocean here. A favorite spot at Lumahai Beach is near the mouth of the Lumahai River. Usually calm waters provide a nice water playground, complete with a rope swing, between the roadway bridge and the mouth of the river.
Dangerous waves breaking on the rocks, and a possible rip current, make the actual mouth of the river a proven dangerous place. There are parking spots in the trees behind the beach and also along the roadway. You do not need a permit to either visit or park at Lumahai Beach.
Tunnels Beach (known locally as Makua) is also a favorite destination. This gorgeous beach has a famed, world-class coral reef that is popular with snorkelers. There is free parking for Tunnels Beach at Haena Beach Park, which adjoins Tunnels Beach. You do not need a permit to either visit or park at Haena Beach Park. However, parking is limited, and an early morning (or late afternoon) arrival is best for securing a parking spot.
At the end of the road is Ke’e Beach and the famous Kalalau Trail. Both require prior reservations to visit. There are several different permit options, depending on whether you are taking the shuttle, driving and parking, or being dropped off. All permit options sell out quickly, so due diligence is needed to ensure your success in obtaining a permit. Here are the different options:
Above: The walkway from the Ke’e Beach parking lot to Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail trailhead. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the distance.
The Entry Only voucher can be purchased at www.gohaena.com. Click on Park Reservations and select Entry Only in the Select Voucher Type drop down menu.
Parking is not included with the Entry Only voucher. The Entry Only voucher is for all people who are walking, bicycling, carpooling, ridesharing or taxiing to Haena State Park. The cost of an Entry Only voucher is $5.
Shuttle: Since parking at Haena State Park is limited to 100 spaces, the Kauai North Shore Shuttle may be your best bet to visit Ke’e Beach and the first part of the Kalalau Trail. There are shuttles that leave throughout the day at 30 minute intervals. Shuttle reservations are $35 ages 16+, $25 ages 4-15, *ages 0-3 free on lap.
The reservation also includes the return trip. If you print your reservation be sure to keep it for the return trip even if they don’t ask you for it on the morning run. If you want to use your phone for the reservation, take a screenshot of the reservation with the QR code, as cell phone service is often not available at the Haena drop-off point.
Also, if you plan to hike to Hanakapiai Falls on the Kalalau Trail, be sure to get an earlier shuttle run so you will have time to make it to the falls and back to the pickup point by 7PM when the last shuttle leaves. Currently, reservations are offered 30 days prior at 12AM. However, in the future, dates may be offered even further out.
When planning your trip to Kauai, it’s best to check availability daily or every few days to ensure that you are able to reserve spots before they sell out.
Parking and Entry Reservations: Parking reservations are the most convenient way to visit Haena State Park, and they are also the most in-demand, so due diligence is needed to ensure your spot. There are three time periods available for parking:
Morning 6:30AM to 12:30PM; Afternoon 12:30PM to 5:30PM; and Sunset 4:30PM to sunset.
The 12:30PM to 5:30PM is the most sought-after time slot. Reservations are good for only the times indicated. You can also purchase two-time slots or even three-time slots for all day, though not all time slots may be available on a given date.
The slots are offered 30 days prior at 12:00 a.m. Hawaii time. Parking reservations are available at the GoAhena website. The cost is $10 per time period ($20 for two-time slots and $30 for all three-time slots).
The FAQ at GoHaena.com reads:
“Parking reservations sell out quickly. Purchase multiple timeslots to stay longer. Enter anytime after your timeslot begins but you MUST leave by the end time or your vehicle will be towed. All ticketed passengers must arrive together in your vehicle for parking reservations to grant park entry (no multiple trips). Multiple vehicles must make separate reservations for each vehicle. $10/timeslot (plus entry passes for everyone in the vehicle).”
In addition to the parking fee, there is also an entry fee of $5 per person. The parking fee and entry fee are paid together at gohaena.com.
There have been a few issues that have not been worked out with parking. The first issue is that more than a few visitors overstay their morning time slot, leaving not enough parking spaces for the afternoon time period.
Also, we have been told (by the shuttle attendants) the sunset time slot is not needed since there are always enough parking spaces during that time. However, to be safe, it would be best to purchase that time period if you are planning to stay past 5:30PM.
Additionally, know that whatever method you use (drop off, shuttle or parking), you must still walk about a quarter of a mile from the parking area/shuttle dropoff to Ke’e Beach. This can be very inconvenient for those carrying coolers, chairs and more to the beach.
Plan accordingly with selected/limited items or use something with wheels such as a small wagon or ice chest with rollers.
The trailhead for Kauai’s famed Kalalau Trail is at Ke’e Beach and access to this trail also falls under the new rules.
The trail generally follows the coastline of the Na Pali Coast for eleven miles to its ultimate destination Kalalau Beach. Access to the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail (to Hanakapiai Beach) is included with the Entry, Shuttle and Parking permits described above. Also included with these permits is the two-mile hike from Hanakapiai Beach to Hanakapiai Falls. You can find more hikes in this part of Kauai with our hiking trails guide.
To go the full eleven miles you will need a special camping permit issued by the Division of State Parks. Na Pali Coast Camping Permits are available at https://camping.ehawaii.gov/camping/all,details,1692.html and are currently available 90 days in advance. Na Pali Coast Camping Permits do include access to Haena State Park (Ke’e Beach).
Entry Voucher: Includes access to Ke’e Beach and the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail (and Hanakapiai Falls). $5 per person.
Parking Voucher: Limited parking at Haena State Park with three time slots – 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. $10 per vehicle per time slot.
Kauai North Shore Shuttle: Shuttle service from Princeville and Hanalei to Haena State Park. Includes access to Ke’e Beach and the first two miles of the Kalalau Trail (and Hanakapiai Falls). $15 per person at www.kauainsshuttle.com
Na Pali Coast Camping Permit: Includes access to Ke’e Beach and all eleven miles of the Kalalau Trail including several waterfall hikes and overnight camping. Hawaii residents $25 per person per night, non-residents $35 per person per night (maximum five consecutive nights) at eHawaii.gov. Does not include transportation to trailhead.
Overnight Parking for Kalalau Trail: As of November 2019, limited overnight parking is available at the trailhead in Haena State Park. Overnight parking must be purchased at the GoAhena website after securing your camping permits. For more information please call 808-376-2690. Limited overnight parking is also available in cooperation at the Alii Kai Resort – 808-826-9988.