Are you looking to plan your next Hawaiian getaway? Look no further! Kauai is one of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii, and a destination you definitely won’t want to miss. If you are also traveling to any of the other Hawaiian Islands, be sure to check out my full Oahu itinerary. Exciting adventures await, and are wrapped up neatly into this complete guide featuring the best things to do in Kauai. Click the itinerary below for a version that you can save and print:
Kayak to Secret Falls
Secret Falls, also known as Sacred Falls (Uluwehi Falls), is a tropical paradise situated along the Wailua River. The trailhead is only accessible by water, so grab a paddle and kayak on the peaceful Wailua River as you make your way to the start of the hike. You have two options: you can rent a kayak and explore on your own, or book a tour that includes a guided hike to the waterfall. This is definitely an activity for nature lovers. The paddle takes you through dense tropical vegetation, and leads you into the beautiful jungle of Kauai. The trail is 6.1 miles out and back, and only a 465 foot elevation gain. It is easily completed by hikers of various skill levels, including children.
There is no better way to embrace island life than with a surfing lesson! Don’t let any fears of the ocean deter you. I never grew up with the ocean and am not a strong swimmer, so I was incredibly nervous to book a surfing lesson. However, I had the best and most patient surfing instructor — he really held my hand through all of it, and made sure I had a safe and enjoyable experience. Highly recommended. My only regret is that I booked my surfing lesson at the tail end of my trip. Hanalei Bay is a great place to learn because the waves are typically only 2-3 feet, which is perfect for beginners. Be sure to book your surfing lesson early on so you can use and practice those skills throughout the remainder of your trip!
Places to Stay (Days 1, 2 and 3)
My recommendation is to start by exploring the north end of the island for the first three days, in the Princeville area. After that, switch to a hotel on the opposite end of the island for the last four days. This will put you closer to the area of the airport when you are ready to leave.
BEST LUXURY HOTELS
- Pricing: Varies depending on date of reservation | $240 – $500+ per night
- Amenities: Pool | Spa | Kitchen | Laundry | Gym | Restaurant | Bar | Wifi | Business Center
- Pricing: Varies depending on date of reservation | $340 – $500 per night
- Amenities: Pool | Hot Tub | Spa | Gym | Restaurant | Bar | Wifi | Laundry | Business Center
- Extras: Infinity Pool | Beautiful ocean views
- Additional Charges: Extra fee for valet and self parking | Daily service fee
BEST BUDGET HOTELS
- There are several great affordable options available on airbnb and VRBO.
Hanakapi’ai Falls is a gorgeous 300 foot waterfall tucked away in the wilderness of Kauai. The first two miles of the hike follows along the famous Kalalau Trail, and then splits off to a separate trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. The first part of the hike winds around the water and has some of the most stunning views of the Napali Coast. The second half of the hike takes you through a surreal bamboo forest and progresses deeper and deeper into the wilderness. After a few fun stream crossings and maneuvering around boulders, the trail opens up to the amazing Hanakapi’ai Falls. Reward yourself with a refreshing swim under this magnificent waterfall.
Trail Tips and Information
The full trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls is 9.1 miles out and back, with a 2,664 foot elevation gain. The combination of dense vegetation with the stream of water along the trail provides the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. Be prepared with insect repellant. Additionally, it rains off and on in Hawaii, so the trails are usually muddy. Make sure your hiking boots have good traction, as the hike to the waterfall can get very slippery and dangerous. Because you have to cross water several times, I personally chose to hike with my Vibram water shoes. However, I also carried micro spikes and hiking poles with me for some added stability.
Some hikers choose to hike the entire Kalalau Trail, which leads to the secluded Kalalau Beach. However this option is 11 miles one way and requires a permit.
Note: At the time of writing this article, advanced reservations are needed for a shuttle bus or parking at the start of the Kalalau trailhead. You can book your reservations here.
Reward yourself after the hike by joining one of the most popular food tours on the north shore of the island. Hawaii is home to some of the freshest and most exotic foods in the United States. Hawaiian cuisine has the best of both worlds – sweet treats and savory delicacies. When I think back to my memories of Hawaii, my senses are immediately flooded with the smell of fresh pineapple, refreshing coconut water, and savory roasted Kalua pig. If you are a foodie (or just like great food in general), be sure to check out this local Hawaiian food tour. Your taste buds and stomach will thank you!
If you still have a little energy left, check out the short hike to the Queen’s Bath. The Queen’s Bath is a natural pool that is formed from the ocean waves filling a partially enclosed area of lava rock. While the Queen’s Bath is a nice place to visit for scenic views, I strongly advise against swimming in this pool. It is known for its rough ocean waves forcefully crashing against the lava rocks. The tides can change within seconds, and a few unfortunate swimmers have drowned and been swept out to see. Skip the dip here, but do be sure to enjoy it from a distance! The hike down to the Queen’s Bath is only 0.8 miles roundtrip, however it can be a slippery, muddy downhill trek with recent rain. Do yourself a huge favor and bring along some micro spikes. I promise, you’ll be thanking me later!
