Ah, Kauai, an island lush with greenery, palm trees, plunging cliffs, and azure waters lapping onto sandy shores. This verdant destination is so stunning it’s been touted as the “Garden Isle.” If you’re busy planning your vacation, this in-depth Kauai itinerary is exactly what you need.
We went to Kauai for my babymoon and had an absolutely memorable time. Kauai is the fourth largest of the Hawaii islands. It boasts plenty of golden beaches perfect for soaking up the sun, unforgettable scenery, and some of the world’s most beautiful hiking trails.
This guide covers everything from how to get around Kauai, what to do for 5–7 days, and some helpful tips to help you arrange the perfect getaway. So pack your camera and sunscreen, and let’s jump right in.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, I may receive a small commission (for which I am very grateful for) at no extra cost to you.
Where to Stay in Kauai
Looking for a place to stay in Kauai? Below are a few excellent options to suit every budget.
Kauai Shores Hotel | Budget
This budget-friendly hotel in Wailua on the eastern coast is within walking distance from Waipouli Beach. It’s perfectly positioned between the north and south, making it a great base to reach attractions like Kapa’a Beach Park, Poipu Beach, and Hā’ena State Park.
Kauai Shores Hotel features vibrant decor while offering plenty of outdoor spaces where you can unwind. Soak away in the outdoor swimming pool and hot tubs, or stroll along the private beach. There’s even a beach-side restaurant, so you never have to be cooped up indoors. >>>View Rates and Availability
Sheraton Kauai Resort | Mid-range
This resort sits on the southern coast of Kauai, near Poipu Beach and the McBryde and Allerton Gardens. The interiors are minimalist and elegant, featuring neutral hues and warm-toned wooden furniture.
This resort has its own private stretch of sand, complete with palm trees and lounge chairs. There’s also a pool to unwind in and two on-site restaurants offering Hawaii-inspired cuisine. Be sure to stop by the spa for a massage in-between hiking days to help those sore muscles recover. >>>View Rates and Availability
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa | Luxury
Experience the ultimate luxury with a stay at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort in Poipu. Expect refined interiors that reflect the manicured lawns and beautifully planned gardens outside.
There are seven different restaurants to dine at, so you’ll truly never get bored. There are also various bars and lounges to relax at after your days of exploring, and a spa for a proper unwinding session.
Beyond that, you’ll be treated to traditional Hawaiian Luaus on Wednesdays and Sundays, and there’s an 18-hole golf course in the resort’s backyard. >>>View Rates and Availability
Map Of Kauai Itinerary
Things To Pack When Visiting Kauai
How to Get to Kauai
The only way to get to Kauai is by taking a direct flight from the East or West Coast in the US. Kauai has one airport, Lihue Airport, on the island’s east coast — often referred to as the coconut coast for its abundance of coconut trees.
If you’re flying from outside of the US or Canada, you’ll have to take a connecting flight to get to Hawaii. If your flight ends at Honolulu International Airport, it’ll be a short, 20-minute flight to Kauai’s airport.
Recommended Tours and Tickets in Kauai
- Sample local cuisines with a Kauai food tour.
- Discover the spots featured in iconic films like Jurassic Park on a Kauai movie destinations tour.
- Take a romantic sunset dinner cruise along the Na Pali coast.
Getting Around Kauai
The easiest way to get around Kauai on your one-week itinerary is with a rental car. The island does have public buses and taxis, but these can be unreliable, infrequent, or not go where you’d like. A rental car gives you the flexibility to go anywhere at whatever time suits you.
>>>Rent A Car Here<<<
One Week Itinerary for Kauai
There’s so much to do in Kauai that it may be challenging to know where to start. So here’s a guide on how to spend 5-7 days in Kauai to help you plan your own itinerary.
Day 1 – Check in and Chill at a Beach
On your first day in Kauai, check in at your hotel and head to one of Kauai’s top beaches nearby to soak up the sun. Unwind along the sandy shores, take a dip in the waters, or enjoy some adventurous activities like snorkeling or surfing.
