9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions on Kauai
Kauai is a lush paradise, with mountains, waterfalls, and dramatic coastline. It is the oldest and westernmost of the large islands in the Hawaiian chain, and as a result has the most diverse range of plant life. The main attraction is the beautiful Waimea Canyon which competes well with other scenic sites around the world. Unlike Oahu, which concentrates on cultural, urban, and entertainment related attractions, Kauai offers a land of adventure. Some of these possibilities include boat trips to view the scenic Na Pali cliffs on the Northwest coast, kayaking down streams, helicopter flights, hiking, and the beaches.
The island can be toured in two full days with one day devoted to sites along the road west of Lihue which curves up to Waimea Canyon, and a second day concentrating on the road which runs to the northern coast. However, most visitors will want to spend much more than two days on Kauai.
See also: Where to Stay on Kauai
1 Na Pali Coast State Park
Na Pali Coast State Park encompasses a remote area of Kauai, with dramatic mountain scenery that includes cliffs, waterfalls, and lush vegetation. The Na Pali Coast in the northwest of the island is one of the most inaccessible parts of the Island of Kauai. The chain of mountains, climbing in places to 3938 ft, forms steep cliffs plunging into the sea, whose beauty can only be appreciated from the water or from the air. Steep valleys on the landward side divide the mountain crests.
Thanks to this seclusion, a unique variety of vegetation has been able to survive here, which, together with the high, steep cliffs, offers a fascinating view of nature. The bizarre shapes of the weathered volcanic mountains with caves and waterfalls, the intense greenery of the thick layer of vegetation, and the hidden sandy beaches at the foot of the mountains are all worth experiencing.
It is easiest to survey this part of the coast by boat or helicopter. Both options provide amazing views of the impressive cliffs and shorelines.Those who want to spend more time here and who are not afraid of strenuous exercise can explore part of the Na Pali Coast on foot.
2 Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon rivals some of the most scenic canyons on earth. Not only is it deep, but the area's red soil, green jungles which line its streams and waterfalls, black volcanic rock, and mist cascading from the plateaus make it a colorful scene. There are two major lookouts and several hiking trails starting from the road which runs along the rim. While the Canyon runs to the sea along Waimea Canyon Drive (SR550), the deepest part of the canyon is within Kokee State Park.
3 Koke'e State Park
Koke'e State Park is an extension of Waimea Canyon State Park and contains the deepest parts of the canyon. Another important spot is the Kalalau Lookout which, in theory, offers a view of 4000 ft cliffs of the Napali Coast, and is the only place to see this spectacular feature of Kaua'i from land. Be aware that the cliffs are often clouded in mist. The lookout is at the end of the scenic road running through the park. Koke'e maintains numerous hiking trails, most of which spread out from the natural history museum and Koke'e Lodge.
The Kokee Natural History Museum concentrates on the weather, geology, botany, wildlife and Hawaiian culture associated with the Waimea Canyon, Kokee State Park and Kauai in general.
4 Kalalau Trail
Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile path along the Na Pali Coast, originally made and used by the early Hawaiians. This path is difficult and taxing, even for experienced walkers. The climb begins at Haena State Park in the north and ends after almost 11.5 miles in Kalalau Valley. To gain an impression of the landscape and vegetation, it is enough to cover the first 2 miles as far as Hanakapiai Beach. This stretch is easier to walk, although after rain it can be slippery and good footwear is needed at all times.
Those who want to tackle the whole walk must take a tent and food with them and stay overnight before returning. Two to three days should be allowed to complete the 22 mile round trip. The path beyond Hanakapiai is steep, stony and not without danger. At the right time of the year it is possible to sample wild fruits such as mangoes, bananas, guava and apples, which grow beside the path. Campers need permission from the Division of State Parks.
5 Polihale State Park
The remote Polihale State Park at the western end of the Na Pali Coast offers a wide white sand beach, backed by the Makaha Ridge. Despite the beauty of the surroundings, swimming and water activities in this area can be dangerous and should be undertaken with caution.
The small village of Hanalei lies in Hanalei Bay on the north coast of Kauai. The village, which is blessed with a fine sandy beach, is at the same time a gateway to the scenic Hanalei Valley. On the edge of the village, on Route 560, is the Waioli Mission House, built in 1841. It is one of Hawaii's best preserved mission houses. On the left-hand side of the street is the old Waioli Huila Church, with stained-glass windows. It is now a community center.
The finest view of Hanalei Valley is experienced from Hanalei Lookout, on road 560, which is indicated by one of the customary Kamehameha signs. Hanalei River flows like a silver thread through the whole valley, which is a patchwork of sugar cane and taro fields. Mountains form the backdrop.
7 Limahuli Garden & Preserve
Backed by mountains and looking out to the ocean, the Limahuli Garden and Preserve is spread over 1,000 acres and three ecological zones. It provides a resource for research and educational programs in watershed protection and plant and animal conservation. The plants are either native to Hawaii or in some way culturally significant. Visitors can take a guided or self-guided tour of the garden.
8 Wailua Falls
Between Lihue and Hanamaulu, road 583 branches off road 560 and winds its way for a few kilometers to a waterfall. This double waterfall plunges 80 feet down a rock face. Legend has it that the chiefs of old Hawaii had to take the risk of jumping from the top of this waterfall to prove their strength and courage.
Poipu lies on the warm and sunny south coast of Kauai, where the island's finest beaches are located. Until the tourism boom sugar was the main source of income for Poipu and its surrounding area. The development of tourism started relatively late here and consequently it was far more intense than in other places. Now, Poipu possesses Kauai's largest number of luxury hotels and holiday homes. An urban development regulation permits buildings to be no more than three stories high so that Poipu can protect and retain its rural character.
Its favorable location near Lihue Airport, together with its pleasant climate and excellent surfing opportunities, have helped Poipu to become one of Kauai's most popular resorts. The long, white, sandy beach and the clear, blue water are an invitation to swim and surf.
Where to Stay on Kauai for Sightseeing
We recommend these tropical Kauai hotels and resorts near Poipu Beach and Lihue:
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa: beachfront luxury, Poipu Beach, lush gardens, multiple pools with water slides, lazy river ride, championship golf course, excellent spa.
- Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club: mid-range pricing, Poipu Beach, rooms and villas, multiple pools, games room, lovely spa.
- Garden Island Inn: affordable Lihue hotel, family-owned, colorful room decor, free use of beach gear, kitchenettes.
- Kauai Palms Hotel: budget Lihue hotel, near airport, clean and compact rooms, kitchenettes and full kitchen options.