Aloha! We’ve just returned from Kauai, the Garden Isle of Hawaii. It’s quickly becoming a popular vacation spot, offering tons of fun adventures and a taste of “old Hawaii.” So, I’m adding it to my running list of great destinations for families.
Lush and tropical playground for outdoor adventures
Kauai is a lush tropical paradise with a healthy population of roosters and miles of unspoiled beaches.
It’s home to Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest spots on earth, so we were warned about the famous Kauai red mud. You will be blessed with many sunny days while in Kauai, just don’t be surprised by frequent rain showers and occasional overcast skies.
There was no shortage of things to see and do, but for this post I narrowed it down to the five activities my family enjoyed the most:
Kipu Ranch Adventures
Kipu Ranch offers 4×4 and ATV rides through the Kauai countryside. We’re not much of a “quadding” family, so this was unique for us. It was downright dirty and dusty, and we loved every minute of it!
All five of us fit into a “Mule” 4×4 and we were guided along muddy trails and treated to a delicious picnic lunch before visiting a waterfall. We didn’t get to swim here because of recent rains washing bacteria into the water, but it was still a great ending to a fun 4 hours. The tour guides were awesome; entertaining and informative. And, the scenery was spectacular.
The Kipu Cattle Ranch often allows production companies to shoot movies on the property. The guides pointed out several movie scene locations, and we were invited to try out the famous rope swing used by Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. No lie…check it out here.
Na Pali Coast boat ride
The Na Pali coast on Kauai’s northwest shore is a really special place. It’s no wonder movie crews used this area as a backdrop in the film Jurassic Park with its green majestic mountains and valleys looking almost otherworldly.
It’s remote too, with no road access, so you can only see the coast from the air, by boat or a hike. (I’ll talk about the hike later). We decided on a boat excursion with Captain Andy’s and it delivered on most of the things promised. It’s important to note that during the winter months, the wave conditions can be rough and this may limit some of your activities and views.
On the day we went, the seas were too rough to get inside sea caves or snorkel. But, we did have some amazing views when the sun broke through the clouds. Our boat got very close to the rugged and rocky shore and we certainly experienced the thrill of some wild winter waves. We were also treated to an entertaining show by a pod of spinner dolphins jumping and playing in the water – I’d never seen anything like it.
We took the raft ride, and this truly is a rough and wild ride on a Zodiac-type of boat and not for the faint of heart. If you’re not into that or have small children, you might want to take the calmer Catamaran and I do recommend seasickness medication. It worked like a charm for us.
Kauai Sugarloaf Pineapple Plantation
The Hole in the Mountain Farm is where you’ll find a real Kauai pineapple plantation with guided tours from farm owners, Jude and Paul Huber. They are an eclectic couple (she’s from New York) and are very endearing. They truly have a passion for growing the BEST pineapples in Hawaii and I’d say they’re onto something. The Kauai Sugarloaf is sweeter and softer than most other pineapples…and it’s white inside!
You will see pineapple at every stage of growth and learn more than you thought possible about pineapples. Did you realize it takes 18-24 months to grow a pineapple? You get to harvest your own pineapple and plant one too. But, the real treat is at the end when Paul makes his special Pineapple Phrosty from frozen pineapple. It’s better than ice cream!
Kalalau Trail at Na Pali Coast State Park
This is one of THE top hikes to do in all of America. The beautiful Na Pali Coast is rugged and remote and hiking it allows you to get up close to its massive green mountains. The entire Kalalau Trail is 11 miles (22 round trip) and requires overnight camping at the halfway point.
But, there are some other great options for families. For kids under 12, I would advise walking to Hanakapiai Beach and back (4 miles round trip). You are not allowed to swim here because wave conditions are too rough, but it’s a nice place to dip your toes in the water and have lunch or a snack.
With kids over 12, the hike to the Hanakapiai Falls is definitely doable. Keep in mind, there’s a steep elevation change and the trail is often slippery and muddy, so it does take time and extra caution. But, I find most kids are just happy to get out and explore, and my kids left me in their dust.
This waterfall is breathtaking. It’s 300 feet tall and you can feel the mist even when you’re standing far away.The air temperature in here drops significantly because you’re shaded from the sun, so a sweater is handy. The hike to and from the Waterfall took us six hours (8 miles round trip), factoring in stops at both the beach and a swim at the Falls. Get to the trailhead early (7 am) so you can get a good parking spot.
Spend a day (or longer) in Hanalei Bay
If your kids dream of living the surfer life, take them to quaint and charming Hanalei Bay, on Kauai’s North Shore. This is the surfing capital of Kauai and you can watch surfers from the beach or the famous pier for hours.
The town has only low-rise buildings and is home to surf shops, cool restaurants and Wishing Well Shave Ice and Hanalei Bread Company.
If possible, visit on the first Saturday of the month when the locals host a Surfboard Swap on the lawn; you can pick up a surfboard here cheap! Then, you just have to figure out how to get it on the plane.
We spent an entire morning watching the volunteers with KORE Kauai offer surfing lessons to those with special needs and physical challenges. They were dedicated to getting people of all ages and abilities up on that board. Their huge smiles and fist pumps were inspiring and a pleasure to watch.
I would advise pre-booking your adventures, if possible, so you can ensure you get the day and time you want. And don’t forget about doing all the free things on the island: wandering through the farmers’ markets, take a drive to Waimea Canyon (the Grand Canyon of the Pacific), check out the Spouting Horn Blowhole, visit Kauai’s many waterfalls and just chill on the beach.
Kauai vs. Maui?
Many people have asked which island we liked better…Maui or Kauai? So, I will attempt to answer that.
Truly, both are wonderful. I would say Maui feels a bit more polished and developed, while Kauai feels more raw and rustic. In Kauai, you really don’t find very many big resorts and shopping areas, but that also makes for less choice and variety for restaurants, etc.
After having been to Maui twice, we were ready for a different experience and we weren’t disappointed.
Have you been to Kauai or are you planning on visiting? Comment below if you have anything to add to this list.