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Kauai, also called the “Garden Isle,” is our favorite of the Hawaiian Islands. With its waterfalls, beautiful beaches, tropical resorts, and stunning coastlines, Kauai is pure paradise. In this guide, we cover the best things to do in Kauai with tips to have the best experience.

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Overview of Kauai

Kauai is the second oldest of the Hawaiian Islands (Ni’ihau is the oldest). It was formed five million years ago as the result of a volcanic eruption.

Kawaikini, at 5,243 feet (1,598 meters) is the highest peak on the island. Mount Wai’ale’ale, just a bit shorter, is famous for being one of the wettest spots on Earth, getting well over 400 inches of rain per year.

Not far from Mount Wai’ale’ale is Waimea Canyon. It’s much drier here and this immense canyon is referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Many people are very familiar with the gorgeous Na Pali Coast. This 15 mile stretch of coastline is spectacular to see and visit, whether you do it from the sky, by boat, or on foot.

Best Things to Do in Kauai

Here are the best things to do in Kauai. At the end of this section, you can see them all on a map (or skip ahead now).

1. Take a Helicopter Tour of Kauai

Location: Entire Island

On a helicopter tour of Kauai, you will fly over countless waterfalls, peer down at beaches and small towns on the island, soar over Waimea Canyon, and the best part, fly along the stunning Na Pali Coast.

Na Pali Coast

Kauai Helicopter Tour

In Kauai, you have the option to take a doors-on or a doors-off helicopter tour. We have done both and a doors-off tour is the winner. As for photography, a doors-off tour is unbeatable. The more expansive views and the lack of glass is perfect if you want to walk away with better photos. Plus, a doors-off helicopter ride is simply more thrilling.

2. Visit Waimea Canyon State Park

Location: West Kauai

Waimea Canyon, a 10-mile long canyon that is located on the west side of Kauai, is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It’s not nearly as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it is still quite impressive to see.

State Highway 550 (also called Waimea Canyon Road and Google Maps labels it as Kokee Road) runs through the heart of Waimea Canyon State Park. This is a very scenic drive, as you head up into the mountains with the chance to stop at overlooks along the way.

Here are the best things to do along the drive through Waimea Canyon:

Waimea Canyon Lookout

From this lookout, you get one of the best views of Waimea Canyon.

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon Lookout

 

Kara Tim Tyler

Waipo’o Falls Lookout

This underrated viewpoint is worth the quick stop. You will have to park on the west side of the road and cross the street for this view (can you spot Waipo’o Falls?):

Waipoo Falls Lookout

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout

From the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout you have a nice view of the canyon and you can see part of the Waipo’o Falls Trail.

Pua Hinahina

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout

Hike the Canyon Trail

This trail starts next to the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout. It’s a steep descent on a rough dirt trail for about a quarter of a mile before leveling out. You can take the detour to the Cliff View Point (1.6 miles round trip) or continue on to Waipo’o Falls (3.6 miles round trip). Just note that this trail takes you to the top of Waipo’o Falls…you won’t get to see the waterfall head on.

Cliff Trail View

View from the Cliff Trail

Waimea Canyon State Park Entrance Fee. Visitors pay $5 per person (children 3 and under are free) and a $10 per vehicle parking fee. Hawaiian residents are free and do not have to pay the parking fee. The parking ticket is also valid for Kokee State Park.

3. Go Hiking in Kokee State Park

Location: West Kauai

There are two big reasons why Kokee State Park is one of the best things to do in Kauai: for its awesome views of Kalalau Valley and to go hiking.

Kokee State Park lies just to the north of Waimea Canyon State Park. As you continue north on State Highyway 550, you enter Kokee State Park.

This state park is one of the best places in Kauai to go hiking. Numerous trails lead along the cliffs, some of them taking you out to the Na Pali Coast.

Awa’awapuhi Trail

The Awa’awapuhi Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park. It’s 6 miles out-and-back, rated as moderate, and takes 2 to 4 hours. From the overlook at the end of the trail, you are rewarded with a great view along the Na Pali Coast.

Kokee State Park

Awa’awapuhi Trail

Nua’lolo Trail

The Nua’lolo Trail is less popular but more thrilling, in our opinion. This trail is very similar to the Awa’awapuhi Trail, in that it heads out to the coast. It’s slightly longer (7.6 miles out-and-back) and rated as strenuous. Near the coast, the trail runs along the cliff, which provides awesome views, but it’s not a good idea to do this hike if you have a fear of heights.

