This past week, Berty and I had the opportunity to work with Alaska Airlines and Avis USA to travel to Kauai for nine glorious days. Neither Berty nor I had been to any Hawaiian islands, so this was a super exciting trip for both of us! Before departing, we spent weeks researching hikes, waterfalls, things to see, and things to do in Kauai. I’m happy to report that our investigating paid off – this trip was FULL of exciting days!
In this post, we’re sharing our favorite things to do in Kauai – all inclusive with gorgeous beaches, stunning vistas, and breathtaking waterfalls. We hope you find this guide helpful for your own adventurous trip to the Garden Isle of Hawaii!
11 Adventurous Things To Do In Kauai
1. Explore the Na Pali Coast Via Kalepa Ridge Trail
We’re starting off this post with a bang. This place was entirely stunning, dangerous, and terribly difficult all wrapped into one experience. The Kalepa Ridge Trail is a 1.6 mile out and back trail with several sections of extremely steep paths right on the edge of the ridge.* Later I found out that some of those sections had a 1000 foot drop off (!!!!!). Despite the danger, the views are absolutely breathtaking and we were able to see ridges of Na Pali Coast pretty much the entire way.
*After returning from our hike, we learned that this is actually an “unofficial” trail and that the ecosystem on this ridge is pretty delicate. While we got caught hiking in the rain and mud, and we don’t recommend you do the same. Try coming back when the trail is dry so that you stay safe, and protect the trail from further erosion.
See More Photos: Hiking The Kalepa Ridge Trail
We were so fortunate to meet up with @jontaylorsweet and @kingtutt_ to explore Kauai for the week! It was awesome meeting incredible people who share the same love for photography and outdoors like we do!
2. Watch the Sunrise at Larsen’s Beach
Berty and I love to get up early for sunrise, so our Airbnb host suggested we check out this east-facing beach for some awesome views. On this sunrise journey, we drove a short distance on a dirt road and reached the trailhead after about 5 minutes. We stopped to watch the sunrise at the top of the trailhead and then headed to an overgrown path down to the water. Larsen’s Beach is a long stretch of beautiful white sand, and a little hard for the general public to reach – which means you could get it all to yourself on a quiet day!
Our host also told us that it is considered a nude beach! We didn’t see anyone this early in the morning, but they warned us that if we went later in the day, we’d definitely see some people disrobed. Ha!
3. Play in the Waves at Shipwreck’s Beach
Located on the south shore in Poipu, this beach has wild waves perfect for an adrenaline junkie. Berty and I had fun getting knocked over by large waves, but we didn’t really do much “swimming”. The deepest we got was probably to our knees! Besides playing in the water, you can also climb up the rock formation next to the beach to get great views of the ocean, and the surfers catching waves.
If you are wanting some calmer waves, drive along the shore to the west just a little bit more to reach Poipu Beach Park. Here the water is protected by a reef, has a lifeguard on duty 7 days a week, and is ranked one of the safest beaches in the US!
4. Take On The Na Pali Coast’s Kalalau Trail
If you love adventure, you can’t leave Kauai without at least trying SOME of this trail. The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile path that leads hikers into the wild Na Pali Coast, from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach, where there is no land access except by foot. Doing this, you’ll experience lush valleys, traverse over rugged coastline, and see some of the most gorgeous views Kauai has to offer. Here are a few variations of this hike:
- Hard (First 2 Miles): Take on the first two miles starting at Ke’e Beach. Don’t be discouraged by the first leg. It’s a pretty rough section climbing over rocks, but the path gets flatter (but definitely not less muddy) as you go further. You’ll end your hike at Hanakapi’ai Beach and then make your way back.
- Harder (Hanakapi’ai Falls): After the first two miles, you have the option to continue for two more miles on a side trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. The path is usually muddy and rocky, so bring sturdy shoes and accept that they will get dirty! At the end, you’ll be rewarded with a 300-foot waterfall and freshwater pool to swim in.
- Hardest (The Entire Trail): Take on the entire 11-mile trek across the entire Na Pali coast. This requires a camping permit, lots of preparation, and a few good days of roughing it in the wild. If you are going to go this route, do your research before attempting!
