From the wild peaks of the Na Pali Coast to the sheer rock faces of the Waimea Canyon, the island of Kauai overflows with natural splendor. This lush Hawaiian island is a great place to journey off the beaten path, thanks to an abundance of hiking trails ranging from easy to challenging, as well as gorgeous beaches and scenic drives. Vacation rentals in Kauai serve as a cozy home base for exploring the island’s most popular attractions. Use these 15 activities as a starting point for an action-packed vacation.
1. Sail Along the Na Pali Coast
Razor-sharp ridges rise steeply from the sea on the Na Pali Coast, one of Kauai’s most spectacular attractions. The best way to see this natural wonder is by boat; companies including Captain Andy’s operate catamaran trips along the 15-mile stretch. Enjoy dinner or a barbecue as you float close to the cliffs, and take time to jump off the boat for world-class snorkeling.
2. Take a Helicopter Tour
Feel like a scientist from “Jurassic Park” as you soar above Kauai’s rugged coastline in a helicopter. Clear viewing windows allow a breathtaking view of deep canyon walls, tall waterfalls, and dense, untouched rain forests. Minimize your environmental impact by choosing an outfitter such as Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, which uses quiet, eco-friendly aircraft.
3. Watch a Spectacular Sunset
Experience one of Kauai’s legendary sunsets from the Beach House, an elegant restaurant in Po’ipu. As the sun begins to sink, grab your cocktail and camera and head down to the palm-fringed shore to photograph the brilliant reds and pinks that splash across the sky; the restaurant often employs a professional photographer to capture the perfect vacation portrait for your group. When night falls, enjoy the chef’s elevated seafood and traditional Hawaiian dishes.
4. Tour Waimea Canyon
Experience Kauai’s answer to the Grand Canyon, Waimea Canyon, with a day tour by Roberts Hawaii. As you stand on the rim, make sure your phone is ready to capture the red cliff walls and brilliant green jungle. Tours also stop by lovely local spots including Spouting Horn and the stunning Hanapepe Valley Lookout.
5. Relax on Po’ipu Beach
Consistently rated one of the best beaches in the United States, Po’ipu Beach is one of Kauai’s must-see spots. Pack a blanket and secure a spot on the crescents of golden-sand, which sits steps from crystal-clear water populated with colorful fish and sea turtles. Rent a body board or surfboard from nearby Hoku Water Sports, and join the locals in skimming across the gentle waves.
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6. Visit the Kilohana Plantation Estate
Get a once-in-a-lifetime look at a traditional Hawaiian sugar operation at the Kilohana Plantation Estate. Hop aboard the onsite railroad for a leisurely historic tour of the estate, and marvel at the Art Deco detailing inside the enormous mansion. End your trip in the Koloa Rum Company tasting room, where you can sip locally made spirits.
7. Snorkel at Ke’e Beach
Enjoy some of the loveliest snorkeling on Kauai at Ke’e Beach. Swim across the calm waters of natural lagoon to reach the outer reefs, where fish and sea life create an explosion of color. Check with lifeguards to ensure that the water is safe for snorkeling. If you didn’t pack your gear, stop by Boss Frog’s in Kapaa, Koloa, or Poipu to rent a mask, snorkel, and fins.
8. Explore the Kamokila Hawaiian Village
Step into native island life at the Kamokila Hawaiian Village, where historic reenactors showcase native arts, and traditional huts offer a glimpse into the past. After you toss a spear in the courtyard, head out on an outrigger canoe ride or take a dip in the pool at the base of the Secret Falls.
9. Attend a Luau
Fill an evening with music and dancing at the Luau Kalamaku. As you dine on a buffet feast, Hawaiian dancers perform the hula and play traditional Tahitian tunes. Keep an eye out for the fire performers, who twirl flaming poi balls and dance with fire knives.
10. Brave the Kalalau Trail
If you’re a serious hiker, don’t leave Kauai without attempting the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, which clings to the cliffs on the Na Pali Coast. If you can brave the heights and intense climbs, the trail rewards you with fantastic views of the ocean and the Na Pali Coast. Take a rest at Hanakapi’ai Falls, where you can swim through the falling water. For overnight trips, rent camping gear from Kayak Kauai in Kapaa.
11. Hit the Links at Po’ipu Bay Golf Course
Play 18 holes with a view of the ocean at the Po’ipu Bay Golf Course. Here, 210 acres of greens feature colorful tropical flowers, rocky beaches, and panoramic views. In the winter, pause to look out to sea; you might spot a humpback whale spouting just offshore.
12. Wander through the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens
Marvel at the carefully cultivated formal shrubberies on a tour of the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens. Highlights of the grounds include the stunning Poinciana Maze, the koi-filled Ka’ula lagoon, and the beautiful sculpture park. If you’re visiting with little ones, take The Family Tour for a stop at the fun-filled Children’s Garden.
13. Surf Hanalei Bay
Picturesque Hanalei Bay is one of the most popular North Shore surfing spots. Rent a board and leash from the Hanalei Surf Company, which offers standard and performance models. The gentle waves near the pier are the perfect spot for beginners; if you’re more confident, join in a local tradition of jumping off of the pier and paddling to the larger offshore waves. The swells at Hanalei Bay are best during the winter months.
14. Go Off-Roading
Explore the back roads of Kauai with an off-roading tour with Kipu Ranch Adventures. As you enjoy a thrill ride on the ranch’s expansive grounds, your guide regales you with tales of movie shoots and ancient Hawaiian legends. Some tours ascend Mount Haupu for spectacular views, while others take you to majestic hidden waterfalls.
15. See Rainbows at Wailua Falls
Leave your vacation rental early one morning for the short trek to Wailua Falls. Pick up a coffee from Imua Coffee Roasters in Wailua to enjoy as the sun rises and the light hits the mist from the cascading water, creating brilliant rainbows. If you have limited time on the island, this 80-foot waterfall makes a great photo opportunity.
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