Nualolo Trail

Nua’lolo Trail

You can combine the Nua’lolo Trail and the Awa’awapuhi Trail into one big day hike. The full loop is just under 12 miles and very strenuous. We have done it twice and it is tough (info coming soon).

Pu’u O Kila Lookout

Also in Kokee State Park, Pu’u O Kila Lookout offers a stunning view of the Kalalau Valley. This viewpoint is located at the very end of State Highway 550. Park in the lot and walk about a tenth of a mile to get to the viewpoint. If you want to keep going, you can hike the full Pihea Trail (3.8 miles one-way).

Pu’u O Kila Lookout

Pu’u O Kila Lookout

While in Kokee State Park, you can visit the Kokee Natural History Museum, grab a bite to eat at Koke’e Lodge (we had lunch here and it was delicious!), and visit the Kalalau Lookout, mentioned next.

Kokee State Park Entrance Fee. Visitors pay $5 per person (children 3 and under are free) and a $10 per vehicle parking fee. Hawaiian residents are free and do not have to pay the parking fee. The parking ticket is also valid for Kokee State Park.

4. Kalalau Lookout

Location: West Kauai

This lookout is located in Kokee State Park but the view is so great that I think it deserves its own spot on our best things to do in Kauai list. It’s easy to get to and from the viewpoint, you get the iconic view of the Kalalau Valley. This lookout is located near the end Highway 550, before you get to the trailhead for the Pihea Trail.

Kalalau Overlook

Kalalau Lookout

5. Hike the Kalalau Trail

Location: Northwest Kauai

The Kalalau Trail is labeled as one of the most beautiful and most dangerous hikes in the world.

It’s 11 miles one-way and takes hikers from Ke’e Beach along the Na Pali Coast. Hikers cross five valleys, numerous sea cliffs, reaching the endpoint at Kalalau Beach. This hike typically takes 2 to 3 days.

A permit is required to do this hike and they are extremely hard to get. Learn more here.

6. Hike the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail

Location: Northwest Kauai

This is a shorter version of the Kalalau Trail. Starting at Ke’e Beach in Hā’ena State Park, your first few miles will be along the Kalalau Trail. At Hanakapi’ai Beach, turn left to hike the Hanakapi’ai Trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. This hike is 9 miles round trip and rated as difficult.

If you weren’t able to get a permit to hike the full Kalalau Trail, this hike is a great alternative.

You will need a Park Entry Reservation or a Day Use Parking Reservation to enter Hā’ena State Park. These are available 30 days in advance. Learn more here.

7. Cruise along the Na Pali Coast

Location: West Kauai

One of the best ways to experience the Na Pali Coast is to see it from the sea. There numerous boat tours that you can choose from. Take your pick from snorkeling tours, scenic catamaran cruises, sunset cruises, whale watching, and kayaking tours. Learn more here. 

8. Visit Polihale State Park

Location: West Kauai

This is one of our favorite spots in Kauai.

If you are looking for a wide, scenic, and quiet beach, put Polihale State Park on your Kauai to-do list.

Polihale Beach is the largest beach in Hawaii. It’s 17 miles of sand dunes and white sand beaches. From the beach, you have a view of the southern end of the Na Pali Coast and it is one of the best sunset locations in Kauai.

Polihale Beach Park

Polihale Beach

To get here, take Highway 50 to the end. Follow signs for Polihale State Park. To get to the beach, it is a 5 mile drive on a rough dirt road and a 4×4 is highly recommended.

Road to Polihale Beach

Road to Polihale Beach

Polihale Beach State Park is open from 5:30 am to 7:45 pm. Driving on the sand dunes, pets, and open fires are not allowed. Camp in designated areas only and properly dispose of waste. Beware, there is no lifeguard on duty and strong currents can make swimming here hazardous (during our visit the conditions were calm).

9. Visit Secret Beach

Location: North Kauai

Secret Beach, also called Kauapea Beach, is definitely not a secret. This is a very popular beach to visit.

To get to the beach, it is a short but steep downhill hike on a dirt trail. If it has recently rained your feet could get muddy.

Secret Beach

During our visit the surf was too rough to get into the water. It’s a nice spot for sunbathing and to enjoy the view. We spotted a sea turtle in the waves. If you see sea turtles on shore, or in the water, give them their space and don’t try to snap a selfie with them.

10. Visit Hanalei Bay

Location: North Kauai

Located on the north Kauai, Hanalei Bay makes a great surfing destination during the winter months. In the summer, when the water is calmer, Hanalei Beach is a nice swimming location. Visit Hanalei Pier, watch the sunset, or take a stroll along the beach.

