Spend a Magical Vacation in Kauaʻi, Hawaii

Sandy beaches with coconut trees, clear turquoise water, rewarding hikes, an endless scenic drive, deep green mountains, great places to snorkel, and fresh fruits. These are only some of the reasons to choose this island for your next vacation destination.

After one week full of expiriences we spent in Hawaii last summer, we This article will provide you with itinerary ideas and tips on how to spend a magical vacation in Kauaʻi, Hawaii.

Some interesting anecdotes about Kauaʻi:

  • It is the fourth-largest island in Hawaii.
  • Its nickname is Garden Island.
  • The first Polynesian inhabitants settled there between 200 A.D. to 600 A.D.
  • Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot on the island in 1778.
  • It became part of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810.
  • It is the home and habitat for thousands of feral chickens (Moa in Hawaiian) wandering freely around.
  • It has been featured in more than seventy Hollywood movies and television shows.
  • The first woman elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature was Rosalie Keliʻinoi, in 1925, representing Kauaʻi.
  • The first Japanese-American to be elected mayor in the US was Joann Yukimura, who was also the first female mayor of Kauaʻi (1988-1994).

Check out some general tips for planning your best vacation:

  • Getting there: Lihue Airport, AKA LIH, in Lihue, the second largest town on the island.
  • The island is relatively small, but no road encircles it, so make sure to plan a good home base, preferably in the middle, or divide your stay between the north and the south, depending on how long you like to drive each day and if you are a traveler who prefers to explore places in greater depth. We arrived in the south first, drove through the center up north, then to the island’s west side, which has a large forest and hiking parts.
  • Plan ahead and note that advance entry reservations are needed for Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park home to the Kalalau Trail, and Hāʻena State Park home to Ke’e Beach.

Places we visited in South Kauaʻi

Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park

This park is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the name Waimea is Hawaiian for reddish water.
Koke’e State Park begins where Waimea Canyon State Park ends. Both parks offer scenic drives, lookout points that show different angles of the canyon, and many trails for different levels.

Be aware that there are limited accommodation options and only one place to purchase food and beverages. You can stock up in Waimea before starting the drive into the park.

You have to pay a one-time fee at the kiosk in the parking lots. It is $10 per vehicle and an additional $5 per person for the day.

We recommend starting your day at the park early and driving to the end of the road to Pu’u O Kila Lookout since the views from the highest lookout points get obscured by clouds by late morning.

The Pu’u O Kila Lookout is the starting point to the lovely and not-so-difficult Pihea Vista Trail. The hike is in a tropical forest with views of the mountains, the valley, and the ocean. The trail can be muddy and slippery in some parts, so prepare accordingly.

Back to the parks’ main road, the next stop is at the Kokee Lodge Cafe & Bar and Kokee Natural History Museum.

Enjoy watching the wild chickens roam freely at this elevation.

On your way back to the road from Koke’e State Park to Waimea Canyon State Park, do not miss these lookouts:

  • Waipo’o Falls Lookout
  • Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout
  • Red Dirt Waterfall and Viewpoint of Ni‘ihau Island

There is no designated parking space for this stop, so park safely by the side of the road.
Stand near the waterfall, admire the water flow in the red dirt, and notice the island you see from afar; it is called Ni’ihau and The Forbidden Island, privately owned by the Robinson family. In 1864, Elizabeth McHutchison Sinclair purchased it from King Kamehameha for $10,000. The family preserves the environment and Hawaiian traditions. The island can only be visited by invitation.

Further information can be found on the official websites: Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park.

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

A 2-mile one-way trail that follows the coastline on Kauaʻi’s south shore offers spectacular views of dunes and sandstone pinnacles among the crashing waves.

Near the golf course, there are sometimes sea turtles in the water and monk seals lying on the shore.

The hike is mostly flat and easy, but there is hardly any shade, so make sure to bring sun protection and water.

