Kauai: Hawaii's Untouched Paradise

With endless undeveloped beaches and fewer crowds than its neighboring islands, Kauai  is an outdoor adventure lover's paradise and a welcome reprieve from the more tourist-trodden Hawaiian Islands.

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo By: M.M. Sweet/Getty Images

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo By: Liysa/Getty Images

Photo By: Kauai Visitors Bureau, Damon Moss

Photo By: Monica & Michael Sweet/Getty Images

Photo By: Jack Harter Helicopters

Photo By: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Photo By: Jack Harter Helicopters

Photo By: Kauai Visitors Bureau, Kicka Witte

Photo By: Matthew Micah Wright/Getty Images

Photo By: Hawaiian Airlines

The Lush Na Pali Coast

On Kauai’s northwest side lies the 17-mile Na Pali Coast, a jaw-dropping sight whether you are taking in its panoramic views from a helicopter, boat or on foot along the famed Kalalau Trail (a challenging 11-mile trek for experienced hikers only). With 3,000-foot towering cliffs plunging into white-sand beaches along the emerald Pacific Ocean, Na Pali Coast is definitely a must-see on Kauai.

Untamed Kauai

The fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands, Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle, has developed only 3% of the island for commercial and residential use. Since most of Kauai’s 69,000 residents live along the coastline, the island’s interior remains an untouched paradise. And the locals want to keep it that way—no structure can be built taller than a palm tree (that's about four stories high).

The Grand (Waimea) Canyon

Dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," the 3, 567-feet-deep Waimea Canyon is one of Kauai’s most breathtaking natural wonders. Extending 14 miles across the western end of the island, Waimea Canyon is filled with numerous hiking trails for beginners to expert trekkers alike. If you aren’t a hiker, you can still experience the spectacular views from the main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, which takes you to Waimea Canyon Overlook, where you’ll be wowed with sweeping panoramas of the deep gorges and craggy cliffs.

Wet and Wonderful Mount Waialeale

Just as the landscapes are diverse on the island, Kauai’s weather is likely to be dramatically different depending on the location. So while beachgoers might be basking in the sunshine on the shore, mountains hikers will be trekking through a downpour. In fact, Kauai is home to Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest areas on Earth, which receives about 450 inches of rain per year. Usually shrouded in mist, Mount Waialeale is best viewed on a helicopter tour, much like most of Kauai’s natural wonders you’ll find.

Wailua Falls: Drive-By Wonder

Kauai is known for its beautiful waterfalls, but many of its falls can be viewed only by helicopter or by hiking miles deep into the rainforests. While it is one of the easiest cascades to get to, Wailua Falls is just as awe-inspiring as some of the more hidden waterfalls in Kauai. Even though you can view Wailua Falls from the road, take the more adventurous route and hike the steep but short path down to the waterfalls where you can marvel at the rushing 80-foot cascades.

Hanalei Bay

One of Kauai’s must-sees is Hanalei Bay, a half-moon bay on the North Shore with almost 2 miles of palm-tree lined beaches framed by lush green mountains. Also worth a stop, Hanalei Town is dotted with art galleries and surf shops and is so beachy-cool that it looks like it came right off a movie set, much like the rest of Kauai.

Manawaiopuna Falls/Jurassic Falls

Manawaiopuna Falls, or Jurassic Falls as it’s now known after it was featured in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, plunges 360 feet into a lush valley. The best way to see this colossal cascade is on a helicopter tour as the falls are on private property—and not Steven Spielberg’s, if you’re wondering. 

Movies Filmed on Kauai

It’s not just travelers that are inspired by Kauai’s picture-perfect paradise. Hollywood is so taken with the Garden Isle’s scenery that it has filmed over 65 movies here, including South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Descendants and Jurassic World. Polynesian Adventure Tours offers a six-hour cinematic tour of Kauai’s most famous movie sites.

Helicopter Tour of the Island

Only 10% of Kauai is accessible by car, so the best way to see the rest of the island is on an aerial tour. Jack Harter Helicopters was the pioneer in helicopter tours on Kauai (now a thriving industry) when Jack Harter starting offering tours of Kauai’s inaccessible terrain in 1962.  For maximum thrills, take the no-doors helicopter tour. Not only will you get well-earned bragging rights for this high-adrenaline ride, you won’t have to deal with window glare interfering with your jaw-dropping photos.

Endless White-Sand Beaches

With 50 miles of golden strands, Kauai has a seemingly endless amount of beautiful beaches—more beach per mile than any other island in Hawaii. Some of the most popular beaches include Hanalei Bay and snorkeling favorite Tunnels Beach, both on the North Shore, and the sun-drenched Poipu Beach on the South Shore. But the beauty of Kauai is that you’ll likely stumble upon a hidden beach all your own that will rival any of the more well-known beaches.

Kauai's Wild Waters

Visitors must keep in mind that Mother Nature calls the shots in Kauai. No matter how peaceful and inviting the water looks in Kauai, the island is notorious for its strong currents and dramatically changing conditions. So it is strongly advised to only swim in lifeguard-protected areas and to take beach safety warnings seriously.

Fly Straight to Paradise

You can reach Kauai via a short 25-minute flight from Honolulu; Hawaiian Airlines has more than 30 daily flights into Kauai’s Lihue Airport. Due to rising demand, Hawaiian Airlines also has non-stop service between Los Angeles and Lihue throughout the year, with an increased schedule around the holiday season. This is another indication that the island’s popularity is growing, so now is the time to plan your vacation to Kauai, while it’s still not as touristy as the other islands.

Next Up

Kauai, Hawaii

What you should know about Kauai, Hawaii, before you go.

Sandwich Paradise

For a handheld meal that's more than just fast food, you have to pay a visit to Sandwich Paradise.