With deep canyons, a rugged and beautiful coastline and great beaches, there is certainly no shortage of things to do on the Garden Isle of the Hawaiian archipelago. Smaller and more laid back than the more popular tourist destinations of Oahu and Maui, Kauai is known for its great surf, the untouched Nap Pali coastline and sleepy North Shore towns. Outdoor activities are also abound on Kauai and those adventurous Hawaiian travelers looking to experience Hawaii’s natural beauty, get off the beaten path and get in touch with nature will surely not be disappointed by the plethora of things to do in Kauai.
Get Rid of Your Tan Lines (Go to a Nude Beach)
Hawaiians are well-known for their laid back attitude and Aloha spirit, and while nude sunbathing in Hawaii might be illegal in a technical sense, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the time. If you are looking for some spots where you can shed that suit, there are a few ideal places were you can sunbath in the buff.
>>Read more about Nude Beaches on Kauai
Surf /Learn to Surf
Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore is famed for it’s giant winter swell and world-class surfers who like to catch the waves here. But while this spot is best known for having the biggest and baddest waves out there, those non-experts who are looking to try out surfing for the first time (or the 10th time) will also find this spot on Kauai a perfect place to learn how to surf. Not only is the view totally gorgeous, but there are also a few different surfing schools on the bay which can help you get started on your wave domination (like surf legend Titus Kinimaka’s Hawaiian School of Surfing).
>> Want to know more about surfing Hanalei? Check out my post on Best Beginner Surf Spots: Part 3—Hanalei.
Visit Waimea Canyon
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Kauai’s immense and dramatic Waimea Canyon is certainly not a sight to miss for anyone visiting Kauai. The canyon, with its warm reddish cliffs, waterfalls and green vegetation, is more than 10 miles long, 1 mile wide and 3,000 feet deep—making it one of the biggest attraction on the island. Plus, the best part of visiting this natural wonder? It’s free!
>>Get more information on Kauai’s Waimea Canyon
Go to Koke’e State Park
Located right next to the Waimea Canyon State Park, visitors will find Koke’e State Park, which covers more than 4,300 acres and has countless hiking trails, stunning vistas and native plant and animal species. Birdwatching and hiking are the most popular activities in Koke’e and because of its proximity to Waimea Canyon, combining visits to these two parks in one day is a great way to maximize time on your trip.
>>Get more information on Koke’e State Park on Kauai
Hike the Na Pali Kalalau Trail
Meaning “the cliffs” in Hawaiian, the Na Pali coastline on Kauai’s North Shore is home to some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring scenery in the world. In fact, the green velvet-coated cliffs dropping straight into the Pacific below has been the spot of several blockbuster filming locations (think dinosaur island from Jurassic Park). The cliffs have also prevented any development or roads of any kind into this natural wonderland of cliffs, sea and hanging valleys—meaning the only (and best) way to experience Na Pali is by hiking it.
>>Get more information on Hiking the Kalalau Trail
Take a Na Pali Catamaran Tour
If you’re not up for the 18 mile trek along the Kalalau Trail, then a good way to see and experience the beauty of the Na Pali coastline is by taking a catamaran sailing tour. Not only will the ride provide you with some jaw-droppingly beautiful views, but you’ll also be able to snorkel, feel the wind in your face and maybe even glimpse some humpback whales in the winter months. My sailing adventure on Captain Sundown’s sailing catamaran was and remains one of my most treasured Hawaiian travel memories.
>>Get more information on Na Pali Catamaran Tours
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If spending a day gently paddling down a Hawaiian river or out on the warm, blue waters of the Pacific Ocean sounds like it’d be appealing, then kayaking in Kauai is probably the ideal activity for you. Companies like Hanalei Kayak offer tours where you can paddle upstream (in a very gentle current) and take your kayak into the Hanalei Wildlife refuge before heading back downstream into Hanalei Bay. For less than $50 and using only the power of your two arms and a paddle, you can be floating your way into some Kauai’s most stunning natural wonders.
>>Get more information on Kayaking Kauai
Take a Kauai Helicopter Tour
Because such a large portion of Kauai is un-navigable (at least by car or other motorized transit) a great way to experience the Garden Isle is from a helicopter. While these tours will cost you a lot more than, say, hiking the Kalalau Trail, you’ll be able to get absolute stunning views of everything from the Waimea Canyon to the Na Pali coast. Helicopters will fly you above countless inaccessible yet spectacular falls that go unseen by most people, wisk you over secluded valleys and even take you to the wettest spot on Earth inside of Kauai’s ancient volcano, Mt. Waialeale.
