Kauai Travel Guide
Visitor Info & Top Things to Do on Kauai
Kauai is an island full of splendor, raw beauty, and culture; an island that, like no other, represents the true spirit of aloha. The island really is a true hidden gem of sorts. Over 90% of the island cannot be reached by road. In fact, the most beautiful part of the whole island has no road near it - and most Kauai lovers like it that way.
The island has also been a hot spot for feature films. Dozens of filmmakers and producers have chosen the 'Garden Isle' as a backdrop in their movies. We'll help you discover all that the island has to offer — Plan, book, pack, and go with HawaiiGuide: Kauai.
Everything you need to know about the Garden Island is here in one convenient place:
- Explore the incredible selection and pick the best beach on Kauai
- Hikers will love Kauai, it has some of the best hikes in the state.
- Determine the best time to travel to Kauai
- Discover where to stay on Kauai
- Read our top Kauai travel tips,
- Explore the best hand-picked tours and adventures and our fantastic selection of Kauai accommodations
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Summary of Kauai topics covered on this page.
Kauai Weather Forecast
Kauai Travel Map Packet
Updated to include Top Kauai Beaches Map
Kauai Travel Map Packet
Updated with a new high-resolution printable 'Garden Island' map. Includes most major attractions, all major routes, airports, and a chart with estimated driving times.
PDF packet now additionally includes a Beaches Map.
-File is a print-ready PDF document
Popular Destinations on Kauai
Kaua'i is the oldest of all the main Hawaiian Islands, dating back some 5.1 million years. The island is nearly circular in shape with a land area encompassing 533 square miles, which is 25 miles long by 33 miles wide at its furthest points.
The island has roads stretching around it from the northwest coast, starting at Ke'e Beach, moving clockwise along the eastern coast (through Kapa'a and Lihue), and then around to the west coast (through Hanapepe and Waimea). Finally, it heads north up to the ridges of Waimea and Koke'e State Park overlooking the inaccessible Na Pali coast on the west side of the island.
Let's be honest: all of the Garden Island is fabulous. But each area offers different attractions, sights, and things to do. Explore Kauai's regions from afar here and find the spot that's best for you.
North Kauai Destinations
North Kauai Region
Priceville, Kilauea, Hanalei, Ha'ena
As on all the Hawaiian Islands, this region is typically known as the famous "North Shore." The North Shore has a mild average temperature in the mid to low 70's, but much of it receives a lot more rain - up to 120 inches a year in some places. This makes it green, lush, and very tropical.
One of the most popular resort areas is also located on the north shore of the island, Princeville. Princeville is a large and popular resort area overlooking the cliffs of Hanalei and Hanalei Bay with everything you could ever need to make the perfect vacation. Just hold onto your wallet, things can be pricey here. Houses in this area go for too much money and way too much money. Compared to the west coast of the island, this is Beverly Hills.
Other towns you'll find include: Kilauea, Ha'ena, and Hanalei with its beautiful bay and beaches.
East Kauai Destinations
East Kauai Region
Anahola, Kapa'a, Wailua, Hanama'ulu
There are many people who will call this region of the island the Coconut Coast, and once you visit you'll see why. For miles along the shoreline, there are hundreds of coconut trees.
East Kaua'i will also be where rain chances increase as the trade winds blow in from the Pacific. The average rainfall varies along the coastline, but you can expect to see a little more than on the south and west sides - between 45 and 60 inches a year. Head mauka (inland) towards Wai'ale'ale or Kawaikini, though, rain increases by the foot, literally. The average temperature is much cooler in this region than the south or west at around 70F.
The east coast is probably the second most popular part of the island, including for accommodations, and thus most of the resorts are along this stretch, especially in Kapa'a. Plus, there are plenty of attractions gracing the region, from Wailua Falls and Opaeka'a Falls to the Fern Grotto, all near the Wailua River.
In the east region, you'll pass through the popular resort area of Kapa'a. It is a small oceanfront town that's getting ever so close to the North Shore. It is also right on the edge of Wailua River State Park and Lydgate Beach Park.
