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26 Best Things to do on Kauai, Hawaii

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Kauai is one of the most beautiful Hawaiian islands in my opinion and if you love adventure travel (snorkelling, hiking and adrenaline activities), then it is the one for you!

We spent a week there exploring the island back in 2019 and saw Waimea Canyon, did some crazy ridge hikes, went snorkelling at Tunnels Beach and joined a Na Pali boat trip (which is a must-do Kauai activity)  to see the crazy Hawaiian mountain ridges from the water and snorkel with sea turtles.

Na Pali Coastline on Kauai, Hawaii

There are tons of fun things to do on Kauai, one of the best being a helicopter flight which takes you over the Na Pali coast, one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.

If you have ever wondered where the classic Hawaiian jagged mountains are that you have seen in hundreds of photos, it’s the Na Pali Coast.

There are also some really amazing hikes in Kauai, as well as incredible snorkelling spots and beaches where you might be lucky enough to spot a seal or a turtle lazing around on the sand.

Na Pali Coast from Boat tour

This guide list the best Kauai activities to help you plan your trip to Kauai. Like I said, there are loads of things to do on Kauai so there is no risk of you being bored on the island.

Quick Tips for Planning a Trip to Kauai, Hawaii

Are you planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii? Here are some quick tips to help you plan your visit.

Where to Stay: Poipu: Budget | A Little bit fancy
Princeville (Hanalei): Budget | A Little bit fancy
Kokee State Park: Only option

Best Time of the Year to Visit: Between March and September for the best weather.

Where to Fly into: Līhuʻe Airport (LIH) – From Honolulu, it is only a 25 minute flight to Līhuʻe Airport (LIH).

Should you rent a car: For Kauai, you are definitely going to want to rent a car! This is our go to for the best rental car deals ➡ Rentalcars.com

Fun Fact: There are chickens EVERYWHERE on Kauai! 🐔 If you don’t like chickens, then maybe don’t visit Kauai 😅

Top Kauai Tours:

Things to Know Before you go

Where is Kauai and how to get there

Kauai is an island in Hawaii which you can reach by catching a 25 minute flight from Honolulu International Airport (HNL).

Some airports in the US fly direct to Kauai but otherwise, you will need to fly to Honolulu first.

Do I need a car to explore Kauai?

Kauai is quite a small island, however, I definitely recommend renting a car because this is the easiest way to get around on the island. I don’t recommend trying to get around using public transport because this will take you AGES and you won’t get to see much of the island.

I recommend using Rentalcars.com to search for the best deals!

Where to Stay in Kauai

Kauai is a fairly small island so you could stay anywhere and be able to do day trips out to other parts of the island. However, if you are wanting a resort style holiday where you mainly stay in one place and enjoy the beaches in that area, I recommend stay in either Poipu or Princeville which is right next to the cute town of Hanalei.

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

Note: There are not a lot of budget accommodations on Kauai. The cheaper options are still expensive in my opinion but you don’t have much other choice.

Poipu

Budget: The Poipu Plantation Vacation Rentals is a great budget choice for stay in the Poipu area. The location is awesome as it is only 400 metres from Brennecke’s Beach. The rooms also have air conditioning which in a opinion is a HUGE plus for staying in Hawaii.

A Little bit fancy: Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu – Autograph Collection is a resort which is a short stroll from Poipu Beach. They are famous for their insane swimming pool, which features a swim and walk-through grotto, water slides, and poolside cabanas. The resort also has two other pools! A 6,100 sq ft family lagoon pool and 2,000 sq ft waterfall adult pool. Okay, writing this is really making me want to book a return trip ASAP. 😅

Princeville (Hanalei):

Budget: Sandpiper 120B-as seen on HGTV’s Hawaii Life! This holiday home has an outdoor pool, hot tub and a BBQ AND a fully equipped kitchen so that you can save some money on food.

A Little bit fancy: 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay is what dreams are made of. It is a 5 star hotel with mountain and ocean views and the most gorgeous infrastructure you will have ever seen! You might need to take out a little loan to stay here though. It is a true Bucketlist stay!

Kokee State Park

Kokee State Park is located up in the mountains near Waimea Canyon. There is only 1 option for accommodation if you want to stay in the area. We stayed here and are glad we did because it allowed us more time to hike and explore the area, to do and things like the Awa’awapuhi Trail, Waimea Canyon and the Kalalou Lookout.