In nearby Hanalei Town, visit the small shops or grab a bite to eat. We had a great lunch at Fresh Bite Kauai. You can also visit Wai’oli Hui’ia Church or go shopping at the Hanalei Farmers Market.

Hanalei Bay

To get here, and several of the other north shore beaches, you need to be aware of the road construction on Kuhio Highway. Because of a recent landslide, this road is only one lane. There is a schedule as to the road opening which varies by the day of the week. Weekdays have the longest road closures. Here is a link to the schedule. It’s important to plan your time wisely so you don’t end up waiting for hours for the road to open. 

PRO TRAVEL TIP: The best time to surf Hanalei Bay is the winter months, from November through February. Outside of this season, the water is much calmer. We visited Kauai in August and there were little to no waves at Hanalei Beach. If you are looking for a surfing spot in the summer, go to the south shore of Kauai.

11. Tunnels Beach

Location: North Kauai

With a backdrop of jagged mountains, this beach is one of the most photogenic in Kauai. Tunnels Beach is located on the north shore, west of Hanalei Bay. This beach is great for swimming and snorkeling or simply enjoying the view.

Tunnels Beach

The Kauai North Shore Shuttle. To ease congestion on Kuhio Highway west of Hanalei, there is a shuttle that connects Waipa with Hā’ena State Park. The shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 5:30 pm. To ride the shuttle, book your round-trip reservation trip ticket in advance. This will also get you into Hā’ena State Park, where you can hike the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail or visit Ke’e Beach.

12. Visit Hā’ena Beach Park

Location: North Kauai

This is another lovely north shore beach. Not to be confused with Hā’ena State Park, this beach is located east of Hā’ena State Park. It has a lifeguard stand and makes a nice spot to go swimming or just hang out in the afternoon.

Haena Beach Park

Across the street from Hā’ena Beach Park is Maniniholo Dry Cave. This large cave is about 300 meters deep and was formed when sea levels were higher and the surf pounded the rocks here.

13. Visit the Queen’s Bath

Location: North Kauai

The Queen’s Bath is a beautiful but dangerous spot in Kauai.

Located on the north shore of Kauai, the Queen’s Bath is a natural pool in the lava rocks that lines the coast. This is a popular swimming spot when the ocean is calm. But it can be deadly.

From October through May, the surf pounds the north shore of Kauai. This rough surf has been responsible for multiple drownings.

It’s also tough to get to. From the parking lot, you will hike down a very steep, rutted trail. Then it is a short walk on the uneven, wet lava rocks. It’s a tough hike and you need to be fit and agile to safely hike the access trail.

Queens Bath best things to do in Kauai

Parking is limited. There is just one small lot. If it is full, you will have to try again another time. The lot is located in a residential neighborhood and if you are not a resident, you are not permitted to park along the street.

Before you go, check surf conditions. If the waves are larger than 4 feet, stay away. Don’t even hike down to the shoreline. During the winter months, assume that the surf is too high for a safe visit. Even when the water is calm, it’s best to stay out of the water. There are plenty of other places in Kauai to safely go for a swim.

14. Kīlauea Lighthouse & Refuge

Location: North Kauai

Perched on the north shore cliffs is the Kīlauea Lighthouse. Over 100 years old, this lighthouse was manned until 1974. It underwent a major renovation in 2013.

The Kīlauea Point Refuge is a natural habitat that is home to several species of bird, including the endangered nēnē (Hawaiian goose).

Kilauea Lighthouse

You can tour the lighthouse and visit the refuge that surrounds the lighthouse. Currently, hours are limited and reservations must be made in advance. 

If you don’t have a reservation, you can still see the Kīlauea Lighthouse by driving to the overlook at the end of Kīlauea Road.

15. Photograph Wailua Falls

Location: East Kauai

Wailua Falls is one of the prettiest and most easily accessible waterfalls in Kauai. Located in east Kauai, it’s a short drive from Lihue on Maalo Road (Highway 583) to get to the overlook.

Wailua Falls Kauai best things to do in Kauai

16. Poipu Beach Park & Kiahuna Beach

Location: South Kauai

Located on Kauai’s south shore, these two beaches are a great place to go snorkeling, surfing, and boogie boarding. Tyler and Tim spent several mornings on Kiahuna Beach honing their surfing skills. There is also a surf school located on Kiahuna Beach, a great place to go if you are new to surfing and want to take a lesson.

