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The Ultimate Kauai 4 Day Itinerary

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Kauai is one of those places that could easily be the setting for a fantasy movie or book. This wild and beautiful island in Hawaii has the perfect beaches, picturesque mountains and insane waterfalls. Add a few rainbows to the mix and you have a place that could only be described as paradise.

girl sitting lookout at Na Pali Mountain Range with a rainbow at sunset

Dave and I visited Kauai back in 2019 where we hired a campervan for a week and travelled around the island, exploring as much as we could along the way. We fell in love with Kauai and our 1 week Kauai trip will hold a special place in our hearts forever.

Chances are if you are looking at visiting Kauai, you are probably looking at visiting the Na Pali coast, Waimea Canyon and maybe even looking at doing a portion of the Kalalau Trail. This blog post will provide you with an amazing 4 day Kauai Itinerary to help you create a trip that you will never forget. I have included all of these bucket list Kauai locations in the itinerary so that you don’t have to worry about missing out on anything.

In this guide, you will also find tips on the best ways to travel around the island, including where to hire a campervan from and camp each night if you want to follow in our footsteps. Alternatively, you can stay in one place for your entire trip and do day trips from there. There are also recommendations provided on the best towns to stay in in Kauai.

This itinerary is for adventurers, 🎒 hikers 🚶‍♀️ and photographers. 📸

👉 Don’t have time to read the whole blog post? Here is the Best Na Pali Coast Boat Tour where you can see dolphins!
👉 Find Beautiful Kauai Hotels

4 Day Kauai Itinerary in a Snapshot

4 Day Kauai Itinerary graphic

What You Need to know about Kauai

📍 Where is Kauai Located

Kauai is one of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands. The other 7 islands are Niihau, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii.

Click here to open the map in Google Maps!

Kauai Na Pali Coast from the water

✈ How to Get to Kauai

To get to Kauai, you will need to fly to Līhuʻe Airport (LIH) which is Kauai’s main airport. Depending on where you are coming from, there may be a direct flight straight to Kauai.

If there is no direct flight from where you are travelling from, you can fly to Honolulu and catch a flight to Līhuʻe Airport (LIH) from there. The flight from Oahu (Honolulu) to Kauai (Lihue) is only 25 minutes long.

ℹ How many days do I need to visit Kauai

When planning your trip to Kauai, I recommend allowing for 3 days minimum if not 4. 4 days on Kauai will give you enough time to see most of the must-see sites. A full week is even better!

🚗 Getting around Kauai

You will need to rent a car when visiting Kauai because the island is quite hard and nearly impossible to get around without one.

I always use Rentalcars.com when finding a rental car to save money.

🚙 Van Life on Kauai

Another great way of travelling around Kauai is to hire a campervan and camp at the various campsites around the island. This is what Dave and I did and we found it was such a great way to see the island and have a lot of fun!

Where to camp on Kauai

When we did our week experiencing van-life on Kauai, we actually ended up staying in the same campground for the majority of the time. This was not what we intended however. It was because we didn’t research or book our campgrounds in advance. I don’t recommend doing what we did. Make sure you book your permits in advance so that you can enjoy camping in different places every night.

Couple sitting on their Van on beach in Kauai

We camped at Kumu Camp which was located on a beach front that just so happened to be a popular 4×4 driving beach. In the middle of the night we were woken up by 4×4 vehicles driving along the beach with their bright lights and music blasting.

There are 9 campgrounds spread out around Kauai altogether and all of them need to be reserved in advance. 4 of these are county run campground, 2 are privately run and 3 are state run.

To book permits for the campgrounds around Kauai, you will need to go to the websites listed in the map’s key below depending on whether it is a county, state or privately run campground. The map below shows where each of the campgrounds are located and they are colour-coded depending on who they are run by.

County Campgrounds 🔴
State Campgrounds 🟣
Privately Run Campgrounds 🟠
(Kumu) (for YMCA, You can request reservations at campnaue@yahoo.com)

🛌 Where to Stay on Kauai (if not camping)

There are two main areas to stay on Kauai that I always recommend to people. These are Poipu (South Kauai) and Princeville (North Kauai).

South Coast of Kauai

The Poipu Plantation Vacation Rentals is a great budget hotel choice to stay at on the South side of Kauai. Here, you will be closer to Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali coast tours.

If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu is TO DIE FOR. I would absolutely love to stay there one day.

North Coast of Kauai

In Princeville, which is located next to Hanalei on the North of Kauai and is closer to the Kalalau Trail and some really beautiful, wild beaches, you have the choice of The Sandpiper, which is a great budget option and 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay which is the definition of LUXURY. 😍

couple sitting at Waimea Canyon Kauai Hawaii

📆 Best time of year to visit

Kauai is beautiful all-year-round, however, if you are wanting to go swimming and snorkelling at the beaches, you should avoid Winter. During the Winter, the ocean becomes quite wild and the swells can be extremely dangerous.

If you are looking to avoid the crowds, the best time to visit Kauai is between September and December or between April and June.