Other towns you'll find on the east coast include: Wailua, Hanama'ulu, and Anahola.
Lihue Kauai Region
Located within the southeastern portion of the eastern region, Lihue is the county seat of the island and is the location of the government offices, a museum, and several other potential resources to visitors.
Your journey on the Garden Island will begin in the Lihue Region at the Lihue Airport (LIH).
South Kauai Destinations
South Kauai Region
Koloa, Po'ipu, Lawa'i, Kaleheo
The southern side of the island is warm, dry, and generally arid averaging about 35-40 inches of rain a year. The average temperature is 78F, but don't be surprised if temps get into the high 80's or even 90's in this region.
Though far from the popular North Shore and scarcely populated, the South side has a lot to offer. The biggest attractions here are the perfect beaches around the Po'ipu area, the National Tropical Botanical Garden, and Spouting Horn.
The Poipu area stretches around Makahuena Point and is a popular tourist destination, filled with hotels, condos, resorts, shopping, and vacation rentals.
Other towns you'll find on the south side include: Kalaheo, Koloa, Lawa'i, and Omao.
West Kauai Destinations
West Kauai Region Guide
Hanapepe/'Ele'ele, Waimea, Kekaha, Koke'e
For the most part, the western portion of the island is impassable, filled with mountainous terrain and valleys that make roads impossible to build here. The northwest side of the Garden Island is most famous for Waimea Canyon and the Kokee State Park trails and hikes that stretch far and wide across this region. The southwest side contains several small towns and various attractions.
You've probably heard the most about this region because of Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain called, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." It is indeed a beautiful sight to behold, and you have several overlooks to enjoy it from. The region is a mecca to hikers, offering dozens of trails from the most challenging to quite easy
The Southwest portion of this region includes the Waimea town area, Hanapepe town, and Polihale Beach State Park. The weather on this side of the island varies greatly. Here on the southwest side, it is incredibly dry.
Na Pali Coast Region
Stretching along Kauai's west coast is the majestic Na Pali Coastline. When it comes to scenic areas, Na Pali may very well be the top on the list here in Hawaii. Miles of rugged coastline more beautiful than anything imagined, it truly feels like another world. So whether you fly over it, hike it, or take a boat around the edges of it... Na Pali is something that must be experienced.
These sea cliffs begin at Ke'e Beach along the north shore and continue around the north and west portion of Kauai, ending at Polihale Beach bordering the western region. They extend upwards of 1000 feet and are made up of a series of "hanging" and traditional valleys and cliffs. A "hanging" valley is one that ends abruptly at a sea cliff rather than gently stretching out into the ocean. They are formed when the ocean's waves cut away at the lava rock quicker than the interior streams can scour out the valley floor.
Many movies, such as 'The Thorn Birds' and portions of 'South Pacific,' have been filmed along this coast using the dramatic background of these steep cliffs. Numerous sea caves, small beaches, and high waterfalls add to the beauty and uniqueness of the landscape.
Kauai Top Attractions
Top 10 Kauai Things to See & Do
Truth be told, all of Kauai is remarkable. However, some Kauai attractions are incredibly popular because they offer an experience that truly captures the magical essence of Kauai. Most Inspirational, Must-See, Top Picks, Best of Kauai... no matter what you label them, you absolutely must witness these attractions for yourself. Of volcanic origin, the highest peaks on this mountainous island are Kawaikini, at 5,243 feet, followed by Mount Wai'ale'ale near the center of the island, at 5,148 feet above sea level. One of the wettest spots on earth, with an annual average rainfall of 450-470 inches, is located on the east side of Mount Wai'ale'ale.
This high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys in the central mountain, carving out ridges, canyons, and gorgeous valleys with many scenic waterfalls. Click on any of the tiles below to discover just a few of Kauai's top attractions.
