The adventure begins the moment the plane lands. From boating along the sea cliffs of the Napali Coast to kayaking down the Wailua River toward the Coconut Coast, you’ll find no shortage of stories to tell from your trip to Kauai. Even the golf courses here seem more intense, where the unique landscape can make your course hazards even more challenging.
The island also offers other unique Kauai activities, such as mountain tubing in the miles of water flumes of Lihue, ziplining above Kauai’s lush rainforests, off-road exploring by 4×4 or ATV on Kauai’s South Shore, horseback riding in the pastures of Princeville, or hiking the trails of Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon. Whatever you choose to do, get ready for full days of adventure on Kauai. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane ride home.
- Hike to the Napali Coast – Located on the North Shore of Kauai, the Napali Coast features panoramic views of the vast Pacific Ocean, velvet green cliffs and cascading waterfalls plummeting into deep, narrow valleys. The only land access to this enchanted area is via the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trail that starts at Kee Beach, crosses five different valleys and ends at secluded Kalalau Beach. This is one of the most challenging, and sometimes even treacherous, Kauai hikes with narrow sections and muddy topsoil from rainfall.
- Zipline Tours – Capture a bird’s eye view of Kauai while soaring at up to 35-miles an hour above its lush valleys, streams and rain forests on an exhilarating zipline tour. Kauai is home to a variety of ziplining opportunities, each offering a unique aerial perspective of the island’s diverse landscapes. Enjoy the rush as you soar above a green jungle canopy, 50-80 feet above the ground. Panoramic views surround you as you descend into the forest below. You’ll also learn about Kauai’s diverse ecosystem filled with rare endemic plant and animal species.
- Mountain Tubing – Take to Kauai’s historic waterways in a mountain tube and discover a whole new way to access the island’s tropical interior. Over a century ago, laborers hired by the Lihue Sugar Plantation hand built the Hanamaulu ditch system, designed to provide irrigation for the large sugar cane fields in and around Lihue. Although the Lihue Sugar Plantation has since closed down, these amazing waterways are still here and have adopted a new life as one of the most unique water adventures in Kauai. The gentle flow of water offers a fun and relaxing ride through mountainside flumes and tunnels that emerge to stunning views of beautiful and remote locations. Be sure to bring sunscreen, bug repellent, water friendly shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting wet.
Arts & Culture Experiences
When you take a walking tour of Hawaiian culture on Kauai, you’ll feel the spirit of aloha in the air. Hawaii’s Island of Discovery is proud of being the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and a sense of pride is infused in Kauai’s history as well as in the beauty of its hula.
You can learn about the history and culture of Kauai by visiting the Kauai Museum or Grove Farm Museum in Lihue, the Waioli Mission House in Hanalei Town and the Kokee Natural History Museum on the West Side. Visit Kauai small towns like Hanapepe, Koloa, and Waimea to get a taste of local flavor and culture. Kauai’s many festivals ( www.kauaifestivals.com ) and events give you a chance to see the island from a local’s perspective. Explore beyond Kauai’s luxurious resorts to experience the true culture of Kauai.
- Alekoko, Menehune Fishpond – Built nearly 1,000 years ago, the Alekoko Menehune Fishpond, minutes from Lihue, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Ingenious ponds like this were built to catch fish, and the Menehune Fishpond is one of the finest examples of this type of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture. The legend that surrounds the fishpond is based on the mythical Menehune, Hawaii’s mischievous little people who performed legendary engineering feats.
- Koloa Heritage Trail – Ka Ala Hele Waiwai Hooilina o Koloa, or the Koloa Heritage Trail, is a 14-stop, self-guided 10-mile tour of the Koloa and Poipu area’s most important cultural, historical and geological sites, with descriptive plaques that explain each spot’s significance.
- Waioli Mission House and Church – Step back in time at the 1837 home of the early Christian missionaries, Abner and Lucy Wilcox. This Hanalei Town landmark, restored in 1921 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, reflects the southern roots of its architect, the Reverend William Alexander of Kentucky. Inside, synchronize your watch with the wall clock, which was installed in 1866 and still keeps perfect time. In front of the house is the old Waioli Huiia Church, which was founded in 1834. Its green shingles and stained glass windows are a picturesque symbol of Hanalei.
The serene environment of Kauai is ideal for keiki (children) of all ages. From beaches to old-fashioned railroad trains, this island offers a variety of fun activities for the whole family.
See Waimea Canyon and learn about Kauai’s environment at the Kokee Natural History Museum in Kokee State Park. Let the little ones walk to the end of the pier at Hanalei Bay and play in the sand on the North Shore. Families can also catch the hula show at the Smith Family Garden Luau or head to Lydgate State Park to play in the wooden play structure that will entertain kids for hours. Don’t forget a ride on the Kauai Plantation Railway in the Kilohana Estate, which is bound to bring a smile to a child’s face. And that’s what really counts on a family vacation on Kauai.
