Kauai Bucket List: 40 Adventures On The Garden Isle
Kauai is an adventurer’s paradise, there’s no doubt about that. With waterfalls, secret beaches, challenging jungle hikes and tropical marine ecosystems, the opportunities to get active and connect with Mother Nature are plentiful. I recently took my first solo trip to the island and ticked off many epic experiences, but my Kauai Bucket List has since grown exponentially and I must go back for more.
Planning a trip to the Garden Island soon? Check out these 40 adventures. I’ve divided them up by category and organized each section by location & preference. Happy Exploring!
A waterfall a day keeps the doctor away! Kauai is one of the wettest places on Earth, and the abundance of waterfalls is the heart beat of the island. The first 5 on this list are from the stream systems surrounding Mount Waialeale in the central-east part of the island, where the annual rainfall is ~400 inches.
☑ Ho’opi’i Falls was my very first stop off the plane on my way to my AirBNB in Princeville. It’s about 30 minutes from the airport & just a few miles outside of Kapaʻa. In just an easy 2 mile hike over intricate vines and lush canopy, you’re rewarded with not 1 but 2 gushing waterfalls! Scenes from Jurassic Park were even filmed here.
☐ Opaekaa Falls is one of the most easily accessible waterfalls on Kauai, located just off of Route 580. The hike to view it up close is considered one of the harder hikes, however, and that’s what’s officially on this list.
☐ Wailua Falls is another easily accessible, gushing waterfall nearby. It’s a dramatic double falls known for rainbows. Just like Opaekaa, it’s pretty slippery and treacherous, so prepare and use common sense!
☐ Makaleha Falls is an East side hike known for tricky bouldering over mossy rocks, several river crossings and a questionably kept trail. I’ll be looking for a buddy to complete this one next trip as it has the lure of diverse plant life and multiple waterfalls at the end.
☐ Uluwehi (Secret) Falls is only accessible via water. To view it, you can either make a friend with a small boat or sign up for a guided kayak tour that takes guests up the Wailua River and through a 20-minute jungle hike to see the 100-ft gushing waterfall.
☐ Hanakapiai Falls is the 300-ft scenic waterfall along the famous Kalalau Trail on the north shore. A strenuous 8 mile out and back hike is required to view its beauty up close and personal. Unfortunately, due to historic flooding in April 2018, it’s currently closed for repairs.
☑ Waipo’o Falls in Waimea Canyon is breathtaking, and you can drive up to see it on your way into Kōkeʻe State Park. It’s crazy to observe the energy of the water along the super dry red canyon landscape. Note- Waipo’o Falls Trail does not allow you to get up close to the falls but does wind through jungle and canyon landscapes to take you above the falls.
The epic ridge trails and rugged wilderness of Nā Pali was my initial inspiration to travel to Kauai. Hiking here is an absolute must, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Expect muddy, vine covered trails, steep inclines, crazy drop offs, lush canopies and jaw-dropping vistas. Koke’e State Park out west was my favorite, so that’s where this list starts.
☑ Awa’awapuhi Trail was recommended by a few local sources who told me that with the current closures of Kalalau, this trail would offer the best views of Nā Pali. It’s a ~6 mile out and back hike; but I chose to connect to the Nualolo Trail after checking out the vista, making for a ~12 mile journey.
☑ Nualolo Trail is similar to Awa’awapuhi, but has the opposing vantage point that looks down the Nā Pali coastline. It’s a must. You’ll see signs for the other trail no matter which one you start on and I suggest making a full loop. You can walk the last 1.5 miles between trailheads back to your car. Bring snacks and lots of water and go on a clear day.
☐ Honopu Ridge makes my palms sweat when I read about it as the ridge lines this far toward the ocean appear extremely narrow and crumbly. It’s a 5-mile out and back trail that often gets socked in by dense fog, but on a clear day the lookout provides views of Honopu Beach, the most sacred spot on Kauai where kings were buried + a waterfall in the Honopu Valley.