Top 10 Attractions on Kauai
- Na Pali Coast State Park - NaPali Coastline
- Waimea Canyon - West Kauai
- Kalalau Lookout - West Kauai
- Hanalei Beach Park - North Shore Kauai
- Makua 'Tunnels' Beach - North Shore Kauai
- Wailua Falls - East Kauai
- Kalalau Trail - first two miles to Hanakapi'ai Beach along Na Pali Coast (accessed in North Kauai)
- Ke'e Beach - Na Pali Coast and Northwest Shore Kauai
- Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge - Northeast Shore Kauai
- Po'ipu Beach - South Shore Kauai
Na Pali Coast State Park
West & North Kauai Region
#1 Rated in Sights to See on Kauai
The NaPali Coast is the gem of all gems on the island. There are 3 ways to visit the NaPali Coast: by land, by sea, or by air.
Stretching across a road-less expanse from Polihale Beach on the West Side to Makana Mountain and Kee Beach in Ha’ena on the North Shore; the NaPali Coast makes up the breathtaking, beautiful northwest coastline.
Filled with dramatic cliff faces, pristine beaches, rugged hiking trails, and extensive archaeological sites, NaPali Coast is an environment of immense power where natural forces are continually evolving the shape of the land.
West Kauai Region
#2 Rated in Sights to See on Kauai
Dubbed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" by Mark Twain, Waimea Canyon is the largest canyon in the Pacific and truly a dramatic sight to behold at ten miles long, one mile wide, and more than 3,500 ft. deep.
Carved thousands of years ago by rivers and floods that flowed from Mount Waialeale's summit, the canyon is home to the Waimea River.
The river was named for the red hue of the water, as Waimea means 'red waters.' The red tint is caused by several natural processes that break down the ancient rock inside the gorge.
West Kauai Region
#3 Rated in Sights to See on Kauai
Kalalau Lookout isn't just another Waimea Canyon lookout, as many first-time visitors often believe. It's a view into the heart of the Kalalau Valley- one of the most-photographed and well-recognized valleys in all of Hawaii.
The surrounding coastline and valley, which is the largest valley on the island at two miles wide, has served as the backdrop for countless films including "King Kong" (the original), "Mighty Joe Young," "Jurassic Park," and "Six Days Seven Nights."
Kalalau Lookout is also the highest elevation most people reach on the island by road, at 4,000 feet.
Hanalei Beach Park & Bay
North Kauai Region
#1 Rated Beach on Kauai
On an average day, this is by far the best beach on the island. It's family-friendly and the sand is pristine. At 125 ft. wide and with over two miles of sand along the crescent-shaped bay, the surroundings are superb with views of the verdant mountains rising in the background. Hanalei Bay Beach is bordered by the Hanalei River to the east, the Waipa River to the west, and there are two large coral reefs at both ends of the bay.
For those seeking ocean fun and diversity, the beach has a little of everything. The right side of the bay features a reef that creates ideal surfing conditions for those looking to catch some waves. Near the pier the waves are much more gentle, making it an ideal location for those new to the ocean or rookie wave riders. Boogie boarding is reliable along the central portion of the bay, and even some intermediate surfing is possible here. The crowds don't flock to this beach, so there's plenty of room for everyone at Hanalei Bay.
Makua 'Tunnels' Beach
North Kauai Region
#2 Rated Beach on Kauai
Tunnels beach offers some of the best snorkeling anywhere in Hawaii during the calm summer months. The backdrop is similar to that of Hanalei Beach; the mountains rising up behind the beach are gorgeous.
Tunnels Beach has one major downside- parking. But you can usually find parking at Haena Beach Park and then walk (to the right) to access Tunnels Beach. Surfers also will enjoy the outermost portions of the reef where waves are larger.
#4 Rated in Sights to See on Kauai
If you've ever fantasized about seeing a double-tiered waterfall, then get ready to turn your fantasy into reality at the gorgeous Wailua Falls.
Unlike many other waterfalls on the island, Wailua Falls is easily accessible, as no hiking is needed to reach it and appreciate its beauty up close. In fact, the parking lot basically overlooks the falls.
As an added bonus, when the sun hits at just the right angle you'll get a beautiful rainbow extending out from the base of the falls in the mist, which is nothing short of spectacular.