Below are a few beaches to consider across the island. Choose the one closest to your hotel, and bring some sunscreen along. Remember that conditions can change rapidly, so always be alert when near the water and take note of where the lifeguard is stationed.
Hanalei Beach Park & Bay
Situated in the northern part of Kauai, Hanalei Bay is a family-friendly beach with soft sand and two beautiful coral reefs. It’s a great spot for snorkeling, and you can even explore an old shipwreck on the seafloor.
There are several restaurants near this two-mile-long sandy stretch, and you can enjoy amenities like bathrooms, showers, and picnic areas.
Poipu Beach sits on the southern coast of Kauai and has great waves for surfing or boogie boarding and some lovely picnic areas. The beach is situated in Poipu Beach Park, which has a playground and sits near various restaurants and hotels.
Poipu Beach is a popular spot for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals and various sea turtles. Bring your camera along to snap a few photos of these cuties from a distance.
This beach is a short distance from Poipu Beach Park and a great alternative if Poipu Beach is a bit crowded. The stunning stretch of coastline has calm waters, making it great for swimming. This beach is also often used for surf lessons, thanks to its mellow waves.
Tip: The Kiahuna Beach Parking lot has limited space. You might have better luck stopping at Poipu Beach’s parking lot instead. It’s only a five-minute walk from Kiahuna Beach.
This beach on the east shore is a popular spot for experienced surfers as it has larger waves and wind swells. So this isn’t exactly the ideal place to go swimming, but you may enjoy the 8-mile Kauai Multi-use Path that runs along the shore. The path is popular for cyclists and runners, but you’re welcome to enjoy a leisurely and scenic stroll.
If you’d like to swim, the safest area is at the northern end of the beach. Be sure to check with the lifeguard first whether it’s safe to swim.
During the winter migration season, Kealia Beach is also a great place to spot migrating whales.
Tip: End your first day with an authentic Kauai Luau at Kilohana Plantation on the eastern coast. You’ll get to sample local cuisine from the Luau buffet and snap some photos by a waterfall.
Day 2 – Helicopter Tour and Wailua Falls
After settling in at your accommodation and getting to know some of Kaui’s beaches, why not take an adventurous helicopter tour? My husband and I went on a doors-off Mauna Loa Helicopter Tour, and it was our favorite part of our Kauai trip.
The helicopter felt quite tiny, but the views and photographic opportunities were absolutely memorable. The roughly one-hour photographic tour allows you to choose where you’d like to fly on the island — be sure to head to Wailua Falls.
Alternatively, you can opt for The Kauai Experience tour, which takes you over the island’s highlights, like the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
If you’re not a fan of heights or you’re simply on a budget, you can try a Na Pali Coast sail and snorkel tour from Port Allen. The five-hour tour includes breakfast and lunch and will take you along the dramatic Napali Coast. You’ll also be provided with snorkeling gear and instruction so you can explore the glittering waters even if you’re a snorkeling beginner.
If you still have time on your second day, you can take a drive to Wailua Falls, an 80-foot double waterfall. The falls sit between Līhuʻe and Kapa’a and can be accessed without needing to hike. You can see the falls from the side of the road or take the steep path down to the pool.
Note: The path can be slippery and dangerous, so it’s best to avoid it unless you’re an experienced hiker.
Day 3 – Waimea Canyon and Kōkeʻe State Park
On day three of your Kauai itinerary, explore the beautiful state parks this island has to offer. Waimea Canyon and Kōkeʻe State Parks are a short drive from each other, so you can easily visit both in a day. Pack your best hiking boots because you’ve got some scenic miles ahead of you.
Waimea Canyon State Park
This state park is home to the Waimea Canyon and is often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The canyon spans 14 miles in length, with a one-mile-long width, and plunges 3,600 feet deep.
The dramatic canyon features beautiful greenery and intriguing scenery you can admire from various points. You’ll have to pay $5 to enter the park and $10 to park inside.
Start your adventure by heading to the Waimea Canyon Lookout via Waimea Canyon Drive. From the parking lot, it’s a two-minute walk to the lookout point, where you’ll get to enjoy sweeping views of the canyon.
