Kauai may be the oldest Hawaiian island, but it’s the least-visited spot in the archipelago. Overshadowed by popular Oahu and Maui, the Garden Isle rewards travelers who dare to venture off the beaten path with a stunning landscape filled with wildlife, natural wonders, secret beaches, and waterfalls galore. The destination might just be the closest you can get to Heaven on Earth.
But the beauty of Kauai goes beyond the surface -- it seeps deep into your soul. There’s something about the rugged coastlines and untamed mountains that makes you want a little (or a lot!) more adventure out of your Hawaiian vacation. You will suddenly have the urge to explore, to push your body and mind, and to feel invigorated.
Fortunately, visitors to Kauai are spoiled for choice when it comes to adventurous activities. You could pack a monthlong itinerary with adventure after adventure and still leave Kauai craving more.
Thrill-seekers, eat your heart out: Here are nine adventurous things to do in Kauai.
1. Take A Helicopter Tour
Since many of Kauai’s most impressive sites are inaccessible by road, every trip to this Hawaiian island should begin with a helicopter tour. A bird’s-eye view of the island will give you some serious appreciation for just how lush and diverse this pristine paradise is.
Award-winning aviation company Maverick Helicopters expanded its service to Port Allen Airport in Kauai in August 2018, and it now offers travelers tours of the island. The company’s Kauai Explorer tour will take you soaring all over Kauai, giving you the opportunity to see two of the island’s most famous natural landmarks: the Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon. The 50-minute aerial adventure will also take you past Manawaiopuna Falls and the Hanapepe Valley, both of which appeared in the movie Jurassic Park. Maverick’s Kauai Discovery tour is a great option for travelers with tighter schedules and budgets. The 25-minute tour focuses on Western Kauai’s natural marvels, like Waimea Canyon and the Napali-Kona Forest Reserve.
2. Learn How To Surf
Surfing is a Hawaiian tradition, and Kauai’s got some of the best surf spots in the state. If you’ve never hit the waves before, take a surfing lesson at the Kauai Surf School. Located right on Poipu Beach, the facility has been teaching locals and visitors how to hang 10 for 20 years. Kauai Surf School offers 90-minute surfing lessons for small groups of beginners, starting in the sand and then quickly moving to the sea. The patient, encouraging instructors make it their mission to help you feel safe and confident on the board. And once you’ve really learned how to ride the waves, you can come back to perfect your form in one of Kauai Surf School’s three-day surf clinics.
3. Hike In Waimea Canyon
At 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and up to 3,600 feet deep, Waimea Canyon has rightfully earned its nickname, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” And just like the Grand Canyon’s gorge walls, Waimea Canyon’s walls are striped with shades of brown and red, making for some major eye candy. Take it all in from one of Waimea Canyon’s three designated lookout spots on Highway 550. Then get a more intimate view of Kauai’s geological masterpiece by hiking it. There are roughly a dozen hiking trails around Waimea Canyon, most of which are moderate to difficult. Canyon Trail, the most popular one, will take you on a scenic 3.4-mile round-trip journey to the Kumuwela Lookout, where you can enjoy a picnic and postcard-worthy views.
4. Take A Boat Tour Of The Napali Coast
Sure, you could hike the Napali Coast on the strenuous 11-mile Kalalau Trail (rated 9 out of 10 in difficulty by the Sierra Club), but you can have just as much of an adventure -- without the exhaustion -- seeing this famous part of Kauai by boat.
Capt. Andy’s offers expeditions down the Napali Coast on 24-foot rigid hull rafts. The thrilling rides will take you past Napali’s jagged emerald cliffs, lava rock caves, and unspoiled coastline. Plus, you’ll have the chance to snorkel at a remote beach and visit the ruins of an ancient village. The overall experience will leave you exhilarated.
5. Fly Down A Zip Line
Helicopter tours aren’t the only way to get an aerial view of Kauai -- you can also see the island from above on a zip-line tour. Princeville Ranch offers nine zip lines that will fly you off the edge of a lush valley and over the treetops for some breathtaking mountain views. Don’t use up all your courage on the first few rides, though. The final double zip line (dubbed the “King Kong”) demands that you hurl yourself off a 30-foot tower and fly 1,200 feet across a valley filled with ferns. More than just zip lines, though, your tour will include an hour of splashing around in a secret jungle swimming hole.
6. Go Off-Roading
Imagine driving on Kauai’s dirt roads, kicking up dust, and putting your pedal to the metal (all while soaking up those sweet views!). That’s exactly what you’ll get when you book an off-roading tour with Kauai ATV. For 3 to 4 hours, some of Kauai’s most experienced adventure guides will accompany you on 23 miles of trails through farmlands, tropical forests, and even a hidden tunnel. Along the way, you’ll take in panoramic vistas and even see some famous movie sites. Once you start to sweat, you’ll make a beeline for a waterfall to take a refreshing dip and rinse the mud off your body. Talk about the ultimate adventure!
7. Scuba-Dive After Dark
Some of the most fascinating adventures in Kauai happen not on land, but under the sea. The island is home to an incredible array of dive sites that cater to both beginners and experienced divers. Certified divers can discover what the sea life looks like after dark on night dives with the Kauai Down Under Dive Team. The experience starts with a site orientation and an in-depth marine biology discussion. Then, using a bright underwater light, you’ll plunge up to 40 feet beneath the surface in search of sleeping turtles, octopuses, eels, and other creatures. The 45-minute night dive will give you an entirely new appreciation for Kauai’s marine life. And if you haven’t gotten your diving certification yet, don’t worry -- the Kauai Down Under Dive Team offers a variety of diving courses you can take to get your credentials.
8. Go Whale Watching
Are you planning to travel to Kauai between November and March? If so, you’ve got an amazing adventure in store: whale watching. Around 10,000 humpback whales make their way to the warmer waters around the Hawaiian Islands every winter to mate, calve, and nurse.
Blue Dolphin Charters offers 2-hour whale-watching cruises on spacious 65-foot catamarans. There’s a great chance you’ll see the gentle giants (and their babies!) along Kauai’s Napali Coast or South Shore. Hawaiian appetizers, or pupus, as well as beer, wine, and Mai Tais complete the experience on this quintessential Kauai adventure.
9. Tube Down Rushing Water
Over a hundred years ago, plantation workers on Kauai carved out a series of ditches and tunnels to funnel water from Mount Waialeale to their sugarcane crops. But now that sugarcane is no longer produced on the island, that irrigation system serves a more modern purpose as Kauai Backcountry Adventures’ tubing attraction. Jump in the company’s four-wheel-drive adventure vehicles and head to the former Lihue Plantation, which is now home to the tubing launch site. You’ll pick up an inner tube, a headlamp, and a helmet before splashing into the rushing river for a heart-racing ride through amazing tunnels and flumes. Don’t be surprised if you leave with sore cheeks from smiling so much!