Kauai is the oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain. Also known as the “Garden Island”, this lush little slice of paradise is one of our very favourite places in the United States and all of North America. Home to the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and countless hikes and beaches; Kauai is the perfect destination for any adventure-seeking traveler. Keep reading for a list of unbelievable activities in Kauai you will not want to miss!
Hike The Kalalau Trail
First things first… this hike should be number one on your list of unforgettable activities in Kauai! The Kalalau Trail is a 35.4 kilometer (22 mile) long out and back trail located along the North Shore of Kauai. This stunning area is otherwise known as the Na Pali Coast, famous for being one of the most beautiful shorelines in the entire world. Picture this: clear blue waves rolling into white sand beaches surrounded by dramatic cliffs. Lush, green ridges up to 4,000 feet high sprinkled with powerful waterfalls and scenic rivers. All in a protected area with no infrastructure, no roads, and barely any people.
This place is paradise!
In total, the elevation gain is 1,883 meters (seriously!) but it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds when spread out over 3 to 4 days. This trail is one of the top reasons people visit Kauai so make sure to get your permits a few months in advance! Fun fact: Dozens of movies have been shot along this coast including Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Visit Waimea Canyon
Also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is approximately ten miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. This stunning canyon is full of exceptional views, jaw-dropping hiking trails, and cascading waterfalls. Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water”, a reference to the erosion of the canyon’s red soil. Located on the West side of Kauai, you will want to plan at least 1-2 days for exploring this amazing area.
Take a Helicopter Tour
Jack Harter’s Helicopter Tour was truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had while traveling! This hour-long journey takes you around the entire island with extra time spent in Waimea Canyon and along the Na Pali Coast. I would highly recommend choosing the “doors off” option because you feel completely immersed in the remarkable scenery around you. We could actually feel the mist from the waterfalls. It was incredibly surreal. Although this tour is expensive (about $300 USD per person) it is one thousand percent worth the money. If you only do one tour during your time in Kauai, this is the one to choose!
Hawaii is known for its incredible surfing and Kauai has some excellent spots for beginners! Hanalei Bay was our go-to spot and it’s perfect for beginner to intermediate surfers. You can easily rent a board in town and they will even deliver it to the beach for you! When you’re finished, grab some pizza at Hanalei Bay Pizzaria… you can thank me later!
Enjoy the Hiking
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Kauai and there’s no question why. From easy forest hikes to the 22-mile Kalalau Trail; there are options for every fitness level on this green and rugged island. Some of our favourite hikes included the Kalalau Trail, Kuilau Ridge, Awa’awapuhi Trail, and anything in Waimea Canyon!
Eat ALL The Food
Wondering if it’s possible to eat a ton of fantastic food without breaking the bank on your trip to Hawaii? You’re in luck! Kauai has several unbelievable food trucks and great cheap eat restaurants. From açai bowls to steam bun sandwiches; this island really does have something for everyone. Kapa’a and Hanalei Bay were home to most of our favourites, but you can find little gems in every town around the island!
Stop in at Wailua Falls
Located just north of Lihue, Wailua Falls is exceptionally scenic and requires very little effort to visit. Visible from the parking area with no hike required, It is an excellent pit stop on your way to other hikes or viewpoints in the area.
TIP: Because it is so easily accessible, Wailua Falls can get very busy at peak times. If you are looking for a quieter experience, go first thing in the morning. You might even catch a rainbow!
Camping is a great way to save a ton of money while experiencing the natural beauty of Kauai. With most campgrounds being right on the ocean and only $3-6 USD per person per night; you really can’t go wrong! If you have a 4×4 vehicle, make sure to check out Polihale State Park. You feel like you’re driving to the end of the earth but are rewarded with the most amazing white sand beach and almost zero tourists!
Spend the Evening on a Catamaran
Nothing beats cruising in comfort and Capt. Andy’s 65′ Star Catamaran is nothing short of luxurious. We felt like impostors who had snuck onto a celebrity’s private yacht and should be kicked off any minute… seriously.
The boat offers two large bathrooms, an air-conditioned indoor bar/lounge area, an outdoor dining area, padded benches, and a BBQ area. Our favourite part was the large trampoline nets on the bow where you can sprawl out and soak up some sun! It’s a perfect place to spot the spinner dolphins that like to play in the surf below. The snorkel platform at the back of the catamaran made it super easy to get in and out of the water and they even had hot water showers to rinse off afterward!
Even when the winds pick up and the ocean gets choppy, this boat handles well. With that being said, seasickness is a day-ruiner so we always take Gravol before tours like this. The catamaran capacity is around 40 people, but we were super lucky to visit on a day where there was only 21 of us on-board!
Relax with a Day of Beach Hopping
As much as we love to hike and surf and try all the activities that Kauai has to offer, it’s also important to give yourself a few rest days during your trip. Kauai has more accessible beaches than any other island in Hawaii, so why not take advantage of it? Spend the day checking out different beaches and enjoying the sun, sand, and beautiful blue ocean!
Hang Out With The Sea Creatures
Snorkeling is a great cheap and exciting activity, especially when Hawaii is full of sea life! Rent some gear or bring your own and swim out to one of the many snorkel spots just offshore. Some of our favourites were Anini Beach and Ke’e Beach, but there are several others to try out around the island. PLUS, you probably have a 50/50 chance of seeing a turtle!
Shop in the Local Towns and Markets
This one isn’t exactly an adventurous activity, but Kauai has a few adorable towns and amazing markets that you’re going to want to visit! The shops in Kapa’a and Hanalei Bay are excellent for browsing everything from clothing to sweets and souvenirs. It’s a great activity for a rainy morning or a lazy afternoon stroll before dinner!
In the southern part of Kauai, the small town of Hanapēpē puts on an amazing festival and art walk every Friday from 5-9 pm. The entire main street is closed off for an evening of live music, great food, and talented local art vendors. If you get the opportunity, I would highly recommend checking it out!
Lastly, Kauai hosts different farmers markets all over the island almost every single day of the week. These are excellent places to grab fun products, local food, and fresh fruit! For information on times and locations, click here.