Napali Coast Boat Tour and Snorkel
Kauai is famous for jaw-dropping views of its jagged coastline. Booking a boat tour and snorkel along the incredibly beautiful Napali Coast is one of the best things to do in Kauai. This tour is highly recommended and very likely to sell out. Be sure to book it well in advance. It is a full day excursion by catamaran that follows along the Napali Coast and passes by the private island of Niihau. Niihau is known as the Forbidden Isle, as it is privately owned and its nature is preserved. During the boat ride, you will experience some of the best snorkeling on the island. Giant sea turtles and dolphins live in these waters. If you are visiting during the winter months, you are also likely to see some whales. A light breakfast and full lunch are included in the tour. Don’t miss out on this picturesque and memorable adventure!
Biking Along the Coconut Coast
Kauai’s Coconut Coast (known by locals as “Ke Ala Hele Makalae”) is a bike path that runs along the eastern coast of Kauai. The path is about eight miles long. It offers amazing views of the ocean and shoreline, as well as local flora and wildlife. Be sure to take a few moments to stop at Lydgate Beach Park and go for a refreshing swim. You can rent a bike from Coconut Coasters (10% discount with reservations in advance) for the entire day for $20. This is a fantastic deal and a great way to explore the coast!
The Hawaiian Islands are all exceptionally beautiful in their own way. However, if you are booking a helicopter ride and have to choose ONE island to see, make Kauai your priority. I promise, you won’t be disappointed! The stunning beauty of Kauai’s lush topography and Napali coast is unparalleled. It is in a league of it’s own! 95% of the island’s waterfalls are unreachable by foot, and can only be enjoyed from the air. Helicopter tours can be pricey, however if you are open to splurging on one activity on the island, let this be it! This is definitely one of the best things to do in Kauai. I highly recommend booking a doors off helicopter tour. You are perfectly safe and secure inside the helicopter, and have amazing, unobstructed aerial views of beautiful Kauai.
Po’ipu Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the south shore of the island. The water is crystal clear and the reefs are home to an abundance of tropical fish, green sea turtles, sea urchins, and monk seals. You can learn all about the Hawaiian ecosystem and check out the colorful coral and marine life by joining a guided snorkeling adventure. Additionally, Po’ipu Beach is an ideal location for beginner surfers. The waves are generally 2-4 feet, and you can rent a surfboard to practice the skills you learned at the beginning of the trip. If you happened to miss out on taking a surfing lesson in Hanalei, no worries! Po’ipu offers some of the best surfing lessons in Kauai. This is actually the exact tour I booked for my very first surfing lesson, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the entire experience!
The most iconic thing you can do in Hawaii is participate in a traditional Hawaiian Luau. If you didn’t go to a luau, did you really visit Hawaii? End your evening with a traditional Polynesian welcoming ceremony, a lei greeting, and a complimentary drink. The Kalamaku Luau is a great way to truly immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture. The night includes a champagne welcome, four course dinner, and premier seating at the luau performance. Treat yourself to a fun night of hula dancing, fire dancers, great music, and delicious Hawaiian luau food.
Places to Stay (Days 4-7)
The activities scheduled for Day 4 brought you to the opposite side of where you were previously staying on the island. Book your accommodations on the south shore for the last few days of your time in Kauai. This will not only limit the amount of driving you must do to fully explore the island, but will also put you close to the airport when you are ready to catch your departing flight.
BEST LUXURY HOTELS
- Pricing: Varies depending on date of reservation | $400 – $520+ per night
- Amenities: Pool | Spa | Laundry | Gym | 6 Restaurants | 3 Bars | Wifi | Business Center
- Extras: Golf Course | Tennis | Volleyball | Beautiful ocean views
- Additional Fees: Extra fee for Wifi | Paid Self and Valet Parking
- Pricing: Varies depending on date of reservation | $350 – $400+ per night
- Amenities: Pool | Gym | Restaurant | Bar | Wifi | Laundry | Business Center
- Extras: Beautiful ocean views
- Additional Charges: Paid self parking
BEST BUDGET HOTELS
- Pricing: Varies depending on date of reservation | $210 – $260+ per night
- Amenities: Pool | Laundry | Wifi | Business Center | Parking
- Extras: Breakfast included
- There are several great affordable options available on airbnb and VRBO.
Start your morning off with a hike to work off the delicious Hawaiian buffet you consumed last night. The Awa’awapuhi Trail is 6 miles out and back, with an elevation gain of 1,945 feet. The hike descends gradually to the lookout point, and is a steady incline on the way back. There is not much scenery along the way, however the lookout at the end is absolutely fantastic. The trail is very well maintained and easy to follow. You hike to the level of the helicopters and have an amazing vantage point looking out at the jagged terrain and the Napali Coast. If you love beautiful views, this is a must do hike and one of the best things to do in Kauai! Note: if it is cloudy when you reach the lookout, wait a few minutes. The clouds are fast moving and will usually part for a clearer view.