The dry season is from April to October and the rainy season is from November to March.

🌲 Leave No Trace

The 7 Leave No Trace principles are important to be aware of to help keep places like the Hawaii beautiful.

To remind yourself of the 7 Leave No Trace principles, check out the LNT website.

The Ultimate Kauai 4 Day Itinerary

I have put this 4 day Kauai Itinerary together with the adventurer traveller in mind because that is what Dave and I are. The trip below is based on renting a campervan and travelling around Kauai, staying in different places each night, however you could also stay in one place and treat each day of the itinerary as a day trip.

Day 1 – Lihue – Waimea Canyon & Kalalau Lookout

Campground: Koke’e State Park Campground or Salt Pond Beach Park
Accommodation (if not camping): Cabins at Koke’e or Sheraton Kauai Resort
Driving distance: 42.9 miles one way from Lihue (1.5 hours)
Note: Non-Hawaii resident visitors must pay both an entrance ($5 per person) and a parking fee ($10 per vehicle). These can be paid on arrival at a kiosk.

Once you have landed at Lihue Airport and picked up your campervan or rental car, it’s time for a big day of outdoor adventure! First, you will be driving an hour to Waimea Canyon Lookout, followed by Kalalau Lookout and a hike.

Girl sitting at viewpoint of Waimea Canyon on Kauai

Morning – Waimea Canyon

Stop in Waimea along the way to stock up on food and drinks. During your first Kauai grocery shopping experience, you will quickly realise that everything is super expensive! In Waimea you can choose between Foodland and KTA Super Store to get your groceries.

Once you have got everything you need, it’s time to head up the mountainous road to Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon is well known as the grand canyon of the pacific and was formed by erosion caused by the Waimea River over many years, as well as the volcano that created Kaua‘i collapsing and creating the huge gorge.

chicken at Waimea Canyon

There are restrooms available at each of the viewpoints and food and drinks available at the main Waimea Lookout and a restaurant at Kōkeʻe Lodge.

Travellers tip: Because Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park are at such a high elevation (approx. 3,500 ft above sea level), I recommend bringing along some warmer clothes. We were so cold that we used the fireplace in the cabin that we stayed in.

The viewpoints that you will want to stop at are:

  1. Hohonu Awawa Lookout – This is where the first large established viewing platform was made for Waimea Canyon.
  2. Waimea Canyon Lookout – this is the best viewpoint of Waimea /Canyon and it is only a short walk from the parking lot to the viewpoint.
  3. Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout – from this viewpoint, you get awesome views of Waipo’o Waterfall.
  4. Pu’u Hinahina Lookout – from this viewpoint, you will get a different perspective of the canyon and be able to see the Waimea River winding its way through the bottom of the canyon.

🚁 The best way to see Waimea Canyon is by Helicopter. Book a bucket list Heli Flight here!

Midday – Kalalau Lookout

Kalalau Lookout is one of the best viewpoints on Kauai and is located about a 15 minute drive further up the mountain from the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout. Kalalau Lookout looks out over the Kalalau Valley and the ocean. You will be able to see those epic ridgelines so don’t forget your camera!

girl sitting on the Na Pali coast at sunset looking at rainbow

If you are feeling extra adventurous, take a look at the Kalepa Ridge Trail which is a trail that is no longer open, maintained or for the faint hearted but has insane views.

Afternoon – Go for a Hike!

There are a few incredible hikes in the Waimea Canyon / Koke’e area which are worth doing including:

  • Awaʻawapuhi Trail
  • Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe Trail
  • Pihea Vista Trail
  • Waimea Canyon River Trail
  • Kukui Trail
  • Canyon Trail To Waipo’o Falls (Pu’u Hinahina)
  • Nu’alolo Trail
girl on the ridgeline on the Awaawapuhi Trail Kauai

Day 2 – Na Pali Coast Sight-seeing & Poipu Beach

Campground: Kumu Camp, Anahola Beach Park or Anini Beach Park
Accommodation (if not camping): The Sandpiper or 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay
Driving distance: 1 hour from Waimea Canyon to Poipu / 1 hour 15 mins from Poipu Beach to Anini Beach Park campground

On day 2, first thing in the morning, you will need to make your way down to the Port Allen Marina Centre if you choose to do a Na Pali Boat tour. Seeing the Na Pali Coastline is one of the best things to do on Kauai so make sure you don’t miss it.

If you would prefer to do a helicopter sight-seeing tour over the Na Pali coastline, you will need to drive back to Lihue to meet your tour guide.

Morning – Tour the Na Pali Coast via boat or Helicopter

Exploring and photographing the Na Pali Coast is a must-do activity in Kauai! There are a few different ways that you can see the Na Pali coast, the most popular being to join a boat tour which is what Dave and I did.

On this particular boat tour, you will get to go snorkelling with Hawaiian sea turtles and you might even see some dolphins along the way! All your snorkelling gear will be provided as well as a breakfast or lunch (depending on whether you choose a morning or afternoon tour). I recommend choosing a morning tour as this is when the dolphins are more active.

