Kauai is one of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii and offers a wealth of sights & highlights and for us also the most authentic Hawaii feeling. Here you can really do a lot, whereby the focus is rather on nature & the landscape. So there are countless hiking trails that lead you through the spectacular nature of Kauai.
In our Kauai Travel Guide we will now tell you everything you need to know about Kauai, what the most beautiful highlights are, where the best beaches & hikes are and how long you should plan to stay on Kauai.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
Kauai Travel Guide – Things To Know
Kauai is most famous for its nature and incomparable landscape. There are pristine jungles, waterfalls, canyons, but of course also beautiful beaches. Those who know movies like Jurassic Park will immediately recognize the nature of Kauai. The nature of the island was used as a backdrop for many of the dinosaur movies.
Kauai is very pristine, only a little touristy and in our eyes totally Hawaiian!
Why to travel to Kauai?
Roughly speaking, all Hawaiian islands offer very similar things. Spectacular nature, great beaches and that special aloha feeling.
The special thing about Kauai, in our opinion, is the original rainforest atmosphere. Especially the wild Na Pali coast is emblematic for this, but also the many different hikes through untouched jungle do not exist like this on the other islands.
If you want untouched nature, an island that is not as crowded as Oahu, and challenging hikes through spectacular landscapes then you should consider Kauai in your Hawaii travel planning.
Traffic on Kauai
To exaggerate, Kauai consists of only one major main road that winds ever-so-close along the coast. This leads to the fact that this road is always quite well traveled and it can sometimes come to a standstill traffic.
However, this coastal road does not go completely around the island. Along the spectacular Na Pali Coast there is no road connection at all (and only one hiking trail) and this means that you can’t even drive around the island.
If your accommodation is in the north of the island (e.g. in Princeville) and you want to go to Waimea Canyon, which is only a few kilometers away as the crow flies, you still have to drive almost once around the island. This can take up to 2 hours and you should consider this when choosing your accommodation.
Overall, the traffic on Kauai is rather quiet and relaxed and not at all comparable to Oahu, for example, where there are even highways. Driving on Kauai is very relaxed and there is never any stress or hustle and bustle. Even the busy coastal road is easy to master. If you then drive inland, it will be much quieter and you will meet only a few other cars.
Public Bus Service on Kauai
There is even a public bus service on Kauai, which reaches almost every place on the island. There are 9 bus lines and 123 bus stops on Kauai. So if you don’t want to rent a car, you can easily travel around Kauai by bus.
You can read more about the bus lines on Kauai here: Public Buses on Kauai
Do I need a Rental Car on Kauai?
Despite the good bus connections described above, we would still recommend to book a rental car on Kauai, because with the bus you can travel cheap and environmentally friendly. But if you have only a few days on the island, then there are too many different destinations, which are then only cumbersome to reach in a short time by bus.
What kind of Rental Car do I need for Kauai?
If you are looking for a rental car for Kauai, then it can be useful to take an off-road capable car, e.g. a jeep. But on most roads it is no problem to drive a normal rental car. So we got along wonderfully with our convertible and had a wonderful time with the roof down on the rain-free days.
But there are also some roads on Kauai that are better or partly exclusively accessible by off-road vehicle (e.g. to Polihale State Park or Mt. Waialeale). But also in general it gives you a safe feeling to be on the road with four-wheel drive and high ground clearance.
How long should I stay on Kauai?
We found Kauai to be the perfect hiking island and there are an almost infinite number of different hikes here. So if you like hiking then it is worth spending a few more days here.
In general we would plan at least 5 days. If you have more time in Hawaii and want to do a lot of hiking we would recommend to spend at least 7 days on Kauai. It is also important to plan for one or two rainy days, because especially in winter it rains more than average on Kauai.
Staying on Kauai
There are many great accommodations on Kauai and like on the other Hawaiian islands the price level is very high. You will not find a “cheap” accommodation for less than 100 Euro per night (for a double room). The prices start rather at 180 € and there is hardly a limit upwards.
If you are looking for the perfect place for your accommodation, you should keep in mind that there is no road that leads once around the island. An accommodation in the north (near the Kalalau hike) will lead you to all destinations in the south or west (e.g. Waimea Canyon or Lihue airport) 1-2 hours away.
