Kayaking the Na Pali Coast, Kauai

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14029A, Kayak


  • Paddle the rugged and remote Kauai coastline
  • Watch for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles
  • Stroll near-empty beaches, explore ancient villages, read, hike, or swim


  • Kayaks, paddles, and personal flotation devices (life jackets)
  • Professional guides for two segments of the trip
  • Wilderness campsites
  • All meals


DatesAug 3–10, 2014
StaffAdam Kapp

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Kayaking the Na Pali coastline offers a water-based adventure in a spectacular wilderness setting. The sheer cliffs rocket upward from the coast, making it one of the most breathtaking paddles anywhere. The campsites are only accessible via a challenging hiking trail or by water.

We split the 18-mile paddle into three sections, guided by local professionals who share their vast knowledge of old Hawaiian civilizations and ocean-going wildlife. Daily options include beach combing, walking (whether strolling or vigorous hiking), reading, swimming, and counting wave sets, shooting stars, and rainbows.

Each participant should be in good physical shape, feel comfortable in the water, and have a clear understanding that Mother Nature is somewhat unpredictable. Currents, weather, and waves add to the adventure.  Previous ocean kayaking is not necessary; however, you should be able to get yourself in and out of your kayak. A two-day introductory course in kayaking would provide the basic skills needed.


Note: This itinerary may change due to weather, surf conditions, or availability of campsites.

Day 1: Plan to meet the group at 2 p.m. in front of the second agricultural station at the Lihue airport. We will travel by van to our first campsite along the north shore.  We set up camp, eat a hearty dinner, and get acquainted with each other.

Day 2: After eating breakfast and cleaning up camp, we will meet our outfitters. We’ll take the kayaks out for an introductory paddle in order to familiarize ourselves with our boats. We may paddle up a nearby river or out to the ocean to get experience with different paddling partners and practice flipping the kayaks and then getting back into them. Afterward, it’s back to camp for dinner and beach strolling.

Day 3: After breakfast, we’ll load our personal and communal gear (plus food) into the kayaks and start the real adventure. As we round the first point, you’ll catch your breath as you see the chiseled Na Pali coastline.  Soon, we’ll pass Hanakapiai, where the summer surf has deposited the first white beach we’ll encounter. Continuing on to Kalalau beach (our campsite for the next two nights), we’ll paddle around and possibly through waterfalls. From our vantage point, you can see the cliff-hugging trail that hikers use to get to Kalalau.

Day 4: Our day at Kalalau provides the opportunity to head up the valley to Big Pool for a swim; hardier folks may elect to continue up to the waterfall.  On the way, we’ll pass through crumbling terraces, and mango and guava groves -- all remnants of the large population that farmed this valley until the mid-1800s.

Day 5: After breakfast, we’ll reload our gear and head for Milolii.  A menu of options is yours for the next two days -- depending on your interest and energy level. Like Nualolo, Miloli’i once boasted a thriving Hawaiian community supported by farming and fishing. Those folks interested in exploring can see the remnants of this community or walk up the valley through old terraces to a spectacular waterfall.

Few people can resist the lure of pristine beaches begging to be combed. The warm water serves to refresh your mind and body.  The kayaks are there at our disposal too.  We might be accompanied by sea turtles, dolphins, and a rare monk seal. Overhead, we watch for shearwaters, frigate birds, red-tailed tropicbirds, and perhaps even an albatross.

Day 6: Explore, read, relax, repeat.

Day 7: After breakfast and clean up, we’ll reluctantly leave Milolii and head for our take out at Polihale in time to practice a little surfing in the boats before we schlep all the gear to the pickup vehicles.  Freshwater showers at the beach help to rinse the remnants of salt and sweat from our exercised bodies.

Plane reservations out of Lihue should be made no earlier than 7 p.m. Always keep in mind the unpredictable nature of ocean kayaking when making your return flight reservations. It is a remote possibility that we could be delayed 24 hours leaving Milolii.  Did we mention the need to be flexible? Although it is not included in the price of the trip, if you wish to stay a night in a hotel before flying out, the leader can offer suggestions of places to stay.

The Sierra Club is primarily a wilderness conservation organization and as members, we try to maintain or improve the areas we enter.  We will practice Leave No Trace principles, follow established sanitary practices, and observe all safety regulations. Any hiking or kayaking away from camp must be done in pairs (or more) with leader approval. The itinerary will allow much latitude in choices or activities with the understanding that the leader is ultimately responsible for the safety of the group and her decisions must be respected.



