Are you planning a trip to Hawaii? Then the small but incredible island of Kauai should not be missing on your list! In this post you will find my Kauai travel tips with essential information that will help you plan your own trip.

Wild, wilder, Kauai! Being the oldest island in the archipelago, Kauai has been shaped by wind & weather for as long as 6 million years. Deep canyons run through the land mass, bizarre rock formations make up the coastline and there are numerous hidden beaches. Just 20% of the island is connected to roads – the rest is still wilderness and can only be admired from a helicopter or boat.

My Kauai Travel Tips – Our Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – The West : Waimea Canyon, Kalepa Ridge Trail, Sunset Polihale Beach
  • Day 2 – From East to North: Larsen’s Beach, Kilauea Point, Hanalei Valley Lookout, Hanalei Beach, Wailua Falls
  • Day 3 – Heli Tour & Ha’ena State Park: Helicopter Flight, Ha’ena State Park, Kalalau Trail
  • Day 4 – Boat Cruise: Zodiac Tour around the island, Snorkeling with Turtles, Dolphin and whale watching

The program of these four days with Kauai travel tips can also be divided into five or six days. (Also in combination with more hikes and beaches, which we unfortunately had to skip due to lack of time).

At the end of this post you can find a map with all mentioned Kauai travel tips.

Arrival on Kauai & hotel tip:

We land during a typical rain shower for Kauai! During a trip to Kauai, you will not be able to avoid rain, as the island is one of the rainiest places in the US. However, most of the time these are short rain showers followed by sunshine.

For a visit on Kauai a rental car is a must! This can ideally be picked up directly at the airport and is essential to explore the island.

Kauai’s Lihue Airport is located in the east of the island – only 10 minutes away from our hotel: The  Hilton Garden Inn.

It is located directly at the Lydgate Beach Park. A public beach, which is also very popular among locals (especially on weekends). The waves on the beach are very strong, but there is a small bay which is surrounded by rocks and therefore well protected. Therefore it is a popular spot for snorkeling or for families with children.

kauai travel guide
Sunset behind palm trees at the Lydgate State Park, it is a Kauai travel tip

Waimea Canyon

During our first full day on Kauai, we drove west to Waimea Canyon. We followed the coast until reaching the village of Waimea. From here a road leads up the mountains and after a short time we can already see the first great views into the canyon. The most famous is the Waimea Canyon Outlook, where you have access to a platform above the canyon, which offers a unique view. However, you should also be prepared that all tour buses stop here. Further up the road you should keep your eyes open, because again and again a unique view of the valley and the Waipoo waterfall opens up around every corner.

To visit Waimea Canyon & Koke’e State Park behind it, there is a fee of 10 USD per car plus 5 USD per person. You will find a ticket machine at each parking lot and overlook where you must purchase a ticket and place it in your car. This is regularly controlled by rangers. Unfortunately, the entrance fee is only valid for the respective day, which means that you have to pay several times if you visit the park more than once (for example, if you want to do several hikes).

the Waipoo waterfall in the Waimea Canyon on Kauai, Hawaii
kauai travel guide

Kalepa Ridge Trail

This hike is one of the most beautiful ones we have ever done, offering incredible views of the rugged and green Na Pali coastline with the blue ocean beyond.

The Kalepa Ridge Trail begins at Koke’e State Park, which follows after Waimea Canyon. Park your car at Kalalau View Point and walk around the railings at the overlook. Here you first walk a few meters through the thicket until you come to a large fence with a gate leading through it. Behind it, you can’t miss the path of the hike.

For the hike you definitely need proper footwear, as the path can be very muddy and in many places leads directly along the cliff.
Although it is a relatively short distance, it took us about 30 to 45 minutes to get to the end, because we kept stopping to enjoy the view and take pictures. Along the way you will always find unique viewpoints into the valley, overlooking waterfalls and the ocean.