Therefore, we would recommend an accommodation near the capital Lihue. Here you need maximum one hour to each end of the island and are also not far away from wonderful beaches.
The Kauai Beach Resort is located in the capital Lihue near the airport directly on the beach. So you are not only quickly in the sea but also very quickly to all corners of the island. You get comfortably furnished double rooms and a super cool pool.
- perfectly conveniently located in Lihue
- super cool pool
- manageable, quiet hotel complex
- very good organic breakfast
Best Time to visit Kauai
Although Hawaii is generally a year-round destination, Kauai is best visited during the dry season from April to October. Temperatures are not much higher during this time than during the rainy season (November – March), but as the name suggests, it rains a lot more in the winter. On average, it rains 2-3 times more in winter than in summer.
Another disadvantage in winter is the much rougher sea, which makes snorkeling impossible in many areas. Thus, many organized snorkeling tours (such as on the Na Pali coast) only take place in the summer.
An advantage of the rainy season are the many whales that can be seen off Hawaii (and especially off Maui) during this time.
Kauai Travel Guide – The 6 Best Things To Do
Here is a list of our top highlights of Kauai.
#1 Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is probably the most famous and also most popular hiking trail on all of Kauai. It runs for 35 kilometers along the spectacular Na Pali Coast and offers you panoramas that are out of this world.
There is also a mini version of this hike that takes you to Hanakapi’ai Beach and after a few kilometers to the impressive Hanakapi’ai Waterfall. This hike is quite demanding, but can be done by everyone and especially in one day.
Most of the time you walk along the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast and have the over 1200 meter high mountains and the turquoise blue Pacific Ocean always in view.
In total you will need 5-6 hours for the way there and back and collect unforgettable impressions on the way.
Read more about the Kalalau Trail here:
Kalalau Trail on Kauai I All about the Na Pali Coast Hike
#2 Helicopter Flight over Kauai
For us, a helicopter flight is one of the most beautiful Kauai activities. There are hardly any places in the world where it would be more worthwhile to take a helicopter ride. And if you only want to or can do one flight in Hawaii, then it should take place on Kauai.
Because only here is so much spectacular nature, which either looks particularly beautiful from the air or which can be admired even exclusively by helicopter.
Many destinations in the interior of the island (parts of Waimea Canyon, Jurassic Falls etc.) can only be reached by helicopter. This makes such a tour super special. It’s not cheap, but it will definitely be an unforgettable experience.
Tours start at the airport in the capital city of Lihue and usually last 45-60 minutes and rattle off all the same destinations. An important tip is to plan such an excursion directly as the first of your Kauai stay. Because not only are these tours booked up quickly in good weather, but a round trip can also be cancelled quickly if the weather is too bad.
You can book a helicopter tour e.g. here: Helicopter sightseeing flight on Kauai*
#3 Na Pali Coast | The Nature Highlight of Kauai
The Napali Coast is a 27 kilometer long coastal strip on the north coast of Kauai and a very special place. The rugged rock formations with their over 1200 meter high cliffs were not only already the backdrop for many Hollywood movies, but are also the dream destination of almost all nature lovers.
The rock faces are partly loamy reddish-brown or poisonous green and are home to one or the other hidden waterfall. There is hardly a comparable coastline to be found anywhere in the world. The Napali Coast is truly unique.
And as nature would have it, it does not make it easy to explore. The Hawaiians have not been able to build a road around the Na Pali Coast. Therefore there are not many ways to visit the Na Pali Coast. The most popular is probably the Kalalau Trail hike, which takes you over almost 35 km and over 1000 meters of altitude along the coast.
The Kalalau Trail Hike and other ways to discover the Napali Coast are described here:
Nā Pali Coast I 4 Perfect Ways to Experience the Highlight of Kauai
#4 Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is one of the most jaw-dropping highlights of the island of Kauai, Hawaii, and boasts such incredibly beautiful scenery that this canyon is a must-see on any Kauai vacation. The canyon is over 22 kilometers long and up to 1000 meters deep and offers wonderful nature, waterfalls and challenging hiking trails.
