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.
This island boasts heavily of indulgences to be enjoyed all year long. However, whether you are staying on this island for one day or an extended period, you will find places such as Wailua Falls, Tunnels Beach, Hanalei Bay, Kalalau Lookout, and many other Kauai attractions that are certain to be breathtaking and unforgettable.
How to use our Kauai itineraries for your trip
Kauai 'Pack-and-Go' Wayfinder Guides for daily excursions
Ultimately, we’ve designed our Kauai itineraries around a set number of on-island Kauai days: offering one, two, three, four, five, six, seven-day itineraries for exploring the island, soaking in the best sights, and ensuring your precious time on Kauai is used wisely. We’ve tried to balance our itineraries between those who seek adventure and those who are looking to find a good beach and relax. Overall, we want your experience to be exactly what you’ve dreamed of when planning your Kauai trip.
For each island, including Kauai, 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 west Kauai’s attractions, beaches, and activities. Our itineraries are not meant to necessarily be followed consecutively, 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. We always like to travel by making day-by-day plans, putting the most important attractions and activities (the must-see and do) upfront, and if the weather doesn’t cooperate one of those days we just switch that day with another. That way we always get to the important stuff first, and if we have to skip anything, it’s ideally the minor attractions only.
We’ve provided all Kauai directions via Google Maps when possible, as Google Maps works on all platforms and across all devices. You should be able to pop the directions into your phone or tablet and go. To help you visualize each day’s itinerary, we’ve also provided overview maps that help you get your bearings.
On-page resources for Kauai...
Why use our Hawaii Itineraries for your visit to Kauai?
For nearly 20 years now we’ve been visiting Kauai and making detailed notes about what Kauai's highlights are and what visitors like yourself simply must-see based on the limited time you’ve allocated for each Hawaiian Island.
It is difficult 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 Kauai 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.
Overview of Kauai - the ‘Garden Isle’
Kauai is the fourth largest landmass in the Hawaiian island chain that includes eight major islands and 124 islets. The archipelago consists 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 Hawai‘i 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, Kaua‘i, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawai‘i.
Our journey begins on the island of Kauai. Kauai is the oldest of all the main Hawaiian Islands, dating back some 5.1 million years. Kaua‘i lies approximately 105 miles across the Kauai Channel, northwest of Oahu. 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. 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. The wettest spot 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 valleys with many scenic waterfalls.
The city of Lihue, on the island’s southeast coast, is the seat of Kauai County and the largest city on the island. Waimea, on the island’s southwest side and once the capital of Kauai, was the first place visited by explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. Waimea Town is located at the mouth of the Waimea River, whose flow formed one of the most scenic canyons in the world, 3000 foot deep Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain once dubbed it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Kauai is also home to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility. It’s tucked away in the canyons near Waimea, and unless you go looking for it, you’ll never even know it is there.
Kaua‘i 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 a lot of folks honestly like it that way. Kauai 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. There is no way to drive from Waimea/Koke‘e to the starting point, and there likely never will be (you’ll have to turn around). The Alaka‘i Swamp has stumped the U.S. Corps of Engineers on more than one occasion. The army’s telephone poles from the last world war are all that remains of any attempt to navigate that part of the island. But don’t worry, you can still see many of the wonders of Kauai by doing a bit of hiking. In our daily itineraries, in the adventure section especially, we’ll take you on a few of our favorite trails.
Accommodations on Kauai & Where to Stay Summary
On Kauai, you’re probably staying in one of three geographic locations - on the north shore near Princeville, in one of the many hotels that line the Coconut Coast along the east shore, or down south in the Poipu resort area. If you haven’t yet decided where to stay on Kauai, we can help with that too, be sure to check out our Where to Stay on Kauai article for the best tips and suggestions on where to book your stay. Don’t worry if one of the three areas noted above isn’t you’re starting point, as there are a number of accommodations, b&bs, inns, etc scattered across the island. Regardless of where you’re staying, we’ll still help you plan accordingly.
Be sure to also read our Best time to Visit Kauai article for an in-depth look at which time of year is best to book for your travel party on Kauai.
Getting Around Kauai
On Kauai, a rental car is definitely the best option for getting around the island and viewing all the sights we detail in our itineraries. The rental rates in Hawaii are often some of the cheapest anywhere in the world because the competition is fierce.
There is no bus service on the island and taxi services are both expensive and illogical for sight-seeing purposes. Mopeds and bikes can be a practical alternative for day excursions along with the drier south shore, but are not as useful in other parts of the island, especially where steep inclines prevail such as on Waimea Canyon Drive in west Kauai.
Summary of what to pack on your Kauai trip
Regardless of how much you’ve traveled in the past and where you’ve been, there is one good rule to follow when coming to Hawaii, leave as much as you can at home. Seriously, bring only what you’ll need during your stay and nothing more. For starters, schlepping around three suitcases is NOT what you want to be doing after getting off a long plane ride. Next, consider that long pants, dress clothes, and anything else formal really have no use in Hawai‘i (unless you are staying in a very exclusive resort). Chances are a pair of shorts and an old Aloha shirt are all you’ll need for even some fine dining.
As far as clothing goes, that’s usually a few pairs of shorts, several T-shirts, sandals or flip-flops (slippahs as Hawaii residents call them), and a good visor or hat, anything made of a cotton blend is usually good. A light jacket might also be nice for those visits to higher elevations.
With the motto, “less is more” in mind, here are a few other items to bring. Sunblock (the UV on Hawai‘i is typically 10+ in the spring, summer, and fall), a backpack (for any hikes) and a water bottle, slippers (flip flops, shower shoes, zoris), mask, snorkel, and fins (or rent locally instead), two bathing suits (one to wear while the other dries) and a cover-up, your phone or a camera, lightweight raincoat or poncho (for mountain/rain forest hiking), bug spray with DEET (for any forest hikes), flashlight (if the sun goes down before your hike ends or for night walks on the beach), hiking boots and hiking rods, and most importantly a list of all your troubles to leave behind. For more information on what to pack, seeing our What to Pack When Visiting Hawaii article.