5. Take A Dip In The Queen’s Bath
In the summer months of Kauai (May through October) the tidal pool’s water is relatively calm, but during the cooler months (November to April) the ocean waves can crash into the pool, making it pretty dangerous. Take caution when visiting here. Check the surf report the day of your visit, and try going during low tide for the best chance for a swim. There are tons of warning signs on the way down to these tide pools – just use your best judgement when deciding to get in. Swim or no swim, the pools are beautiful to see!
6. Watch The Sunset At Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is a crescent shaped shoreline located on the north shore of Kauai. Here, on a beach called Black Pot Beach, there is a 100 meter dock that stretches out into the ocean. It was once used for shipping crops like rice and sugar. The pier has also been a popular place for movie sets such as Beachhead and South Pacific.
We suggest packing a picnic and heading over to the beach to watch sailboats drift lazily by as the sun goes down. This bay has calm waves and is ideal for paddle boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling as well. You can even set up a hammock between the rows of tall coconut trees!
7. See Mind-Blowing Views At Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is commonly referred to as “The Grand Canyon Of The Pacific” for its dramatic vistas and colorful landscape. In parts of the canyon, it can get up to 3,000 feet deep! Along the Waimea Canyon Road (Hawaii State Route 550) there are plenty of overlooks to pull your car over and check out the views. From the main lookout, Waimea Canyon Overlook, you can see Waipo’o Falls in the distance – a waterfall cascading 800 feet! There are also lots of trails (including the Kalepa Ridge trail!) to get different perspectives of the canyon and the Na Pali Coast.
Bring a sweater because it is usually 10-15 degrees cooler up in the Canyon. Hang onto your hats because it is windy too!
8. Take A Helicopter Tour Around The Entire Island
If you want to appreciate Kauai in all its glory, we highly recommend taking a tour by air. Besides by boat, it’s the only way to see the beauty of the rugged 16-miles of the Na Pali Coast. Flying also allows you to go deep into the Waimea Canyon, see the weeping walls of Mt. Waialeale, and experience waterfalls you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Most tours are 60 minutes long, but you can spend a little more and opt for a “photography” tour which is a longer experience, with the doors off the helicopter!
9. Eat Your Way Around The Town Of Kapa’a
Take a “food adventure” around the main commercial street of Kapa’a and in a matter of seconds you’ll stumble across a delicious restaurant. This town has food for everyone’s taste and budget. For Berty and I, we especially loved going to food trucks like Wailua Shave Ice and Chicken In A Barrel BBQ. We also made return trips to the delicious Java Kai and Ha Coffee Bar for our morning (and afternoon…) pick me up. Oh, and don’t forget the shave ice stands that are around every corner!
10. Explore Kauai’s Epic Waterfalls
While most of them are unreachable (either no trails or roads lead to them or they’re on private lands), there is a generous handful of stunning falls that are accessible for different levels of adventure. Some waterfalls are easy to get to, like Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls. Some require extra effort, like Secret Falls (you must kayak up the river!), and others require extreme effort like the journey to Hanakapa’ia Falls or the Blue Hole of Mt. Waialeale. You can also see many inaccessible falls if you take a Kauai helicopter tour. Most of the island’s waterfalls are found in the deep crevices of the aging mountains, all sourced from rainfall!
11. Watch The Sunrise Atop The Sleeping Giant
The Sleeping Giant is a 3.5 mile moderate hike atop Nounou Mountain. The trail and mountain get its name from the “sleeping giant” shape the hill creates from the perspective of the city of Kapa’a below. We began hiking at 5:00am with headlamps in order to reach the top for sunrise. The trail was slippery (no surprise – October), there were lots of switchbacks, and we had to turn around sometimes because the trail forks off into false paths. However, despite all these setbacks, it’s well worth the effort – the sun revealing itself over the ocean to light up the town below is something we will cherish forever.
Thank you Alaska Airlines for making this trip possible! We were honored to share our favorite things to do in Kauai. As always, all opinions and experiences are our own, planned and executed by Berty and Emily Mandagie.
What are some things to do in Kauai that you have liked? Anything you would add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!
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