Unfortunately, it is often very cloudy at this altitude, which is why we saw nothing but a dense cloud cover during our first visit in 2019. Luckily this wasn’t the case the last time as we had an uninterrupted view of the landscape most of the time. So when planning this hike, be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast – but you can always be lucky (or not), as the weather can change quickly.

Drone photography of the koke'e state park over the Na Pali Coast Line
Kauai Travel tip: Hiking in the Koke'e State Park over the Na Pali Coast on kauai, Hawaii

Beside the Kalepa Ridge Trail make sure to check out these spectacular hikes in the Koke’e State Park:

  • Honopu Ridge Trail
  • Nu’alolo Ridge Trail
  • Awa’awapuhi Trail

Sunset at Polihale Beach

After our hike, we headed back to the village of Waimea to continue west to admire the sunset. And here an insider tip for you: At Island Tacos you will find super delicious tacos, burritos and co. We even liked it so much that we were here a total of three times! Directly opposite is also a shrimp snack, which is also very popular. Definitely worth a stop before leaving the village!

On the west coast there is an endless sandy beach, which leads to the beginning of the Na Pali coastline: Polihale Beach State Park. The atmosphere is magical and due to the enormous size, one is as good as alone here. However, the road to the beach is a tough one and the best thing to do is to book a car with four-wheel drive. You drive a whole five kilometers (3.5 miles) over a gravel road with partly deep puddles and larger stones until you reach the beach. But it’s worth it: the view of the sunset and the beginning of the Na Pali coastline is breathtaking!

kauai travel guide sunset
kauai travel guide

Kauai Travel Tips: Day 2 – From the East to the North

Larsen’s Beach

There are a lot of cute little beaches in northeast Kauai. Our first stop for this day is Larsen’s beach. To get there, we first drove along a gravel road. Once we reached the end, a path through dense reeds, leads down to the beach. It is a strenuous walk, but the path is only a few minutes short. At the bottom we find ourselves on a quiet beach where we are almost the only ones and the beach is perfect for sunbathing.

Another travel tip for Kauai is Tunnels Beach in the north – it is one of the most beautiful beaches on Kauai overlooking the coastline. Especially late afternoon you’ll have great light for photos!


In the north is the well-known Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge with the Kilauea Lighthouse. In this protected area live numerous, partly endangered bird species which are protected and can nest undisturbed in this area. The most famous species of them, found only in Hawaii, is the NeNe (Hawaiian Goose), but even spinner dolphins and humpback whales are also protected in this large reserve.
The entrance fee is 10,- USD per person and is entirely for the benefit of the nature reserve (the entrance for children under 15 years is free.) You can book your ticket → here in advance.


kilauea lighthouse kauai
two Nene, Hawaiian Geese sitting on a bush on Kauai

 Hanalei Valley Lookout

Continue north along the Kuhio Road and you will pass a lookout near Princeville, which is worth a stop. The view from Hanalei Valley Lookout over the green hills and fields reminds me a lot of Bali.

Lunch Break

Only a few minutes behind follows a very beautiful bay – Hanalei Beach, which is a great place to relax. Here we stopped for lunch in the Ching Young Village Shopping Center where you can get delicious snacks like pizza or fresh poke bowls.

Ha’ena Beach Park

The last stop on the road heading north is the Ha’ena Beach Park. If you want to visit the area behind it – the Ha’ena State Park – you need a permit since mid 2019. But I will explain this in the next chapter.
Ha’ena Beach Park is a great place to admire the sunset while swimming in the waves. It is surrounded by jungle and fresh coconuts are sold at the roadside.

