It is so easy to fall in love with a place as magical and breathtaking as this.
While I loved the mountains, ocean, waterfalls, trees, and all of the adventures I experienced on this trip, I truly loved the people I met. There is something mysterious about a place like this. After continuously meeting amazing souls, running into them in the weirdest places and ways, and creating relationships that will last forever, I have no doubt that there is magic on this island.
There are a few different ways to camp on this gorgeous island. The first is through Hawaii State Parks. This is a more expensive route than others but you are able to reserve the sites ahead of time and this allows for more stability and ensures that you have a place to stay. The prices vary but are usually around $12.00-$18.00 a night. These campgrounds also vary on their amenities; so do your research before expecting potable water or restrooms.
For a few nights we stayed at Kokee State Park Campground. This campground is located in an amazing location right past the Wamea Canyon and it is tucked up in the mountains. There is a restroom, potable water, showers (no curtain or door), and various sites to choose from. It is also located right near the state park information center, which is convenient.
Another camping option is through the county parks. This is a cheaper but less regulated and less convenient route. To obtain a permit for these parks you can either mail in a form with a money order or go to a location on the island to get a permit. These campgrounds will be more populated and much less remote. The price is $3.00 a person for non-residents of Hawaii and free for locals. These campgrounds also close one day a week for cleaning and this may make planning your trip more difficult; so once again do research. Unfortunately, many parks are closed right now due to storm damage.
The county park we stayed at was the Anini Beach. This was right along the shoreline on the north side of the island. We decided to reserve our permit once we reached the island and had no issues doing this, although keep in mind it was the slow time of year for tourism. The beach was extremely packed with tents, dogs and campers. After talking to many of our neighbors we discovered that many locals live at the county parks since it is free. Do not choose this style of camping if you are looking for isolation in the wilderness or quiet.
Explore Kauai by air
Normally while traveling I do my best to not spend money and to be as efficient as possible, but on this trip I decided to get out of my comfort zone (monetarily speaking). One of the areas that Kauai is best known for is the Napali Coast. Sadly, it was pretty badly hit during recent storms/hurricanes and is closed to hiking/camping indefinitely. This pushed me towards exploring the coast in a few different methods, the first being a helicopter tour.
I used Jack Harter Helicopters and the tour was absolutely phenomenal. I was able to experience the doors off adventure and this took the trip to a whole other level. It is pretty expensive for an hour tour, but I have absolutely no regrets on this money spent. I recommend you bring a raincoat, sunglasses, cameras, and if you get cold easily, then some extra layers. It was December when I did the tour so it was cooler than most months and rainier. This tour company is located in Lihue, so be sure to stick closer to this side of the island if you are planning to do this awesome adventure. This was such a cool experience and I am so glad I got to see this magnificent island from the air.
Explore Kauai by water
The Capt. Andy’s boat tour was one of the best all around (paid) experiences I have done. This was a last minute decision and I am so grateful that my friend and I decided to add this to our trip. The Na Pali snorkel picnic sail trip was so well rounded and such a great use of our day. This is a 5.5 hour trip that includes breakfast, lunch, wine, beer, snorkeling, exploring the Na Pali Coast from the water, and most likely dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and other sea life.
Not only does this tour give incredible views of the coastline and the island, but our boat also had a huge group of spinner dolphins swim right along side of our catamaran. We also saw humpback whales, various fish, coral reefs, and also got to snorkel right above a beautiful sea turtle. This was one of the coolest water experiences that I have had. The crew was so helpful and the food provided was really good with a variety of options. I HIGHLY recommend you do this tour!
Explore by foot
Awa’awapuhi – 6.7 miles RT, moderate
This hike takes you through forests, along ridge lines, above valleys, and has phenomenal views of the Napali Coast and the ocean. It was extremely rainy at the beginning of our hike and this created a constant mudslide during the first few hours, so if you can avoid rain I highly recommend that.
The majority of this trail is under trees and through the forest. As you get closer to the ridge you will begin to see small vistas and overlooks. The end of the trail comes out to the spine of the mountain and you are able to climb/hike down the narrow and rocky ridge to a point overlooking the valley below. The ridge portion of the trail is very steep on both sides and at some points only ~2 feet wide so be careful and surefooted in this area.
You may also see wildlife on this trail. We saw baby wild pigs, wild goats, birds, and many other small creatures. This trail can get busy, so it is best to go early in the morning to avoid crowds.
