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Travel Guide: Visiting Kauai

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Kauai is known as one of the most scenic islands in Hawaii. The fourth-largest island makes a great vacation destination thanks to the lush landscape, magical waterfalls, and delicious food.

Visiting Kauai was my introduction to Hawaii. We spent a little over a week there while my husband attended a meeting. It’s where we took a helicopter ride to see some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. We spent a lot of time relaxing so we didn’t see everything there is to see. But there is so much on this island…

Whether you are looking to relax on a tropical beach or hike one of Kauai’s famous trails, the island has something for everyone. Use this visitor’s guide to Kauai to plan your perfect tropical getaway on the Garden Isle, Kauai.

Getting To Kauai

Kauai’s main airport is Lihue Airport (LIH), located in Southern Lihue. Many popular airlines now offer non-stop flights to Kauai. You also have the option of flying into Honolulu International Airport (HNL) on Oahu first, and then taking a short 25-minute flight to Kauai.

The Best Time To Visit Kauai

As is the case with many of the Hawaiian Islands, the best prices, weather, and the smallest crowds happen during the shoulder seasons of September through Mid-November and March through May. October is a great time to visit for the cheapest flights, hotels, great weather, and no crowds.

Regions Of Kauai

Kauai dates back 5.1 million years and covers about 533 square miles. This Hawaiian Island is 25 miles long by 35 miles wide. The entire island is amazing and has so much to offer. Kauai is broken into 4 geographical regions:

  • North Shore – Hanalei Bay, Princeville
  • Coconut Coast (East Side) – Kapa’a, Lihue
  • South Shore – Poipu, Koloa
  • West Side – Waimea

Where To Go In Kauai

Lihue

This historic and cultural area is the home of Kauai’s international airport, as well as being the major cruise port on the island. Lihue offers options for shopping, dining, and cultural and historical activities. One of the most notable locations in the historical and mythical Alekoko Fishpond, where legend has it, the Menehune (mythological, mischievous race) built the Alekoko in one night. The area features amazing waterfalls such as Wailua Falls, and historical exhibits that can be found at the Kauai Museum.

North Shore – Hanalei and Na Pali Coast

The North Shore of Kauai was made for adventure lovers. Think lush valleys, amazing waterfalls, and gorgeous mountains. Hanalei is a timeless destination that’s close to the famously epic Na Pali Coast. A downside of the time spent on the North Shore is the unpredictable weather. You’ll feel the adventurer in you awaken with all the amazing sites and activities on the North Shore.

Coconut Coast – Kapaa and Wailua

Kauai’s east side got its moniker, Coconut Coast, thanks to the abundant coconut palms that grow in the resort areas. This is one of the most populated areas on the island due to the picturesque beaches and popular local attractions. The Coconut Coast includes the popular destinations of Kappa, Lihue, and Wailua. There is an abundance of popular outdoor activities on the Coconut Coast, including kayaking.

South Shore – Poipu and Koloa

The South Shore of the island is all about luxury and pristine beaches. If you are looking for a romantic getaway then the South Shore is for you. Not only will you have fantastic weather, but the options for shopping and dining are excellent. The main towns on this part of the island are Poipu and Koloa. The beaches on the South Shore are family-friendly, and there are plenty of great resort options in the area.

West Side – Waimea

Kauai’s West Side is perfect for those who love hiking. Although it’s only an hour from popular Lihue, it feels like a completely different island. While visiting the West Side, visit the Waimea Canyon, often called the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific.’ Or try hiking in Kokee State Park, with over 45 trails to choose from. You’ll be in hikers’ paradise.

Things To Do In Kauai

Hike

One of the main draws to Kauai is the abundance of outdoor activities, and hiking tops the list. Whether you are looking for a challenge or a family-friendly hike, Kauai has a trail for you! Here are a few of the Garden Isle’s most popular hikes:

Kalalau Trail

  • Distance: 22 miles
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Elevation Gain: 6,177 ft

This hike is not for the faint of heart, the 22-mile Kalalau Trail is a favorite among experienced hikers. One that qualifies you for bragging rights! This trail takes you through the lush jungles of the Na Pali coastline. Advanced reservations are not required to hike this trail.

Nu’alolo Trail

  • Distance: 7.5 miles
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Elevation Gain: 2,578 ft

The Nu’alolo Trail is not another hike that is not for the faint of heart, but for experienced hikers, you won’t find better views of the Na Pali Coast.

Kuilau Ridge Trail

  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 666 ft

This heavily trafficked trail is a great option if you’re looking for a more family-friendly hike. At a moderate 3.6 miles, this trail is good for most skill levels. The entire family can enjoy a lush jungle hike together!

Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 1,066 ft

The Canyon Trail to Waipoo Falls is in Waimea Canyon. The popular rainforest hike is in the Kokee State Park, and features the impressive 800 ft Waipoo Falls.

