Most visitors arrive at the airport in Lihue, on the east side of the island. Because of the beautiful seaside cliffs on the northwest coast (the "Na Pali" coast), it is not possible to drive all the way around the island. Hanalei is the peaceful northern retreat, while Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific") is located on the western side of the island. Great beaches, lush gardens, romantic waterfalls, and invigorating hikes await you on the Island of Kauai.
NORTHERN RESORT COAST
The town of Hanalei on the north coast is well known for its tranquil beauty, and the nearby Princeville Resort is world-class. A number of bed-and-breakfast options are also available in Hanalei itself. West of Hanalei, the road ends near Haena State Park (which includes Kee Beach and the nearby Tunnels Beach). It is difficult to imagine a more picturesque beach than Kee: a glance inland reveals towering green cliffs. Just feet offshore, the reef begins, and it is possible to see an above-average variety of fish life here when conditions are good. The great thing is that the reef is just far enough away from the beach to allow for a little bit of good swimming room, but not so far that it is scary to go out to the reef for snorkeling.
THE NA PALI COAST
Next to the parking lot of Kee Beach is the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile (one-way) hike along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. Na Pali means "the cliffs" in Hawaiian, and these coastal cliffs are incredibly beautiful. The best way to see them, if you don't want to hike the rigorous Kalalau Trail, is to go on a boat or zodiac tour. There are advantages to each: boat tours allow you to ride in comfort and provide you with a good "home base" during the tour, while zodiac rafts are smaller and allow you to see the coast very close up. There are numerous waterfalls and even sea caves along this coastline, and no visit to Kauai is complete without experiencing this coastline one way or another.
Lihue and Kapaa are the main cities on the eastern coast of Kauai. Activities in this area are a little less in number than in the other regions of the island, but there are still several great sites to see. The waterfalls of Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls are in this area, and both have easy access overlooks. There is also the Wailua River, the only navigable river in all of Hawaii. Many people enjoy the ride to a small grotto covered with ferns on this river ("Fern Grotto"), though we have always passed on this because it seems a bit too touristy.
The southern region of Kauai includes the cities of Koloa, Kalaheo, and Hanapepe. Some of the highlights of the area include: Poipu Beach and the shops, restaurants, and lodging nearby; Spouting Horn, a blowhole where the ocean moans up through a tunnel in the lava rock; the National Tropical Botanical Garden; Hanapepe Valley; and the shops and restaurants of Hanapepe town.
Near the coast west of Hanapepe is the town of Waimea. From here Waimea Canyon stretches north almost to the north end of the island. Waimea Canyon ("the Grand Canyon of the Pacific") is over 3000 feet deep at its deepest and runs for almost 10 miles. Because this part of the island receives so much rain, the canyon walls are lush with vegetation. When the sun shines down the canyon blazes with a brilliant spectrum of browns, golds, and greens. The southern part of the canyon is managed as Waimea Canyon State Park, while the northern part is managed as Kokee State Park. If you drive to the end of the road heading north there is an overlook into the Kalalau Valley, the western end of the Kalalau Trail and Na Pali Coast.
Explore Waimea Canyon further on our Waimea Canyon page