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Visiting Kauai’s North Shore – what you need to know

Back in April 2018, a major storm hit the island of Kauai which left the beautiful North Shore devastated. Prior to this, visitors and residents alike could go to many of the North Shore beaches from Hanalei all the way to the end of the road, Ke’e Beach – which is also where the trail begins going towards Kalalau Trail.

Entering Kahalahala Beach

We’ve visited Kauai for the first time in 2000 during our honeymoon, and have always been enamored with the beauty and accessibility of going to the North Shore. One of the major problems as you could imagine is crowd build up with vehicles taking over roads and parking spaces.

To be perfectly honest, one of the main reasons I love visiting Kauai is because of the North Shore. But due to the April 2018 storm, the access to the North Shore (from Hanalei to the end  of the road – Ke’e) was restricted. Only residents were allowed to drive past Hanalei. It was unknown when the roads will reopen. So once I booked our trip back to Kauai (Jan 2019), I kept my eyes peeled to learning when they might reopen the roads.

Jump off from the rocks at Lumahai

Lumahai Beach

A year had gone by, and the roads were still closed. There were speculations that the roads will reopen again in the summer, but with restrictions. Sure enough, I learned about the Hanalei Initiative.

According to the Hanalei Initiative: (website might be down)

In recent years, there are times when traffic on the North Shore of Kauai becomes unmanageable. Our roads are at capacity and the lack of infrastructure cannot support the current vehicular count. Residential quality of life and visitor experience is compromised and it is understood that we are out of balance. The April flood has provided a much needed break but without implementing smart systems now, we are destined to return to an unmanageable number of people on the North Shore.

Here’s what you need to know according to the initiative:

The Kaua’i North Shore Shuttle is a visitors primary service system for the Hā’ena State Park which includes the Ke’e Beach area and Kalalau Trail access at the end of the road. With limited park access and very limited reserved parking each day, we expect the Kaua’i North Shore Shuttle to transport a significant number of park attendees to Hā’ena State Park and in the process help keep a significant amount of traffic off of the small congested historic roadway – delivering many benefits for both residents and visitors.

A Kaua’i North Shore Shuttle reservation (which will include a visitors required Hā’ena State Park day pass. Residents will not need a reservation for park entrance) will be necessary to access Hā’ena State Park if the reserved parking lot is full.

  • To ride the shuttle, you will need to get tickets and pay $11 roundtrip per person to go to Haena State Park
  • If you want to visit other beaches on the North Shore, including Tunnels Beach, no need to make a reservation. This tells me that you can bring your vehicle all the way to Tunnels Beach.
  • You have to book in advance, you can’t go and pay on the spot.

Here’s a link to Haena State Park Shuttle and Parking Reservations.

Reserve your seat to take the shuttle which also includes your entry into the park. Click here.

For Haena State Park Reservations, click here. You have to specify when you will visit in order to park at the site.

The drive towards Hanalei and beyond

This part is what we experienced in July 2019. If you read this weeks or months later, you’ll probably experience something different (possibly better or worse).

Once we left Princeville, we experienced a traffic stop (due to major construction) down the winding road before the one-way bridge in Hanalei.

If you travel during the early part of the morning, you’ll probably experience a few minutes stop. But if you leave closer to mid-day to the afternoon, I’ve see the traffic start just past fire station near Princeville. Don’t dismay. I say it would be a 15-20 minute delay if you happen to be on the longer wait.

The roads once you get past that bridge is clear all the way to the business area in Hanalei, and then we experience one to two more short construction stops.

Parking at Lumahai and Kahalahala Beach

We went to Lumahai and Kahalahala Beach and found ample parking. Kahalahala’s parking is a bit tricky, you’ll have to find a spot close to the highway. For Lumahai, the parking choices were plentiful.

Parking in side of the highway at Kahalahala Beach

Lumahai Beach

My experience going to Tunnels Beach

I’m writing this entry on the 4th of July. I used to be able to park outside Tunnels Beach (on Kuhio Hwy). Today, I noticed many signs warning you not to park on the side. While there’s a place to park close to Tunnels Beach, there were very limited spaces, close 8 spaces. So just know that you may not find a place to park at Tunnels. After searching for parking, we decided to leave Tunnels and just found another beach, I don’t know the name of this beach but there was plenty of parking so we went here to swim. Not a bad alternative. I think you can’t go wrong with any of the beaches on the North Shore. If you know of a gem with no parking restrictions, let me know. Aloha!

A couple of days later, we went back to Tunnels Beach and were fortunate to find a spot to park. It was a quick stroll towards the beach. The vehicles I saw made sure they weren’t blocking traffic.

Parking not on the main highway, a short walk to Tunnels


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