Kauai attractions are numerous and each one is quite different from the other. Here is a list of some of the best sightseeing adventures in Kauai. This is just a list and not a ranking.
1. Na’Pali Coast State Park
The Na’ Pali (cliffs) coast is located on the northeast side of Kauai. These Emerald green majestic cliffs rise 4,000 feet above the blue Pacific Ocean. These cliffs are packed full of towering waterfalls that plunge to the lush green valleys below.
The Na Pali coast is a sight to behold. This is one Kauai attraction you will not want to miss. The coast is inaccessible by motor vehicle. You may choose to take the difficult 11 mile Kalalau trail through the valleys to Kalalau Beach, or you can enjoy the towering cliffs by kayak in the summer. Kayak tours are available at Port Allen. Another great way to enjoy the Na’Pali Coast is by helicopter.
2. Waimea Canyon
When Mark Twain visited Waimea Canyon in the mid 1860’s, he called this Kauai attraction “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, this name stuck and Waimea Canyon is often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. During the constant eruption that created the island almost 6 million years ago, a large portion of the island collapsed during a massive earthquake causing a huge deep depression. This depression allowed lava to flow down into it. The lava pooled to the east side of the depression forming the cliffs in Waimea Canyon. The constant rainfall from Mt. Wai’ale’ale eroded the lava on the west side of the canyon causing the crevices and valleys. 5 million years of streams, waterfalls and rivers created this one mile wide, 12 mile long and 3567 foot deep wondrous colorful canyon.
You can drive through portions of the canyon or drive to one of the canyon’s lookouts to enjoy the wondrous view. You can also choose a trail and hike down into the red and orange canyon. Many people choose a helicopter ride to see a bird’s eye view of God’s masterpiece. I took a helicopter and I highly recommend it.
3. Koki’s State Park
This is another great Kauai attraction. Koki’s State Park is just about 16 miles further up the road from Waimea Canyon. If you are driving through the canyon and stop at Waimea Canyon Lookout, you are only 6 miles from Koki’s State Park. 6 Miles and a world away. You will enter a whole new cooler climate as you enter this gorgeous 4345 acre rainforest. Koki’s State Park is located on the plateau summit of Kauai. It is a cloud forest at the edge of Hawaii’s largest swamp (Alicia Swamp). Koki’s State Park has lots of hiking trails and short nature trails where you can learn about the native plants that live in this rainforest. Besides the rare Hawaiian Koa tree and other native plants, there is also an abundance of wildlife in this rainforest. The forest is home to wild pigs, mountain goats and the black tail deer. There are a variety of birds in the forest and there is also the Polynesian jungle fowl (Moa). The “chickens” may bug you for your food if you are picnicking. Koki’s State Park is also the home of the Koki’s Natural History Museum. The museum is dedicated to teaching about the rainforest and swamp.
Hours are daily 10:00 AM t 4:00 PM
Admission is Free
If you are visiting Koki’s State Park, you must stop at the Kalalau Lookout for an impressive view of the canyon and it’s colorful cliffs.
4. Wailua River Cruise to the Fern Grotto
In the late 1940’s, Walter Smith took the first group of tourists up the Wailua River (Hawaii’s only navigable river) to visit one of Kauai’s many natural wonders, The Fern Grotto. Since the 1940’s, the Smith family has continued this tour as a family business and still makes trips daily up the Wailua River to the Fern Grotto.
The Fern Grotto is located at the base of Mauna Kapu along the Wailua River and was formed from lava flows millions of years ago. The Fern Grotto is a Cave-like lava structure along the Wailua river where ferns grow naturally upside down from the roof of the cave. The structure itself is a natural amphitheatre who’s natural acoustics are amazing. Once you board the boat, you will take a short ride up the Wailua River to the area where the Fern Grotto stands. This narrated informational boat ride gives you some history of the Wailua River and Fern Grotto area. There is also some Hula dancing onboard. Once you arrive, you will take a short easy walk on a paved path through a lush tropical forest full of beautiful native flowering plants. Once in the Grotto itself, talented musicians and singers will perform the Hawaiian Wedding song. At the end of the song, it is customary to kiss your loved one. The Fern Grotto is a popular place for weddings. I have witnessed a few there myself. This is a nice short trip to see a natural wonder on Kauai. This is definitely one of the most popular Kauai attractions. Don’t miss Wailua Falls, just a short drive further.
5. Wailua Falls
If you want to see a spectacular Kauai attraction, this is it. The Wailua Falls is a spectacular easily accessible waterfall about 5 minutes from Lihue. It is just a short drive up from the Fern Grotto. The Wailua Falls is an 80 foot tiered waterfall that gets almost all of it’s water from the rainfall in Mt. Wai’ale’ale. This waterfall can change it’s look depending on the amount of rainfall that is occurring on the mountain. Sometimes three different tiers can be seen and other times, after a big rain, you will see a single tremendous column of water pounding 80 feet down. Most waterfalls in Kauai are only accessible by helicopter, other waterfalls on the island are on private property. Wailua falls is easily accessible by car and there is even a roadside turnout for easy viewing.
If you are old enough to remember the television series Fantasy Island, you may recognize this waterfall from the opening of each show. As you view the falls, remember that ancient Hawaiian warriors would dive from the top the falls to prove their bravery. If you want to try to get to the base of the falls (Not Recommended, Very Dangerous), There is a very steep, muddy and slippery trail that leads to the bottom of the falls. This trail is about ¼ mile before the viewing area. (Remember this is NOT SAFE). Wailua Falls is a “must see” while visiting Kauai.
Waimea Canyon and Wailua River Tour - CLICK HERE!