Book the Cabins at Kokee Park here!

The Best Things to do on Kauai

This is a list of the best things to do on the island of Kauai. These activities are spread out across the island so make sure you take a look at a map of Kauai to figure out where you are staying in comparison to where each activity is located.

Map of Kauai showing things to do

Marvel at Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It is 10 miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep! If you are visiting Kauai, Waimea Canyon is a place that you cannot miss!

couple sitting at Waimea Canyon Kauai Hawaii

Because Waimea Canyon is at an elevation of 3,400 ft, it is a completely different climate up there to the rest of the island. Make sure you bring some layers because it gets chilly up there.

See Kauai (including the Na Pali Coast) from the Sky on a Helicopter Tour

This is the Number 1 best thing to do in Kauai!

Na Pali Helicopter Tour on Kauai
Credit: Jack Harter Helicopters – Tours (via Viator)

I have huge regrets that we didn’t do it because now I feel like we need to go back. We thought it was too much money so decided to do the boat ride instead, however now I’m thinking that we should have done both!

The great thing about this helicopter tour, is that you see SO much of Kauai. Not only do you see the Na Pali coastline, but you also get to see Waimea Canyon, Jurassic Park Falls, Tunnels Beach, Mt. Waialeale and so much more!

Don’t make the same mistake as us and miss out on this once in a lifetime tour! Book here

See the Na Pali Coast and go Snorkeling on a Boat Tour

girl on boat tour along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai

Even if you decide to do a helicopter ride to see the Na Pali coast, I still recommend doing a boat tour as well (if you like snorkelling). On the tour that we did, we saw dozens of turtles as well as dolphins which was incredible!

Food, snorkel equipment, Beer, Wine & Mai Tai’s and a waterslide are all included on this adventure tour.

Any tour to do with the Na Pali Coastline sells out fast: Book ahead here!

Go Snorkelling at Tunnels Beach

Girl snorkeling with a sea turtle in Hawaii

Tunnels Beach (aka Makua Beach) is a really cool snorkelling spot, but only in the Summer! In the Winter the water becomes very choppy and it is often unsafe to swim. Tunnels Beach is located on the North Shore of Kauai at Ha’ena Point.

The beach itself is gorgeous with golden sand and then the snorkelling is great because there is a large reef with lots of sea life. When Dave and I visited, we spent hours soaking up the sun on the beach and explore the reef.

There was also a seal sunbaking on the beach when we were there. If you see any seals or turtles on the beach, make sure to keep your distance and give them enough space as you pass. Often they will be roped off for this reason.

Check out Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls on Kauai

Wailua Falls is a really quick stop so it’s easy to add this onto your itinerary. You can see the waterfall from a viewpoint, literally a few steps from where you park.

There is also a trail that you can use to hike down to the waterfall, however, it is not an official trail and it is extremely steep and muddy. We ended up just enjoying the waterfall from the viewpoint which we found was enough for us.

Hike (or backpack) the Famous Kalalau trail

Distance: 22miles / 35.9km | Elevation Gain: 1,985ft / 605m | Time: 12-15 hours

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.

In order to hike the trail, you need a permit to hike further than Hanakāpīʻai Beach (only a reservation is required to hike to Hanakāpīʻai Beach and waterfall). If you would like to do the trail as a backpacking trip, you will need to obtain a camping permit and you can camp at either Hanakoa or Kalalau.

Hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail in Koke’e State Park

Distance: 5.7 miles / 9.3km | Elevation Gain: 1,863ft / 568m | Time: 3.5-4 hours

girl on the ridgeline on the Awaawapuhi Trail Kauai

The Awa’awapuhi Trail is located in Koke’e State Park. The entre trail is pretty forgettable being mostly through the forest. The main part that you will remember is the end which was epic. The views at the end of the trail are just insane.

At the end, you reach a ridgeline which you can choose to continue hiking down a little further or you can enjoy from the top. Hiking down is a little/a lot sketchy though, especially if you are afraid of heights.

