Day-Trip Itineraries for Kauai

One-Day Itinerary

Napali Cliffs
Napali Cliffs
© Kauai Visitors Bureau / Robert Coello
It's almost a shame to visit Kauai for just one day as there's enough to see and do here to keep you busy for weeks. But, if you only have one day, it's best to head for the North Shore, where the famed Napali Coast beckons.

On the way, stop for a brief sojourn at Smith's Tropical Paradise, a 23-acre garden filled with exotic trees and fragrant plants. You can take a self-guided walking tour or hop aboard a tram for a narrated explanation of the botanical wonders. Route 56 winds through some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Hawaii.

Kilauea Point Lighthouse
Kilauea Point Lighthouse
© Kauai Visitors Bureau / Robert Coello
The North Shore of Kauai is blissfully beautiful (apparently Hollywood producers agree, as this is a coveted movie production locale). Just past mile marker 21, make a right to Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens where an abundance of hardwood trees, a maze lined with mock orange shrubs and over 60 bronze sculptures will delight you. Then make a stop at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the picturesque lighthouse sits serenely.

Take a quick detour to Princeville Resort, where the Prince Course is rated Number 1 in the state by Golf Magazine. The hotel's open-air Cafe Hanalei is a great lunch spot and the views of the famous "Bali Hai" cliffs are incomparable.

The charming town of Hanalei offers a menu of delights, from sophisticated to simple dining, shopping and entertainment choices. Beach parks and pavilions border the bay and the pier is great for fishing and sightseeing. The mountains form a stunning backdrop, complete with waterfalls, mists and rainbows.

Kee Beach, from Kaula Paoa
Kee Beach, from Kaula Paoa
© Kauai Visitors Bureau / Robert Coello
If you're feeling energetic, rent a kayak and take to the Hanalei River.

At the end of the road in Kee Beach Park, an aquamarine lagoon awaits snorkellers. Always check weather conditions before entering the water. Nearby are wet and dry caves, easily accessible and steeped in ancient lore.

Make a reservation to tour Limahuli Garden, a superb collection of native tropical plants. Across the road, Haena Beach Park is a popular camping place.

Two-Day Itinerary

Day One: Waimea Canyon, Poipu and National Tropical Botanical Garden

With a two-day trip, you can fit a little more into an itinerary. Begin day one by heading west, toward Waimea, where Captain James Cook first landed in 1778. A statue commemorates this courageous seafaring explorer. From here, head up to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The scenic vistas are awe-inspiring, with a kaleidoscopic landscape of green, orange, red, purple abutting a blue sky, definitely a place that demands a photo.

After Waimea Canyon, journey to the sunny south shore and stop at the McBryde and Allerton Gardens, headquarters for the National Tropical Botanical Garden and the only tropical plant research station in the United States. Here, you'll see lily pads the size of swimming pools, along with dozens of rare and endangered plants.

Nearby, Spouting Horn offers another great spot for picture taking, as the ocean water shoots through the lava tube, several feet into the air. Discerning diners will find several choices in Poipu, as well as a variety of stores and fabulous beaches. Kids will love swimming at Baby Beach, adjacent to Poipu Beach.

Day Two: Kapaa, Wailua, Kilauea and Hanalei

Wailua River
Wailua River
© Kauai Visitors Bureau / Robert Coello
Head north to Kapaa and stop at Smith's Tropical Paradise for a boat tour up the Wailua River to the beautiful Fern Grotto. The energetic traveller can kayak up the river for an up-close view. Continuing north toward Hanalei, make a brief detour in Kilauea, the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian islands. The lighthouse dates from 1913 and is a National Historic Landmark.

Naturalists and bird watchers covet Kilauea and it's a stopover site for such migrating seabirds as the Layson albatross and the red-footed booby. But even ordinary folks will appreciate the great spectacle as the seabirds flit in and out of their nests within the crevices of these cliffs. Kilauea Point has the largest colony of seabirds in the state.

After exploring charming Hanalei town, end your day toasting the sunset from Princeville or Hanalei, with the spectacular Napali Coast silhouetted in a pink-orange sky — it's a scene that will linger in your memory long after you've returned home.

Three-Day Itinerary

Day One: Waimea Canyon, Kokee State Park, Waimea Town and Polihale Beach

With three entire days, you can linger longer at Waimea Canyon, perhaps venturing to the end of the road and Kokee State Park. Here, dozens of trails await hikers of all

Polihale Beach
Polihale Beach
© Kauai Visitors Bureau / Robert Coello
ages and abilities. The indigenous flora and fauna are abundant. Beyond Waimea, the western tip of the island is home to scenic Polihale Beach, where you may have the wide beach to yourself (beware of strong currents in this isolated spot).

Before arriving in Waimea, make a point to check out the quaint shops and art galleries in the idyllic town of Hanapepe.

Day Two: Poipu. National Tropical Botanical Garden, Spouting Horn, Golf, Horseback Rides, Lihue, Kalapaki Beach, Wailua, Kapaa, Lydgate Park

You can spend more time in Poipu, perhaps exploring the Mahaulepu sand dunes on horseback or playing a round at Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course (home of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf).

Before heading straight to the Wailua/Kapaa area from Poipu, Kalapaki Beach makes for an enticing detour. The beach is ideal for families and the picturesque Nawiliwili Harbour is ideal for sightseeing.

Get more adventurous and take an exclusive tour through Kauai's hidden beauty with Kauai Backcountry Adventure. Take in the breathtaking ocean and mountain vistas while tubing through miles of ditches, tunnels, and flumes - an unusual way to explore the island's charms, its rainforests and lush verdant valleys. In Wailua, don't miss the chance to visit Lydgate Park where the Kamalani Playground, designed by local kids and built by volunteers, stands as a testament to Kauai's "Aloha Spirit." The park features two mini-pools surrounded by reefs and ideal for keiki (kiddies). First-time snorkellers will be treated to a colourful spectrum of fish in the big pool.

Day Three: Kilauea, Hanalei and Haena

After watching the seabirds nest around the Kilauea Lighthouse and taking in Hanalei, journey to the end of the road at Haena, where the famous Kalalau Trail begins. Weather permitting, novice hikers will prefer just to enjoy the first section of the trail to Hanakapiai Beach. The views from the trail are breathtaking, as the blue Pacific ocean crashes into the lava rock promontories, creating misty, ethereal foam. On the other side of the trail, centuries of wind and rain have formed jagged peaks and deep crevices of the mountain range. Spires of rock stretch to the clouds, blanketed by velvety green plant life, and the occasional waterfall cascades down the cliffs.