Next up, head to the Waipo’o Falls Lookout for a different perspective of the canyon and a view of the 800-foot cascade of Waipo’o Falls. The Pu’u Hinahina Lookout is a short drive further and offers more panoramic canyon and river views. You might even spot Ni’ihau, often referred to as Hawaii’s “forbidden island.”
Get 35% off of AllTrails+
With offline maps, wrong-turn alerts, and extra planning features, AllTrails+ helps you make the most of every minute outdoors!
Sign Up Now!
Kōkeʻe State Park
After visiting some scenic lookouts, you’ll head to Kōkeʻe State Park to explore more of the island’s natural beauty. Head to the Awaʻawapuhi Trailhead situated along Highway 550. This moderate out-and-back trail covers six miles and has a 1,768-foot elevation gain.
Much of the trail runs through the forest and can be a bit muddy. But what the trail lacks in the scenery along the way, it makes up for with a dramatic vista of the Na Pali Coast at the end. You’ll also get to see the canyon opening onto the coast with its glittering river running through.
If you’re seeking a more advanced hike, you can take on the 7.5-mile Nu’alolo Trail. This out-and-back hike has an elevation gain of 2,579 feet and starts near the Koke’e Natural History Museum (which is worth a visit).
After taking a break to refuel, make your way to Kalalau Lookout for vistas of the azure Na Pali Coast and the interesting cliffs dotted with greenery. The Pu’u O Kila Lookout is a short drive away and offers another photographic opportunity. Be sure to read through my hiking photography tips to help you get some perfect shots.
Tip: Don’t be discouraged if the view is overcast. The conditions on the island change rapidly, so the weather will often clear up within a few minutes.
Day 4 – Hike the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail at Sunset
Spend day four in Kauai recovering from your previous day of hiking by relaxing at one of the beaches along the southern or eastern coasts.
For some untouched natural shoreline, you can head to the Maha’ulepu Beaches on the southern coast. These beaches are a bit more challenging to get to, so they’re usually nearly empty. The three beaches are Gillin’s Beach, Kawailoa Bay (great for kiteboarding and windsurfing), and Kipu Kai Beach.
Since the Maha’ulepu Beaches are undeveloped, you won’t have access to things like bathrooms, showers, or lifeguards. So it’s not the best option if you’re bringing little ones along. But if you’re looking for a romantic, secluded beach, the Maha’ulepu Beaches are your best bet.
Some other options on the east coast include Ladygate Beach Park and Keālia Beach Park. Both have facilities like restrooms, picnic areas, and lifeguards on duty. Ladygate Beach Park has a lagoon great for snorkeling, while Keālia Beach Park is great for swimming or boogie boarding.
Once the sun starts lowering, park near Shipwreck Beach and head to the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. The 3.7-mile path follows along the coast, past limestone caves, sinkholes, and possibly some seals. The path has minimal elevation, so it’ll be more of a leisurely walk than a hike.
The out-and-back walk takes about an hour and a half to complete, so check the sunset times and plan your hike accordingly. Everything looks extra beautiful awash with a golden glow.
Day 5 – Kilauea Lighthouse and Kalalau Trail
Kick the day off with a visit to the Kīlauea Lighthouse situated in the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.
The lighthouse sits atop the northernmost part of the island, a peninsula towering 180 feet above sea level. The reserve is home to various nesting birds, so be sure to bring your camera along to snap some wildlife shots.
Other animals you can spot from the lighthouse include Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, and humpback whales. There are also a few informational boards where you can read about the history of the decommissioned lighthouse and the endemic birds.
After a visit to the lighthouse, you’ll take on the Kalalau Trail. The 22-mile path follows along the Na Pali Coast, offering incredible coastal vistas and views of waterfalls like Hanakapi’ai Falls along the way.
The trail starts at Ke’e Beach, a popular spot for lounging in the sun and swimming. From there, you’ll continue for about two miles to Hanakapi’ai Beach with a Hā’ena State Park day-use permit. You have to reserve this permit at least a day in advance.
