5 Tips For Your Epic Adventure On Kauai

Explore one of the most beautiful trails on the planet.

By: Amber Locke
February 19, 2016

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A strenuous hike may not be on everyone’s to-do list on a dream vacation to the Hawaiian islands. For the adventurous spirit, though, Hawaii has some remarkable trails to explore. The unique experience of hiking through a mountainous rainforest on Kauai, secluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday tourism, will leave any explorer wishing they had more time to spend on the island. Whether you are looking for a place to camp close to the road or backpack into a more secluded area of the island, Kauai has numerous opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast.

The Garden Isle is made up of several forest preserves and wilderness preservations. You won’t find skyscrapers or busy streets like some of the other popular Hawaiian destinations. The only thing scraping the sky are mountains like Sleeping Giant. Kauai is beloved by locals and leaves an undeniable impact on visitors. A few tips for enjoying all of the natural wonders the island has to offer are outlined below.

Backpack the Nā Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail | Photo: Jason Horstman

1. You will want to rent a car.

The island is small and you can drive the main highway almost all the way around in about two hours. There is public transportation, but the bus system takes an exponentially longer amount of time to get from one place to another. This being said, the diversity of landscape depending on where you are on the island makes it exciting to explore all around. Head west and snag a fresh coconut or locally made lunch in Hanapepe. Continue on to drive the scenic road alongside the Waimea Canyon. You can take a detour to Poipu Bay if you want to swim or snorkel at a safe, reef enclosed beach.

Go east on the Kuhio Highway to venture through Kapa’a and Princeville for souvenir shopping and dining. The Hanalei Bay area is a popular tourist spot on the east coast. The highway dead ends at Ke’e Beach and the Kalalau Trail.

2. Prepare yourself for a hike into the rainforest.

Start early and pack plenty of water and food. Bringing a water filter of your own would be advised on an overnight venture. There is no fresh water available along the trail and you don’t want to drink straight from the river. On a day trip to Hanakapi’ai Falls, you will want at least 64 ounces of water, snacks and a lunch. Dehydration will ruin what could be an amazing day and you have to remember that no matter the time of year, Kauai is a hot, tropical island. Hanakapi’ai Falls is an out-and-back eight mile hike that gains and loses elevation along the way, so it takes some time. It is also important to remember that you are hiking deep into the wilderness and the only way out in an emergency is by helicopter.

Backpack the Nā Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail | Photo: Jason Horstman

3. You need a permit to hike the entire Kalalau Trail.

To hike or camp beyond Hanakapi’ai Falls, a permit is required. There are only two designated camping spots in the Na Pali Coast State Park. Around the six mile mark, Hanakoa Beach is a good place to camp or rest. The trail ends 11 miles down the coast at Kalalau Beach. Permits to camp at each of these spots are $20 for non-residents of Kauai and are available here. Be sure to check the government website before you go for advisories about weather or flash flooding and take them seriously. You don’t want to be stuck beyond a river crossing that has flooded without food or water.

4. Definitely visit the Waimea Canyon.

Kauai’s picturesque Waimea Canyon gives the Grand Canyon a run for it’s money. Highway 50 takes you all the way through the immaculate canyon with lookouts along the way for photos and opportunities to get out on a trail for a closer look.

5. Learn a Hawaiian phrase or two.

Aloha! Take the time to learn some Hawaiian phrases. It’s always courteous to learn the local lingo wherever you are in the world. Here’s a cheat: ‘mahalo’ means thank you and ‘aloha’ is a greeting, as well as a departing phrase.

Backpack the Nā Pali Coast via the Kalalau Trail | Photo: Jason Horstman

Cover photo: Jason Horstman

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.