I went about a quarter of the way down and Dave barely made it a metre because of the sheer drop offs. We were up so high that you could see the touring helicopters BELOW us! 😲

It is quite a narrow walkway and you have to get past people coming the opposite way so I spent a lot of time on my butt to keep steady because I did not trust my legs. Other than this small, it’s an AMAZING HIKE!

Fly through the air on the Koloa Zipline

Koloa Zipline Tour
Credit: Koloa Zipline (via Viator)

The Koloa Zipline is Kauai’s longest zipline! If you haven’t tried ziplining before, now is the time!

With 8 different tracks, you will get amazing views of lush forests and the Waita Reservoir. Ziplining is a great way to see the island from above, while enjoying the thrill of soaring through the sky!

Book your tour here: Koloa Zipline in Kauai

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Visit Poipu Beach Park

Poipu Beach is famous for its’ gorgeous crystal clear water, golden sand and monk seal visitors! There are a couple of little bays which are shaped like a semi-circles, which makes it great for swimming and snorkelling as it is a little more protected from the swells.

If you are looking to see turtles in Kauai, they often come up onto the beach at sunset. Make sure you keep your distance though to keep them enough room. It is their home, not yours.

Poipu Beach was also named  America’s Best Beach by The Travel Channel! Because of this, don’t expect to have Poipu Beach to yourself. When we were there, it was PACKED and reminded us of the beaches in Sydney, Australia, where we are from originally. We almost had trouble finding a parking spot so I recommend getting there early in the day.

Poipu is located on Kauai’s South Coast in the town of, you guessed it, Poipu!

Grab a coffee from Kauaʻi Coffee Company

Kauai Coffee Company is the largest coffee growing farm in the United States so if you like coffee, you should definitely pop in for a visit!

You can even do a guided tour of the coffee farm and learn about how the coffee is produced and enjoy some tastings!

Feast on some Garlic Shrimp from a food truck

If you haven’t tried Garlic Shrimp yet in Hawaii, you need to add it to your to do list because oh me oh my it is delicious!

You can find Garlic Shrimp at Coconut Corner or the Shrimp Station in Waimea and Savage Shrimp in Poipu.

Experience a Luau

When you visit Hawaii, you have got to experience at least one Luau! A Luau is part of the Hawaiian culture and is a feast of delicious foods, often in a buffet style with cultural dancing and other entertainment.

Cool down with some Shave Ice

Shave Ice, like Garlic Shrimp is another mouth-watering, touristy must-try while you are in Hawaii! It is a great way to cool down at the end of a day of adventuring in the hot sun. It is essentially just flavoured ice served in a cup.

There are LOADS of place to find Shave Ice but to name a few, you can get it at Wailua Shave Ice in Kauai Village Shopping Centre, Jo Jo’s Shave Ice in Kapaʻa and Hanalei.

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Hike the Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail in Hā’ena State Park

Distance: 10miles / 16km | Elevation Gain: 2,480 ft / 755m | Time: 5-6 hours

I’ll start by saying that the Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail is not an easy hike but rather a fairly challenging one. This however, doesn’t stop it from being one of Kauai’s most popular hikes.

It actually starts along the first part of the Kalalau trail towards Hankapiai Beach, where the trail then turns away from the beach and starts heading inland. Most hikers only hike to the beach (which is what we did out of laziness), but the hike to the waterfall is a pretty epic adventure if you are feeling up to it!

If you are wanting to hike the Hanakāpīʻai Falls Trail as a day hike, you will need to get an advanced reservation to enter Hā’ena State Park.

Na Pali Coast Sunset Sail with Dinner

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IF you thought the Na Pali coast was beautiful during the day, wait until you see it at sunset with the gorgeous golden light on it!

Enjoy dinner and champagne on a 50’ catamaran with unrestricted views of the magnificent coastline. Don’t forget to keep a look out for manta rays, dolphins, turtles, seals and humpback whales (in season).

Book your Sunset Sail here ➡ Napali Coast Sunset Sail with Dinner

Snorkel at Anini Beach

Anini Beach is less crowded than Poipu Beach but still fairly popular and is located up North near Hanalei. If you are looking to snorkel at Anini Beach, find the boat ramp and jump in the water here.

Anini Beach has one of the largest reefs accessible from the shoreline in the whole of Hawaii, so it is great for snorkelling!