I could only go as far as Hanakapi’ai Beach with the hiking permit I got. The weather was really hot and humid, and some parts of the hike were rainy and muddy, making the 3.7-mile hike a bit challenging while I was pregnant but still doable.
To hike beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach, you’ll have to reserve a backpacking permit, as the entire hike takes about 12 hours. There are only 60 of these permits granted per day, and permits are sold up to 90 days in advance. They sell out fast, so try to book yours as soon as possible on the Kalalau Trail official site.
Tip: If this is your first extended hike, read my guide on backpacking for beginners.
If you’re driving to the park, you’ll have to reserve a parking spot, which is limited to 100. The best option is to book a park shuttle ticket which runs between Waipa and Ha’ena State Park between about 6 am and 6 pm (this is what we did).
Day 6 – Lounge on a Beach in Northern Kauai
Relax after your day of hiking with some beach time on the North Shore. You already know about Kēʻē Beach in Haena State Park, but here are a few more north shore beaches to consider.
ʻAnini Beach Park
This sandy beach’s crystal clear waters are great for snorkeling and swimming as the waves are quite mellow and the waters are shallow. This beach is often less crowded than other beaches in the north yet doesn’t lack facilities like bathrooms and showers. There’s also a campground if you’d like to brave the outdoors for a night.
With lush greenery as its backdrop and azure waters ahead, this less-frequented beach is another great spot for swimming. It sits next to the popular Kēʻē Beach, so it may be a good alternative if you’re seeking a more quiet spot. With Mount Makana looming over the beach, it’s a great spot for testing your photography skills.
Nearby, you’ll find the 300-yard-deep Manini-holo dry cave, a great spot to explore.
Next to Hā’ena Beach, you’ll find the popular Tunnels Beach. With Palms and Ironwood trees lining the golden sands and dramatic cliffs looming above, Tunnels is one of the most photographed beaches in Kauai. It’s also one of the most popular beaches for snorkeling, as the waters are clear and shallow.
Parking is limited, so park at Hā’ena Beach Park instead and take a short walk to the beach.
This tiny secluded beach is accessed by a steep hike down a trail packed with clay — which can be slippery when wet. If you’re an experienced hiker and up for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful seaside views and a relatively peaceful experience. The hike down is quite fun and scenic too.
The beach is a favorite surfing spot, and the parking lot has less than 10 parking spots. So you may have to park at the nearby Makai Golf Course and pay a parking fee there.
Day 7 – Beach and Departure Day
On your final day in Kauai (if you’ve planned more than a 5-day getaway), spend some more time enjoying the beach before departing. Below are a few more great beach options.
Salt Pond Beach Park
This beach park sits on the southwestern end of Kauai and has lots of shallow pools great for snorkeling. The reefs help keep the waters calm, making this beach safe for swimming. There are also plenty of tide pools to marvel at Kauai’s marine life.
This tiny crescent west of Poipu Beach has shallow and calm waters that are great if you’re traveling with little ones. This beach is a less-crowded alternative to Poipu but has no lifeguard or bathroom facilities. You can walk to nearby Lawai’i beach if you need the bathroom.
This beach has a backdrop of resorts and restaurants, so it’s a great option if you’re seeking convenience. Kalapaki beach sits on the east coast, and you’ll often see cruise ships passing to and from the Nawiliwili Harbor. Here, you can enjoy beach volleyball, rent stand-up paddle boards, or learn to surf. The waters are relatively calm thanks to an ocean break wall.
Situated on the western coast of Kauai, in Polihale State Park, this beach marks the beginning of the Na Pali Coast. This 17-mile stretch of coastline features towering sand dunes, desert cacti, and views of the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau.
There are no lifeguards on duty, and the waters can be quite rough, so it’s not a safe beach to swim in. But Polihale Beach is great for long, romantic walks, combing the beach for shells, and watching the sunset. Be sure to bring an umbrella along, as there’s not much shade.
