Explore the Garden Isle in a Day
Kauai 1-Day Itinerary Suggestions
As soon as you step foot on this lush and verdant island, you'll know exactly why we call Kauai the Garden Isle. And the great thing about Kauai is that it’s ideal for nature-lovers and beach bums alike because the island has everything from rainforests to golden sand beaches to ziplining, and on the same day, you can snorkel in the ocean, kayak down a river, go on an unforgettable sightseeing trip, hike through a national park, and relax in the evening while enjoying some traditional Hawaiian fare.
If you're planning to do Kauai in a day, today we’ll tell you about some incredible must-see sights, including state parks, beaches, and waterfalls, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
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 (this page), 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 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, hiking trails, beaches, 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. 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 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.
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Must See Kauai Sights & Attractions
Waimea Canyon & Kokee State Park
Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and as soon as you set eyes on this incredible natural wonder, you'll know exactly why. The canyon is 3,000 feet deep and goes on for nearly 10 miles, and it’s flanked on either side by steep tree-covered cliffs that have great hiking trails, giving you unparalleled views of the magnificent gorge and surrounding area. Kokee State Park is a neighboring site that you can’t miss if you're already visiting the canyon because the incredible hikes and amazing vistas alone are worth the trip. Here are some trail and lookout highlights you might want to check out while you're there:
Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park are on the island’s northwest side, and the way to get there is to take Highway 550 (Waimea Canyon Drive) north to the park from Waimea.
Wailua Falls is located on the east side of Kauai, 5 miles north of Lihue on Highway 583. This is one of our favorite waterfalls on the island, largely because it’s a double waterfall that’s created when the Wailua River plunges over the side of a cliff and down into the pool below. There's a great view of the waterfall from the safety of an overlook, because the trails leading down to the pool are steep, muddy, and slippery, and hiking the trails isn't recommended by the county.
Another one of our favorite spots on the island is Opaekaa Falls, which stretches 40 feet across and cascades down the cliff more than 150 feet before disappearing into the pool below. There's a scenic lookout where you can get a great view of the falls, and there are also picnic tables and restrooms if you want to make an afternoon trip of it. The waterfall is just north of Lihue on the eastern side of the island and can be accessed by taking Highway 56 to Route 580 (Kuamoo Road).
Must See Kauai Beaches
Although the old shipwreck for which this beach was named is long gone, the spot is still a popular one thanks to its sunny vista, the cliffs flanking the beach, and the nearby hikes. The area is also great for advanced surfers, windsurfers, and boogie boarders, but the strong current means only strong swimmers should dip into the waters here. The beach, which is also called Keoneloa Beach, is at the eastern tip of the island on the eastern side of Poipu, right in front of the Grand Hyatt Kauai.
On the other side of the island (the northern tip) from Shipwreck Beach is another of Kauai’s unforgetting and breathtaking beaches. The crystal clear waters and mountainous backdrop make Tunnels Beach a favorite spot for many who visit, and the beach is also ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling, and all types of surfing. To get here, follow Highway 560 west from Hanalei until you get to the Tunnels Beach parking area.
Must Do Kauai Hike
Hanakapiai Falls Trail
The Hanakapiai Falls Trail in Hono'Onapali Natural Reserve Area is a strenuous but highly rewarding hike, and when you see the stunning 300-foot waterfall, you'll know it was all worth it. The Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach is 2 miles, and the hike up to the falls is another 2 miles, making the hike an 8-mile round trip. It takes approximately five hours, so it’s better for visitors who are physically fit and can manage a long hike with a lot of elevation gain. To get to Hanakapiai Falls Trail, continue following Highway 560 past Tunnels Beach until the road ends, which is where Kalalau Trail begins.
Check Out the Na Pali Coast as well...
If you only have a single day to visit this beautiful island, this Kauai 1-day itinerary will help you see some of the best of what the Garden Isle has to offer. Whether you're here to sightsee, enjoy the beaches, indulge in the food, or stay active with swimming, hiking, surfing, and other outdoor activities, Kauai has something for everyone, and you'll remember a single day on the island for the rest of your life.