☐ Kalepa Ridge is a ridge line that descends down between Honopu and Kalalau Valleys. It’s an unofficial trail, which means that it’s unmarked and unmaintained, and you have to hop a fence to get to it. It seems to be a shorter albeit probably just as intense version of Honopu Ridge.
☐ Kalalau Trail is the hike of my absolute dreams. On the north shore, nestled where the rainforest hugs the ocean, it’s a 22-mile out and back journey that involves permits and camping at a pristine beach. It is closed indefinitely due to historic flooding in April 2018, but I know I will hike it one day!
☑ Okolehao is right outside of the north shore town of Hanalei and provides sweeping views of Hanalei Bay. To access it, take a left after the 1-lane bridge. It’s marked DO NOT ENTER so I decided to park on the Princeville side of the bridge and walk to the trailhead as it was less than a mile, but one I got to the parking lot I saw that plenty of local cars knew better. It was a really peaceful walk through the taro fields to the start of the trail, though so I was happy with my choice.
☐ Sleeping Giant is a popular hike that is safe to do solo. The ridge is in the Nounou Mountains near Wailua and is said to resemble a human body. There’s 3 different trails / entry points that offer some diversity for a laid back adventure day.
Get Out On The Water
Visiting Kauai and not getting out on the water at least once would be a mistake. From tide pools to boat tours, there’s so many ways to take in mama ocean!
☑ Boat tour of Nā Pali Coast. I booked a sunset catamaran tour with Captain Andy’s and it was a great experience. Our captain, Kyler, was funny and offered a lot of insight into the ocean and features of Nā Pali (which translates to cliff). We even saw whales & dolphins! Captain Andy’s also offers raft excursions that dodge in and out of sea caves and waterfalls which I want to try.
☐ Paddle Board Along Hawaii’s Largest Barrier Reef. Anini Paddle Boarding offers rentals, customized tours and beginner classes at Anini Beach, the most protected lagoon on the island. Such a peaceful way to experience the sea.
☐ Take A Surf Lesson in Hanalei Bay or Poipu. The first page of Google returns a number of surf schools that offer rentals and lessons at consistent beginner friendly breaks.
☐ Snorkel at Tunnels Beach in the north or Lawa’i Beach down south for a chance to observe sea turtles, tropical fish and coral reef. Check out this resource for more.
☑ Queen’s Bath is a natural swimming pool accessed via a short hike that features a little waterfall. It’s actually a deep sinkhole that was created by the collapse of a lava tube. ONLY VISIT THIS SPOT ON DAYS WHERE SURF IS 3FT OR BELOW. It is semi-exposed to the open ocean and is the site of dozens of accidental deaths. It’s a blind entry and rogue waves can happen here in any season, so timing and awareness are everything here.
☐ Go Free Diving. Underwater life is a whole other world and Kauai has several signature dive sites that will have you swimming through lava tubes and caves. I have been wanting to get into free diving and I think Kauai would be the perfect spot for beginner instruction.
Discover Local Beaches
A little downtime at the beach is a necessity on any tropical getaway if you ask me. Kauai has more coastline miles than other larger Hawaiian islands, many of which are successfully kept secret by locals and lightly trafficked by tourists! Always observe the ocean for 30 minutes and know the surf forecast before swimming at ANY beach on Kauai.
☐ Secret Beach (Kauapea) is an unbeatable choice for seclusion. It’s closed off by tall lava walls, so it’s not visible from the highway. The beach is accessible via a nameless dirt road in Kilihiwai Valley and then a short but steep hike down to the sand. There’s no lifeguard or public services, but there is a waterfall and tidal pools when the timing is right.
☑ Ke’e Beach is the “end of the road” at the north shore. It’s protected by a barrier reef and it’s the last beach before the road closes off to the Kalalau foot trail. Ke’e a beautiful spot for sunset and snorkeling, but It’s currently closed to tourists as the sensitive area heals after the 2018 floods.