More Things to Add to Your Kauai Travel Itinerary
When you’re not lounging on the beach or hiking through the verdant landscape, consider including some of these sights and activities in your Kauai itinerary.
Golfing in Kauai
The Garden Isle has some pristine golf courses. So if you’re an avid golfer, consider spending some time at one of these top courses.
- Poipu Bay Golf Course: Situated between Poipu Beach and Mahaulepu Beach, this 18-hole course is dotted with palm trees and ponds and overlooks the bay.
- Kukuiolono Park & Golf Course: This golf course also sits in southern Kauai, in the town of Kalaheo. There’s a nine-hole course and a mini-golf course if you’re looking for something more beginner friendly. You might even see some cows and chickens roaming about.
- Makai Golf Course: This 18-hole northern Kauai golf course offers perfectly manicured lawns and is near the town of Princeville.
- Wailua Golf Course: Situated on the eastern coast, the 18-hole Wailua course offers ocean views and affordable rates.
Visit Kauai’s Gardens
Kauai isn’t called the Garden Isle for nothing. Stop by a few of these gardens to appreciate Kaui’s flora up close.
Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens & Sculpture Park
This beautifully well-kept park in Kilauea is a tranquil spot where nature and art intertwine. It’s a lovely spot if you’re looking to admire some art, as there are over 160 life-sized sculptures across the park. The park is also home to a hardwood plantation, a canyon, and the little Kaluakai Beach.
You can easily spend a few hours in this 240-acre park, admiring the plants, fountains, and intriguing statues. A self-guided ticket costs about $20, but you can choose various other tour options. There’s even a splash and play area for the kiddos. All tours must be reserved ahead of time online.
McBryde & Allerton Gardens
These south shore botanical gardens are another treat for the eyes, with various indigenous Hawaiian plants on display.
The 259-acre McBryde Garden houses the world’s most expansive collection of native Hawaiian species outside of the wild. You’ll find many endangered tropical plants in this botanical garden, as well as flowering trees and orchids.
The Allerton Garden is home to the towering fig trees you may recognize from the Jurassic Park films. It’s also the site of the garden “rooms” and water features created by Robert and John Gregg Allerton.
You can take a self-guided tour of the two gardens, but the “Best of Both Worlds” guided tour may be a better option. On the 2.5-hour tour, a guide will take you through the gardens, sharing information about the local species and the history of these parks.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to capture the beauty found throughout these parks, so don’t forget your camera.
Download my free Outdoor Photography Guide
Visit the Lilo and Stitch Town, Hanapepe
Hanapepe is a small town near Salt Pond Beach Park on the southern coast. The town is said to have been the inspiration behind the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. It’s often referred to as “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town,” as it’s one of the largest communities on the island.
The main road of this town features a Lilo and Stitch mural, welcoming you to the town. But besides that, you’ll mostly find pretty art galleries and some restaurants.
Another attraction in this little town is the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, just down the road from the mural. Built in 1911, this narrow bridge is a fun photo stop while in town. There’s also a little art gallery at the other end of the bridge where you can buy some souvenirs.
Take a River Cruise to the Fern Grotto
The Fern Grotto is an intriguing lava-rock cave in which ferns grow upside down. Because of the great acoustics, musical performances are often held at this cave.
The best way to access this stunning sight is with a boat tour along Hawaii’s only navigable river, the Wailua River. This river is fed by the freshwater that flows from Mount Wai’ale’ale.
There are a few companies that offer these river tours. The Smith’s Kauai family business provides river cruises during which you’ll be treated to a performance of traditional Hawaiian songs and stories.
Learn About Kauai’s History
Discover Kauai’s interesting history with a visit to some of these historical sites.
Established in 1960, the Kaua’i Museum is situated in Līhuʻe and features artisanal items created by locals. There are also informational sections on the Hawaiian islands’ geological formation and Kauai’s history. It’s a must-visit if you’re a history buff, and tickets cost about $15 for adults.
Koke’e Natural History Museum
This museum in Kōkeʻe State Park offers free admission. It displays information on the geological and cultural history of the island and offers regular exhibits. These include exhibitions on the different woods found in Hawaiian forests, hunting practices on Kauai, and the native birdlife.
