Kauai: What To Do in This Island Paradise

Image overlooking beautiful Waimea Canyon in Kauai.

Kauai is Calling

When my close friend told me her wedding was going to be in Kauai, there wasn’t even a tiny part of me that considered missing it. Don’t get me wrong, she could have had it in a far less tempting location and I would’ve been there, but Kauai at the end of the Minnesota winter is no contest. Most of my preparation for the trip was to plan and train to hike the Kalalau Trail. Before I knew it, my departure date was upon me and I hadn’t even researched what else there was to do on the island. So, I threw the travel guide my friend had given me in my bag and planned to read it on the flight.

If you’re at all like me and find yourself on your way to Kauai without a clue what to do (other than enjoy the sun and sand), here are a few suggestions.

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means that if you purchase through a link, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Getting Around

If you want to explore the island at all, I highly recommend you rent a car. If you really want to explore it, I recommend a four wheel drive vehicle. Here’s why. The beauty of Kauai is in it’s incredibly diverse landscapes. You really want to see the island from every angle.

Uber recently arrived on the island, however there aren’t a lot of drivers working for Uber yet so it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to get one. There are taxis available by phone, but with primarily one road that traces the outside of the island traffic can move quite slow so you may be waiting a while. From Lihue Airport to the end of the road at Haena Beach on the North Shore, is 35 miles and it’s about the same going from Lihue Airport to the end of the road in the other direction near Polihale State Park. Those are long and expensive taxi rides and there’s no guarantees you’ll have a way to get back.

Image of the dirt road on the way to Polihale State Park in Kauai.

Polihale State Park is at the end of the road on the Southwestern corner of the island where the Na Pali Coast begins. However, the last 3 or so miles of the road to Polihale are unpaved and pretty bumpy. This is where the four wheel drive vehicle would come in handy. I’m pretty comfortable driving in rough conditions, and ended up turning back because I didn’t think my Hyundai sedan was going to make it. I regret not having a more equipped vehicle!


The entire Kalalau Trail isn’t for most people. However, the first 2 miles of the trail to Hanakapai’ai Beach can be hiked without a permit. From the beach, you can turn inland for about 1.8 miles to Hanakapai’ai Falls. This is a reasonable but somewhat technical day hike that gives you some exposure to the beautiful Na Pali Coast. Please note that it is not recommended to swim in the beach at Hanakapai’ai due to undercurrents. Expect for the first two miles to take about 1 to 2 hours and about the same to go the remainder of the way to the falls.

To get to the trail head, drive to the end of the road on the Northwestern corner of the island and park at either Haena or Ke’e Beaches. Read my post on hiking the Kalalau Trail for advice on keeping your vehicle safe.

Be sure to bring these day hiking essentials with you!

Iconic stacked rocks at Hanakapi'ai Beach along the Kalalau Trail in Kauai.

Must-See Sites

Kauai has kind of a bad reputation for being really expensive, but you really can explore the island on a budget. These must-see sites are all free!

  • Waimea Canyon – I was blown away by Waimea Canyon. I guess I imagined that a canyon on such a small island would be relatively small itself. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The vastness of the canyon, the lush greenery and the waterfalls really make this site otherworldly. We drove the Waimea Canyon Road which has several places to stop and see the canyon from different viewpoints. Make sure your gas tank is full and your camera battery is charged!
    Image of Waimea Canyon with a waterfall in the distance.
  • Wailua Falls – On a whim on my last day, I decided to visit Wailua Falls, between Kapaa and
    Image of wild boar crossing the road near Wailua Falls in Kauai.
    Lihue. The road up to the lookout point beautifully zigs and zags through the countryside  and ends at the falls. If you go past the lookout point there are several parking spots. If you’re lucky like I was, you may even see a wild boar wandering around the lookout point. The falls are over 170 feet tall and, again, much more grand than I imagined. Supposedly, you can hop the concrete barrier and hike down to swim in the pool below the falls but it is not encouraged by the government.
    Image of Wailua Falls, near Lihue in Kauai.
  • Polihale State Park – Again, I didn’t make it all the way but the draw is the sand dunes and views of the Na Pali Coast. Another time for me, but this was highly recommended by my friends.
  • Spouting Horn Blowhole – Just up the road from Poipu on the South side of the island, you can see the waves at work at this unique blowhole. It is unlike others around Hawaii because it has an additional blowhole that blows only air which causes it to make an eerie gasping sound. We went first thing in the morning when it was quiet so we could hear it!
    Image of Spouting Horn Blowhole on the Southern part of Kauai, near Poipu.


Image of Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market, near Poipu, where we got the most delicious Poke Bowl.

So, I don’t think you can really go wrong on the island with your food choices, however there are a couple of highlights. First, if you’re near Poipu, I highly recommend getting a Poke bowl from the Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market. Not only was it delicious but the fish is fresh and the food was prepared with care. Now, if you wanna compliment your Poke bowl with, say, a beer, I would recommend the Hanalei IPA by Kona Brewing Company. All I’ll say is that it has hints of passionfruit! #mindblown

If you’re looking for dessert, why not make an adventure out of it? Visit Lydgate Farms Chocolate Tour to learn how chocolate is made from bean to bar!

I know that we didn’t have time to even scratch the surface of what Kauai has to offer, but what we did see sold me on going back again in the future.

Mahalo, my friends!

Love this post? Pin it!

Explore all that Kauai has to offer in the Hawaiian Islands! Find out why you should get a rental car in Kauai, where to eat in Kauai, what sights to see in Kauai and more! #kauaitravel | #napalicoast | #waimeacanyon | #hawaiitravel

11 thoughts on “Kauai: What To Do in This Island Paradise

  1. Ashlyn says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii – I feel like its landscape would be comparable to Iceland with all the volcanic rock! Your photos are just stunning!

    • This Big Wild World says:

      Thanks so much! I so need to get to Iceland – I mean, I need to do “research” on how they compare 🙂

  2. Sylvia says:

    Oh wow, I didn’t know there were canyons and blow holes in Hawai. Thanks for the tips on how to enjoy Kauai. I am totally pinning that for future reference!

  3. Anisa says:

    I haven’t been to Kauai yet, but would love to go. I would love to do that hike and also see the canyon. Beautiful pictures!

  4. Sara says:

    Ah this makes me so jealous. I have only done Oahu and Big Island. I need to go back just to get to Kauai. I have heard it’s beautiful and your photos prove it. That waterfall, wow. I am dying over here.

    • This Big Wild World says:

      Kauai is really a gem – not easy to get to, but absolutely worth it! The island has so much to offer with such different terrain. You’ll love it!!

  5. Lisa says:

    My only taste of Hawaii was a week in Honolulu when I presented at a conference. I really want to return and explore more especially do some hiking. Great post.

  6. Megan says:

    What a stunning island this is. I cannot believe that there is a canyon that deep and majestic on an island in Hawaii. And what a wonderful place for a wedding as well. My family has talked about visiting this island together for years but we’ve never made it happen. Hopefully someday soon we will and I can come back to this little guide. 🙂

    • This Big Wild World says:

      It really is! The canyon was such a pleasant surprise 🙂 I do hope you and your family get to visit beautiful Kauai some day soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.