A few years ago, I spent two action-packed weeks exploring the best things to do in Kauai. I had a blast taking in the beautiful landscapes, hiking the lush trails, and sunbathing on the white sand beaches. Kauai really is a paradise. Whether you want to snorkel with turtles, hike to a waterfall, or see the island from a doors-open helicopter, there is no shortage of bucket list adventures to check off during your trip.
In this blog post, I share a list of my favorite adventure activities and things to do in Kauai.
Whether you’re catching the aloha spirit or a wave, here’s your guide to the best things to do in Kauai.
A note before you go: In addition to actively practicing Leave No Trace ethics, it is equally as important to be a respectful tourist. Kauai is a small island that’s exploding with tourism, so be thoughtful and conscientious while you’re there. Avoid blocking people’s driveways at crowded trailheads, follow any warning signs while on the trails and in general, just be aware of your impact.
Best Things to do in Kauai – Mapped!
Best Outoor Adventures in Kauai – North Shore
1. Hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls
One of the more adventurous things to do in Kauai is a hike to the picturesque Hanakapki’ai Falls. You can do this as an 8-mile day hike or as part of a multi-day backpacking trip along the Nā Pali Coast on the Kalalau Trail. Both day hikes and overnight camping trips require a permit, which you can apply for 30 days in advance. For more information on permits, visit the Division of State Parks website.
The first two miles follow the coast with amazing views. After reaching Hanakapi’ai Creek, you’ll turn up the valley for 2 more miles of unmaintained river crossings, boulder hopping, and route finding until you reach a 500-foot waterfall with a chilly pool at the base. Like many of the other hikes listed in this guide, you’ll want a good pair of hiking shoes.
The hike to Hanakapi’ai is strenuous and only recommended for experienced hikers. Flash flooding is common in this area, so do not attempt this hike if rain is in the forecast!
2. Chill at Hideaways Beach
If you’re like me, avoiding the crowds and scouting out secret spots remain at the top of the best things to do in Kauai. Hideaways Beach is a small but gorgeous stretch of white sand just around the bluff from the St. Regis Hotel in Princeville. Parking is limited, so get there early.
3. Spend a day in Hanalei
A crescent-shaped coastline marks the watery limits of Kauai’s Hanalei, a cute and low-key beach town that’s worth a visit. Here, you can take a break from hiking and swimming to explore the town’s shops, galleries and dive headfirst into all the great places to eat.
4. Take a dip in the Queen’s Bath
This natural tide pool on Kauai’s North Shore is a worthy half-day excursion that can be combined with a visit to Hanalei. Visitors can hike for less than a mile out to the point where igneous rock has formed a clear blue pool that is perfect for jumping in.
While this is an extremely scenic spot, it can also be very dangerous if you don’t follow the signs and warnings. Only take a dip when the seas are calm and the tide is out. Do not enter if the gates are closed. Harrowing rescues at the Queen’s Bath have put the lives of locals in serious danger, so be respectful of the land and the people when visiting.
Best Outdoor Adventures in Kauai – South Shore
5. Hike the Mahaulepu Beach Trail
The Mahaulepu Beach Trail was one of my favorite hikes on the island that we did and is one of the best things to do in Kauai. The hike starts at Shipwreck Beach just a mile north from the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. This 2 mile-long, out and back hike starts with a quick climb up to the top of the cliffs where you’ll get great views of the South Shore. Depending on what you’d like to do, you can stop and turn around wherever you like, but the farther you go, the prettier and more secluded it gets.
About halfway through, you’ll intersect a golf course at the 15th hole. Just continue to hug the cliff on the edge of the golf course and you’ll drop back down onto the trail. Eventually, the trail descends down onto a beautiful, soft white sand beach that is frequented by endangered monk seals.
If there are any seals on the beach, give them their space for their protection and your safety.
6. Go Snorkeling at Poipu Beach Park
Snorkeling is a must-do in Kauai. At Poipu Beach Park, there is the opportunity to see turtles, live corals, parrotfish, and more marine life. Poipu Beach is divided into two parts: a swimming beach and a protected snorkeling area which is directly in front of the Marriot Waiohai Beach Club. Rent flippers, a mask, and a snorkel for the day then hang out at the beach when you’re done.
While you’re exploring the aquatic paradise make sure to avoid touching the corals or accidentally kicking coral with your fins. Don’t touch anything or approach wildlife and leave it exactly as you found it. As always, follow the Leave No Trace principles both on land and underwater.