Top Kauai Travel Tips
Below are a few tips to keep in mind while visiting Kauai.
- Choose your accommodation according to your planned activities: If most of your plans take place on the northern coast, for example, opt for a hotel in that area so you can cut down on travel time.
- Rent a car: While Kauai does have taxis and public buses, these can be unreliable and only operate at certain hours. A rental car gives you much more flexibility.
- Try to avoid peak travel season: If you’re able to, it may be better to plan your visit outside of the peak tourist season, which is during the US summer vacation. During this time, you’ll face a lot more traffic, busy restaurants, and amplified hotel fees.
- Bring a light jacket: As much as Kauai enjoys temperate weather all year, the lush island gets plenty of rain. Carry a light raincoat or umbrella with you to avoid getting soaked while exploring.
- Make your arrangements well in advance: Kauai is understandably busy almost all year round. So be sure to arrange for a rental car and book your hotel and tours well in advance to secure the best options.
- Leave no trace: Help maintain the island’s beauty and keep the animals safe by taking whatever you bring into nature back with you. Have a look at these seven principles of “leave no trace” for more tips.
Kauai 7-Day Itinerary | FAQs
Still have some questions about planning your trip to Kauai? Have a look through the answers to these frequently asked questions.
What is the Best Time to Visit Kauai?
The best time to visit Kauai is during the shoulder tourist season, from September to December, and from April to June. This is when there are fewer tourists, so the island is less crowded, and accommodation prices tend to drop.
Kauai has a warm, tropical climate no matter the time of year. So you can still wear your favorite sundresses or shorts if you visit during fall or winter.
If you’re visiting Kauai for the pristine waves, the North Shore generally has higher surf between October and March. The South Shore usually has larger waves between April and September.
For avid whale watchers, the best time to visit Kauai is between November and May. This is when the humpback whales make their way to the island’s shores for mating and calving season.
When is the Rainy Season in Kauai?
The island’s rainy season runs from November to March, while the dry season runs between April and October. Most of the rainfall takes place in December and January. But, the island receives rain during the dry season too.
Which Side of Kaui is Better?
This is entirely up to your preference and plans. The south coast of Kauai is well-developed, with plenty of golden beaches and facilities. This side of the island also receives less rain but sees the most tourist traffic.
If you’re looking for a more tranquil experience, you may prefer the northern and eastern coasts. Here, much of the island is still undeveloped, and the northern and eastern beaches have some of the best conditions for surfing and snorkeling.
You may encounter more rain on the North Shore, but not enough to ruin the fun.
Which Side of Kauai Has the Best Weather?
The southern coast of Kauai tends to receive less rain than the northern parts. So if you’d like to avoid rainy conditions, you may prefer to stay in the south.
How Many Days in Kauai is Enough?
Wondering how many days to spend in Kauai? There’s plenty to explore on the island, so five to seven days is recommended. This will give you enough time to take on some scenic hikes, join a few tours, and fit in some relaxation time.
How Long Does it Take To Drive Around Kauai?
You can’t drive around the entire island of Kauai as there aren’t any roads along the Na Pali Coast in the west. The road running along the circumference of the island starts near the southwestern part of Kauai and ends near the northwestern part of the island.
Ready to Spend 7 Days in Kauai?
Kauai is an enchanting destination offering an abundance of natural beauty and adventure. With this one-week itinerary, you can explore the island’s stunning landscapes, immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture, and indulge in delicious local cuisine.
From hiking along the Na Pali Coast to relaxing on picturesque beaches and discovering hidden waterfalls, there’s something for everyone on this itinerary. Be sure to bring along your best camera gear and have a read through this hiking gear list if you’re planning to take on the longer hikes.
If you’re thinking of visiting the other Hawaiian islands, consider this Maui Itinerary or check out this guide on planning a trip to Hawaii for inspiration.
Claim your FREE Hiking Checklist
Ready to start hiking? Grab my free hiking checklist and never forget anything at home!
Sign Me Up