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Kauai, or the “Garden Isle”, is extraordinarily intoxicating, filled with spectacular natural wonders and tourist attractions from waterfalls with hidden pools to colorful gardens, lush valleys, dramatic cliffs, and postcard-perfect beaches. With so much beauty, trying to decide what to explore and experience can be tough, but these places are the definite must-visits. Check out the most beautiful places to visit on Kauai on your next Hawaiian vacation.
Na Pali Coast
A top attraction in Hawaii, the legendary Na Pali shoreline can only be accessed on foot or by boat or helicopter tour, but it’s well worth it to see what’s often been called one of the most stunning places on Earth. It sits on the north shore of the island and boasts lush, strikingly green pinnacles that soar along the coast for 17 miles, while magnificent waterfalls cascade into narrow valleys. It appears much like it did centuries before, when Hawaiian settlements flourished in the area, existing on the fish they could catch and food they could grow.
This spectacular double-tied waterfall was made famous when it was spotlighted in the opening of the “Fantasy Island” TV series. The over 80-foot-high falls plunge into a deep pool at the bottom. While the view from the top, or even afar, is breathtaking in itself, you can take in the most impressive and often private, view of all at the bottom. There are two trails, but the easiest can be found about 500 yards from the end of the turnaround at the car park. Wear your water shoes and follow them down to the pool.
Kauai’s most secluded beach, Mahaulepu, on its southeast coast offers an ideal stretch of sand for romantic interludes, or for tying the knot. This vast, unspoiled, and mostly deserted beach with golden sands are framed by the sea on one side and dramatic cliffs on the other is the perfect place when you want to enjoy a spot all to yourself, or with the one you love.
One of the best beaches in Hawaii, Hanalei Bay is a must-see for everyone that visits Kauai. Both travelers and locals have named it as their top scenic spot on the island. The three-mile-long bay boasts a long, half-moon of golden sands that are backed by lush green mountains dotted with waterfalls. Bring a picnic out onto the pier to enjoy a panoramic view of the bay as well as the dramatic ridges of the Na Pali coast while you dine. The pier, built in 1892, has been a popular spot for fishing, swimming, or just hanging out for 125 years.
Waimea Canyon is a 14-mile long, one-mile wide, and 3600-feet deep colorful ravine that’s often called Hawaii’s own “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” A near-constant flow of rainwater courses down the Waimea River from Waialeale’s peak, which helps transform young, freshly-exposed lava rock from black to vibrant reds and deep, rich red hues. It’s best viewed from the Waimea Canyon Lookout, and if you can, plan to arrive about an hour before sunset to watch the cliff’s ever-changing colors of red, along with orange and green, when they’re at their most dramatic. Visitors can also take in the views via a helicopter tour.
Poipu boasts especially luxurious sands on its series of three white crescent beaches that are spread across a one-mile stretch on Kauai’s sunny south shore next to vivid turquoise waters. It’s a perfect place to toss down a blanket and enjoy a picnic while watching a glorious sunset, especially during winter and spring. Or, you could easily spend an entire day here, soaking up the sun’s raze while gazing at the dazzling waters of the Pacific.
Kilauea Lighthouse is one of the island’s most popular attractions, set upon 31 acres at the tip of Kilauea Point on Kauai’s north shore, part of the 203-acre Kilauea Point National Refuge which includes expansive views of the picturesque rugged coastline, a seabird sanctuary, and a National Marine Life Sanctuary. Bring a pair of binoculars and watch for the thousands of migratory seabirds that rest, forage, or nest here, along with green turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and from December to April, humpback whales.
Nestled into the often cloud-enshrouded highlands on the northwest side, Kalalau Lookout overlooks the awe-inspiring saw-toothed ridges of Kalalau Valley, which edges the Na Pali Coast. When the clouds blow away with the trade winds, you’ll also get a view of Kalalau Beach. There are a number of hiking trails near the lookout as well. If you’re up for a hike, stop at the history museum and you can get information on the trail conditions as well as details on the 17 trails that cover 45 miles of scenic landscape.
Don’t miss visiting Spouting Horn Park, home to the impressive Spouting Horn blowhole, one of the most photographed places on the island. The surf rushes into the narrow opening of a natural lava tube and then releases a large spout of water during big ocean swells. It was the hissing and roaring sound that it makes which gave birth to an ancient Hawaiian legend of a lizard that was caught in the lava tube. The sound is said to be the lizard’s roar, while her breath is the spray from the blowhole.
Limahuli Garden & Preserve - Hanalei
Located along the spectacular north shore of Kauai, Limahuli Garden & Preserve covers a thousand acres and was named the best natural botanical garden in the entire country by the American Horticultural Society. Discover pristine forest and riparian habitat, including wild herbs, palms, culturally significant plants like papaya and taro, and rare native ferns. Some of the other highlights include the gorgeous Bird of Paradise flower, the state’s iconic symbol, and ancient lava rock terraces where taro is still thriving. If you’re here in the spring you’ll be able to marvel at the native ko’oko’olau when it’s at its best, showcasing yellow, daisy-like flowers.
Secret Falls - Kapaa
While Secret Falls may no longer be a secret, there’s no doubt it’s worth visiting as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Kauai. Officially called Uluwehi Falls, it spills 110 feet into a serene pool that’s ideal for a refreshing dip. It’s not easy to get there, but you can join a Secret Falls tour offered by multiple outfitters. Or, if you’re an experienced paddler, rent a kayak and paddle upstream along the Wailua River. After it forks, you’ll branch toward the right and continue to the landing spot. From there, it’s about a one-mile hike to the falls.
Hideaway Beach - Princeville
Nestled along the north shore near the Princeville St. Regis Hotel, Hideaway Beach isn’t easy to reach, accessed via a steep trail that takes about 15 minutes to hike, but that’s what helps keep the crowds away. It’s well worth the effort to get to this stunning, secluded sliver of sand as it’s one of the best places to snorkel on the island. There’s a big beautiful reef with lots of tropical fish and from here you can also swim over to Pali Ke Kua Beach which is even more challenging to reach by land.
Fern Grotto - Kapaa
Fern Grotto is so magnificent that it often serves as a setting for weddings. Located on the east side of the island, it can only be reached by boat, with a variety of tours that will bring you here traveling the Wailua River. The natural lava grotto features lush tropical foliage, including hanging ferns, kept thriving by the mist of a waterfall. It was once off-limits to all but Hawaiian royalty, but today many come to enjoy its beauty and even take advantage of the remarkable natural acoustics. It acts as a natural amphitheater and visitors can even enjoy the beautiful sounds of musicians who play Hawaiian tunes.
Hanalei Valley Lookout
Just past the town of Princeville as you make your way to Hanalei, you’ll see a turnout on the left that showcases a breathtaking panoramic view of Hanalei Valley. Provided there hasn’t been a long dry spell, you’ll see the emerald mountains laced with towering waterfalls while the Hanalei River winds its way through a patchwork of taro fields. Not surprisingly, this is one of the top lookouts in all of Hawaii.
Sunset at Kekaha Beach Park
Kekaha Beach Park, also known as MacArthur Park, is located along Kaumualii Highway on the southwestern shore of the island, is one of the most deserted stretches of beach on Kauai with golden sands that stretch for 15 miles. While currents are too strong for swimming, it’s excellent for experienced surfers, ideal for long, peaceful strolls, and one of the best places to watch a sunset.