Wailua Falls

In the east of the islands there is a mighty and impressive double waterfall: Wailua Falls. Unfortunately, this can only be seen from a viewpoint on the road, because the hike down to the waterfall is closed. For a photo and the view, however, the stop is worth it!

wailua falls kauai

Kauai Travel Tips: Day 3 – Helicopter Tour & Ha’ena State Park

Helicopter Flight

A visit to Kauai would not be complete without seeing the Garden Island from the air. This is because only 20% of the island is connected by road. The rest of Kauai is still true wilderness and can only be seen from the air. We booked a tour with → Island Helicopters and had an incredible blast. Our pilot flew with us into canyons, showed us hidden waterfalls and of course we also marveled at the impressive Na Pali coastline. It was simply unforgettable and is a true must do!

kauai travel guide
kauai helicopter view beach

Ha’ena State Park

After this unique experience, we headed north again to Ha’ena State Park. Access for cars is strictly limited since the reopening in June 2019, because after a devastating mudslide the area should be better protected.
The parking lot is reduced to 100 standing spaces, which is why a ticket must be reserved months in advance. You can do this → here! But don’t worry: If you are too late to order a ticket, just like us, you can still use the North Shore Shuttle. It also has limited seats, but a much higher availability for a ticket. You can find the stops to get on, as well as tickets → here – but don’t forget that the last bus for the return trip leaves Ha’ena State Park at 5:40pm.

Kalalau Trail

Starting from Ke’e beach, which is a great place for snorkeling, the hike leads into the jungle. The first 40 minutes are steeply uphill, and after a few minutes the first great views of the coastline can already be enjoyed. The trail is a real adventure and in some places we have to trudge through streams while other parts lead directly along the cliff. Halfway through, we reach the highest point of the hike from where we descend again to Hanakapi’ai beach. It is a picture-perfect beach surrounded by green cliffs.
This is the last point on the Kalalau Trail to which you can hike without a permit. For the whole hike you need more than two days and you will sleep under the stars. In order to protect the nature in this area, daily visitors are even more strictly limited and an early registration is required. But most tourists opt for the shorter version, which ends at Hanakapi’ai Beach.

At the beach itself, a hike can be taken to Hanakapi’ai Waterfall for a dip in the cool water. Unfortunately, we skipped this trail during our last visit due to lack of time, but will make up for it next time. It takes about 3 – 4 hours to get there and back to the beach.

For the Kalalau Trail, the earlier you get there, the better. Not only because it’s a popular hike, but also because the last return trip on the North Shore Shuttle leaves at 5:40pm. Be sure to pack enough water and snacks in addition to hiking boots, swimwear, and a towel, as you won’t be able to buy anything anywhere along the trail or on the beach.

kauai travel guide
kauai beach girl

Kauai Travel Tips: Day 4 – Na Pali Boat Cruise

Seeing the Na Pali coastline from a helicopter was an absolute highlight, but you can also admire the impressive coastline from the water.

Numerous companies offer a boat trip around the island, during which a snorkel stop is made. We opted for a Zodiac boat tour with → Go Blue Adventures.

On this trip, dolphins can be seen up close and we went to a snorkeling spot which is known for the frequent sighting of turtles. And indeed, we were lucky enough to swim with two green sea turtles. Although it is a beautiful spot, we were the only boat here, which allowed us to enjoy the snorkeling even more.

The trip, however, along the Na Pali coast is the real highlight: we drove to hidden caves, waterfalls, along lonely beaches and were always speechless. If you come to Kauai in winter like we did, you will almost certainly even see humpback whales. The animals come to the warm waters from December to April to mate and give birth to their young.

We ourselves booked the early morning tour, during which the sunrise can be marveled at. However, it has a disadvantage: the Na Pali coastline is in shadow during this time, which is not very suitable for photos. In the afternoon there is a second tour and the evening light is perfect for pictures.

Kauai Travel Tip: A Boat Cruise along the Na Pali Coast Line on kauai, Hawaii

How many days are ideal for Kauai?

Although the island is relatively small compared to its other Hawaiian siblings, it still has a lot to offer. Due to this fact and the rather unpredictable weather, I would plan five to seven days for Kauai to see everything and enjoy it at your leisure. It is also wise to keep one day open to be able to reschedule any plans due to the weather.

We fell in love with Hawaii a little more after our visit to Kauai and can’t wait to get back soon and explore more of the Garden Island.

Map with the best travel tips for Kauai:

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Kauai Travel Guide
kauai travel guide
kauai travel guide

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