So you’re heading to Hawaii… and have settled on Kauai!
Congratulations, you are in for a treat! Kauai was my very first tryst to Hawaii & the very first time I attempted hiking. 4 years later, I’m now an avid hiker all thanks to the wonder that was Kauai.
The emerald green valleys, tropical forests, jagged cliffs & coastal landscape are only part of the reason for Kauai’s moniker of “Garden Isle”. Only 20% of the island is accessible by road, which means to explore the rest of the island, you have to hike, kayak or take a helicopter tour. It also means you’re gonna be treated to pristine, raw, untainted tropical & coastal wilderness.
Here’s a brief guide on top sights & experiences for Mojo finding in Kauai
Location: North Shore
Good for: Coastal views, scenery, whale watching, snorkeling, cruising
Photo Credit: Dave Poore
Prominently displayed on Hawaiian postcards, because quite simply, there isn’t a place like it elsewhere!
This is an outstanding place for whale watching! I saw a pod of whales breach in close proximity of our boat. Let me tell you, when you see a whale breach so close to you, it’s terrifying, as you comprehend how big the thing really is! It’s also mesmerizing, you can’t take your eyes off it. During summer months, snorkeling in Napali coast, is like peering through glass & seeing incredible ocean life underneath.
Location: Waimea, West Side
Good for: Outdoors, wilderness, hiking, stargazing
View from Canyon Trail
Dubbed “grand canyon of the west” by Mark Twain, Waimea Canyon is surreal for two reasons: it’s a parched, rough terrain, in the middle of a lush, tropical paradise; it’s so red & expansive, it feels like walking on the planet Mars than Hawaii.
There are multiple trails to explore the canyon, varying in intensity.
Location: North Shore
Good for: Hiking, Camping, ocean views & waterfalls
View of Ke’e Beach from Kalalau Trail
Simultaneously one of world’s most beautiful & treacherous trails. This is an incredibly strenuous hike: the first 2 miles require you to climb massive jagged boulders, steeped in mud, made slippery from the rains. Kalalau trail has also claimed lives over unpredictable flashfloods, caused during rain. Stick with it though and you’ll be rewarded by unparalleled 180 degree cliffside view of the ocean, wildlife (I saw humpback whales), verdant valleys, stunning waterfalls & beaches.
The entire trail is 11 miles long — you’ll need to camp overnight to complete it and reach Kalalau beach. However, most hikers either hike the first 2 miles to see the ocean & valley views and return or hike 4 miles (one way) to Hanakapai beach & Hanakapai falls. This is well worth the effort!
Kalalau trail is notorious for its stream crossings — I advise not attempting this during heavy rain. The undercurrent & riptide is super strong & has swept away folks into the ocean. This is most evident at Hanakapai beach; there is a marker of lives lost by trying to swim in the beach or cross the stream during high rain. Also, for folks hiking all the way to Kalalau valley, beware of “squatters” — nomads who decided never to leave Kalalau valley & are known to steal belongings from other hikers. You’ll also want to be careful while crossing the ledge to Kalalau valley — there are no guardrails or ropes, you have to jump, while the ocean is crashing thousands of feet below you. Unless you’re an experienced hiker & camper, I don’t recommend attempting the full trail with overnight stay on the first try.
This being said, I will tell you I discovered a never known love before for hiking & the outdoors after experiencing Kalalau trail. This was my most favorite part of the entire trip; the sights from here are some of my fondest memories, and I cannot wait to go back & attempt the full trail.
Pristine Hawaiian Beaches
Location: North Shore mostly, some on South Shore
Good for: Beach bumming, surfing, snorkeling
Photo Credit: Ry Van
It’s hard to match the majesty & peace of a Hawaiian sunrise or sunset. North Shore has the secluded beaches, with remote caves & tide pools; South shore has the more populated beaches. Here are some of the best beaches around the island — the first 4 are in North Shore, Poipu is in South Shore.
- Ke’e Beach
- Tunnels Beach
- Lumahai Beach
- Ha’ena Beach
- Hanalei Bay Beach
- Poipu Beach
Poipu beach has a “Spouting blowhorn”, which is like a mini geyser that shoots from the ground. I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really awed by it all (look it up on Youtube!). You’re not missing much by skipping it.
Opa’aeka Falls & Wailua Falls
Good for: waterfall view minus the hike, families, solo, couples
These waterfalls don’t require a hike, drive down on Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway) toward Hanamā‘ulu and take a left at Ma‘alo Road (Highway 583) all the way to the falls.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Good for: Lighthouse view & huge waves
It’s worth a drive by — Kileauea lighthouse is enchanting at sunset, with its roaring, crashing waves against the cliffside.
Hanalei Wildlife Refuge
Good for: Viewpoint, lush greenery, plantations
Close to Princeville, there is a lookout point to Hanalei Wildlife Refuge that is stunning!
Kokee state park
Good for: Road trip, driving, hiking, view of Kalalau valley
Driving by the mountains and valleys of Kokee State Park is gorgeous, the road ends in a look out point to Kalalau Valley.
Stroll or Bike along Kapa’a Bike Path
Location: Kapa’a, East Side
Good for: All fitness levels, Walking, Families, Biking, Ocean Views, Wildlife watching
Well paved path running along the coast, for beautiful views & leisurely strolling.
Maninholo Dry & Wet Caves
Location: North Shore
Good for: Cave exploration, families, solo, couples, adventure
The caves’ roof takes on a blue-ish hue and are a perfect stop to make on the way to Ke’e Beach or the Kalalau trail. Super cool!
Notable Hiking Trails
Location: Listed below, click links for details
Good for: Coastal & Mountain views, serenity
Recommended Hiking Trails on Kauai
See links below for details
Hiking estimates below are for average round trips.
- Maha’ulepu Coastal Heritage Trail* | Poipu
A beautiful trail! Start from Shipwreck beach, walk past limestone pinnacles. The trail is referred to being Kauai’s”living museum” of cultural & geological history.
4.0 miles ~ 2 hours
- Sleeping Giant Trail | Wailua
4.0 miles ~ 2.5 hours
- Okolehao Trail | Hanalei Bay
5.0 miles ~ 3 hours
Location: Hanalei, North Shore
Good for: Peace & quiet, greenery & flowers, scenic views
Explore a garden, set in plush tropical valley; you can book a self guided tour here
Polihale State Park
Good for: solitude, overnight camping, atypical beach setting
Photo Credit: Wallixx
Accessible only via a 4WD on a dirt road, and frequented by locals, this is one of the most secluded beach spots on the island, with sand dunes that reach as high as 100 feet. You can camp overnight, but will require a permit.
Location: Throughout the island
Good for: Adventures, families, couples, solo
- Kayaking: I highly recommend Kayaking in the Wailua river! There are plenty of tour operators that will take you on guided tours on the river, some will take you up to the falls.
- Zip lining: One of my favorite things to do! There are plenty of tour providers across the island, with options to dip/drop in the ocean if you wish.
- Helicopter tour: The most expensive activity, tickets range from $200 and above per person. Well worth it if neither hiking nor kayaking is your preference.
- Monasteries & temples: there are a few buddhist temples & a hindu temple in Kapa’a, with impressive architecture in the middle of a tropical forest.
You can’t go wrong with whatever sight or activity you choose, say Aloha to tropical paradise Mojo!
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