The views of the Na Pali coastline from the water are absolutely insane so don’t forget your camera!

girl on boat tour along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai

The Doors off  Air Kauai Helicopter Tour is a 50 minute flight which takes you over Mt. Waialeale, Waimea Canyon State Park, Hanapepe Valley Lookout, Na Pali Coast State Park and Manawaiopuna Falls (featured in Jurassic Park). Dave and I did not do a helicopter tour while we were in Kauai and I think we will regret it forever. Just putting that out there. 😅

Afternoon – Poipu Beach

After you have finished your adventure of a lifetime seeing the Na Pali Coast, it’s time to do some relaxing at Poipu Beach.

Look out for monk seals as they are quite common here. Poipu Beach is a great spot for swimming and snorkelling as it is a protected bay due to its crescent shape.

Dinner in Wailua

On your way to your campsite or accommodation, grab some dinner from one of these delicious restaurants in Wailua:

  • Lava Lava Beach Club
  • Napali Brewing Co.
  • Oasis on the Beach (Fine Dining)

Day 3 – Kalalau Trail & Ke’e Beach

Campground: Anini Beach Park
Accommodation (if not camping): The Sandpiper or 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay
Driving distance: Approx. 30-45 minutes
Note: The Kalalau Trail requires a permit if you want to hike further than Hanakāpīʻai Beach and a day reservation if you only wish to hike as far as Hanakāpīʻai Beach and waterfall.

You are going to want to make sure you have a packed lunch and plenty of snacks and water for this day of adventure because you won’t have access to any cafes or shops.

Morning – Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is a famous hike on Kauai in the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park which starts at Ke’e Beach and ends at Kalalau Beach.

The entire trail is 22miles / 35.9km with an elevation gain of 1,985ft / 605m and it will take you anywhere from 12-15 hours altogether. The whole trail is often done as an overnight trip with a backcountry camping permit.

Alternatively, day hikers usually hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach or Hanakāpīʻai Waterfall only as this part of the hike is gorgeous. Dave and I hiked to the beach during the day which was a fun adventure. We were much less into backpacking back then so barely even considered doing the backpacking trip. How things have changed! 😂

Look out for chickens! There are lots looking for food near Hanakāpīʻai Beach. We had one that just stared at us the entire time we ate our lunch.

couple in the water at the beach along the Kalalau Trail

If you want to book a day pass, you can choose between getting a parking pass and a shuttle pass. There are a limited number of each per day. The last option is to walk or bike to the trailhead which you would still need to book a entry pass for.

Ke’e Beach

Once you are done hiking, Ke’e Beach is waiting for you to explore. This beach is great for snorkelling so bring your snorkel gear if you have some and swimming. When we were there, there was a seal lazing on the beach which was very exciting. If you do see any wildlife on the beach such as turtles or sea lions, keep a safe distance and respect their space. It was their home before we came along.

Dinner in Hanalei

On your way back to your campground or accommodation, stop off in Hanalei to eat dinner out. You earnt it after today’s adventure!

Try Kalypso Bar and Grill, Tahiti Nui or Bar Acuda.

Day 4 – Ha’ena Beach, Snorkelling & Hanalei

Campground: Anini Beach Park
Accommodation (if not camping): The Sandpiper or 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay

Day 4 will not be as intense as the rest of the trip. You can take your time and beach hop and explore the town of Hanalei.

Coffee and Breakfast at Hanalei Coffee Roasters

If you like coffee, I recommend check out Hanalei Coffee Roasters first thing in the morning. You can also get breakfast here. They serve daily pastries, fruit bowls and bagels.

Snorkelling at Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach is a cool spot and if you like snorkelling then you need to visit Tunnels. Dave and I spent hours there exploring the crazy formations under the water. Tunnels Beach is also known as Mākua Beach.

Parking at Tunnels is not the easiest. You might need to park at Ha’ena Beach and walk from there. If you do this, you can walk along the beach instead of the road. This is what we did and the walk was lovely.

🤿 Tip: If you don’t have your own snorkelling gear, you can hire some from one of Snorkel Bob’s Kauai Store which are located in Kapaa and Poipu.

Wander around Hanalei

Once you are all snorkelled out, you can wander around the town of Hanalei, check out Hanalei Pier and Hanalei Bay. Both of these spots are worth a visit and make for beautiful photos.

There is also the Queens Bath which is a natural ocean tidal pool that you have to hike to to reach. Once you are there, if the water is calm, you can take a dip in the pool to cool off.

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls on Kauai

If you have time at the end of your trip or during your day in Hanalei, I recommend checking out Wailua Falls. It is about a 1 hour drive from Hanalei back towards Lihue but it is an easy stop off as the viewpoint is right next to the parking lot. Alternately, you could stop here at the end of day 2 if you have time.

💭 My Thoughts

Kauai is such a beautiful island and if you have the chance to visit, make sure you soak up every single moment. It is somewhere that you will never forget. Even now, 5 years later, I remember Kauai like it was a dream. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited in my entire life.

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