- Kokee State Park – Enter a whole different world – Kokee State Park is 4,345 acres of rainforest. Enter a new climate zone, where the breeze has a bite and trees look quite continental. Check out a cloud forest on the edge of the Alakai Swamp, the largest swamp in Hawaii, on the summit plateau of Kauai. Hiking trails and guided hikes will allow you to see the most of this beautiful area.
- Smith Family Garden Luau – It’s a celebration of life on Kauai at Smith’s Tropical Paradise Garden Luau. Enjoy the local atmosphere as the Smith family guides you through a 30 acre botanical garden and luau grounds. Taste a refreshing mai tai punch or another drink from the open bar as you listen to the Smith family of musicians perform Hawaiian and contemporary tunes, and then get ready for an all you can eat extravaganza at the luau buffet. The spectacular evening entertainment is held at the lagoon theater where a volcano erupts to start the show.
- Kilohana Estate – Past Lihue and headed toward the Kauai Community College campus is Kilohana, a restored plantation estate that provides a glimpse of life in the 1930s. The site of a 16,000 square-foot Tudor mansion that was home to one of the island’s most prominent families, Kilohana is now a picturesque venue for tours, gatherings and a theatrical luau.
Staying 1-3 days
When it comes to short stays on Kauai, your schedule will depend greatly on where you’ll be staying. Wherever you stay you’ll be close to one of Kauai’s incredible beaches, from Hanalei Bay on the North Shore to Poipu Beach Park on the South Shore. A visit to Kauai’s small towns will also give you a taste of the island’s culture, from Hanalei Town in the north to Old Koloa Town in the south and Hanapepe Town to the southwest. You may be able squeeze in seeing a waterfall like the easily accessible Opaekaa Falls or a natural attraction like Spouting Horn on your travels. And no trip is complete without seeing one of Kauai’s iconic natural wonders, so be sure to take a drive to Waimea Canyon on the West Side.
Staying 4-7 days
With a longer stay you’ll have time to explore Kauai’s iconic Napali Coast. Whether you, take a boat tour or see it from the Kalalau Valley Lookout in Kokee State Park, this may be the highlight of your trip. You’ll also have time to hike the trails of Kokee State Park, Waimea Canyon or other spots like Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant). Relax and take a leisurely kayak trip down the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto or tour one of the Kauai’s vast botanical gardens. Take some time to visit historical spots like Kilohana Estate, experience a luau or go shopping for souvenirs in Kapaa Town to round out your Kauai getaway.
First Time Visitors
Lose yourself to the gentle trade winds. Take in the lush greenery. Inhale the fresh floral environment around you. Each Island has its own distinctive charm, and Kauai is the tropical centerpiece of Hawaii, full of outdoor activities, attractions and culture.
Once you’ve settled in, break out your sunscreen and head outdoors.
- Explore Kauai’s beautiful beaches where you can sunbathe, snorkel or learn how to surf.
- Visit Kauai’s humbling natural wonders, from Waimea Canyon to the Napali Coast.
- Known as the “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a natural wonder located in the heart of the West Side. The views from the canyon include Kauai’s lush valleys and tropical forest canopies.
- Take a break in Kauai’s small towns like Hanapepe, Hanalei and Old Koloa Town to get a taste of local food and art, as well as learn about the island’s fascinating history and culture.
- West of Princeville, on Kauai’s North shore, is peaceful Hanalei Town. Graced with timeless beauty, this lovely small town is home to everything from historic places to contemporary art galleries. Hanalei is an unforgettable stop on your visit to Kauai.
- After a long day, watch the sunset from the comforts of your resort and recharge for another day of discovery on Kauai.
The beauty of Kauai beckons visitors back to experience more. Whether you’re hoping to discover new adventures or new beauty, Kauai always has more to offer.
- Hit the hiking trails. Kokee State Park features 45 miles of hiking trails and the Kalalau Lookout, or take in the scenic trails along Nounou Moutain.
- On Kauai’s East Side between Wailua and Kapaa, is the Nounou Mountain range, more famously known as Sleeping Giant. Stare at the ridge from afar and with a little imagination you can make out what looks like a human figure lying on his back. Hawaiian legends say this giant was tricked by villagers into eating a vast amount of rocks hidden in fish and poi. Sleepy from the meal, the giant took a nap and hasn’t woken since.
- Take a step off the beaten path and discover Wailua Falls – visit in the morning and you might be treated to a rainbow for your efforts.
- Step back in time at Waioli Mission House and Church, home of early Christian missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox.
- Learn more about local artists and Hawaiian history at the Kauai Museum.
