Kalalau Beach, Hawaii
Credit: M.M. Sweet / Getty Images

On the northwest side of Kauai, there is a rare chunk of ancient Hawaii preserved only by the grace of its fiercely inhospitable shoreline. This 15-mile stretch of lush hanging valleys; 4,000-foot cliffs; and long, sinuous waterfalls is called the Na Pali Coast, and it harbors one of the Pacific's most spectacular beaches: Kalalau. Hippies and dropouts have made the pilgrimage here for decades to live among the wild fruit trees, bathe in waterfall pools, and fritter away evenings staring out at the Pacific. Still, you can't just show up in Birkenstocks. Only the hardiest hikers make it down the 11-mile access trail, which descends muddy hillsides, tiptoes around railing-free cliffs, and dives into valleys still marked by the agricultural terraces of ancient Hawaiians. The thigh-grinding trek is worth it. Watching the light drain from the sky as the surf quiets and the stars poke out, it's easy to forget that you didn't discover this beach. The view from the sand is at once the most intimate and the grandest view of the Pacific Ocean imaginable. Just as those who came before, you'll linger before grudgingly beginning the hike back to reality.

More information: Camping permits for the area cost $22. Pick up the trail at Ke'e Beach, at the end of the road on Kauai's north shore.