If you are not hiker but still want to enjoy the views, definitely drive to the Kalalau Lookout. This point is just a few miles (a four minute drive) north of the Awa’awapuhi Trail. The Kalalau Valley was the beautiful backdrop for the original “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” movie, among others. You can conveniently drive right up to the lookout point. It is located at mile marker #18 along Waimea Canyon Road. Don’t miss this spectacular sight! Other lookouts in the area include the Pu’u Hinahina and the Hohonu Awawa lookouts, however the Kalalau lookout is by far the most stunning.
Waimea Canyon boasts some of the most unique topography found on the Hawaiian Islands. Due to its vast and expansive views, many people refer to it as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The striking rust colored soil sits in stark contrast alongside the lush greenery, creating a magnificent landscape. There are several hikes through Waimea Canyon that allow you to fully take in the breathtaking scenery. One of my favorites is Canyon Trail, which leads to Waipo’o Falls. It is 3 miles out and back, with an elevation gain of 1,066 feet. It takes you through the beautiful Hawaiian rainforest and opens up to dazzling views of the steep and colorful valley.
Sunset Dinner Cruise
After a full day of hiking, reward yourself with a sunset dinner cruise along the beautiful Napali Coast. Hawaii has some of the most vibrant sunsets, and the colors draw visitors from all over the world. It is also one of the best places to view the green flash when the sun crosses the horizon and dips behind the water. These are two of the best sunset cruises on the south shore:
- Catamaran cruise: kicks the evening off with champagne and light appetizers. This is followed by a full dinner buffet and your choice of mai tais, wine, beer, or juices.
- Lucky Lady Sunset Cruise: includes a light dinner (pulled pork, teriyaki chicken, or tofu poke) and your choice of beer, wine, mai tais, or soft drinks. The tour also includes the option to snorkel, with all snorkeling gear and floatation devices provided by the crew.
On both of these cruises, you are likely to see Hawaiian marine life. Dolphins and green sea turtles live in these waters, and you can spot them as you cruise along the coast. During the winter months (November to February), you are also likely to see a variety of whales. Both boat tours are extremely popular and likely to sell out, so be sure to book ahead of time!
Kauai has some of the most amazing topography of all the Hawaiian Islands. The beauty of the island is best seen from high above. If you were unable to book the helicopter tour, zip lining is a great alternative. This particular zip lining tour flies over Kauai’s lush forests on the longest zip line on the island. Adventure junkies around the world are drawn to zip lining. The activity allows you to experience great views of ordinary things from an extraordinary vantage point, and adds the exhilarating elements of speed and adrenaline. Don’t miss the opportunity to start your day off with fun, adventure, and spectacular views of Kauai!
Sleeping Giant Trail
After soaring over these lush forests, venture out into the woods on foot. The Sleeping Giant Trail has two approaches – east and west. The east trail is 3.2 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 948 feet. The west trail is 1.7 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 692 feet. Some sections of the hike have a moderately steep incline; take your time and you will have no problem completing either of these hikes. Both trails lead to a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view at the top. Enjoy!
Continue your journey through the Kauai backcountry with a fun and exciting water tubing adventure. Kauai Backcountry Adventures offers a mountain tubing tour that is sure to leave you wanting more. The tour takes you down two miles of hand dug canals that were previously used to irrigate sugar cane plantations. The natural current gently sends you spinning on your way for a pleasant ride. However, if you have any issues with claustrophobia, this may not be the adventure for you. Throughout the experience, you pass through five dark and narrow tunnels. Headlamps are provided for visibility. This is a fun little way to spend the afternoon, and definitely worth checking out.
Kalepa Ridge Trail
There are so many picturesque hikes scattered throughout Kauai. Depending on your return flight, you might be able to sneak in the Kalepa Ridge Hike. This hike is only 1.9 miles out and back with a 610 foot elevation gain. Although it is short, however, the hike can get quite steep and slippery with recent rain. My recommendation is to definitely bring micro spikes and hiking poles along with you for an added sense of security and traction. The ridge can be narrow at points with steep drop offs on either side. However, if you take the trail slowly and carefully, the dangers associated with this hike are avoidable. My advice: try it. If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the height and terrain, you can always turn around. If you reach the end, you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the terrain and the Napali Coast.
If your flight does not leave until later in the evening, you might also be able to get in one last water activity on the island. Po’ipu Beach is very versatile and suited for many different kinds of activities. You can rent a paddleboard (or surf board, body board, snorkel gear, etc.) from a local surf shop. Enjoy your last few hours in Kauai on the water.
If you found this itinerary useful, please sign up for my free monthly newsletter below. The newsletter will help you stay updated on the most recent travel tips, recommendations, itineraries, blogs, and resources.
Also, as a bonus you will receive a FREE detailed Thailand Travel Bucket List itinerary to help you plan the adventure of a lifetime!
For information on other exciting destinations, check out my other itineraries!
*Disclosure: I only recommend products and experiences that I personally own and love! All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that help me earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!