Polihale State Park

Polihale still has the iconic dunes, Napali Cliffs and long streches of white sand, but big changes have gone down at Polihale State Park on Kauai since that last time we wrote about the park. Hawai’i Division of State Parks reopened the park in April 2021, after closing the park in 2020 due to overuse. Pictures online taken in July of 2020 showed crowds, excessive trash and overwhelmed bathroom facilities. The facilities have since been cleaned up and the authorities are letting people back in for day use – and for camping.

A permit is required to camp and they’re available at $20 for residents and $30 for non-residents online at the State Parks website.

I’ve camped at the Polihale State Park campground several times and each has been a wonderful experience. Below is the story of one such time.

Know Before You Go

  • Camping permits required
  • Often rough swimming conditions
  • Shells, fishing, sunsets
  • Road conditions vary, 4WD could be a bonus
  • Culturally and historically significant

Patches of fresh gravel filled in the daunting potholes that deter smaller vehicles and the ride down the dirt road was relatively smooth, which isn’t always the case.

Sometimes that road is impassable without a four-wheel drive and people with rental cars should check with their companies before taking the vehicles out to the end of the line on the West side.

But once you get out there, Kauai’s longest stretch of beach offers stunning views of the

Na Pali cliffs, sand dunes that can reach 100 feet in height, and occasional waves for experienced surfers.

It’s a place for sunrise shell hunting, campfire-cooked eats, and lazy sun-filled afternoons.

Polihale is the westernmost point of Kauai and encompasses about 13 miles all together, though part of it is on the Pacific Missile Range Facility and is off-limits to civilians.

Camping is allowed at the state park with a permit that can be secured online or at one of the neighborhood centers around the island. There are no lifeguards at this location.

My fellow campers and I managed to roll up to one of the pavilions stacked at the back of the beach just as another group was vacating the premises, and we got prime access to the bathroom and shower facilities.

Swimming in the ocean at Polihale is usually a dangerous proposition with unpredictable rip currents and sharp drops in the ocean floor; but the sea was glass that weekend.

Ultralight rain mixed with the ocean as I swam in the gentle waves and our group played in the water until the first hints of the sunset started showing in the sky.

Watching the sunset is a akin to a cinematic experience at Polihale and beachgoers line up their chairs along the sand dunes as soon as the sky starts changing colors.

A mystical stillness overtakes Polihale as the sun nears the edge of the water, and that weekend was the first time I’ve ever seen the legendary green flash kiss the horizon at the last second of the sunset.

The magic of Polihale continues after the sun disappears with an immense night sky and our party counted at least three shooting stars before the three-quarters moon rose and lit up the sky.

A Westside camping trip isn’t complete until you’ve realized you’ve forgotten something, and for us it was a strainer for coffee in the morning — a misstep quickly corrected using the mesh bag from a folding chair.

But, that’s all part of the fun of exploring at the edges of rainbow country; it’s a chance to infuse adventure and a little bit of something unexpected into the daily routine of life.

Remember to always check conditions before you go play outside. Be safe out there and have fun!

This article first appeared in The Garden Island Newspaper, published May 31, 2017. Photos by Jessica Else.

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