Honopu Ridge Trail – ~5 miles RT, difficult
This trail is very poorly maintained and is not marked or on any official maps. The parks system actually discourages the use of this trail. It is viewed as dangerous since there are thick ferns that cover drop offs and there have been known injuries and rescues on this trail. We accidentally found this trail while exploring the Kokee State Park and unfortunately couldn’t see much due to the thick fog and rain encompassing the mountains. The trail was EXTREMELY overgrown and muddy which made it very slippery (5 times to be exact) and most likely not the safest trail along the ridges. If you do decide to do this trail then be prepared for any type of emergency.
Waimea Canyon – lookout point
While this is not a hike it is still a gorgeous overview of this canyon. The Waimea Canyon is considered “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and is a gorgeous stop you should definitely make. There are a few different levels at the main lookout, and there are a few additional stops you can make while driving through this area.
It can be very windy at the vistas so be sure to bring a few layers to be able to enjoy this gorgeous creation.
Puu o kila – lookout point
Located at the end of the road through the Kokee State Park is this is a gorgeous sunset spot. We met so many kind people up here while watching the sunset. Additionally there are hiking trails up here that lead to other magical vistas and adventures.
Kuilau Ridge Trail – 5.4 miles RT, moderate
This trail is more lush and green than I had ever expected. It begins with a nice and easy incline up towards a ridge and flattens out along the top before dropping back down into the valley. Along the trail it is very wide at first and narrows out, and it is extremely muddy in some spots. There are also some trees down and other obstacles you have to maneuver, but its nothing too difficult. I highly recommend this trail, especially if you are on the east side of the island.
The Secret Beach (aka Kauapea Beach) – 10 min hike
This beach is gorgeous and one of the more popular spots on the north shore. There is a short walk down a trail to the beach and while it is not marked, it is easy to find at the end of a road. This beach has stunning sandy shores, towering cliff lines above and large rocky landings to the left.
Hanalei Beach Park –
If you want to enjoy being surrounded by mountains while staring at the ocean then this should definitely be on your list. This beach is right near the adorable city of Hanalei and you will most likely see surfers enjoying the waves and doing tricks in the water. This beach is perfect for sunset and has a long pier that is perfect for relaxing on.
There are so many more waterfalls, hikes, ridges, beaches, and other creations to explore on this island. While enjoying the island do your best to respect it and its people. Many trails are unfortunately closed at this time due to storm damage but hopefully this will change as time passes and the areas become restored.
Explore by food
One of the main things I was excited for was the fresh fruit and smoothies found on the island. We enjoy a few different spots for this treat. The first was Aloha ‘Aina located in Lihue. These smoothies were delicious and really gave my body the nutrients it was craving. The employees were extremely welcoming and helpful.
Wailua Shaved Ice was one of the most satisfying and wonderful treats I have ever had! This spot has fresh shaved ice with no added sugar, only natural fruit and sweetener, and is topped with fresh fruit and I even enjoyed the haupia foam which is made out of coconuts. This was such a delight!
In Hanalei I really loved the Aloha Juice Bar, which is actually a food truck. Hanalei is filled with yummy food trucks and this one was full of fresh produce. I had an awesome smoothie bowl from this spot right before heading to the beach.
The Lava lava beach club was way better than I expected! After a long week on the road I was looking for some healthier and more nutritious options and I was so pleased with the inexpensive pricing and great choices at this restaurant, not to mention it is located right on the beach.
On a beautiful weekend morning you can find many farmers markets around the island! This was a market I went to in Hanalei, the Hale Halawai’s Farmers Market and Cultural Festival. This was filled with locals selling homemade kombucha, fresh coconuts, nuts, produce, and many unique fruits I had never tried before. Visiting events like these is a great way to experience the island and see what the locals are eating and how they live.
Most of the time we did cook at our site and enjoy store bought food as a cheaper way to eat. It is great to have a balance of meals eaten out and home cooked meals on a trip.
Explore the island in general. We had a lot of freedom on this trip in terms of schedule so we found many random and interesting secrets. An old mine tucked into the rainy forest, random waterfalls at every turn, random lookouts and vistas with no signage, and most importantly we met so many great people on this trip.
My favorite town was easily Hanalei. It was a kind and welcoming energy and is full of activities, people, and beautiful sights to enjoy.