The name Waimea means reddish earth in Hawaiian and stands for the red earth colored by iron oxide, which characterizes the landscape everywhere here. In the nearby village of Waimea you can also buy so-called dirt shirts, which were actually dyed with the red earth from the canyon.
The Waimea Canyon is not only characterized by the reddish-brown earth and the green overgrown hills but also by several waterfalls. The famous waterfall from the first Jurassic Park can also be found here and is the destination of numerous helicopter tours* on Kauai.
You can also explore the Waimea Gorge by car and discover the numerous hikes and viewpoints. A great Kauai sight you should not miss.
Learn more about Waimea Canyon here: Waimea Canyon | All info for your visit
#5 Poipu Beach | Where the Turtles chill out
The special thing about Poipu Beach are the turtles you will almost certainly see here. Almost every day you can find the giant meres here. On the internet you can read that a visit at sunset is worthwhile. But also during the day the chances are very good to meet several sea turtles.
In the afternoon the light is better, because the sun is not above the sea, but behind you. This is very advantageous for taking pictures.
You are not allowed to approach the animals closer than 3 meters, and volunteers on the beach make sure that this is observed. They set up barriers and make sure that no one approaches the turtles unknowingly (or intentionally).
Sometimes there are monk seals instead of turtles. So you see, the visit of this beach is worthwhile in any case.
You can find the beach here at Google Maps.
#6 Kalalau Lookout Trail
Right next to the official Kalalau Lookout starts an unofficial (but not forbidden) hiking trail, which leads you along the cliffs almost to the Na Pali coast. This hike really impressed us extremely, because on the one hand the trail is very challenging and on the other hand you have almost continuously spectacular views of the coast, the Pacific Ocean and the mountains.
Often you walk so close to the loamy quarry edge that you should be quite free of giddiness. But it is not really dangerous, although nothing is blocked or secured here. You don’t have to walk all the way to the end to get wonderful views of the sea. If you have no more time or desire, then simply turn back.
You can find the start of the hike here on Google Maps.
The Best Beaches on Kauai
Kauai has very nice beaches to offer, even if we found them not quite as dreamlike as the ones on Maui. In the following we have described the most beautiful beaches of Kauai in our opinion.
Polihale State Park | The lonely Dream Beach
You can only get to this lonely beach in the extreme west of the island of Kauai with a real off-road vehicle. The last 5 km before the beach are a pure mogul road with huge potholes and a lot of mud and dirt. With a normal rental car you will not get through here. We tried, but gave up after 200 meters.
The beach is so dreamlike because you will be almost alone here. But of course also because you can see here the foothills of the Na Pali Coast and here simply a dreamlike panorama offers itself to you.
You can find the beach here on Google Maps.
Hanakāpī’Ai Beach | The Na Pali Coast Beach
This beach is so special that you can discover it as a reward for the strenuous Kalalau hike. It is about 3 km along the coast to this beach with the spectacular mountain scenery in the back. Swimming here is only recommended in summer, because in winter the current and the swell of the Pacific are simply too strong.
Nevertheless, even in winter it is worth taking a short break here to just breathe deeply before continuing towards the Hanakāpī’Ai waterfall.
Ke’e Beach | Beach at the beginning of the Kalalau Hike
This beach at the start of the Kalalau hike is small and unassuming, but still worth a visit. Especially when you come back from the sweaty hike it makes sense to spend the afternoon here. The sun is then over the sea and you can really relax here and even snorkeling is possible here.
The swell is very low because of an offshore reef, where you can also discover many fish.
You don’t have to do the hike to get to this beach, but you do have to buy a ticket for Haena State Park. How to do that you can read here.
You can find the beach here on Google Maps.
Hanalei Beach | Beach in Impressive Scenery
Not far from the authentic town of Hanelei with its stylish souvenir stores and many restaurants is Hanalei Beach. This beach offers large parking spaces and is very wide and long.
However, since there is no offshore reef, the waves here are often very high. This in turn is ideal for surfing. Near the parking lots there are also toilets and even showers. In the background are high mountains and the foothills of Waimea Canyon, which makes for a really wonderful panorama.
You can find the beach here at Google Maps.
Anini Beach | Beach without Waves
There is never much going on here, because Anini Beach is quite remote. Snorkeling is possible here and the beach is also suitable for families with children, because there is also an offshore reef. Thus, there is hardly any swell here.
