The Only Kauai Itinerary You’ll Ever Need (2024 Edition)

This Kauai itinerary will help you see and experience as much of Kauai as possible over the course of five days. BUT I will also share options on how to make this into a four-day, six-day, and one-week Kauai itinerary as well!

Keep in mind that you can easily make this Kauai day itinerary your own by following my suggestions on how to modify it. The main things I’ll point out are long hikes, stops you can visit just for some cute photos, and options to lengthen or cut short your day depending on how much relaxing you want to do.

We actually didn’t do any long hikes since I was 27 weeks pregnant when we visited, though I included them since you might be more adventurous than my pregnant self!

And if you want to see a video highlighting some of these places, check out my video below!

(If you can’t see a video player below, you may need to disable your ad blocker.)

Where to Stay for this Kauai Itinerary

If you plan to follow my Kauai itinerary, I recommend staying somewhere in or around the Kapa’a area. If you’re not familiar with Kauai, there’s one main route that goes from southwestern Kauai (the Waimea Canyon State Park area) all the way around the eastern side of the island, up north to Hanalei until it dead-ends at Haena State Park.

Staying in Kapa’a puts you in the middle(ish) of that route, making it relatively easy to venture up north or down south.

We stayed at a 3.5-star resort (on booking.com it’s 4 stars, on google.com it’s 3 stars), the Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy. I’d give it a 7.5 out of 10 but will say that it was just what we needed for what we were looking for. The four reasons we chose it were:

  1. Price point: it was much cheaper than a lot of the nicer resorts on the island.
  2. Spaciousness: for the price, we got a whole suite with a kitchenette and living area.
  3. LOCATION: this was key. I wanted to stay somewhere on the big island that was in between the northernmost part and the southwesternmost part. As I mentioned, I recommend staying somewhere in Kapa’a for just this reason! You’ll have great access anywhere you need to go.
  4. An action-packed trip: We do love luxury hotels, but if we’re barely going to be home, we don’t want to pay the price for luxury. We basically were only at our resort to sleep and occasionally spend a couple of hours relaxing or at the pool. So it suited our needs perfectly!

We also loved the on-site restaurant, Hukilau Lanai, because we’re a sucker for a good farm-to-table restaurant. This place serves up the freshest cuisine and even handmakes its own pasta. So delicious.

(I also would’ve spent a bit more and chosen the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort if it had been available during our dates.)

If you are looking for more of a resort-style stay, here are some luxury options for you:

Timbers Kauai

Timbers Kauai is the cream of the crop! It’s also conveniently located in Lihue, close to the Lihue airport! You’ll love this spot if you’re looking for true luxury. Fun fact: it’s the only resort situated right on the water in Kauai.

Grand Hyatt Kauai

This 4-star hotel is located on the south side of the island (note that this will add time to your days going up to Hanalei!)

Westin Princeville or Hanalei Bay Resort

Since the Westin Princeville and Hanalei Bay Resort are both on the northern side of the island, heading to the Waimea Canyon and Poipu areas is much more of a trek. But you’re conveniently in Hanalei, which is what I think is the prettiest area to stay in on the island).

Tip: Cheapest Months to visit Kauai

If you want to visit this beautiful place but you’re on a tight budget, you might consider scheduling your trip between August and September or October, or even April to June. This is when you’ll get to experience great weather as well as cheaper airfare and hotel rates!

Okay, now that we’ve gotten the logistics of picking a place to stay in Kauai out of the way, let’s get into the ultimate Kauai itinerary!

Day 1: Start Your Kauai Itinerary in Lihue & Waimea Canyon

Option to split this into two separate days! You can do a helicopter tour one day and fill in the rest of the time at your resort or at the beach. Then do Waimea Canyon/Kokee State Parks on the other day. We combined it all into one day since we wanted to see as much of Kauai as we could on this trip!

Kauai Bakery & Coffee

Start day one of your Kauai itinerary by getting some breakfast at Kauai Bakery & Coffee. Located in Lihue, where the helicopter tour takes off, this is a great spot to grab baked goods and coffee before your tour.

Island Helicopters Kauai

If you splurge on one thing on this Kauai itinerary, let it be on a helicopter tour!

