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From the dramatic Na Pali coastline on the North Shore to the sparkling beaches on the South Shore, there are so many things to do on Kauai. It’s one of my favorite Hawaiian islands!
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Garden Isle is a wonderland with breathtaking ocean views, secret waterfalls and scenes straight out of a movie set (literally). It’s one of the best ways to visit Hawaii.
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I thoroughly explored Kauai. It is particularly beautiful as a sunny winter destination in the US. Some of my favorite Garden Isle activities are listed below.
Whether you’re looking for unforgettable hikes, places to snorkel, or how to see the best of Hawaii’s most lush island, you’ll fall in love with paradise.
If there’s one thing you absolutely must get excited about in Kauai, it’s a boat tour. It’s hard to convey the sheer beauty and dreamy tropical nature of Kauai’s Napali Coast on the North Shore. It’s one of Hawaii’s most impressive landmarks and one of the most popular excursions on Kauai for tourists!
Steep green peaks disappear into the clouds here… often accompanied by rainbows. It’s incredibly beautiful. Your tropical imagination will come to life.
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There are really only two ways to fully appreciate the sheer magnitude of the majestic nature here. It’s not nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World” for nothing.
Explore by helicopter (see #14 below) or by boat, keeping an eye out for secluded beaches, sea caves and spinner dolphins along the way.
Whatever you do during your days on Kauai, plan at least half a day to hike the incredible Kalalau Trail. If you’re looking for budget-friendly things to do on Kauai, you’ll be pleased to know that this one’s free!
It’s 11 miles (the first hour is mostly uphill, uphill, uphill) along a muddy, rocky trail on the Na Pali Coast on the wild north coast.
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It’s true that it’s on the steep side. In fact, serious backpackers and adventurers get permission months in advance to hike the whole thing, camp overnight on a faraway beach, and then head back.
But don’t let that put you off! Even if you only hike the first half mile, you’ll be oohs and ahhs the whole way as you marvel at panoramic views of the turquoise sea through a sea of bright red hibiscus flowers and greenery. Don’t miss out on this experience!
Seriously, you’ll notice plenty of jealous hikers around when you have these…especially because they’ll be totally easy on your knees on the way back down.
Walking sticks aren’t just for old people (although my daughter thinks so). You can get hiking poles here on Amazon.
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Note: The state of Hawaii now requires that you reserve a ticket for a day pass with parking or shuttle into Ha’ena State Park here…even if you only want to hike the first half mile.
1. Discover Cars has no hidden fees, 24/7 customer service and free cancellation. They search all major rental car companies so you don’t have to.
2. Turo is like Airbnb for cars. It saved us $$ on our rental cars in Hawaii during the pandemic when rental car prices were sky high.
There’s no better way to fully appreciate the beauty of the Garden Isle than soaring over the dramatic green spiers of the Na Pali Coast, the waterfalls of Waiapuna and the majestic Waimea Canyon.
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Kauai is definitely the place to see by helicopter. Be sure to choose a company that has a proven commitment to security.
Blue Hawaiian has received the FAA’s Certificate of Excellence or Diamond Award, so you can enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience with confidence.
In addition, their Eurocopter Eco-Star helicopter reduces aircraft noise by 50 percent. You can also communicate with the pilot by radio.
On this tour, you’ll explore the stunning Manawaiopuna Falls (known as Jurrasic Falls), fly over views of Olokele Canyon and, weather permitting, fly over Mount Wa’ale’ale, the second wettest place on earth.
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“Chelsea was an amazing pilot and her portrayal of what we saw was perfection.” —Debra A, August 2021
The right thing after all the hardships on the Kalalau Trail? Visit the beach near Tunnels, also known as Makuna Beach.
In fact, here you park on the beach to access the trail (or take the shuttle) so it couldn’t be easier to swap your hiking gear for some snorkeling gear and a beach towel when you’re done.
We had some of the best snorkeling of our trip here. It’s a great beach for diving, swimming and even kite surfing.
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The sand is golden and divers love the dramatic underwater topography here. Some say it’s the best shore dive on the island.
Go at low tide and in the morning for the best views of tropical fish and hopefully plenty of sea turtles.
However, there are a few things you should know: In August 2022, the state of Hawaii announced that snorkeling in the large inner reef known as Makua Lagoon was now banned to protect fish farming there. (This is where the large coral formations are located.)
However, there is still a snorkeling area close to the beach where you can see fish in the rocky reef on the shore.
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If you are staying a week or more, you should base part of the time (except in winter when it rains) in Princeville on the North Shore and the rest in Poipu on the South Shore. I recommend:
1. The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas – This North Shore beach paradise offers a full kitchen, on-site restaurant and ocean views galore.
2. Hideaway Cove Poipu Beach—The sugar-white sands of Poipu Beach are just steps away when you stay here.
Update October 2022: Due to more drownings here, the route to Queen’s Bath remains closed. It’s illegal to ignore the signage, so be safe and skip this attraction if the gate is locked when you visit.
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Not far from Princeville on Kauai’s north shore is Queen’s Bath, a natural pool perched on a shelf of hardened lava.
To get to that price point, expect a hike down a muddy cliff and then across the lava shelf.
I would highly recommend Keens to both men and women in Hawaii. It’s one of my top items on my Kauai packing list.
They’re comfortable with a great sole for walking in mud and protect your feet from sharp coral in the water (so no need to pack water shoes). You can purchase a pair on Amazon here.
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As you set foot on the road to Queen’s Bath, you may notice the dire warnings on a signpost against drowning here. Notice them!
In fact, in winter, when the waves can be huge here on the north coast, the trail can be closed to visitors because it’s unsafe. For your own protection, be sure to follow the rules.
Hanalei Bay, also on Kauai’s north shore, is the largest bay on the island. And the little wooden walkway is a great backdrop for a sunset photo.
The small town of Hanalei is also a great place for a meal here. Then head over to the bay to watch the paddle boarders and sailboats go by.
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It’s also the perfect spot for a kayak and snorkel tour. This family-friendly tour paddles the Hanalei River before entering the bay to look for Hawaiian green sea turtles.
Beginning in April 2021, the state of Hawaii will require everyone entering the country to purchase both parking fees and individual entry fees ($5 per person) at parking machines. But it’s worth it!
Waimea Canyon isn’t actually that far from the Kalalau Trail on the north shore, but since there’s no access from that end of the island, you’ll have to drive counter-clockwise all the way to Poipu on the south shore.
So if you’re spending time on Poipu, Waimea Canyon makes a great day trip. You can do it as a day trip from the North Shore, but allow a two-hour drive each way.
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Or, if you’d rather leave the driving to a local, book a private full-day tour. You’ll enjoy scenic stops at Kalalau Lookout, Poipu Beach Resort, and more.
At the very least—whether you book with a tour or go it alone—check out the view from the Kalepa Ridge Trailhead.
It offers breathtaking views over the lush cliffs to the Pacific Ocean. And don’t forget to enjoy the incredible canyon views from Waimea Canyon Lookout at mile marker 10.
If you have more time, check out the 18 Hiking Trails in Koke’e State Park. Or – even better – how about a fast downhill bike tour?
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This easy downhill route with a guide gives you views of Waipo’o Falls, the canyon, and expansive views of three state parks.
What could be better than a bird’s eye view of the Kauai jungle? Hop on Kauai’s longest zipline—it’s an 8-lane course—near Koloa on the South Shore.
Hold onto the handlebars, cruise hands-free – or even headfirst – across lush forests and the Waita Reservoir. It’s all up to you!
: “Amazing experience and guides were great!! Highly recommend for anyone looking for an adventure
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