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Are you looking for the perfect destination to visit for your vacations this year? Well, look no more because we have you covered! Visit Kauai, one of the seven Hawaiian Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and you are bound to have a trip of a lifetime!
Here are the top 10 things to do in Kauai you can consider while planning your trip itinerary:
Top 10 Things to Do in Kauai
1. Tour the North Shore
The North Shore of Kauai is located on the island’s windward side. Laden with pristine beaches, sea cliffs, and forests full of Hawaiian fauna, the North Shore offers a plethora of different fun activities and things to do in Kauai.
Though a must-visit when visiting the Island, Kauai’s North Shore has tricky weather during the winter months, with more rainfall and higher surf in the ocean. If you plan to go to the North Shore, the ideal time to visit Kauai would be from October to March for the optimum weather conditions.
The various spots and places to visit on the North Shore of Kauai include:
1.1. Ha’ena State Park
Ha’ena State Park is probably the ideal place to begin your exploration of the North Shore and so, should undoubtedly make the top of your list of things to do in Kauai!
To reach Ha’ena State Park, you will have to travel to the very end of the Kuhio Highway. On reaching your destination, you will find an expansive State Park that consists of the beautiful Ke’e Beach and a trailhead to the Kalulau Trail. You can also take the 8-mile roundtrip hike to the Hanakapi’ai Beach and waterfall.
Due to its massive popularity, entry, and parking reservations are required to be booked as early as 30 days before your trip to the Ha’ena State Park!
1.1.1. Ke’e Beach
The famous Ke’e Beach is a part of Ha’ena State Park and should be a definite must on your list of things to do in Kauai. Composed of a smallish bay system surrounded by tall sea cliffs, Ke’e Beach is a must-visit beach on Kauai’s North Shore. It also happens to be one of the beaches on the Kalalau Trail.
Kee Beach offers natural reefs and lagoons, which are great miniature shallow pools perfect for activities like swimming and snorkeling, especially for children.
Public facilities like restrooms and showers are available right on the beach, along with lifeguards that are on vigilante duty for everyone’s service.
You can also enjoy the scenic 2-mile hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach as part of the Kalalau Trail, so make sure to pack your hiking shoes and tools!
Your Ha’ena State Park entry fee will also cover access to Ke’e Beach, so you need not worry about extra expenses. Though, during the winter months, the surf on the North Shore is too high to be safe so Ke’e Beach might be out of bounds.
1.2. Koke’e State Park
Koke’e State Park offers a 45-mile-wide selection of adventurous hiking trails through tropical fauna and rainforests that should be a must on any nature lover’s list of things to do in Kauai! Come along for a breath of fresh air and scenic views of Mother Nature from a height of more than 3,000 ft above sea level.
Make sure to visit the Koke’e Natural History Museum to admire local artwork and learn more about the history of the State Park. You can also obtain hiking maps and information on the hiking trails here.
1.3. North Shore Beaches
Apart from the popular Ke’e Beach, Kauai’s North Shore has a few more gorgeous beaches to offer for your pleasure. You can have your pick while deciding on what things to do in Kauai!
1.3.1. Secret Beach
Officially known as Kauapea Beach, Secret Beach is located in the Kilauea part of the North Shore. The unmarked, unpaved road and the small 10-minute hike on a steep uneven trail downhill that one has to traverse to reach Secret Beach Park is what earns it the title of “Secret Beach”.
Secret Beach is a gorgeous secluded beach that spans around 3,000 ft. It is famous for not being crowded, and makes for an amazing spot for activities like fishing and surfing.
From Secret Beach, you can get stunning views of the Kilauea Lighthouse. You might even come across locals spending time with their families at the picnic tables here and surfing in the ocean waves.
A little heads up, Secret Beach does have any public amenities like restrooms or even lifeguards at the shore keeping a lookout, so you might have to come prepared accordingly and maybe avoid the waves if you are not a good swimmer.
