A visit to Kauai is a trip of a lifetime where you can explore the rugged shore, view stunning waterfalls, and feel like you’ve taken a step onto the set of Jurrasic Park. And while there is so much to explore, your visit will probably be limited in time.
That’s why we’ve put together the perfect three-day Kauai itinerary. Whether you’re staying for three days or three weeks, this perfect itinerary will help you enjoy three action-packed days on the Garden Isle.
- Day 1: Enjoy the Lush Landscape of the North Shore
- Day 2: See the Stunning Vistas at Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast
- Day 3: Explore Koloa Town, Poipu, and Waterfalls
Ready to plan your perfect trip? Let’s dive into the three-day Kauai itinerary.
Table of Contents
- The Lay of the Land: Parts of Kauai
- 3-Day Kauai Itinerary
- Are 3 Days Enough in Kauai?
- When Should You Visit Kauai?
- Why Are Hotels in Hawaii So Expensive? (And Clever Ways to Save)
- Start Here for Your Hawaii Trip Planning
- Your 10-Day Oahu and Maui Itinerary
The Lay of the Land: Parts of Kauai
Before we get into the itinerary, it’s important to know the lay of the land. There are four main regions of Kauai: North Shore, South Shore, East Side (Coconut Coast), and West Side. The main towns include:
- North Shore: Hanalei, Princeville, and Kilauea
- South Shore: Poipu and Koloa
- East Side: Lihue and Kapa’a
- West Side: Waimea and Hanapepe
The airport is located in Lihue, on the east side. From the centrally located airport, in no traffic you’re approximately the following travel times to these popular Kauai locations:
- 1-hour to Hanalei (or 45-minutes to Princeville)
- 25-minutes to Poipu
- 1-hour to Waimea Canyon
If you’re trying to figure out where to stay on Kauai, we have an article that goes into detail to help you choose an area and our pick for accommodations.
3-Day Kauai Itinerary
Here’s an itinerary for an action-packed three days of sightseeing on Kauai. Of course, if you want to enjoy some of the Kauai beaches and slow down a little, this itinerary would also be a perfect five-day to one-week itinerary. Just use these three days as your action days and use the remaining days to enjoy the best beaches.
Coming with kids? We have a list of the best kid-friendly beaches in Kauai.
Day 1: Enjoy the Lush Landscape of the North Shore
Before you head out and explore the north shore of Kauai, check the weather. While the north shore has stunning, lush scenery, it does get more rain than any other part of the island. Plan to head up on a day that isn’t too rainy (though you can expect a quick shower here or there most days).
If you’re staying in Poipu on the south shore, plan to get up and hit the road early. It’s a long drive up to Hanalei (approximately 1.5 hours), but it’s scenic and so worth it.
Your first stop is at the Hanalei Valley Lookout. A quick stop off the side of the road to get a picturesque view of the valley below. Continue your drive and after a couple of one-lane bridges (yield to oncoming traffic), you’ll enter the charming town of Hanalei. You’ll be back to explore this afternoon, but if you’re hungry make a quick stop at Hanalei Bread Company for coffee and breakfast.
If the weather is nice and you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll head to Tunnels Beach. This is the place to snorkel on Kauai but it’s popular. You may have to park at Haena Beach and walk to Tunnels. This massive snorkeling area isn’t just great when you’re in the water. The beach is also sprawling with soft white sand. It’s a great place to relax for a few hours.
If the waves are too big to safely spend time at the beach, there are still plenty of other things to do. Visit the Limahuli Tropical Botanical Garden and stroll through their beautifully landscaped botanical gardens and ancient Hawaiian taro ponds.
Two other quick stops you can make on the north shore are at the Maniniholo Dry Cave and take a dip in a roadside stream. Watch our video on the north shore for details on where to find these.
Once you’ve enjoyed this part of the north shore, it’s time to head back to Hanalei town for lunch. In town, you have so many fantastic options for food. One of our favorites: Fredrico’s Fresh Mex Cuisine for fish tacos.
After lunch, take some to time walkthrough Hanalei town, visiting the shops and the Hanalei Pier. If you’re visiting in the summer and want to try your hand at stand up paddle, this is the place to do that. There are plenty of rental shops and in the summer, Hanalei Bay is calm and offers the perfect spot for beginners to get in the water.
If you’re really eager to hit up one more beach before dinner, head to Hideaways beach in Princeville. Note: if you’re traveling with young children, getting to this beach can be tricky. It’s down a steep bluff and you work your way down the steep hills using ropes. But once you get down, it is worth it. This was hands down our favorite beach that we found on Kauai.
Now that it’s getting into the evening, head to AMA, an outdoor restaurant with an unbeatable view and fantastic food.