We did the Jurassic Falls Landing Adventure with Island Helicopters and it was the perfect tour to kick off our Kauai trip! While doing a helicopter tour at any point in your trip is great, I loved it being the first thing we did.

Right out of the gate, we were able to see the whole island and the ocean from the sky and truly get a feel for the geography, terrain, and overall beauty! It gave a good framework for what to expect as we explored the rest of the island on the ground over the next several days.

Also, what makes Island Helicopters unique is that they are the only helicopter tour allowed to land at Jurassic Falls! They’re also family-owned, which I love.

Lunch at Hualani’s

Since you’re already in Lihue at this point, make your way to Timbers Kauai for a gourmet lunch with a view.

Hualani’s restaurant is located at Timbers Kauai. Whether you choose to stop here for lunch or dinner, you’ll love their organic, farm-to-table approach to food! Make a reservation ahead of time to make sure you get a table.

Psst… their Hanalei Bay cocktail is a must! I ordered it Virgin and ended up having two it was so dang good! Kind of like a pina colada, but better!

Waimea Canyon State Park (a must on any Kauai Itinerary!)

It’s time to drive to the westernmost part of Kauai! There is a car and per-person (non-natives) entry fee for Waimea Canyon State Park, but the good news is that it covers Kokee State Park, too.

Here are some highlights on the way and at Waimea Canyon State Park to add to your Kauai itinerary:

  • Nihau Lookout: You can see the neighboring island of Nihau from this spot!
  • Red Dirt Waterfall: As you’re driving on the main highway, don’t miss this bizarre water feature! The waterfall here stands out against some shockingly red dirt! You won’t be swimming here, but it is great for photos!
  • Waimea Canyon State Park Lookout: This is the easiest and best view of Waimea Canyon, which is dubbed as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” for this reason. It’s handicap accessible, which also makes it great for those pushing strollers!

Kokee State Park

pu'u o'kila lookout
  • Pu’u O Kila Lookout: This is my favorite lookout if you’re there on a clear day. From the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, you’ll see stunning mountain ridges contrasted with the lush valley beneath you.
  • Kalalau Lookout: To get to this lookout, make a left at the fork instead of going right to Pu’u O Kila. I will say that you get a similar view as you do at Pu’u O Kila Lookout, but it’s still worth stopping at because it’s basically on your way! It’s also home to the next spot on this list, the Kalepa Ridge Trail.
  • Kalepa Ridge Trail: We didn’t do this hiking trail because I was 27 weeks pregnant and there are dangerous parts in it. But if you’re up for a thrill, this hike brings you to a remarkable view of the Na Pali Coast – though the path is on the edge of cliffs at points! I’d avoid this if it’s rainy or recently has rained… better be safe than sorry! Note that the entrance to this trail is quite sketchy looking. You enter through a hole in the fence at Kalalau Lookout.

Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company

After your Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park adventures, stop at this delicious cafe for dinner! They serve fresh meals using local ingredients. We ordered the catch of the day and the burger – both were fantastic.

Day 2: Haena State Park & Kapa’a Waterfall Views

Moloaa Sunrise Fruit Stand

Grab some smoothies on your way up to Haena State Park. But be sure to check if they’re open before you stop by since they have limited hours.

Haena State Park

Haena State Park in Kauai

Today you’ll be going to the northernmost point of the island! It can be very hard to get a parking pass to visit Haena State Park, but if tickets are available, BOOK THEM. They will disappear in a heartbeat!

But don’t worry if parking passes are sold out. You can still visit Haena State Park via the shuttle. That’s what we did! You park at Waipa Park and Ride just past the main section of Hanalei Bay. From there, you board a shuttle at your designated ride time and embark on the 30-ish minute ride to Haena State Park.

(Getting back: the shuttle does return rides throughout the day; you can see their schedule here. Since we didn’t do the Kalalau Trail, we took one of the earlier shuttles back so that we could have lunch in Hanalei.)

If you plan to spend the whole day exploring Haena State Park, bring a lunch with you (and plenty of water, I hope that goes without saying!). There are no food service spots within the park.

Limahuli Garden & Preserve

This gorgeous botanical oasis is just a short five-minute walk from the shuttle drop-off stop at Haena State Park. You pass Limahuli when you’re on the shuttle, so this requires backtracking ever so slightly.