1.3.2. Ha’ena Beach
Despite the name, Ha’ena Beach is not actually located in or is a part of Ha’ena State Park. You can reach Ha’ena Beach while coursing on the Kuhio Highway since the beach is right off it.
On your visit to Ha’ena Beach, you can enjoy swimming or venture on a nice relaxing walk along the magnificent sandy stretch.
1.4. Kilauea Lighthouse
If you are a bird watcher or wildlife enthusiast, then Kilauea Lighthouse should be a top priority on your list of things to do in Kauai! Sitting on the edge of a rocky peninsula overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this Lighthouse was originally built in 1913 and lies within the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
Apart from being the ideal point for breathtaking views of the picturesque horizon, the Kilauea Lighthouse is also your go-to place for catching a peek at the migratory sea birds that nest here, so don’t forget to bring along your binoculars (or you can just borrow a pair from the information center). Laysan albatross, wedge-tailed shearwaters, and great frigate birds are some of the species often spotted here.
From December to April, you might even be able to see dolphins and humpback whales far out in the ocean.
Though entry to this historic Lighthouse is prohibited, you can admire its structure and read about its history. A prior reservation is required for visitation.
2. Don’t Skip Hanalei!
Hanalei on the North Shore of Kauai deserves its own mention due to the various niches and spots here that you can add to your list of things to do in Kauai.
2.1. Hanalei Town
Situated on Hanalei Bay, Hanalei town is a small surfer town famous for its food trucks and chill vibes. Explore at your own leisure!
If you want to go on a shopping spree, make sure to visit the Hale Halawai Farmers Market.
2.2. Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is the biggest and most popular bay on the island of Kauai, so you certainly cannot leave it out of your list of things to do in Kauai!
Hanalei Beach, a captivating two-mile stretch of sand forms the shore of Hanalei Bay. The summer conditions are perfect to surf or swim here, though during winters the adverse weather conditions make Hanalei Bay mostly out of bounds.
You can also undertake fun activities like kayaking from the Hanalei River into the Bay to spot Hawaiian green sea turtles or go on a snorkel tour here in Hanalei Bay.
2.3. Hanalei Valley Lookout
Hanalei Valley Lookout is an excellent scenic quick stop in Prineville when traveling to Hanalei Bay. Click beautiful photos with a magnificent vista of taro fields, the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, and the Kawaikini Mountain Range for a background!
3. Hike the Kalalau Trail
If you love hiking, then the foremost things to do in Kauai for you is to hike the Kalalau Trail! Ensure to pack proper hiking shoes because it will be a challenging hike.
From Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach, traversing through five luxuriant valleys, the Kalalau Trail stretches for 11 steep and rugged miles along the Na Pali Coast. The hike takes almost a whole day to complete, so you might have to camp in the Kalalau Valley. If you are indeed planning on camping then you will have to reserve a camping permit prior to your hike.
Don’t want to embark on the whole challenging hike? No worries, you can simply hike the initial 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail up to Hanakapi’ai Beach. Since the start of the Trail likes in Ha’ena State Park, you will have to make a reservation in advance.
Enjoy the stunning views of the dense forests and the blue horizon or relax on Kalalau Beach, hiking this Trail is a whole tour in itself!
3.1. Kalalau Lookout
An alternative to the physical efforts of hiking the Kalalau Trail but still getting the chance to admire the incredible scenery of this lush valley is a trip up to the Kalalau Lookout.
4. Cruise along Na Pali Coast
One of the best things to do in Kauai is to take in the beauty of the majestic Na Pali Coast on the North Shore. Abound with towering sea cliffs that disappear into the clouds, sea caves waiting to be explored, magnificent sea arches, secluded beaches, and tall waterfalls, a whole adventure awaits you in the tropical paradise that is Na Pali Coast!