Sea turtles and seals frequently make their way up on shore of Poipu Beach (but please keep your distance and do not approach them).

Seal at Poipu Beach best things to do in Kauai

A seal on Poipu Beach

 

Kiahuna Beach

Kiahuna Beach

17. Walk or Bike the Koloa Heritage Trail

Location: South Kauai

The Koloa Heritage Trail is a 10 mile trail that covers historical, cultural, and natural sights of the Koloa District of Kauai.

Koloa Heritage Trail

Koloa Sign best things to do in Kauai

There are 14 places to visit, such as Spouting Horn Park, Poipu Beach Park, Prince Kuhio Birthplace and Park, and Koloa Missionary Church. It also includes the Makawehi and Pa’a Dunes, which are part of the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.

For more information and map of the trail, click here.

18. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Location: South Kauai

The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a 2-mile coastal trail that runs along some of the most dramatic cliffs on south Kauai. It starts at Shipwreck Beach and ends on Punahoa Point.

It overlaps with the Koloa Heritage Trail, since they both include the Makawehi and Pa’a Dunes.

On this trail, you will walk past a few beaches, up and over sandy cliffs, get to see cliff divers, and walk along a former PGA grand slam golf course. If you extend the walk, you can explore the Makauwahi Cave and say hello to the tortoises near Gillin’s Beach.

Mahaulepu best things to do in Kauai

19. Visit the Spouting Horn Blowhole

Location: South Kauai

This blowhole is quick and easy to visit. It’s located just a few miles west of Poipu on the south coast of Kauai. This hole in the ground frequently “erupts” as waves pound the shore and sends the water streaming up and out of the hole. It looks a lot like a geyser as the water can shoot many feet into the air.

To visit the blowhole, park at the public parking lot and it is a short walk to the viewpoint.

Spouting Horn best things to do in Kauai

20. Glass Beach

Location: South Kauai

This small beach is nice but it is only worth the stop if you will be driving out this way (to visit Waimea Canyon or Polihale Beach). To get here, it’s not the prettiest of drives, as you enter an industrial area with small factories. But beyond these factories is Glass Beach, a small beach that gets its name from the tiny pebbles that resemble pieces of glass.

Glass Beach best things to do in Kauai

Glass Sand best things to do in Kauai

Things to Do in Kauai: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Top 10 Things to Do in Kauai

Going to Kauai for your first time? Here are 10 things to do in Kauai on your first visit:

  • Take a helicopter tour of Kauai
  • Visit Waimea Canyon
  • Visit Secret Beach
  • Hike the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail or the Kalalau Trail
  • Visit Tunnels Beach
  • Watch the sunset at Polihale Beach
  • Cruise along the Na Pali Coast
  • Visit Kokee State Park & Kalalau Lookout
  • Go surfing at Kiahuna Beach
  • See Wailua Falls

How Many Days Do You Need in Kauai?

If you want to do everything on our top 10 list, you will need a minimum of four days in Kauai.

Waimea Canyon plus Kokee State Park will take up most of a day. You can add on sunset at Polihale Beach to the end of this day.

Road tripping along the north coast (from Kīlauea Lighthouse to Hā’ena Beach Park) takes a full day. Don’t forget to check the Kuhio Highway road schedule and make your Hā’ena Beach Park reservation in advance. You can also hike the Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail on this day.

If you plan to hike the Kalalau Trail, this will take 2 to 3 days (permit required).

On our most recent to visit to Kauai we had five days. This was the perfect amount of time to get out and explore the island, go hiking and surfing, but also get some chill time by the hotel pool. If you plan to stay at a resort, you will want some extra time, in order to get your money’s worth of what the resort has to offer.

Where We Stayed

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa. This resort is incredible, with its multiple pools, beach access, onsite restaurants and bars, and spa. The Grand Hyatt is one of our top hotel stays of all time and if you are considering staying at a resort in Kauai, this is definitely one to consider.

Grand Hyatt Kauai


If you have any questions about the best things to do in Kauai, or if you want to share your experience, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about Hawaii

KAUAI: Doors Off Helicopter Tour of Kauai: Everything You Need to Know
MAUI: Maui Bucket List: 20 Best Things to Do in Maui
HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK: 13 Amazing Things to Do in Haleakala National Park
MAUI: How to Drive the Road to Hana…& is It Worth It?
BIG ISLAND: Top 10 Things to Do in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
OAHU: Complete Guide to Pearl Harbor: How to Plan Your Visit

Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.

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