Described as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon on the West Side of Kauai stretches farther than the eye can see. Although not as big or as old as its Arizona cousin, you won’t encounter anything like this geological wonder in Hawaii. Stretching 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep, the Waimea Canyon Lookout provides panoramic views of crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges. The grand inland vistas go on for miles. The word “waimea” is Hawaiian for reddish water. It refers to the striking red color in the soil that colors the Waimea River as it follows its timeworn path. While the canyon is breathtaking any time of day, if you are fortunate enough to be there at sunset when the light hits the red walls just right, it’s so beautiful it practically glows. The main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, leads you to a lower lookout point and the main Waimea Canyon Overlook, offering views of Kauai’s dramatic interior. The road continues into the mountains and ends at Kokee State Park where you may view the Kalalau Valley Lookout and the Napali Coast. There are numerous trails to traverse for beginners and seasoned hikers.
The Napali Coast on the North Shore of Kauai is an awe-inspiring sight. These towering cliffs are a symbol of the timeless spirit of Kauai. For those who desire a closer look, the Napali Coast can be toured by air, boat, or by hiking the Kalalau Trail. You can also get a glimpse of the Napali Coast/Kalalau valley from the lookout in Kokee State Park (To fully appreciate its magnificence, take a short walk along the Pihea Trail).
Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Lighthouse
This scenic viewpoint on the northernmost tip of Kauai is so gorgeous it will make you sigh. Not only is it a great place to spot whales during the winter, but it is also home to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for seabirds.
Kauai is also known for its breathtaking waterfalls. Opaekaa Falls on the East Side is one of the island’s most accessible waterfalls. Wailua Falls is known for being in the opening credits of the TV show “Fantasy Island.” Take a helicopter tour of the Mt. Waialeale area where you’ll see mountains deeply etched by silver streams of water. Weather permitting, your pilot may even descend toward the crater for a closer look.
Please see ‘ Beaches’ tab under ‘Area Guide’.
Kokee State Park
Travel further north along the winding road past Waimea Canyon and explore Kokee State Park, a forest rich in native plants, Hawaiian forest birds and hiking trails. At the Kokee Natural History Museum you’ll find hiking maps and exhibits. Near the end of the road, the famous Kalalau Valley Lookout offers a view of Kalalau Valley opening out to the Napali Coast.
Located on Kauai’s South Shore in the Lawai Valley, this is the headquarters of the National Tropical Botanical Garden featuring 259 acres of gardens and the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian plants.
Also in southern Kauai, this 80-acre gem is the public entrance to the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. It features impressive garden design and is home to the towering Moreton Bay Fig trees from the film “Jurassic Park.”
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Located in the lush North Shore of Kauai, Limahuli Gardens covers 1,000 acres, three distinct ecological zones and is home to early traces of early Hawaiian culture.
Other notable gardens include the 240-acre Na Aina Kai Garden on the North Shore and Smith’s Botanical Garden in Wailua.
On Kauai’s South Shore you’ll find the spectacular Spouting Horn blowhole, one of the most photographed spots on Kauai. The Poipu surf channels into a natural lava tube here and releases a huge spout of water during large swells. You’ll also hear a hiss and a roar that is the basis of a Hawaiian legend.
Ancient Hawaiians believed this coastline was once guarded by a giant moo (lizard) named Kaikapu. Everyone was afraid of the moo because it would eat anyone who tried to fish or swim in the area. One day, a young boy named Liko entered the ocean to outwit the lizard. Kaikapu attacked him, but Liko thrust a sharp stick into her mouth, swam under the lava shelf, and escaped through a small hole to the surface. The moo followed Liko and got stuck in the lava tube. To this day, you can hear the lizard’s roar and see her breath spraying from the blowhole.
The tranquil Wailua River weaves by gorgeous waterfalls and lush, jungle landscapes along the island’s East Side. Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii, and the Wailua River is one of the most popular.
The 20-mile long river, that once wove through the settings of seven different heiau (temples), flows from the 5,148-foot Mount Waialeale in the center of the island. The Wailua River features two popular and accessible waterfalls: Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls. The scenic river itself can be explored by kayak or outrigger canoe, and a boat tour is also available. Open-air boats also offer guided tours of the Fern Grotto, a natural lava rock cave sheltered by draping ferns. This romantic area is a popular wedding venue.
West of Princeville, on Kauai’s North Shore, is peaceful Hanalei Town. Graced with timeless beauty, this lovely small town is home to everything from historic places to contemporary art galleries. Hanalei is an unforgettable stop on your visit to Kauai.
Visit the Waioli Mission House and step back into Kauai’s history. Browse Hanalei’s art galleries for made in Kauai art and carvings made from rare, native Hawaiian woods. Locals and visitors come to Hanalei for ukulele concerts held at the Hanalei Community Center, a regular Kauai event..
At the foot of Hanalei’s misty green mountains you’ll also discover fields of taro (“kalo” in Hawaiian). These heart-shaped plants grow intensely green in flooded patches and are used to make poi, a Hawaiian staple starch that you can taste at any Kauai Luau. You can get a good view of this emerald quilt of land from the Hanalei Valley Lookout. Note that these taro farms are on private property, so only step foot on them during an authorized farm tour.
The historic Hanalei Pier was built in 1892 and has long been a favorite gathering place for local residents who go there to fish, swim and play music on Hanalei Bay. In 1957, the pier became world famous when Oscar Hammerstein II and 20th Century Fox featured the pier in the classic film, “South Pacific.” After a busy day of soaking up Hanalei Town’s history and charm, kick back, relax and watch a luminous sunset over Hanalei Bay.
Located on the south shore west of Koloa, Hanapepe Town once flourished as one of Kauai’s largest communities. From World War I to the early 1950s, West Side Hanapepe was also one of Kauai’s busiest towns, alive with G.I.’s and sailors training in the Pacific Theater.
Today, “Kauai’s biggest little town” hasn’t changed much over the last century at first look. Its historic buildings are so authentic that the town has become a location for films like “The Thornbirds,” “Flight of the Intruder,” and were even the model for the Disney film “Lilo and Stitch.” But now those plantation style buildings are home to charming shops, local eateries and more art galleries than any other spot on Kauai.
Hanapepe Town celebrates its artists every Friday, from 6-9pm, as painters, sculptors and craftsmen open the doors of their galleries and studios to celebrate the arts. Visit the galleries, take a walk on the “Hanapepe Swinging Bridge” — which is always an adventure to cross — then shop and dine in one of Kauai’s most famous small towns