We also suggest sticking to reef-safe sunscreen, as many sunscreens contain chemicals that can harm marine life. One of our favorite reef-safe sunscreen brands is ThinkSport Sunscreen or check out Hawaiian-made Kokua Sunscreen.
7. Take Surf Lessons with Kauai Surf School
All wannabe surfers or those looking to learn a thing or two can take a lesson at Kauai Surf School in Poipu Beach. The instructors are friendly, helpful, and patient so don’t hesitate to try it if you’ve never surfed before. Plus, it’s open to people of all ages so you can book a lesson if you’re with the whole family.
As a bonus, the beach isn’t super crowded so you won’t have to feel like you have an audience.
8. Visit Kauai Coffee
Visiting Kauai Coffee farm only takes an hour and is a great rainy day activity on Kauai. The farm has a self-guided walking tour where you can learn about the process of growing, roasting, and brewing coffee. After you’re done, grab a free sample or purchase a bag of beans to take home.
Best Outdoor Adventures – East Kauai
9. Hike the Sleeping Giant trail
Take in the scenic views of Kauai’s eastern coast from the top of the popular Sleeping Giant trail. Sleeping Giant is named because of the way it looks like the silhouette of a sleeping person from anywhere on the island.
This 3.4 mile (round-trip) out and back hike has a rapid elevation gain of 1,000 feet and you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views from the top.
10. Take a Doors-off Helicopter Tour with Jack Harter
The doors-off helicopter tour with Jack Harter was one of the best things we did in Kauai. Apart from being thrilling, the doors-off option allows you to get the best photos from up high with no glare from the windows. It’s also a great way to avoid crowds and get a new perspective on the island.
11. Kayak Wailua River to Wailua Falls
Kayaking to Wailua Falls is well worth adding to your Kauai itinerary. You can kayak or paddleboard 2 miles up the Wailua River that eventually brings you to a trailhead. Here, you’ll embark on a 30 minute, moderate but muddy hike up to Wailua Falls.
Bring your bathing suit, bug repellent, a few layers, and your camera to capture this beautiful spot. You can rent kayaks from Kayak Kauai.
12. Hike to Ho’opi’i Falls
At 2 miles, this out and back hike to Ho’opi’i features a few small waterfalls and is a very peaceful area to explore. The often-muddy trail runs alongside a river and through a forested area before spitting you out at Ho’opi’i Falls.
Bring a towel and a change of clothes if you think you might want to go swimming. Parking is limited, so make sure you don’t block people’s driveways. As you hike, please stick to the blazed trail as the other land is private property.
Best Outdoor Adventures – West Kauai
13. Explore the hiking trails in Koke’e State Park
Koke’e State Park is home to the more famous hikes on Kauai, namely the Awa’awapuhi Trail. We hiked the Alaka’i Swamp Trail but sadly didn’t get the views due to incoming fog. We also missed out on the Awa’awapuhi Trail due to recent flooding which resulted in muddy and dangerously slippery trails.
However, with better weather luck, these trails give you the best that this old island has to offer with iconic coastal cliffs that plunge down into the Nā Pali Coast.
Plan for at least 1-2 full days in Koke’e for hiking and visiting the overlooks. You can check current trail conditions and information about the park on their website.
14. Take a Zodiac Tour of Na Pali Coast with Captain Andy
Take a tour of the Na Pali Coast with Captain Andy’s Raft Day Expedition. The zodiac boats allow you to go deep into some of the sea caves and if you are lucky like we were, see Hawaii’s famous dolphins from the water level. I will say it can be a rough ride depending on the swell, but it is a fun and exciting thing to do in Kauai and gives you a different perspective of the Nā Pali coastline.
If you’d rather have a smoother trip on the water, consider one of Captain Andy’s sailing trips instead.
15. Explore Waimea Canyon State Park
One of the best things to do in Kauai is visit the beautiful Waimea Canyon State Park. I highly recommend taking the time to hike either the Iliau Nature Loop or the Kukui Trail for incredible views of the canyon contrasted with the lush Hawaiian landscape.
There is a $5 per person entrance fee and an additional fee if you want to park your car and explore the scenic hikes in and around the colorful gorges
Kauai Trip Planning Resources
- This book by Andrew Doughty is THE Kauai travel planning bible! I highly recommend you purchase it for your trip and download their app to your phone. It’s the only Kauai guidebook you’ll need.
- For packing recommendations, check out our Beach Essentials Packing List
- If you’re thinking about renting a camper van, be sure to read our van rental experience here
What are your tips for the best things to do in Kauai? What else would you add to this Kauai bucket list? Leave a comment below!