Embark on an excursion of the Na Pali Coast on a helicopter tour or on a hike, but the most preferred mode for tourists in Kauai is a boat trip along the seashore. You can even have snorkel tours or enjoy a sunset dinner cruise!
While on tour, you would be able to admire the scenic beauty of the Na Pali Coast as it stretches out before you; if you are lucky you might even be able to spot dolphins or humpback whales swimming in the ocean. Nested amongst the high sea cliffs are many ancient Hawaiian fishing villages.
If you love hiking, the best way to explore the Na Pali Coast is to set out on the Kalalau Trail, though it can be a very challenging hike as mentioned earlier. You would also need to obtain a permit beforehand to hike most parts of the trail.
5. Visit the South Shore
If the North Shore of Kauai sounds a bit too rugged and wild for your comfort, worry not because the South Shore of Kauai is much gentler with calmer waters and equally (if not more) beautiful beaches. So make your swimsuits and hiking shoes!
5.1. Poipu Beach
The main and most famous beach on the South Shore is Poipu Beach. With crystal clear calm waters, exploring Poipu Beach Park is perfect amongst the things to do in Kauai if you are vacationing with the young ones!
While on Poipu Beach, there is a big chance you might spot green sea turtles or seals basking in the sun on the sandy shore. Though you should not try to approach them or touch them because they are a protected species by law.
Poipu Beach Park also has all the public amenities you might need: on-duty lifeguards, restrooms and showers, picnic tables, and even a playground area for children.
5.2. Shipwreck Beach
Apart from Poipu Beach, another South Shore beach worth your time is Shipwreck Beach, right outside Grand Hyatt Hotel and Spa (click here for their official site).
Though the ocean condition might not be ideal for swimming at Shipwreck Beach, the high swell does make it a great spot for activities like surfing and bodyboarding. If you are not up for such adventure sports, you can just sit back, relax and enjoy a mesmerizing sunset!
Public facilities like restrooms, showers, and picnic tables are available at Shipwreck Beach, but there are no lifeguards on duty so you will be on your own if you decide to swim, be careful!
5.3. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
If you want to take a nice evening stroll along the South Shore coast with breathtaking views of the horizon, sea cliffs, and tall mountains, then be sure to add the scenic Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail to your list of things to do in Kauai!
The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail begins at Shipwreck Beach. Make sure to put on some comfy hiking sandals or shoes to keep the sand out of your toes! Full of many lovely views of the sea and the seaside, you might also be able to spot whales swimming in the waves.
6. Ride on the Kauai Plantation Railway
A unique experience we bet you did not imagine would be one of the things to do in Kauai, explore a plantation via a train ride! If you are looking for a tourist activity that is educational and fun at the same time, then the Kauai Plantation Train on the South Shore is the choice to go with.
Right outside Lihue on the South Shore is the Kilohana Plantation, which is a historic plantation spanning over 100 acres and home to the Kauai Plantation Railway. The train ride is a 40-minute interactive tour with the guides narrating the interesting history of the plantation as the train passes by important spots and niches all over the locale.
Enjoy the gorgeous plantation scenery while the train takes you through orchids of Hawaiian flowers, farmlands of taro, sugar cane, and other tropical plants as well as lush green forests. You can also meet the farm animals here, and get a chance to feed the pigs and pet the goats!
Make sure not to miss out on tasting the delicious Koloa Rum here, available at the Plantation House and the Mahiko Lounge.
7. Explore the Waimea Canyon
Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, this is one place you absolutely cannot leave out from your list of things to do in Kauai! If you love adventure, you have to explore Waimea Canyon.
The Waimea Canyon State Park is located on the South Shore of Kauai. The Waimea Canyon happens to be nearby Poipu Beach Park, so you can make a combined day trip to both places together.
Visit Waimea Canyon and be sure to be presented with awe-inspiring views of the incredible canyon with its many waterfalls (including Waipo’o Falls and Red Dirt Waterfall), various lookouts and viewpoints, and sights of the Ni’ihau Island that you will not get anywhere else on the Hawaiian Island!