Visit the town of Hanalei

Hanalei is the cutest Hawaiian town and a must visit spot on the North Shore of Kauai. If you visit just one town or want to stay in a town on the island of Kauai, make it Hanalei.

It is surrounded by the North Shore Mountains and gorgeous sandy beaches and can only be defined, in a nutshell, as true paradise.

Hanalei has surfer town vibes and I’m sure it must have been used as a setting in a surfer movie at some point.

Check out Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Kilauea Point Lighthouse is located on the North Coast of Kauai. There is an entry fee of $10 per person charged to visit the lighthouse. You cannot go inside the lighthouse, however the headland around it is really pretty.

Relax at Ha’ena Beach

Ha’ena Beach is located on Kauai’s North Shore and is one of Kauai’s best beaches because it is great for swimming, snorkelling and has amazing sunsets!

When you see it, you will think that you have stepped into a postcard. It has golden sand, palm trees, mountains and turquoise water.

Kayak and Hike to Secret Falls

Secret Falls on Kauai kayak and hiking tour
Credit: Alii Kayaks, LLC (via Viator)

If you are looking for a real adventure on your trip to Kauai, book this guided kayak and hike to Secret Falls!

You will kayak for 4 miles (6.4km) on the Wailua River and then hike 1.5-mile (2.4km) through the rainforest the rest of the way to Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls) where you have a chance to swim in the waterfall! The entire adventure will take around 5 hours.

Hike the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Distance: 3.8 miles / 6.1km | Elevation Gain: 298ft / 91m | Time: 1.5 hours

The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is located near Koloa on the South Coast of Kauai. The trail starts at Shipwreck’s Beach on Keoneloa Bay and takes you all of the way to Mahaulepu Beach near Kawailoa Bay which has a much more remote feeling to it.

The hike itself is not too hard as there is not much elevation gain, however it does get sandy and a bit rocky at times and is sometimes hard to follow the trail.

Visit the Spouting Horn Blowhole

The Spouting Horn is a blowhole which has formed from natural lava and shoots water up 50ft in the air. The Spouting Horn also makes a fun noises when it blows up out of the hole. It is located near Koloa.

This is a fun stop for the whole family!

Visit Hanapepe Town – the town that was the Inspo for Lilo and Stitch!

Hanapepe Town is located on the South Coast of Koloa. It has historic-looking buildings which actually were used as inspiration for Disney’s Lilo and Stitch!

The town now has lots of cute shops, art galleries and places to eat.

Check out Kalalau Lookout

man sitting at lookout overlooking Na Pali in Kauai

The Kalalau Lookout is one of the best views in Kauai of the Na Pali mountain range. Don’t make the mistake of confusing this with the Kalalau Trail, as they are in completely different areas.

You can drive right up to the lookout which is a fenced off area looking down into the valley and towards the amazing mountains. There is also a trail from the lookout which is technically closed as there are huge cliff drop offs, but offers

Rent a 4×4 Vehicle and adventure over to Polihale Beach and State Park

Polihali Beach is a remote beach on the West coast of Kauai which you can only reach by 4×4 vehicle. The road to get there is an ungraded dirt road and some areas have deep sand so do your research before heading out.

The gorgeous white sand beach is 17 miles long, the longest beach in Hawaii!

You can camp at Polihale, however, you need permits in order to do so. I remember seeing a couple of 4×4 drivers as we cruised along the Na Pali coast on our boat tour and our tour guide told us about a horrific shark attack that had happened there the week before. 😱

Apparently, a couple of guys had been camping and one of the went into the water to swim at dusk (which is usually a big no no). He dived underwater and never came back up which is just crazy. HUGE Jaws vibes! 🦈

Visit Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay is large bay located a short 5 minute drive from the town of Hanalei which is comprised of a few different beautiful beaches, including Hanalei Beach. I know 😛 Hanalei Hanalei Hanalei.

At Hanalei Bay, you can snorkel, surf, paddle board and there are even hiking opportunities!

💭 Our Thoughts

Kauai is such a beautiful island and there is so much to see and do! I recommend staying on Kauai for about a week to see as much as you can. If you do nothing else on Kauai except relax at a resort, you should at least see:

  • Waimea Canyon
  • Na Pali Coast
  • Kalalau Lookout

I hope you love Kauai as much as Dave and I did! Happy adventuring! 🥾😉

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