Our time on Kauai was one of the most relaxing, adventurous, and beautiful places I have ever experienced. Pictures truly do not do this island justice. Kauai is one of the most colorful places I have ever seen. The ocean blues, lush greenery, orange and yellows illuminating the night ski during a sunset, the island is truly magnificent. Kauai is home to beautiful beaches, canyons, valleys, wildlife, waterfalls, trails and hikes, and plenty more. Read on for top things to do during your one week in Kauai, Hawaii.
I wasn’t sure when I would make it back to Hawaii so I wanted to hit every hot spot possible during our time on the island. Prior to the trip I spent countless hours researching top attractions, secret gems, where to stay, top ranked beaches and hikes, sea turtle sightings, tastiest food on the island, and much more. This itinerary will highlight those items but your personal itinerary might vary depending on how many days you are on the island, lodging location, and the weather.
- Arrival: Relax and Prepare for the Week
- Day 1 Morning: Waimea Canyon
- Day 1 Afternoon: Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike
- Day 2: Relax at Poipu Beach
- Day 3: Hanalei Bay and Happy Hour
- Day 4: Napali Coast
- Day 5: Ha’ena State Park, Kalalau Trail, Ke’e Beach, and Tunnels Beach
- Day 6: Helicopter Tour of Waimea Canyon and Napali Coast
- Day 7: Turtle Cove in Princeville
Arrival: Relax and Prepare for the Week
We flew into the main airport in Lihue and landed in late afternoon. There we picked up our car rental (I highly recommend renting a Jeep) and went to Walmart to get groceries. During our week in Kauai we stayed on the south side for 2 nights and the north for 4. If you are having trouble deciding where to stay on the island, you should narrow down where you want to spend most of your time. We wanted to spend half of our time near Waimea Canyon so we stayed on the south side first. Then we wanted to spend the second part of our trip relaxing and exploring the beaches in the north.
Day 1 Morning: Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon AKA ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific’. We spent our first day exploring Waimea Canyon and Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike. I suggest waking up early to head to the state park. It will be worth waking up for as the canyon looks like something straight out of a postcard and is a must see when visiting Kauai.
We departed around 6am (45 minute drive from our condo) and stopped for coffee and bagels along the way. You will want to get there early for a few reasons such as, avoiding large crowds, find parking along the lookout spots, and see the canyons and valleys before clouds roll in. You will quickly learn that the weather in Kauai changes by the minute and the mornings are usually more clear. After we entered the state park we stopped at multiple lookouts before arriving at the “top” or the main lookout of the Canyon.
When you get back on the road you will know when you arrive at the top or the main lookout spot. There will be plenty of parking spots and you have to pay to park there. The top is a gorgeous view looking down at the valley into the ocean.
Day 1 Afternoon: Awa’awapuhi Trail Hike
The rest of our day was open for adventure. As we were driving down the canyon we made a spur of the moment decision and thought it would be a good day to hike Awa’awapuhi Trail. It was only 11am and I had recognized this trail name from doing research beforehand. This is one of the most popular hikes in Kauai.
Awa’awapuhi Trail is roughly a 3 mile hike (6 miles round trip) so it is important to pack enough snacks and water. This is a strenuous hike, I am not trying to scare you away from hiking this trail but want to provide all the necessary details. Most of the hike is along a trail but the first 3 miles is all downhill. That means the hike back to the car is all uphill. Thankfully, most of the hike is in the shaded trees and there are spots to take breaks along the way. Honestly, the hike there and back was not the most entertaining, it is pretty much just a path through the trees… but the views at the end of the hike were nothing short of breathtaking. 100% WORTH TAKING THE HIKE!
A few things to take note of before heading to Waimea Canyon:
- There is one main road that goes all the way around the island so there can be traffic, especially around 8am and 5pm. I highly suggest departing earlier in the morning to avoid traffic and bad weather.
- The weather changes quickly so pack layers, waterproof shoes with traction, and rain gear.
- Waimea is the last town to get food or gas before you drive up to Waimea Canyon.
- The canyon isn’t going anywhere so if the weather is cloudy and rainy your first day don’t get discouraged! You can visit the canyon later on during your trip.
- If you are going to do a day hike make sure you bring extra water.
Day 2: Relax at Poipu Beach
This was a perfect day to relax and recover from our 6 mile hike the day before. During the week this was our main day to truly relax and veg out on the beach before heading to the North side of Kauai to do more exploring.
Poipu Beach was a great place to relax and snorkel. We saw a few sea turtles, plenty of fish, and a beach seal. After a relaxing day on the south side of the island we headed north to Princeville. On our way to the next airbnb we stopped to pickup beer and pizza from Hideaways Pizza Pub. We brought the pizza down the street and watched the sunset from Kenomene Ocean Sunset Outlook in Princeville.
Day 3: Hanalei Bay and Happy Hour
One of the most famous Bays in the world- Hanalei Bay! Great place to take a morning walk. We would wake up early multiple times during the week to walk along the bay. If you are staying in Kauai you have to visit Hanalei Bay, the views and scenery from the beach are gorgeous. For a panoramic view of the island head towards the pier and there you will see most of the island with mountains and valleys in the distance.
