A Tropical Travel Blog
by Cate Lincoln

I think Kauai is the prettiest of the Hawaiian Islands…it’s so lush and green and it has some of the most dramatic landscapes I’ve seen anywhere.

If you’re looking to see the best of Kauai, that’s definitely the Napali Coast. The Napali Coast’s rugged green cliffs are the stuff Hawaiian dreams are made of. The only downside of the Napali Coast, and you can hardly call it a downside, is that it’s so remote and isolated. You won’t be seeing it from your car.

Kauai's Napali Coast

In fact, any way you do it, seeing the Napali Coast is going to require a bit of adventure. There are three ways to see the Napali Coast…by air, by water, and by foot. In this blog post, I’m going to break down each option and give you the pros and cons of seeing it each way.

BY FOOT

If you’re willing to put in some work, you can hike into the heart of the Napali Coast for some pretty incredible views. While the full hike is 22 miles round trip (and requires a hard to come by camping permit), the first two miles (four miles round trip) of the Kalalau Trail is open to day hikers. I think this is an absolute must do and you can read about the details of this hike here.

Hiking Kauai’s Kalalau Trail

The absolute easiest way you’ll be able to see the Napali Coast is from the Kalalau lookout at the Waimea Canyon. You can drive right up to the lookout point and gaze down at the jagged cliffs of Kalalau and the bright blue ocean.

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Pros of Seeing the Napali Coast by Foot

  • It’s free.
  • You can take all the time you want.
  • You can cross one of Kauai’s best hikes off your list.
  • You’ll get your workout for the day.

Cons of Seeing the Napali Coast by Foot

  • It’s a lot of work. It’s a pretty strenuous hike and it takes 3-4 hours.
  • You’ll only get a side view of the Napali Coast so you lose some perspective into just how grand it is.

BY WATER

Kauai's Napali Coast

A boat tour down the Napali Coast is one of the most popular activities in Kauai and for good reason…it’s a great way to see the Napali Coast. Seeing the Napali Coast by water gives you a great perspective on just how majestic this piece of coast line really is. The big catamaran tours leave out of Port Allen, but I suggest going out on a smaller ocean raft or Zodiac from Hanalei on the north shore. You can read all about the best boat charters here.

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Pros of Seeing the Napali Coast by Water

  • It’s nice being out on a boat! This will feel like a true excursion plus it’s WAY easier than hiking it.
  • It’s the only way you’ll get to explore the sea caves.
  • It’s a pretty good bang for your buck. Most trips last about four hours.
  • You’ll get a narrated tour with plenty of history and cultural commentary.
  • You’ll get a snorkeling stop thrown in.

Cons of Seeing the Napali Coast by Water

  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, it may not be so pleasant.
  • It’s not a super cheap thing to do (especially if you’re taking the whole family).
  • It can be fairly seasonal. Tours only depart from Hanalei in the summer (April-October) and even winter tours out of Port Allen are easily cancelled due to rough surf).

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BY AIR

This is hands down my favorite way to see the Napali Coast. I think a helicopter tour of Kauai should be on everybody’s bucket list. You don’t just see the Napali Coast on a helicopter tour of Kauai, but it will probably be the highlight of it. Seeing the Napali Coast by air has got to be the most impressive way to see it. You’ll get an amazing bird’s eye perspective and a real respect for just how awe inspiring Kauai really is. You can read more about Kauai helicopter flights here.

Helicopter Tour of Kauai

Pros of Seeing the Napali Coast by Air

  • It will most likely be one of the best experiences of your life.
  • It’s the most comfortable way to see it. You’ll be inside a climate controlled aircraft (unless you go on one without doors) with a headset that allows you to communicate with the pilot.
  • Your tour won’t be of just eh Napali Coast, but you’ll get to see the entire island.
  • You’ll be able to buy video footage of your actual flight after so you won’t have to worry about taking pictures.

Cons of Seeing the Napali Coast by Air

  • It’s the most expensive way to see the Napali Coast.
  • You flight will only last about an hour and probably only 15-20 minutes of that will be along the coast.
  • Weather can make or break your flight, and while it can also with the hike or boat ride, there’s usually more flexibility with rescheduling those.

Now that you’ve got the run down on all of your options for seeing the Napali Coast, there may be some ways that seem more appealing or doable than others, but here’s what I suggest…do all three! I call it the Napali Coast trifecta. Seeing the coast each way is a completely different experience and will likely give you an entirely different perspective. Also, if you have three chances to see it, you won’t be so bummed if you run into bad weather one of the times.

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