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

I’d heard about its soft sands, towering cliffs, unparalleled views of the Kilauea Lighthouse, and — best of all — barely a soul in sight.

At least, that was the idea.

I’m talking about Kauai’s “Secret Beach,” officially known as Kauapea Beach. It is a lush, unblemished stretch of sand on the north coast of Garden Island, just beyond Kilauea and east of Kalihiwai.

Footprints leading to the waves at Kauai

Footprints leading to the waves on Kauai’s “secret” beach of Kauapea.

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

His nickname is a big part of his allure. Secret Beach can only be accessed via an unmarked road, followed by a descent down a steep and unmarked path.

Today, however, the 900-foot beach paradise isn’t as much of a “secret” as it used to be thanks to bloggers, travel websites, Instagrammers, and now yours truly. But it remains much less crowded and offers more adventure than Kauai’s more popular beaches.

“I personally understand why people are drawn to watch it,” Kauai Police Department Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce told SFGATE. “But above all, everyone has to learn their own limitations. It’s not just a flat trail that’s easy to get on. You have to be in good physical shape to make it down and up.”

Sea cliffs along Kauai's

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

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

I accepted the challenge and while recently staying in Koloa, a small town on the south coast of the island, one morning I set out to find the secret beach.

On the way I visited Little Fish Coffee. I fueled up on a delicious Mexican chocolate mocha and breakfast sandwich—a meal that remains unbeatable 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 into the Kilauea area from either direction.

A view of the isolated and charming

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

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

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

Immediately after the bend, continue along a private driveway; then turn right on what Google Maps affectionately called “Secret Beach Road”. Follow the road for about a quarter of a mile. You soon come to a dead end in a small parking lot in front of a giant, fenced Polynesian themed house with wood paneling on giant posts and another house hidden from view by a longer driveway and gate. When I arrived just before 11am there were already 12 vehicles in the parking lot – hence the implication that the secret may be out.

The parking lot at the trailhead for discovering Kauai's 'secret' Kauapea Beach.

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


Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

A giant, gated, Polynesian-themed house at the entrance to Kauai's 'secret' beach of Kauapea.

A giant, gated, Polynesian-themed house at the entrance to Kauai’s ‘secret’ beach of Kauapea.


Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

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

The neighbors didn’t seem to mind the traffic, or so it sounded when ukulele music blared from behind the large fence to greet visitors as they prepared for the trip to the beach.

Sandwiched between the driveways, the trailhead was easy to find.

Posted a warning at the parking lot to get to Kauai's

Placed a warning at the parking lot to get to Kauai’s “secret” beach of Kauapea.

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

An ominous spray-painted warning sign awaits beachgoers at the start of the trail: “Be safe. The ocean has brought hundreds here.” Local authorities, including the Kauai Police Department, dispute that claim, but urge caution for winter visits between mid-October and February. That’s when the surf “gets really treacherous,” Ponce said.

He wasn’t wrong, as I found out on a visit in late October.

The path to Kauai's

The path to Kauai’s “secret” beach of Kauapea is slippery when wet.

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

As you travel along the trail, don’t be fooled by the relatively flat opening that ends with a beautiful view of Secret Beach. It will get much steeper after that – and, in my case, much smoother, as there had been rain earlier in the day. I used logs and branches for support as I stepped through the muddy path. I slipped once, but was not injured. My pride took the brunt of the fall.

In total, the walk down took about 15 minutes.

Four surfers were coming off the beach when I arrived. The sun was shining. Keep in mind that there is hardly any shade at Secret Beach – only cliffs, hot sand and beautiful waves. I suggest you bring plenty of water.

Where the trail leads to the sand for Kauai's

Where the path to the sand leads to Kauai’s “secret” beach of Kauapea.

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

I saw maybe 10 people there. Some were basking in the sun (amazingly, a few had even lugged beach chairs up the steep path), while others walked along the sand and cliffs in the distance.

To put it in perspective, you’re bound to run into people at Secret Beach, and you won’t have it all to yourself at this time of day, but its sheer size means there’s plenty of room for any visitor to make it their own without a soul close by.

The crashing waves at the

The crashing waves at Kauapea’s “secret” beach in Kauai.

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

The water looked rough. This is a common occurrence along Kauai’s north shore, although the most dangerous spot for swimmers on the island is further down the road at Queen’s Bath, according to Ponce.

“We always recommend people go to supervised beaches,” he said. “Unfortunately, Secret Beach is not guarded. If they choose to go, don’t go during the winter months, as the waves and currents are too dangerous to enjoy the ocean casually.”

Due to ever-changing weather patterns that can turn trails to mud or amplify wave conditions, Kauai has some of Hawaii’s most dangerous hiking trails. Unprepared hikers can quickly find themselves in a disastrous situation, and everyone should exercise caution when exploring destinations like Secret Beach.



After enjoying my undisturbed time at Secret Beach and listening to the waves crash against the shore, I headed back up the trail. It was much easier to go up than down.

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

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

Eric Brooks Especially for SFGATE

For lunch I returned to Kilauea and found the Kilauea Market + Cafe to enjoy a piping hot Cuban sandwich with French fries. The wild chickens and roosters of the island surrounded me as I ate. If you’re looking for fish instead, the Kilauea Fish Market drew a crowd across the street.

Kauai’s Secret Beach is a trip 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.



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