Hanalei is such a cute town that we spent the rest of the day exploring downtown, shopping, eating shaved ice, and we stumbled upon one of the best happy hours in the area, Kalypso Island Bar and Grill . Kalypso has an outdoor sports bar feel and they have delicious coconut shrimp, great nachos, and ice cold beer and cocktails. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the area and want some local food at a good price. If you are looking for something else to do while in Hanalei there are a few places to rent surf boards, kayaks, and paddle boards to take on Hanalei River and the Bay.
Day 4: Napali Coast
During the week Napali Coast is a MUST SEE when visiting Kauai. You can not drive to the Napali Coast but you can get pretty close if you want to see it by foot. If you want to get there by car then the closest you’ll get is by parking at Ha’ena State Park and hiking the famous Kalalau Trail. A parking permit is required and this has to be reserved ahead of time. I recommend hiking in the state park on Day 5. If you want the full panaromic view of Napali Coast then you have to either take a boat or helicopter.
On Day 4 we booked an excursion with Napali Coast Catamaran Boat Tour. We took the morning tour and there were 8 others on the boat with us. The boat isn’t anything fancy but it was one of the cheaper tours with good ratings. The captain and his mate were great! They were very accomodating, gave all the details about Hawaii and the coast, and kept us entertained the entire tour. There was even time for us to swim and snorkel.
Day 5: Ha’ena State Park, Kalalau Trail, Ke’e Beach, and Tunnels Beach
The end of the road. This is as far as you can drive along the north shore of Kauai. YOU MUST HAVE A GOVERNMENT PERMIT BEFORE ENTERING THE PARK! This is very important because the days of strolling up and walking into the park are long gone. You need to register for a parking permit ahead of time.
I believe you can register for a parking pass permit up to 30 days in advance. Even if you do not have a rental car you still need a pass to enter rather it is via bus, taxi, or any other form of transportation. I am glad someone told me about this ahead of time because the park is limited to 900 people a day.
I wasn’t sure what day we would plan to do this hike or how the weather would shake out so I registered for 2 different days and did all 3 time slots (morning, afternoon, evening). It was only $5 per car per time slot so I spent $15 a day per permit.
At the park you will find Ke’e Beach, Kalalau Trail Trailhead and Hanakapiai beach and Falls. Kalalau Trail is one of the most well known hikes in Hawaii. It covers the Napali Coast and is 11 miles each way (22 miles round trip) this is a very strenuous hike and most people split this up into 3 days. We had no intentions of hiking the full 11 miles, there are great 2-4 mile hikes for those of you who are looking for an easier day hike.
As you begin to hike along the trail you will notice a path created with rocks and jungle-like trees leading the way. The trail can be a bit rocky and steep in a few places so make sure to take your time. We had every intention of hiking to Hanakapiai Beach (2 miles) and then to the falls (additional 2 miles) from Hanakapiai Beach.
However, we did not make the truck to the falls, our bodies were tired, we were sweating, it was humid, and we decided to turn around. I was just glad that we made it to the lookout point where you can see the Napali Coast from a different perspective. The views are beautiful from Half Mile Pali Lookout, which is only half a mile into the trail.
After the hike (that was shorter than we anticipated) we went back to the car to grab our beach chairs, cooler, and towels, and hit the beach. Ke’e beach is very relaxing and the lagoon is protected from the wind allowing for ideal snorkeling conditions. The beach is also less crowded than some of the others along the north shore.
We departed Ke’e beach in the evening and on our way back to our condo we stopped at Tunnels Beach to catch the sunset, and boy were we glad we stopped. There were only a few people on the beach and there were multiple sea turtles resting along the beach.
Day 6: Helicopter Tour of Waimea Canyon and Napali Coast
One of the top things to do during your week in Kauai is to take a helicopter tour. A perfect way to experience the “Garden Island” is by Helicopter. Most of Kauai’s natural beauty is non accessible from land. We went back and forth between the helicopter tour (because its not cheap) but we pulled the trigger and it was an experience of a lifetime.
Within one hour (longer trips available) you will view the entire island. During the tour you get to experience the valleys of Waimea Canyon and the jagged cliffs along the Napali Coast. You will also see hidden mountains, waterfalls, tropical rainforest landscapes, and potentially some wildlife swimming below. Also, you may get to experience where they filmed Jurassic Park depending on the helicopter tour you select.
A few tips before booking your helicopter tour:
- Read the reviews on the Helicopter Tour Companies. Some are better than others and are worth spending the extra money for safety
- Try to get a window seat or request to sit in front of the helicopter if available
- The earlier the tour the better- we did the first tour and the clouds rolled in right after we landed
- Brind dramamine if you experience motion sickness
- Wear dark clothing so there isn’t a reflection in your pictures/videos
- Don’t forget to bring your camera because the views are breathtaking
Day 7: Turtle Cove in Princeville
Enjoy your last shaved ice, Kauai coffee, and views before leaving this luscious island. We woke up and went for a walk to Hideaway Beach in Princeville. This used to be known as Turtle Cove and if you are lucky you will see turtles laying along the beach. Unfortunately, we did not see any turtles but the beach was still fun to check out.
We then started our drive to the airport and if your flight is later in the day but you are forced to check out of your hotel or condo in the morning then I recommend going to a beach near the airport. We hung out at a park and were able to shower off and change in the public restrooms before heading to the airport. Hope you these recommendations for one week in Kauai, Hawaii!