Driving up to Waimea Canyon is the best way to explore the State Park, while making pitstops at the many viewpoints along the route, or even opting for a long hike. So strap in for a long drive!
To get the best possible views that Waimea Canyon has to offer, ensure to check the weather beforehand so that the clouds do not obstruct the scenery. You would also be required to pay an entrance fee and parking fee for the Waimea Canyon State Park.
7.1. Waimea Canyon Lookout
Though it is one of the busiest lookouts in the Waimea Canyon, the Waimea Canyon Lookout offers the best views of the whole stunning canyon range as well as the many waterfalls and hiking trails.
The Lookout will mark the 10-mile point on your drive along the canyon. Enjoy a sunset picnic here as you take in the breathtaking scenery!
7.2. Waimea Town
Hungry after your long drive to the Waimea Canyon? The bustling Waimea Town comes to your rescue! Stop here to enjoy mouth-watering cuisine at the many restaurants here, and go on a shopping spree for souvenirs.
Another thing that makes Waimea Twon worth a visit is its rich history. The Town is considered to be one of the very first settlement places for the early Polynesian explorers who came to the Hawaiian Islands and Captain Cook first landed here in 1778. The Town has also played an important part in Hawaiian maritime trading.
8. Walk the Sleeping Giant Trail
For hiking enthusiasts, here’s yet another interesting and fun trail to add to your list of things to do in Kauai!
Perhaps the best (and the easiest) way to go up the Nounou Mountain located on the East Coast of Kauai is the Sleeping Giant Trail. A roundtrip on the trail measures roughly 3.5 miles and would take you 2 hours or so to tread. Enjoy mind-blowing views of the gorgeous coastline meeting the vast ocean!
Fun fact: The Sleeping Giant Trail has not one but two trailheads! Sleeping Giant Trail East and West both wind up around the Nounou mountain to take you up to the summit and both of their own unique features.
Sleeping Giant West Trail will take you through a lush pine forest (said to have been brought over by Captain Cook himself). The East Trail, on the other hand, makes for a great choice if you want to admire the native Hawaiian fauna of the island!
The Trail tends to get muddy and slippery, scattered with loose rocks, during the rainy season, so it would be better to remain cautious and bring along sturdy hiking gear.
9. Kayak Wailua River
Ever thought of kayaking in an actual river like they do in the movies? Well, look no more, this is the answer to your question of “What things to do in Kauai?”! What’s more, you do not even need prior kayaking experience to embark on this fun nature adventure.
Explore the beautiful Wailua River Valley while paddling along the serene waters of the Wailua River. You can embark on a 5-hour guided tour, which will take you over the river for a short nature hike, at the end of which awaits the 100-foot-tall Uluwehi Falls (famously known as Secret Falls). Refresh your spirits with a dip in the waterfall pools before continuing your voyage!
All the way along the tour the guides will keep you informed and entertained with their narrations about Hawaiian flora, fauna, and history.
10. More Kauai Beaches
If you feel like your list of things to do in Kauai still does not have enough beaches to visit, here are a few more great beaches you should consider exploring!
10.1. Tunnels Beach
Make a stop here at the relaxing Tunnels Beach after your long exhausting hike at the Kalalau Trail. This beach is perfect for snorkeling with your kids!
Tunnels Beach also goes by the name of Makuna Beach.
10.2. Lydgate Beach Park
Though the waters of Lydgate Beach Park itself might be a bit rough for swimming purposes during the high surf season, the Beach Park has plenty of safe pools for you to get your toes wet! The pools on the north side of the beach even have fishes in case you want to snorkel with the young ones.
Lydgate Beach Park is also equipped with a community playground, the Kamalani Playground, for your kiddos to enjoy before or after a swim.
Now that you know so many fun things to do in Kauai, why not consider Oahu for your next trip to the Hawaiian Islands? Click here to know more!