6. ‘Opaeka’a Falls
This Kauai attraction is another waterfall that is very close to Wailua Falls. This is another spectacular waterfall that you can drive up to view.
‘Opaeka’a Falls is a gorgeous 40 foot waterfall with nice views of the peaks of Mt. Wai’ale’ale as a backdrop. Along the river bank below is a reconstructed Hawaiian village that shows how the Ancient Hawaiians once lived along this mighty river.
7. Coco Palms Coconut Grove
This Kauai attraction is located in an important historical area of Wailua. Nearby are three important historical Heiaus (temples). Also nearby is the beginning of the walk of the Ali’I Spirits. The Ali’I Spirits are said to walk along the kings trail up the mountainside and around the island. Less than one mile from the Coco Palms is the Royal Bell Stone. This is the place where the Ali’I children were blessed just before their birth for more than 1,000 years. There are also sacred burial grounds throughout this are. The last queen of Kauai, Queen Deborah Kapule lived on the property during the mid 1800’s. In the late 1800’s the first Coconuts were imported from Samoa and planted by William Lindeman. Throughout the years, this coconut grove grew to over 2,000 trees to become the largest coconut grove in the Hawaiian Islands. The trees were often planted in ceremonies held at the Coco Palms Resort. During these “grove replenishing” ceremonies, many notables such as Bing Crosby, Duke Kahanamouku, The Trapp Family Singers and the Prince and Princess of Japan helped to plant the trees. The Coco Palms Resort opened on 01/25/1953 and quickly became a popular resort. In 1961 a large portion of the motion picture “Blue Hawaii” was filmed at the Coco Palms Resort. The resort became even more popular. Thousands of people wanted to be married in the Coco Palms Chapel. The resort grew from the original 24 rooms to 416 rooms by 1975. I had the opportunity to stay at the Coco Palms for 3 days in 1979. It was an experience I will never forget. The grounds were beautiful and the rooms looked like grass hut bures you would see in Tahiti. I also had the pleasure of attending one of Grace’s (the owner) elite private cocktail parties. On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki completely destroyed the Coco Palms and it never re-opened. It is still a great place to go visit Hawaii’s largest Coconut Grove and the ground that once was the Coco Palms Resort. As you walk through the grove, be careful of falling coconuts. They can be Deadly.
8. Kilauea Lighthouse and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
This Kauai attraction is picturesque Kilauea Lighthouse that sits on Kilauea point with the beautiful pacific ocean as a backdrop. The white body and red roof stand out beautifully against the blue water. Kilauea Lighthouse was built in 1913 to help guide ships through this jagged point on Kauai. The lighthouse was closed in 1976 and replaced with a much more modern automatic beacon in 1979.
Kilauea Lighthouse has been preserved and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Kilauea Lighthouse sits within the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge has a magnificent backdrop of steep cliffs dropping down to the ocean. This is the best place in the Hawaiian islands to view nesting seabirds. A large variety of birds congregate around the sea cliffs located here.
Some of the birds you may see here include:
The red footed booby
Black footed albatross
Pacific golden plover
Great frigate bird
White tailed tropic bird
Red tailed tropic bird
A group of endangered Nene have recently been introduced to this area. The Nene is the State Bird of Hawaii. Besides birds, other wildlife that can be spotted are:
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Humpback whales from December till April
Hawaiian Monk Seal occasionally appear beneath the cliffs
Spinner Dolphins play close to the shore jumping in the air from spring till late summer
If you enjoy nature and beautiful views, this is a Perfect Kauai attraction for you and your family.
9. Limuhuli Gardens
This Kauai attraction is located about 1.5 hours north of Lihue. It is a nice place to go and learn the cultural aspect of these native plants that are grown here. The admission is $15.00 for a self-guided tour of the beautiful preserve.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve is set in the Lawa`i Valley on the north shore of Kauai. The Garden is backdropped by the majestic Makana Mountain and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. In Hawaiian, the name Limahuli means "turning hands," which recognizes the ancient Hawaiians who built agricultural terraces out of lava rock and planted cultivars of kalo (taro), an important cultural food crop.
The plant collections at Limahuli Garden focus on the beauty of plants that are native to Hawaii and/or culturally significant to Hawaiians. They include endemic Hawaiian species, plants introduced by the early Polynesian voyagers, as well as culturally important plants that were introduced during the plantation era starting in the mid-1800s. The collections in Limahuli Garden are used for the purposes of conservation, cultural perpetuation, and education.
In 1997, the American Horticultural Society awarded Limahuli Garden its "Best Natural Botanical Garden" designation for demonstrating "best sound environmental practices of water, soil, and rare native plant conservation in an overall garden design."
The Makana Mountain range looms behind the preserve and there is an 800 foot waterfall that plunges from the mountain to the sea below. This area is know as Bali Hai’ because the 1958 movie “South Pacific” was filmed in the area.
The drive to the north coast is peaceful and beautiful. Even if you do not stop at Limuhuli Gardens, the drive is fantastic. I suggest everybody drive to the north shore of Kauai. You can always stop and see Hanalei Bay while in the area.
10. Drive to Hanalei Bay in Northern Kauai
If you have a car rental while on Kauai, This scenic Kauai attraction is a must do drive. Hanalei Bay is a beautiful peaceful area where the blue Pacific and green Jagged cliffs laced with waterfalls will make you believe you are in Moorea or Bora Bora. That is probably why they named the area Bali Hai’. As you drive through this lush green valley you will also see a lot of Taro growing in fields. This is the area that inspired the song “Puff the Magic Dragon.
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