Getting There

The trip begins on August 3 at 2 p.m. at the Lihue airport. If your travel plans have you arriving a day earlier, kindly let your leader know your plans. Travel expenses to and from the Lihue airport are the responsibility of the each participant.

Accommodations and Food

We camp each night of this trip and should count on rain nightly. Our first two evenings will be along Kauai’s north shore. We will have running water.  Campgrounds along the Na Pali coast are designated as wilderness campsites (requiring permits attained by the leader) and are unassigned. We need to be flexible on our site selection. Conditions at Kalalau are primitive with no running water and basic outhouses. A waterfall supplies our drinking water (which must be treated) and our showers.  A destination for hippies in the 60s and 70s, Kalalau remains a popular destination for those wishing to relive that era.  While nudity and drugs are illegal, we may encounter those who practice both.

The trip fee includes all meals from dinner on August 3rd through lunch on August 9th. Meals are simple, tasty, and healthy. We combine foods that are familiar to mainlanders as well as those foods commonly consumed on the islands. Folks who have special dietary needs MUST discuss it with the leader prior to signing up for the trip.  We have limited space for both food and kitchen equipment and cannot easily accommodate special diets.

Trip Difficulty

Previous ocean kayaking is recommended but not necessary. The ability to swim is mandatory and general comfort around waves and water is essential. Participants must be at least 18 years old. The land portion of the trip is leisurely; the paddling portion can be challenging and is best suited for folks who are in good shape in mind and body.

Equipment and Clothing

Kayaks, paddles, and life jackets are all included in the price of the trip.  We paddle double sit-on-top kayaks for safety.  The leader and guide will review basic paddling techniques before we depart.  Expect warm to hot days and nights with periodic rain and wind.  Those who follow the recommended gear list will be prepared for the variety of weather conditions.

Since we will be transporting our gear in our kayaks, space is at a premium.  We pack in small parcels and waterproof bags. Different-sized stuff sacks work well, but must be made waterproofed by first wrapping the contents in plastic bags.  Cameras should be waterproof.  Keep in mind that group food/gear will be distributed among the participants.  

Bathing suits and shorts are the daily wear.  A quick-drying sun shirt, waterproof rain jacket, warm shirt, wool or fleece jacket, loose pants, sneakers, and flip flops are about all you’ll need.  For sleepwear, consider a lightweight polypropylene shirt and long johns.  Hat and sunglasses are highly recommended.  We avoid using heavy cotton items such as jeans or sweatshirts.

A wool or fleece blanket or thin sleeping bag will be sufficient for nighttime. Down bags are NOT recommended as they are too warm and are likely to get wet.  A sleeping pad makes your night more comfortable.  Each person or couple should bring a small tent complete with a waterproof rain fly.  Practice putting up your tent before leaving home to make sure you know how to and you have all the pieces.  More equipment/clothing information will be supplied after you’ve been approved for the trip.  


  • Valier, Kathy, On the Na Pali coast, A Guide for Hikers and Boaters.
  • Fleeson, Lucinda, Waking Up in Eden, In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island.
  • Sutherland, Audrey, Paddling Hawaii.
  • Joesting, Edward, Kauai: The Separate Kingdom.
  • Burney, Prof. David A., Back to the Future in the Caves of Kauai’i: A Scientist’s Adventures in the Dark.
  • Krauss & Alexander, Grove Farm Plantation.
  • Daws, Gaven, Shoal of Time.
  • The Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter newsletter is a great source of information about local conservation issues.  Write to: Sierra Club, Hawaii Chapter, PO Box 2577, Honolulu, HI 96803
  • Two USGS topo maps cover the entire trip: “Heana” and Makaha Point” quadrangles, Hawaii-Kauai County 7.5 minute series.  Write USGS Information Services, PO Box 25286 Denver, CO 80225 or call 1-888-275-8747.


In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Since moving to the West Coast five years ago, Adam Kapp has led outings in Nevada, California, and Hawaii. A web designer by trade, he takes seriously Sierra Club founder John Muir's advice to break clear away, once in a while.


Elaine Grace started backpacking with the Sierra Club in 1972. That choice and her love of the outdoors led to a 32-year career with the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service. She was very fortunate to live in wild places like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Zion, Crater Lake, and Lassen Volcanic national parks. In 1988, she moved to Alaska and stayed for 20 years getting to know Kenai Fjords NP, the Nellie Juan College Fjord Wilderness Study Area, and Denali NP. After retiring, Elaine moved to a Republic of Panama beach where she led kayaking tours and bird walks. She currently lives on the Big Island of Hawaii where she enjoys gardening, bicycling, snorkeling, hiking, and planning Sierra Club trips.

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