First Two Miles to Hanakapiai Beach
West Kauai Region
#1 Rated Hiking Trail on Kauai
Number one on our list for hiking is the Kalalau Trail, or what some refer to as the "Hanakapiai Trail." This trail includes the first two miles (one way) of the 11-mile Kalalau trail that stretches along the NaPali coastline, starting at Kee Beach at the end of the road in the northern region.
It is popular with visitors who want a very scenic half-day hike. It can be semi-strenuous, however, as the trail does do a good bit of climbing and descending. Crossing the stream at Hanakapiai Beach can also be hazardous, but overall this is a good trail for visitors who want to see some of NaPali's beautiful coastline on foot.
Visitors planning to make the Kalalau trail hike must now make online reservations; which will currently be limited to 900 a day, according to the state DLNR. Please also be aware of the new rules for the whole Haena State Park area.
North Kauai Region
#3 Rated Beach on Kauai
Located at the trailhead of our previous top attraction, Ke`e Beach is located at the end of Highway 560 and is one of the island's most popular North Shore beaches.
If you want a beach with a view, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a better view than the NaPali Coast as seen from the far right end of Ke`e Beach- it's simply jaw-dropping. Situated between NaPali and Limahuli stream, the lagoon-like beach is also popular for snorkeling. The water here is very clear and reef fish are abundant. The chickens are part of the local scene, and it makes us wonder, where else will you find chickens on a beach?
Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge
North Kauai Region
#6 Rated in Sights to See on Kauai
Kilauea Lighthouse is the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian Islands. The lighthouse was built in 1913 with the largest hand-blown clamshell lens in the world. It was later replaced with a beacon in the 1970's.
The lighthouse is open to look around within on the ground level. Today the lighthouse remains one of Kaua'i's most popular attractions.
Native vegetation and an informative visitor center attract thousands of tourists to this site to bird-watch, view the sweeping cliff and ocean vistas, and revel in the island's past.
South Kauai Region
#4 Rated Beach on Kauai
Poipu Beach is the star when it comes to the south shore of the island. This beautiful curve of white sand is 50 ft. wide by approximately 1,000 ft. long.
The beach is actually split into two small bays; one section is ideal for small children and beginner snorkelers while the other section is better suited for swimming, snorkeling, and even surfing when the surf is up. The sandbar separating the two bays is often home to the endangered monk seal; however, we highly encourage you not to approach them.
Kauai Tours & Activities
Popular Tours & Activities on Kauai
For many visitors, a Kauai tour may be the perfect way to experience parts of 'The Garden Isle' that you'd otherwise never get to see. We've hand-selected these top-5 Kauai tours below due to their popularity and high ratings with visitors like yourself! Be sure to view all of our recommended Kauai Tours & Activities.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Kauai Eco Adventure Flight
Starting at $314/person
Take to the skies with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and see incredible aerial views of the island's top attractions. Soar high above the Na Pali Coast sea cliffs, Waimea Canyon on the Garden Island's best Helicopter Tour. Daily morning & afternoon departures from Lihue.
Na Pali Sunset Cruise with Dinner & Cocktails
Starting at $171.89/person
Depart from Port Allen on a 3.5-hour sunset cruise along the island's famous Na Pali Coast. Enjoy drinks and dinner as the sun sinks below the horizon and casts a golden hue on the rugged coastline. A Na Pali Sunset Boat tour is a must-do Garden Isle activity.
Smith's Wailua River Cruise to Fern Grotto
Starting at $30/person
Climb aboard Smith's Fern Grotto Cruise, and experience one of the best things to do on the island. Enjoy views of the Wailua River while on-board a spacious open-air boat, and listen to the stories and songs of old Hawaii performed by live musicians.
Hawaii Mountain Tubing Adventure Tour
Starting from $131.94
Experience the best and most popular activity on the island with a fun-filled mountain tubing adventure that will take you on an inner tube float trip through irrigation ditches of the Old Lihue Sugar Cane Plantation on an epic lazy river experience.