☑ Tunnels Beach is a dream spot for underwater exploration as lava tubes form dramatic caves right off the shore. There’s also soft golden sand and a lush jungle backdrop, signature of the north shore.
☐ Anini Beach is home to the largest barrier reef in the Hawaiian islands, making its protected waters a consistent choice for many activities like SUP and snorkel. It also has campsites, pavilions and restrooms so it’s a good choice to hang out for the day.
☐ Polihale Beach out west is a whole different scene compared to the rest of the island. It’s a 17-mile stretch of white sand boasting 100-ft dunes, desert plant life and beautiful sunsets over the Forbidden Island of Nilihau. Just like with all beaches in Kauai.
Take In The Views
Kauai is teeming with life and casual strolls are a great way discover details of the island that give it its pulse. Enjoy a leisurely pace and appreciate the diversity of nature on this volcanic island.
☐ Ke Ala Hale Makalae Path is a 7-mile multi-use path that hugs the eastern shore of the island. You can’t miss the start of it as you round the coast. Walk, run, or rent a bike nearby to take it all in.
☐ Kilauea Lighthouse & Wildlife Refuge is a great little adventure to observe birdlife, whale watch, and enjoy the northernmost point of the Hawaiian islands. The lighthouse sits on the tall grassy slopes of a dormant volcano.
☑ Limahuli Gardens is a tropical botanical preserve tucked in the mountains. It hosts traditional Hawaiian plants and an intricate ancient terrace system for growing taro. The vibration and beauty of this space must be experienced firsthand.
☐ Maha’ulepu Coastal Trail is a 2-mile preserved heritage area and one of the last undeveloped spots on the south part of the island. It offers diverse scenery including the famous Spouting Horn & Shipwreck Beach.
Embrace Hawaiian Culture
I’ve decided the theme of my next trip to Kauai will be to seek out more cultural activities. I want to experience as much Hawaiian tradition as I can and connect with locals in an authentic way. Let me know what you think if you try any of these!
☐ Make A Haku or a traditional Hawaiian flower crown. Heavenly Hakus is the work of a highly regarded artist named Elvrine Chow and she offers demonstrations at a few farmer’s markets and is available for private workshops. Hakus are typically worn for special occasions.
☐ Attend A Luau. Did you know the ancient Hawaiian practice of Hula originated on Kauai, with the story of a mortal man who danced for the goddess Pele and won her love? Arrange to attend the Luau at Kalamaku in the Kilohana Plantation to experience dancing, twirling and traditional food and drink.
☐ Visit A Coffee Plantation. Kauai Coffee offers self-guided walking tours to learn all about the process from seed to cup, the type of climate necessary to grow beans, and what makes Hawaiian coffee unique.
☐ Indulge In A Chocolate Tasting at Garden Island Chocolate. Sample over 20 varietals of healthy chocolates and learn all about the cacao tree and how this treat is made.
☑ Hanalei Farmer’s Market. Stock up on tropical fruits and meet local artists and makers at the Saturday Farmer’s Market near Hanalei Center. Such a beautiful backdrop and local vibe.
Take some down time for yourself in Kauai. Connect with your internal world through yoga and spiritual healing workshops and indulge yourself in a traditional Hawaiian massage.
☐ Lomilomi Massage - The translation of this traditional Hawaiian technique means to knead, rub, and soothe and involves use of palms, forearms, elbows and knees to move unwanted energies through the body. It’s as much of a spiritual practice as it is body work.
☐ Go On A Shamanic Journey - The abundant plant life and untouched wilderness is an ideal space for deep healing. If you’re coming for this kind of deep work, check out Shamanic Spirit Medicine for classes, workshops and retreats on the island.
How many of these adventures did you tick off? Is there anything you would add to it? Share below!
And if you are fueling your adventures on a plant-based diet, check out my guide to Eating Vegan In Kauai!