- Located in a lava rock structure in Lihue, the Kauai Museum features amazing collections from the artisans of Kauai and Niihau (a small eastern island part of Kauai county). Visitors can learn about the geological formation of the Hawaiian Islands, early Native Hawaiian life, Captain Cook’s arrival on Kauai’s shores in Waimea and the Hawaiian Monarchy. Plus, visitors can view galleries showcasing the work of multi-cultural artists, sculptors and craftsmen. Guided tours are available (upon request).
The island of Kauai is simply intoxicating. Magnificent mountaintops give you a cinematic stage to create new memories together. Beautiful beaches from Hanalei to Poipu Beach provide the perfect places to enjoy each other’s company. You’ll find that this is an island that has a way of wrapping you both in its arms and inspiring romance.
Take hand-in-hand hikes into Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park. Spend intimate dinners at romantic restaurants in Kauai’s finest resorts. Sail along the towering Napali Coast to see sights you’ll never forget. Whether you’re here for a wedding, a honeymoon or just to share a special getaway, like the fertile gardens around you, Kauai provides you with endless opportunities for romance to flourish.
- Take a sail – Some of the most humbling scenic sights on Kauai are the towering cliffs of the Napali Coast on the North Shore. One of the best ways to see these natural wonders is by taking a boat tour or cruise. Spend half a day in the sun, sailing the seas as dolphins ride the wake of your boat and honu (green sea turtles) swim curiously by. Many tours offer snorkeling time and experienced crewmembers keep things lively with fun facts and information about Kauai’s geography and marine life.
- Fern Grotto – On Kauai’s East Side, the Fern Grotto is one of Kauai’s signature attractions. Accessible only by a short boat trip up the Wailua River, the grotto is a natural lava-rock grotto lush with hanging ferns and tropical foliage, cooled by the mists of a waterfall. There was a time when the Grotto was off-limits to all but Hawaiian royalty. But for more than 50 years, riverboats have provided tours of the site. In this serene setting, the grotto acts like a natural amphitheater. Taking advantage of the incredible natural acoustics, visitors are often treated to musicians playing beautiful Hawaiian music.
- Kilauea Lighthouse – Perched at the northernmost tip of Kauai, the 52-foot Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1913 as a beacon for traveling ships. Although its light was turned off in the 1970s and has been replaced by an automatic beacon, it still serves as one of the island’s most frequented attractions. The view off the rugged northern coastline and the deep-blue Pacific makes this the perfect vantage point for photos. This is also the location of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for seabirds. Signage throughout the refuge identifies the area’s bird species, including frigates, shearwaters, boobies and Laysan albatrosses nesting on the property. You’ll see them soar the skies above the refuge, many landing on a small nearby island covered in birds. During December through May, you may even catch a glimpse of humpback whales.
Roughly 10 percent of Kauai is accessible by car, while the rest of the island can only be explored by hiking, air tours and kayaking. Many travelers seeking unconventional experiences come to Kauai just for that reason.
On Kauai’s peaks, experienced hikers can trek along the Napali Coast on the 11-mile Kalalau Trail to see incomparable views. Kokee State Park also features some of the island’s best hiking trails. On Kauai’s shoreline, you can discover a variety of hidden beaches. From Mahaulepu Beach east of Poipu Beach Park, where George C. Scott portrayed Ernest Hemingway in the film “Islands in the Stream,” to the North Shore’s Kauapea Beach (Secret Beach), Kauai’s beautiful beaches are always a joy to discover.
You can also find hidden treasures in Kauai’s small towns, from the art galleries of Hanapepe to the West Kauai Technology and Visitor Center in Waimea Town. Sail the Napali Coast or explore its hidden sea caves by zodiac. Or to really try something new, go on an outdoor adventure by ziplining above Kauai’s rainforests or mountain tubing in Lihue’s irrigation channels. You’ll see that some of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets can be found on Kauai.
- Movie Tours – There’s no doubting the inspiring scenic beauty of Hawaii’s Island of Discovery. But did you know dozens of filmmakers were inspired by Kauai’s beauty as well? For decades movies and television shows have used Kauai as the stunning backdrop for their epic stories, from “South Pacific” to “Jurassic Park.” Take a movie tour to learn about the more than 60 feature films shot on location in Kauai or you can discover them for yourself and make your own movie moments.
- Hanapepe Town – Located on the south shore west of Koloa, Hanapepe Town once flourished as one of Kauai’s largest communities. Today, “Kauai’s biggest little town” hasn’t changed much over the last century at first look. Its historic buildings are so authentic that the town has become a location for a number of films. But now those plantation style buildings are home to charming shops, local eateries and more art galleries than any other spot on Kauai. Hanapepe Town celebrates its artists every Friday, from 6-9pm, as painters, sculptors and craftsmen open the doors of their galleries and studios to celebrate the arts. Visit the galleries, take a walk on the “Hanapepe Swinging Bridge” — which is always an adventure to cross — then shop and dine in one of Kauai’s most famous small towns.