*Photo Courtesy of HawaiiActivities
Sacred Falls Adventure - Wailua River Kayak, Hike & Waterfall Swim
Starting at $115.18/person
Enjoy a 5-hour tropical waterfall adventure along the Wailua River. A top-rated outdoor adventure tour for the active family. Kayak and Hike your way through the tropical rainforest to discover a secret waterfall!
Kauai Itinerary Suggestions
Garden Isle Itineraries
Kauai is the fourth largest island in Hawaii, and it is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in the world. Many have described it as a divine place on earth. Here, you will witness its scenic greenery, remarkable trails, stunning beaches with crystal clear blue waters, and irresistible allure wherever you venture.
Ultimately, we’ve designed our itineraries around a set number of on-island days: offering one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven-day itineraries for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time (and potentially money) on Kauai are used wisely. We’ve tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you’ve dreamed of when planning your trip.
For each island we’ve attempted to split up the itinerary days by sorting attractions according to their geographic proximity; i.e., on West Kauai day, you’d explore the best of the western region's attractions, beaches, hiking trails, and activities. Our itineraries are not meant to be followed consecutively necessarily, which would probably be exhausting, but instead as a grab-and-go resource for ‘mapping’ your trip - think of us as a Wayfinder’s guide to Kauai.
For nearly 20 years now, we've been visiting the Garden Island and making detailed notes about what the island's highlights are and what visitors like yourself simply must-see based on the limited time you've allocated for each Hawaiian Island.
It isn't easy and can even be overwhelming to start planning a trip to Hawaii. One quick look on our website, and you'll soon discover there are hundreds of possibilities; a variety of sights to see, a plethora of beautiful beaches to choose from, and a diverse set of incredible trails that criss-cross each of the islands. Honestly, you could spend months on the island and not see and do it all. Having a reliable guide, that's key. We'd genuinely love to be your guide to the island of Kauai during your stay, and we hope you find our itineraries resourceful while planning your trip.
Best Things to See on Kauai
Garden Island Sights Guide
Kauai has some of the most dramatic scenery in all of Hawaii. From the towering cliffs of the NaPali Coast to the dramatic landscapes of Waimea Canyon, the Garden Isle is filled with geologic marvels that amaze and allure.
Looking for some of the world's best waterfalls? How about ancient Hawaiian villages? And let's not forget that Kauai is a great place to appreciate history and culture.
If fantastic sights are on your Garden Isle itinerary, you're in luck. Check out our Kauai Things to See Guide for more information about each of the island's top attractions.
Best Beaches on Kauai
Garden Island Beach Guide
Kauai has some of the best beaches in the world, and the most of any major Hawaiian island.
Some of the island's beaches are accessible only by trail, others by helicopter, or solely by the sea, but most are available to all visitors.
One thing is certain, the Garden Island has the perfect beach for every type of beachgoer. Use our Kauai Beaches Guide to identify the best beaches for your trip.
Best Hikes on Kauai
Garden Island Hiking Trails Guide
The island is home to some of the best hiking trails in the entire state of Hawaii, if not the world. If you like to hike, the island will certainly not disappoint.
The island offers a huge variety of trails and hikes that vary from 3,000 ft. ridge and cliff trails to treks along the gorgeous NaPali coastline.
In our opinion, no other Hawaiian island can make an impression on hikers the way the Garden Island can. Utilize our Kauai Hiking Guide to determine which of the island's best trails are for you.
Kauai Visitor Information
Our Top Kauai Travel Tips
Kauai is the fourth most visited island, at 1.2 to 1.3 million visitors annually. The island is defined by its amazing verdant scenery and laid-back persona. The island, arguably we'll admit, also boasts more coastline filled with amazing beaches than any other island in the chain.
It is the fourth-largest landmass in the Hawaiian island chain, which consists of eight major islands and 124 islets. The archipelago is made up of numerous volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the northwest to the Big Island of Hawaii in the east, encompassing an area of 6,459 square miles. The eight major islands at the eastern end of the chain are, from west to east, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii.
Discover fun things to do, the oh-so-amazing NaPali Coast, and insider tips and advice to make your Kauai vacation simply spectacular.