February 2, 2023

Happy Travel & Tour

Specialists Travel & Tours

What to know about Kauai’s Kauapea Beach, Hawaii’s ‘secret’ gem

I had heard about its soft sand, its towering cliffs, its unrivaled view of the Kilauea Lighthouse and — best of all — hardly a soul in sight.

At least, that was the idea.
 
I’m talking about Kauai’s “Secret Beach,” officially known as Kauapea Beach. It’s a lush, immaculate stretch of sand found on the North Shore of the Garden Island, just past Kilauea and east of Kalihiwai. 

Footprints leading to the waves at Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Its nickname is a big part of its allure. Secret Beach can be accessed only by an unmarked road, followed by a descent down a steep and unmarked trail.

However, these days, the 3,000-foot-long beach paradise isn’t so much a “secret” as it used to be thanks to bloggers, travel websites, Instagrammers and now yours truly. But it remains far less crowded and offers more adventure than Kauai’s more popular beaches.
 
“I personally understand why people gravitate to check it out,” Kauai Police Department Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce told SFGATE. “But above everything else, everybody’s got to know their own limitations. It’s not just a flat trail that’s easily accessible. You have to be in good physical condition to make it down and back up.”

Sea cliffs along Kauai’s "secret" Kauapea Beach.

Sea cliffs along Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

I was up for the challenge, and while recently staying in Koloa, a small town on the island’s South Shore, I set off one morning to find the undisclosed beach.
 
On the way, I visited Little Fish Coffee. I fueled up on a delicious Mexican chocolate mocha and a breakfast sandwich — a meal that remains undefeated for road trips no matter your destination. You also can’t go wrong with the countless food trucks and local eateries that line the road from either direction into the Kilauea area.

A view of the isolated and charming "secret" Kauapea Beach in Kauai.

A view of the isolated and charming “secret” Kauapea Beach in Kauai.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

After an hour-plus car ride from Koloa, I turned right at Kalihiwai Road from Kuhio Highway. This is where road signs disappear, so you’ll need to know what you’re looking for.

Continue past a private dirt driveway immediately after the turn; then, turn right on what Google Maps affectionately labeled “Secret Beach Road.” Follow the road about a quarter mile. You’ll soon hit a dead end at a small parking area in front of a giant, fenced-off Polynesian-themed house with wood paneling on giant stilts and another home obscured by a longer driveway and a gate. When I arrived just before 11 a.m., 12 vehicles were already in the lot — hence the implication the secret might be out.

The parking lot near the trailhead for discovering  Kauai’s ‘secret’ Kauapea Beach.

The parking lot near the trailhead for discovering  Kauai’s ‘secret’ Kauapea Beach.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

A giant, fenced-off Polynesian-themed house at the entrance to Kauai’s ‘secret’ Kauapea Beach.

A giant, fenced-off Polynesian-themed house at the entrance to Kauai’s ‘secret’ Kauapea Beach.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The parking lot at the entrance to Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach. (Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE)

The neighbors didn’t seem to mind the traffic, or at least it sounded that way as ukulele music emanated from behind the big gate to greet visitors as they prepared for the trek down to the beach.
 
Sandwiched between the driveways, the trailhead was easy to find.

A warning posted near the parking lot to reach Kauai’s "secret" Kauapea Beach.

A warning posted near the parking lot to reach Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

An ominous spray-painted warning sign waits for beachgoers at the start of the trail: “Be safe. The ocean has taken hundreds here.” Local authorities, including Kauai police, dispute that claim but urge caution when visiting in the winter between mid-October and February. That’s when the surf “gets really treacherous,” Ponce said.
 
He wasn’t wrong, as I came to find out during a late-October visit.

The trail down to Kauai’s "secret" Kauapea Beach is slippery when wet.

The trail down to Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach is slippery when wet.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

On the trek down the trail, don’t be fooled by the relatively flat opening that ends with a gorgeous view down to Secret Beach. It will get much steeper just after that — and, in my case, much slipperier, as rain had just come through earlier in the day. I was using tree trunks and branches for support as I stepped through the muddied trail. I slipped once but didn’t get hurt. My pride took the brunt of the fall.
 
In all, the hike down took about 15 minutes.
 
Four surfers were coming off the beach when I arrived. The sun was shining. Keep in mind there’s hardly any shade at Secret Beach — just cliffs, hot sand and beautiful waves. I suggest you pack a lot of water. 

Where the trail leads onto the sand for Kauai’s "secret" Kauapea Beach.

Where the trail leads onto the sand for Kauai’s “secret” Kauapea Beach.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

I saw maybe 10 people there. Some were lying out in the sun (amazingly, a few had even lugged beach chairs down the steep trail), while others were walking along the sand and cliffs in the distance. 

To put it in perspective: You will certainly encounter people at Secret Beach, and you won’t have it entirely to yourself at this time of the day, but the sheer size of it gives each visitor plenty of space to make it their own without a soul nearby.

The crashing waves at the "secret" Kauapea Beach in Kauai.

The crashing waves at the “secret” Kauapea Beach in Kauai.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The water looked rough. This is a common sight along Kauai’s North Shore, though the most dangerous spot for swimmers on the island is farther up at Queen’s Bath, according to Ponce.

“We always recommend that people go to lifeguarded beaches,” he said. “Unfortunately, Secret Beach is not lifeguarded. If they choose to go, do not go during winter months, because the waves and the current are too dangerous to casually and leisurely enjoy the ocean.”

Due to ever-changing weather patterns that can turn trails into mud or intensify wave conditions, Kauai has some of the most dangerous hiking trails in Hawaii. Unprepared hikers can quickly find themselves in a disastrous situation, and everyone should use caution when exploring destinations such as Secret Beach.



After enjoying my undisturbed time on Secret Beach and listening to the waves pound the shore, I made my way back up the trail. It was much easier going up versus coming down. 

Kilauea Market + Cafe in Kilauea features piping-hot Cuban sandwiches and fries.

Kilauea Market + Cafe in Kilauea features piping-hot Cuban sandwiches and fries.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

For lunch, I backtracked to Kilauea and found the Kilauea Market + Cafe to enjoy a piping-hot Cuban sandwich with French fries. The island’s feral hens and roosters surrounded me as I ate. If you’re looking for fish instead, the Kilauea Fish Market drew a crowd just across the street.
 
The secret beach of Kauai is one trek I won’t soon forget. Some secrets are just too good to keep.

Eric Brooks is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in radio and digital storytelling. He hails from the Midwest, where he graduated from Valparaiso University, and now proudly calls the Bay Area home.