See the Nā Pali Coastline with a Boat Tour

The Nā Pali coastline stretches from Ke`e Beach in Haena State Park to Polihale State Park on the west-north side of the island. A boat tour is a perfect option to see the breathtaking views of the cliffs, take a closer look at some caves, and meet dolphins and other sea animals.

Boat tours leave from Kekaha in the south and Hanalei in the north. The views are slightly different but still spectacular.
Some tour operators offer a snorkeling break, which we highly recommend since it is an opportunity to explore the underwater world and take a closer look at the corals, fish, and sea turtles.

Center Kauaʻi

The Tree Tunnel

On the way to your next destination, enjoy a drive through a nature-made tree tunnel. The lively greenery, the vibrant blue sky, and the flickering rays of sunlight make this drive special.

Wailua Falls

The marvelous 173-foot Wailua Falls are visible from the parking lot. If you like to take a closer look and feel the water, a steep trail down the hill will lead you to the bottom of the falls, where you can dip your toes, swim, or enjoy the view.

Wailua River Kayaking and Hike to not-so-secret Waterfalls

A 2-mile kayaking journey on the broad and sacred Wailua River brings you to the beginning of a 1-mile trail in a tropical forest that ends in a breathtaking waterfall, where you can swim and cool down from the physical effort.

Keep in mind that unless you have a way to bring or rent your kayak, the only way to get there is via organized guided tours. They advertise it as a secret waterfall, and although there is a limited number of groups, the waterfall area might get crowded during peak hours.

North Kauaʻi

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

It is one of the recommended stops when exploring the north shore of Kauaʻi.
The refuge offers views of nesting seabirds, humpback whales (November-April), dolphins, monk seals, green sea turtles, and native Hawaiian coastal plants.
Access into the refuge with a closer look at the lighthouse requires an advanced reservation (open Wednesday-Saturday).
Do not skip this destination when the refuge is closed. The view from the parking area before the gate is spectacular and worth the stop.

More information can be found on the official website.

Queen’s Bath

This trail is worth the visit, even if you do not intend to swim. The view and the colors of the lava rock formation with the blue waters are spectacular. You might be able to see the sea turtles swimming in the ocean and many fish at the tide pools.

The hike down the hill takes 5-10 minutes till you arrive at the ocean level.
To reach the famous Queen’s Bath tide pools, make a left and walk for another 5-10 minutes toward the enclosed tide pools.

If the free parking lot near the trail’s entrance is full, you may park at the golf course for $20.
Warnings – the trail can be very slippery, so wear the right shoes.
Be careful at high tide near the pools since the waves can be very tall.

Hanalei Bay Lookout and Hanalei Valley Lookout

These two lookouts reside along the road between Princeville shopping center and the town of Hanalei.
Prepare yourself for breathtaking panoramic views of the valley and the bay.
These are great sunset spots, and several people were able to spot rainbows during the morning.

Hanalei Town and Beach

There are many reasons why Hanalei Beach gets constantly ranked among the top five beaches of Kauaʻi. The white sand, clear and calm water, wide beach, bathrooms, rinse-off showers, magnificent views, and a great sunset spot.

The nearby town, Hanalei, has a large variety of delicious restaurants, food trucks, local shops, galleries, and chill vibes.

Tunnels Beach

A secluded beach with clear turquoise-blue water and breathtaking views of the mountains in the background.
It is also a great spot to snorkel in the coral reef and spot colorful fish and green Hawaiian sea turtles.

There is plenty of shade, beach showers, and bathrooms.
Parking is limited, so make sure to arrive early.

The Maniniholo Dry Cave is located directly in front of the parking lot, so be sure not to miss it.

Haena State Park and Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park

Haena State Park is home to the Hanakāpīʻai Falls trail, Ke’e Beach, and continues with the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park, the home of the famous 11-mile Kalalau Trail.

Due to the park’s popularity, there is a daily visitor limit for non-Hawaiians who can make a reservation 30 days in advance.

A 1-mile walk leads to Ke’e Beach, the last beach on the north shore, offering a quiet sandy beach with a reef lagoon and magnificent views.

To make a reservationת click here, or check the official website.

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