You can find the beach here at Google Maps.
Lydgate Beach Park | The Beach Hut Beach
Lydgate Beach is located in the east of the island near the small village of Wailua. The beach is not far from the main road, but still hidden so that you don’t hear the road noise.
The special thing about this beach is the amount of flotsam and jetsam that is lying around. An infinite number of branches and tree trunks lie on the beach and limit the available sunbathing area already something.
But we do not find this disturbing, but on the contrary, this has contributed to the special atmosphere of the beach. Also, many small huts were built here from the washed up wood, in which you can retreat when the sun is too strong.
The swell can be a bit higher here, so the beach is not necessarily perfect for small children.
You can find the beach here on Google Maps.
Hiking on Kauai
Kauai is the hiking island of Hawaii and therefore reminded us a lot of Madeira. If you like hiking then you will definitely find the right hike here. From easy and rather short hikes to multi-day trails, everything can be found here.
The special thing here are the hikes through pristine rainforest, but also the trails on the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. If you want you can do two different wonderful hikes every day for 7 days.
The most beautiful hikes on Kauai can be found here:
The 6 most beautiful hikes on Kauai I Hawaii
7 days Itinerary for Kauai
We recommend you to plan 5-7 days for your Kauai vacation. You can certainly see the most beautiful highlights in 4 days, if you have only little time. More is always possible. But it always depends on the weather (-> plan for rainy days) and your total travel time. See our itinerary simply as an orientation guide.
In our itinerary we work our way from the north to the south of the island. Since Kauai is not very big, you can of course mix up the days.
Day 1 | Kalalau Trail
Take the most popular hike on Kauai for today. You will hike the short version of the Kalalau Trail, which leads you over 12 km along the beautiful Na Pali Coast and to a waterfall over 100 meters high.
This hike should take about 6 hours. So with departure and return you will be busy the whole day. After the hike, rest at Hanakāpī’Ai Beach before heading back to the hotel.
Read more about the hike here: Kalalau Trail on Kauai I All about the Na Pali Coast Hike 2023
Day 2 | Beach Day
Take a rest from yesterday’s hike and relax on one of Kauai’s beautiful beaches. Check out our overview of Kauai’s most beautiful beaches above to find the one that suits you best.
Day 3 | Hiking
Today is another hiking day and there are really countless hiking possibilities on Kauai
However, we would recommend these two hikes, which are also not far from each other and can therefore easily be completed in one day:
Kuilau Ridge Trail
This trail is one of the many ridge hikes on Kauai. This means here you hike partly on a narrow ridge and have a wonderful view of the surrounding forests and in good weather even up to Waimea Canyon.
Starting point here at Google Maps.
Ho’opi’i Falls Trail
On this hike you will walk through a dense rainforest with huge trees and climbing plants. On the way you follow a raging stream to a big waterfall. There you can also swim in the crystal clear water. The hike itself is completely flat and can be done by less fit people.
Starting point here on Google Maps.
You can do both hikes in one day, because both are not very strenuous and are close to each other. More information about the hikes can be found here: The 6 most beautiful hikes on Kauai
Day 4 | Helicopter Flight
Today we will take a helicopter ride over the island. You will see the coolest highlights of Kauai that you can’t reach on foot or by car. Plan such a flight as early as possible, so you won’t be surprised by bad weather.
You can book helicopter flights here: Helicopter tours on Kauai*
Day 5 | Waimea Canyon
Drive to Waimea Canyon today, marvel at the beauty of the landscape and do some of the wonderful hikes. You can easily spend the whole day here, so leave early in the morning. But watch out for the weather, often the mountains are cloudy and you won’t see anything.
Read more about Waimea Canyon here: Waimea Canyon | All info for your visit
Day 6 | Buffer day/Rain day
During your Kauai vacation you should definitely plan for a rainy day, because especially in winter it rains a lot here. If you are lucky enough not to be thwarted by rain, storms or bad weather in general, then choose another Kauai attraction from our list for today.
Day 7 | Beach Day
Finally, enjoy the real aloha feeling at the beach. If you haven’t visited the turtles at Poipu Beach yet, do so today. Otherwise, relax on one of Kauai’s many beaches.