Take A Helicopter Tour

One of the best ways to see the beauty of Kauai is from above, and there is no better way than a helicopter tour of the island. You’ll hover over the Waimea Canyon before flying up the gorgeous Na Pali Coast. You can even experience the famous Manawaiopuna Falls exactly as they were featured in Jurassic Park. These falls are actually on private land, making a helicopter tour the only way to experience them.

There are many options for helicopter tours on the island, but some of the most popular are:

Visit Waimea Canyon

Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ the Waimea Canyon is a must-visit on any trip to Kauai. The canyon is over 10 miles long with a spectacular colorful landscape around every corner. Take the 40-mile Waimea Canyon Road that twists and turns to the top of the canyon. Make sure to stop at as many overlooks as possible so that you don’t miss any of the stunning panoramic views. You can also hike the Waimea Canyon to get a closer look at the beauty of the area. 

Beaches, Beaches, Beaches

The island of Kauai has 30 accessible beaches, giving you many options no matter where you are on the island. There are about 50 miles of sugary white sand coastline with easy ocean access. Hawaii and Kauai are famous for surfing, but there are also tons of family-friendly beaches for building sand castles and boogie boarding. Some of the top beaches on the island are:

  • Makau Beach (Tunnels Beach)
  • Poipu Beach
  • Shipwreck Beach
  • Ke’e Beach

Hanakapiai Falls

The other waterfall is located on the beautiful Na Pali Coast. Unsurprisingly, this hike is another that is not for the faint of heart. The trail is 4 miles one way, and 8 miles total, but it’s well worth the trek. About halfway through the hike, you’ll find yourself on Hanakapiai Beach, known for its exceptional beauty. Once you reach the falls, you’ll immediately notice the gorgeous emerald pool at the bottom of this stunning waterfall.

Visit Waterfalls

Kauai has countless waterfalls and you should visit as many as possible. There are so many gorgeous waterfalls all over the island, but some of the most popular include:

Wailua Falls

One of the biggest draws to this spectacular waterfall is that you don’t actually have to hike to get to the falls. That’s right, they are located right next to the parking lot. Wailua Falls splits into two separate waterfalls and cascades 173 ft into a crystal clear pool below. 

Hanakoa Falls

Located on the famous Na Pali Coast, Hanakoa Falls is an impressive 1,000 ft waterfall. These falls are located about halfway through the difficult Kalalau Trail, (mentioned above) and are not completely visible from the trail due to elevation changes. The hike to the falls is around 6 miles, and a permit is not required. It does make getting to Hanakoa Falls a bit more difficult.

Na Pali Coast By Boat

Yes, this famously scenic coast should be explored in every way, hiking, helicopter, and boat. This 17-mile stretch of paradise is inaccessible by car, but you can take a boat or a rafting tour in order to see the towering waterfalls, lush valleys, and all the awe-inspiring natural wonders of the Na Pali Coast. There are many options, but some of the most popular include:

Visit The Kauai Coffee Estate

  • 870 Hatewii Rd, Kalahelo, HI 96741
  • $25 per person for tour

The Kauai Coffee Estate is the largest coffee farm in the United States. While here you can visit the Visitors Center, take a tour of the farm, watch the roasting process, and take part in a tasting. The guided tour is $25 per person. On the tour, you will learn how coffee is made. You’re even served a fresh cup of Kauai coffee before the tour. You can also do the self-guided tour for free, where you simply walk the path below the coffee trees at your own pace.

Can’t Miss Food On Kauai

Shave Ice

Kauai is famous for shave ice, which is like a snow cone with crushed ice and somehow even more delicious. Try local flavors such as coconut or lychee shave ice. A few shave ice favorites include:

  • Ono Ono Shave Ice
  • Jo Jo’s Avenue Shave Ice
  • Wailua Shave Ice

Can’t Miss Food In Lihue

  • Gaylord’s at Kilohana
  • Kauai’s Pasta
  • Duke’s Canoe Club

Can’t Miss Food On North Shore

  • Hanalei Bread Co
  • Akamai Juice Company
  • Piazza

Can’t Miss Food On Coconut Coast

  • Kauai Juice Co
  • Java Kai
  • Pono Market

Can’t Miss Food On South Shore

  • Keoki’s Paradise
  • Koloa Road To Lawai
  • Da Crack

Can’t Miss Food On West Side

  • Island Taco
  • Lappert’s
  • Shrimp Station

Where To Stay In Kauai

There are hotels and resorts for every budget in Kauai. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a family-friendly vacation, you’ll find great options for every budget around the island. Here are some great accommodation options:

Lihue

North Shore

Coconut Coast

South Shore

West Side

Kauai is such a magical island. What are you waiting for? Pack your swimsuit, hiking boots, and sense of adventure, and get to this tropical paradise as quickly as you can!


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Travel Guide: Visiting Kauai

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