Because of the South Shore’s extensive shallows, hemmed by a fringing reef and fishponds, and the general inaccessibility of the North Shore, the best Molokai beaches for visitors are on the East or West Ends. There are no lifeguards; on weekdays, you may even be the sole person on the sand. So enter the water only in calm conditions, and even then be cautious: If you get into trouble, help may take longer to arrive than you expect.

Kaunakakai

Local kids swim off the wharf, but if you just want to dip your feet in the water, head 3 miles east along the Kamehameha V Highway to the sandy shore of One Alii Beach Park ★. Pronounced "o-nay ah-lee-ee," it has a thin strip of golden one (sand) once reserved for the ali‘i (high chiefs). Although the water is too shallow and murky for swimming, the spacious park is a picnic spot and draws many families on weekends. Facilities include outdoor showers, picnic areas, and restrooms; tent camping allowed with permit (see “Camping”).

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East End

At mile marker 20, palm-fringed Kumimi Beach ★★, also known as Murphy Beach or 20-Mile Beach, provides a small, shaded park with picnic tables, white sand, and good swimming, snorkeling, and diving in calm conditions. Look for Sandy Beach ★★ between mile markers 21 and 22—the last beach before you head uphill en route to lush Halawa Valley. It has no facilities, just winsome views of Maui and Lanai and generally safe swimming; stay out of high surf.

At the narrow end of the winding highway, 28 miles east of Kaunakakai, lies Halawa Beach Park ★★. Tucked between sea cliffs, the wide rocky bay is beautiful but not safe for swimming. Behind it, the gray sand cove adjacent to the river is a serene option for those willing to ford the stream. Avoid this during winter or after heavy rains. Look back into Halawa Valley (accessible only via cultural tours) for distant waterfall views. A picnic pavilion has restrooms, a shower, and water tap; it’s 100 yards from the shore, across from Ierusalema Hou, a tiny green church built in 1948.

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West End

Much of the shoreline here is for sightseeing only, thanks to dangerous currents and fierce surf—especially in winter. But solitude, sunsets, and clear-day vistas of Diamond Head on Oahu across the 26-mile Kaiwi Channel make it worth the trek. From Kaunakakai, take Maunaloa Highway (Hwy. 460) almost 15 miles west, turn right on Kaluakoi Road, and drive 4 1/2 miles until you see the sign on your right pointing to Ke Nani Kai; turn right for public beach access parking at the end of the road. Walk past the eerily decaying, closed hotel to gold-sand Kepuhi Beach ★★, and watch surfers navigate the rocky break. A 15-minute walk north along the bluff leads to the Pohaku Mauliuli cinder cone, which shares its name with two sandy coves better known as Make Horse Beach ★, pronounced "mah-kay" and meaning “dead horse” (don’t ask). You can snorkel and explore the tide pools in calm conditions, but do keep an eye on the waves. Hiking several miles north on a rugged dirt road leads to the white crescent of Kawakiu Beach ★, the original launch site of the Molokai to Oahu outrigger canoe race. It’s relatively safe in summer, but be wary whenever surf is up.

Continue on Kaluakoi Road 2 miles south from the resort to the parking lot for Papohaku Beach Park ★★★, where the light-blond sand is more than 2 miles long and 300 feet wide. Enjoy strolling the broad expanse, but beware the water’s ferocious rip currents. County facilities—restrooms, water, picnic, and campsites (see “Camping”)—are at the northern end, a third of a mile past the intersection with Pa Loa Loop Road (a shortcut back to upper Kaluakoi Rd.).

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From Papohaku, follow Kaluakoi Road 1 3/4 miles south to the T at Pohakuloa Road; turn right and head another 1[bf]3/4 miles. Just before the road ends, turn seaward at the beach access sign. Park in the small lot and follow a short downhill path to cozy Dixie Maru Beach ★★★ (formerly Kapukahehu, but renamed after a Japanese shipwreck). Popular with families in summer, this sheltered cove is the island’s best, safest spot to swim. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.