Reservations are required here as well; you can try getting a walk-in ticket but risk not getting one. We did the self-guided tour which follows a gorgeous path through their labyrinth (which looks like the rice paddies in Bali to me!), into the lush jungle, and back.

This tour is great for plant lovers or for those who love photography (me!). My favorite viewpoint here is the one you get over the labyrinth from the top of the hill to your left when you enter.

Note that you can visit Limahuli without visiting Haena State Park; I just combined both on the same day since they’re so close to each other.

Kalalau Trail

Walk back into Haena State Park to embark on an epic hike: the Kalalau Trail. This is the main reason why people come to Haena State Park: you can follow the Kalalau Trail to see waterfalls and remarkable views of the Na Pali Coast.

The Kalalau Trail starts right by Ke’e Beach. There are two main trails that you can do on a day pass (there are camping options too if that’s more your style, but otherwise these are the only trails you can do on a day pass):

  • Kalalau to Hanakapi’ai Beach: a two-mile trail with great views of the Na Pali Coast (4 miles out and back).
  • Continue to Hanakapi’ai Falls: From Hanakapi’ai Beach, you can continue on for about two more miles on an unmaintained trail to the falls. Beware of slippery parts! (This trail ends up being about 8-9 miles total out and back from Ke’e Beach).

Get official information about the Kalalau trail here!

Ke’e Beach

Whether you want to skip the hike and visit Haena State Park solely for Ke’e Beach or combine this with your hike, you can!

We were so excited to see a monk seal come up onto Ke’e Beach when we were there. Ke’e Beach has gorgeous sands and is one of the best swimming and snorkeling spots on Kauai.

Lunch in Hanalei at the food trucks

Catch the 12pm shuttle in time to head back for lunch (plan ahead because if you don’t, you might be stuck in Haena State Park until 1:30 pm, depending on that day’s shuttle schedule). It’ll take you back to your rental car, which you can then drive a very short drive into Hanalei.

We recommend the food truck area because there’s something for everyone!

Don’t miss out on Holey Grail for dessert- taro donuts, need I say more? We got the sampler and loved every single bite!

After lunch, head back to your resort for a relaxing afternoon and evening. (Or just evening if you’ve spent all day on the Kalalau Trail!)

Option to stop at these two overlooks on your way home:

Opaekaa Falls View

Located in the Kapa’a area, you can drive to a viewpoint that gives you a view of Opaekaa Falls. You’re a good distance away from the falls and there’s not a hike you can do to walk up to them, but they’re still gorgeous to look at from afar!

If you like photography, bring a zoom/telephoto lens with you! We used our 24-120mm lens at full zoom to get the photo above. (You can check out what’s in my camera bag here!)

This link earns us a commission at no additional cost to you.

Wailua Falls

Also in the area and at the south end of the Wailua River, you’ll find the gorgeous Wailua Falls. Fun fact: these falls were made famous by the show Fantasy Island.

There’s an illegal hike you can do to go down to the bottom of the falls if you want to risk it! The hike is short but steep and can be dangerous if the ground is muddy since there’s a risk of slipping especially if you’re wearing inappropriate footwear like flip flops. We didn’t hike down to the falls since I was 27 weeks pregnant and feeling very risk-averse.

Turns out, we still ended up doing something not permitted though- we flew our drone here and only realized when we were leaving that no drones are allowed! Oops!

Dinner at Hukilau Lanai

Located at Kauai Coast Resort, Hukilau Lanai serves up fresh, delicious cuisine. You’ll find fresh fish, homemade pasta, and local ingredients here! I got the pina colada (virgin, because of the baby), and it was so good- not too sweet! We ordered the XYZ and pasta special which was SO good. I wish I could do it all over again!

Day 3: Hanalei

Hanalei Valley Lookout

This is just a parking lot pull-off where you can see out over Hanalei. (If you’re looking for a great photo with you in it, this might not necessarily be it. It’s great for landscape photographers though!)

Nourish Hanalei

This smoothie shop has one of the best views in all of Hanalei! Grab a tasty smoothie and snap a pic! Just keep in mind that they are closed on weekends and have limited weekday hours. We showed up on a Sunday and realized they were closed, so just took some photos here and went on to the next spot.