>>Get more information on Kauai Helicopter Tours
While you may associate horseback riding more with the Wild West and saddle ranches in Texas, Hawaii actually has a rich ranching and cattle history. And what comes along with ranches and cows? Horses of course. While Paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) are popular fixtures in Hawaiian folklore, horseback riding has recently become a popular activity for tourists. Because so much of Kauai is inaccessible to motor vehicles, horseback riding can be the perfect way to explore unspoiled and pristine areas of Kauai.
>>Get more information on Horseback Riding in Kauai
Camp at Haena Beach Park
Located just north of Hanalei, Haena Beach State Park is a favorite spot for camping and beach lounging for locals and travelers alike. Sitting at the edge of the Na Pali coast and near the trail head for the Kalalau Trail, Haena is a small park with a great grassy picnic area, beach and lots of great camping spots. With restrooms and cold showers available, you’ll find no need to spend on a pricey hotel in town when you can camp on the beach and enjoy Kauai’s beautiful scenery for $3 per person per night.
>>Get more information on Haena Beach State Park
Birdwatch at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Kauai is an excellent vacation destination for anyone who likes nature – whether that means hiking or surfing over it, or spending time quietly bird-watching. One especially great spot for nature-lovers is in Kauai, at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where visitors can get a chance to spot a Laysan albatross, as well as the state bird of Hawaii, the endangered nene Hawaiian goose.
>>Get more information on the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Snorkel or Scuba Dive at Tunnels Beach
The wide, golden sand beach, shady palms and view of the fabled Bali Ha’I mountain dropping into the Pacific would be enough to merit a trip to Tunnels beach, but add to that amazing coral reefs (and coral tunnels, from which the beach gets its name) and you have a recipe for one of the best spots to visit in the isles. The center portion of Tunnels beach has a huge, half moon shaped reef about 1/8 mile off shore. Tunnels can not only give you a great opportunity to spot some amazing and colorful sea life, but once you are out of the water you should have no problem finding a great spot to kick back and relax in the shade of ironwood trees bordering the beach.
>>Get more information on Tunnels Beach
Take an ATV Tour of Kauai
If you’re one of those people who has seen those pictures of sunbathing beauties on Hawaii’s white sandy beaches and thought, “But doesn’t that get boring after awhile?”—then you are probably someone who would enjoy taking an ATV tour is Kauai. Much of the island of Kauai is uninhabited and wild, making it perfect for exploring from the back of an All-Terrain Vehicle. Experienced or not, you can take a guided tour which will lead you into some of the more scenic and spectacular regions of the island—all while enjoying a heart-thumping ride on an ATV.
>>Get more information on ATV Tours on Kauai
Eat at Postcards Cafe
Postcards Café on Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore is a vegetarian and seafood restaurant not only provides diners with a picture-perfect view overlooking the bay, it also serves up fresh island fish dishes inspired by the produce and flavors of the tropics. Start with the Hawaiian twist on chips and salsa by ordering the taro fritters served with fresh papaya salsa.
>>Read more about Kauai Dining
Visit Old Koloa Town
The town of Koloa, which is sometimes called Old Koloa Town and sometimes even Homestead, is a small town on the island of Kauai which dates from the mid-1800s when Hawaii’s first sugar cane plantation was founded in Koloa. Visitors today can see the ruins of the first sugar mill, as well as a plaque dedicated to the workers, in the town center. It’s a great way to soak up some Kauai history and spend a lazy afternoon.
>>Get more information on Koloa Town on Kauai
Check out the Kilauea Lighthouse
This scenic lighthouse sits out on the northernmost point of the Hawaiian islands on a large piece of lava rock jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. The historic landmark (which is now open to visitors) was first built in 1913 and guided ships from Asia for more than 60 years. The land around the Kilauea Lighthouse became part of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in 1985, so heading out for a visit is kind of like a two-fer, especially if you’re into bird watching.
>>Read more about the Kilauea Lighthouse
Find Inner Peace at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery
If you’ve come to the Hawaiian islands in search of some spiritual rejuvenation and peace, then visiting Kauai’s Hindu Monastery might be just the activity for you. Set on 460 acres in secluded Kauai beauty, this Hindu Monastery is the home of the Saiva Siddhanta Church and welcomes pilgrims year-round, though the recommended best times to visit are during February-March, July, or October-November because of the special worship and meditation possibilities.
>>Read more about the Hindu Monastery on Kauai