Queens Bath

If you do one hike in Kauai, let it be this!

Caveat: it’s only worth it if the waves are calm. Check this site before visiting to make sure waves are under 4 feet. When we looked, waves were under 1 foot and we still had the occasional giant wave crash into the lagoon. So use your judgment when swimming here!

The thing is, this is one of the prettiest, coolest natural pools we’ve ever been to! It’s got tremendous views, crystal clear waters, and the hike to get to it is only about 20-30 minutes. You’ll pass a pretty waterfall on your way to Queen’s Bath, too.

Option to stop at the Taro Fields for a photo

If you’re looking for a good photo op, the taro fields are a gorgeous part of Hanalei’s beauty! Once you cross the bridge into Hanalei, take the immediate “left turn” (it’s more like continuing straight since the main road curves) instead of following the road into Hanalei.

Hanalei Bread Company

Stop into this tasty spot for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. In addition to fresh bread, they’ve got great smoothies as well!

Hanalei Bay

This is what I’d consider to be the prettiest beach in Kauai. Rugged mountains surround you as you play in this gorgeous water. The bay is a popular spot for stand-up paddleboarding and sailing as well, and one of the areas where you can surf safely – even if you’re only a beginner. You can also kayak the pristine waters here!

Option to grab a photo at the Hanalei Pier

Located at Hanalei Bay, the pier makes for a great photo op. You can stand on it or in front of it.

Wishing Well Shave Ice

Oh my goodness is this place delicious. I got the organic coconut shave ice with vanilla ice cream and Y’ALL. It was heaven in my mouth!

Beware of roosters who camp out in the dumpster. I got quite the scare when I tossed my trash in and a chicken flew out!

Tunnels Beach

Note: You have the option to easily incorporate Tunnels Beach into the previous day if you want since Tunnels Beach is on the Haena shuttle’s stop list (you’ve got to tell the shuttle driver if you want him to stop here). However, you can also drive to this stunning beach, which we ended up doing since we didn’t like having to worry about the shuttle pick-up/drop-off times.

Tunnels Beach is especially remarkable at sunset, though is stunning at any time of the day. We actually were so exhausted by the time we got done with lunch that we decided to spend the rest of the day at our resort.

Dinner at Bar Acuda

If you can’t tell by my restaurant suggestions so far, we love a good, fresh, farm-to-table experience. Bar Acuda does just that!

Day 4: Kilauea

Kilauea Bakery & Pizzeria

Grab a pastry and a coffee at this bake shop!

‘Aliomanu Beach

This beach is quiet in the mornings, just the way we like it for photos! There’s a designated parking area with a hiking path that goes down through the forest until you reach the beach. Keep in mind that Google Map directions to this spot will take you to the wrong spot, so pay attention to signs pointing you the right way!

Option: Snap a Pic with a View of Kalalea

couple on a scenic road in kauai

Photo op time! This road makes for dreamy photos with the stunning Kalalea mountains in the back! It’s also not a busy road at all (but make sure you are paying attention to any cars trying to pass through your photoshoot!)

Kilauea Lighthouse

You can walk right up to this pretty lighthouse! Unfortunately, when we visited, it was closed, but we still were able to fly the drone for some cool photos here!

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Kilauea Fish Market

Lunchtime! This spot is popular and for good reason!

Moloa’a Beach

Spend the rest of the day at the beach! You’ve earned it! This beach is great for kids as there are a lot of calm tidepools that the little ones can splash around in!

Day 5: Poipu

Option: Join a Na Pali Coast Boat Tour

We weren’t allowed to do this since pregnant women in their 2nd or 3rd trimesters are prohibited from joining the tour due to choppy waters. That being said, you might want to avoid a north shore boat tour if you easily get seasick! But if you’re up for it, a boat tour offers dramatic views of the Na Pali Coast!

If you do join a boat tour (like this snorkel and sail tour), you’ll want to work it into today’s schedule in a way that makes the most sense for your own timing. Most boat tours leave in the morning (unless you do a sunset sail like this one!).

Option: Whale-watching tour

If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s the prime whale-watching season! You can join a whale and dolphin-watching tour like this one!

Both of these boat tour options depart west of Poipu, so this is the perfect day to fit one or both of these in!

Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail to Makawehi Bluff

From Shipwreck Beach, you’ll find the Mahaulepu trail that ventures into the gorgeous bluffs on the southern side of Kauai.

(And if you’re up for sunrise, Shipwreck Beach makes for a great photo spot!)

Little Fish Coffee

Bagels and smoothies. Get them.

Allerton Beach

It’s time for a partially prohibited walk to reach a public beach. You technically have to follow a path that’s on private land that belongs to the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Here’s what you’ll see:

First, park at the end of the road. You’ll know it’s the end of the road because there’s a big ‘ol closed gate that says “private property” on it. From there, there is ample room to park on the side of the road. Park, gather everything you’ll need for your beach time, and then take the walking path to the left of the gate.
You’ll follow the road until you see a fork; take the left fork.

Follow that narrow path down until you reach the beach (you’ll have to duck at points since there are low-hanging branches and tree tunnels).

Spouting Horn

On your way back to Poipu, make a quick stop at Spouting Horn, which is definitely a highlight when you visit the south shore. From the lookout, you’ll see a blowhole that shoots water out every time pressure builds up due to the waves. It’s over to the left of the lookout and is very easy to see, you can’t miss it!

(This stop probably only takes 10 minutes at most, there’s not much to do here besides see the blowhole and use the restroom if needed).

Poipu Beach

This is a great place to relax for the rest of the day! Stay at Poipu Beach until sunset hours because you’ll have a really good chance of seeing sea turtles! They come up in the late afternoon and you can often find 10-20 just lounging on the beach!

Beach House Restaurant

You’ll definitely need reservations at Beach House since it’s quite a popular spot. It’s the perfect place to stop for a delicious dinner in Poipu.

Modifying this Kauai Itinerary for Trips of Different Lengths

If you’re visiting Kauai for longer or shorter than five days, here are some more Kauai itinerary options for you. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I hope you feel the flexibility to modify this itinerary to suit exactly what you want to do. Whether you’re looking for more hikes or more relaxation time, feel the freedom to customize as you see fit!

Here are my suggestions for a 4-day, 6-day, and 1-week Kauai itinerary.

4-Day Kauai Itinerary

Use the itinerary above but cut out Haena State Park, unless you really want to hike the Kalalau Trail. Taking the shuttle, while convenient, doesn’t really give you much wiggle room with timing.

If you really want to put your hiking boots to good use on the trail, cut out the Kilauea day or combine it with the Hanalei day since it’s on your way up north.

If you’re saving on expenses, remove the helicopter tour and add Waimea Canyon/Kokee State Park to the last day in Poipu.

6-Day Kauai Itinerary

Follow the itinerary but split day 1 into two days: one focusing on the helicopter tour and one focusing on Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.

1 Week Kauai Itinerary

Split day 1 into two days and add in all of the boat tour options: whale watching (if it’s in season) and a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast. Also, add a luau!

In conclusion…

I hope you found my ultimate Kauai itinerary helpful! If you have any questions about our trip, schedule, etc. just drop them in the comments! I’m happy to answer any questions!

And if you’ve been to Kauai and can think of something you’d add to this Kauai itinerary, also comment below! I’d love to check out more places on our next trip to Kauai!

Lastly, here are some more Hawaii articles you might be interested in:

Safe travels,
Jasmine

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About the author
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
Picture of Jasmine Alley

Jasmine Alley

I'm a Dallas-based, full-time travel blogger with a serious case of wanderlust! Through my website and Instagram, I hope to help others plan picture-perfect trips to the most beautiful places in the world! When I travel, I like to emphasize nature, hidden gems, and unique places.
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3 Responses

  1. Do you have a recommendation for 2 days on the island? What would you cut out? Or is it dependent on the weather? Thanks

    1. Hi Shelby! It really depends on the weather for me. I’d recommend checking the forecast a few days beforehand! I will say that my favorite things are Waimea Canyon State Park/Kokee State Park and going to Hanalei Bay, so I’d include those on the two days you’re there if possible!

  2. Hello Jasmine, i am visiting Kauai in December. Do you recommend any spots for kids friendly snorkeling? Also can you please provide direction to Kalalea Mountain view photo op from that road you mentioned in the post. And any other landscape photo locations. Thanks!!

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