Day 2: See the Stunning Vistas of Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast
Today you’re heading to the west side of the island to view the spectacular nature that Kauai offers. You have two choices here: Waimea Canyon in the morning and a sunset Napali Coast boat ride, or Napali Coast snorkeling in the morning and Waimea Canyon in the afternoon.
We’re planning the day with Waimea Canyon first, but just reverse the activities if you prefer.
Your first stop today is for some coffee at the Kauai Coffee Company. Here you can do a self-guided tour of the plantation, sample coffee, or buy your own cup (or bag). It’s a fun, quick stop to start your day of adventure.
Next, you’ll head to Hanapepe, Kauai’s Biggest Little Town. This charming small town is full of art shops, coffee shops and bakeries, and their famous swinging bridge. If you skipped breakfast this morning, you can pick something up at Midnight Bear Breads or Little Fish Coffee.
From here you’ll make the drive up to Waimea Canyon. This stunning canyon is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The canyon is approximately ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep. Here, there are plenty of scenic overlooks so you can get a great view of the canyon. There’s also plenty of hiking options, ranging from very short and easy to hikes that take the better part of the day.
If you’re up for more scenic views, you can continue driving to the Kalalau Lookout, which has stunning ocean views, on a clear day.
Depending on how much time you spend in Waimea canyon, you might have some extra time before your Na Pali Coast sunset sail departs. If you do, head to Waimea Plantation Cottages and grab a snack from Chicken in a Barrel. The cottages are set on a 43-acre ocean-front property that is beautifully landscaped. Grab a drink and sip it while sitting on a rocking chair on the hotel’s back porch.
Finally, it’s time to head on your Na Pali Coast sail. This is an iconic mountain shoreline that you won’t be able to explore by car. The only way to see it is by boat, by helicopter, or on foot by hiking in. This rugged terrain might be the most spectacular view on the entire island (possibly on any of the islands).
Day 3: Explore Koloa Town, Poipu, and Waterfalls
Finally, a day filled with beautiful waterfalls!
Start your morning off with a hearty breakfast at Little Fish Coffee in Poipu. This is one of our favorite coffee shops on the island. Grab a coffee, acai bowl, smoothie, or breakfast bagel and relax at one of the picnic tables in the garden.
Once you are ready to start the day, you’re off on a drive! Head out on the 30-minute drive to ‘Opaeka’a Falls. Here, you can stop off at the lookout point and get a view of the waterfalls, without any hike needed. Get your pictures and hop back in the car. We’re going to head out on a hike for some up close and personal waterfall viewing.
From here you’ll drive to Ho’opi’i Falls. Take note when parking and starting the hike: the hike begins in a residential area. Stay quiet to respect the neighbors here. If there are no street parking spots, head to Wailua Falls as an alternative. You can also kayak the Wailua River, either with a guided tour or on your own.
On this hike, you’ll be able to visit not one, but three waterfalls. The second fall features a swimming pond with a rope swing. The hike itself isn’t too strenuous (we did it with a two-year-old), but the trail can get muddy at parts.
After seeing your fill of waterfalls, it’s time to get back in the car and head back south. Head through the Tree Tunnel, a stretch of the road lined with 500 eucalyptus trees over 100 years old. Stop off in the charming and historic Koloa Town. Stroll the streets, visit the boutiques, and pick up lunch. We love the Koloa Fish Market, but there are plenty of other food truck and restaurant options in town.
Closeout the day by spending the afternoon on Poipu beach. This beach was once named America’s best beach by the Travel Channel and it’s easy to see why. Two calm, golden sand crescents come together to form a beach that is shielded from rough seas. It’s kid-friendly and an easy place to swim and relax. Bonus if you’re coming with small kids: there’s a playground on the beach that our son Henry played on for hours.
Your day is winding down. If you’re ready for one last adventure, head to Shipwreck beach to do walk the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, a coastal hiking trail that delivers stunning views and is relatively easy to do (though I recommend wearing real shoes!).
Are 3 Days Enough in Kauai?
You might be wondering if we think that three days is enough for a Kauai vacation. I mean, I did just write an entire article on the perfect three-day itinerary.
No, three days isn’t enough in Kauai.
Honestly, we just returned from a week on Kauai and that felt a few days too short. If you want to fully explore the island and have some days to relax on the beach, ten days would be the perfect stay length.
So why did we create a three-day itinerary? A couple of reasons:
- According to Hawaii Tourism Authority data, nearly two-thirds of the people who visit Kauai also visit another island. And the average length of stay for a trip to Hawaii is nine days, so a three or four day trip to Kauai is common.
- We created a three day Kauai itinerary based on exploration. If you include beach and pool days, this could easily be a six or seven-day itinerary, with a nice vacation pace.
If you can only stay for three days, this is the itinerary to help you see it all. But I hope you can take a longer trip. Kauai is worth it.
When Should You Visit Kauai?
Just like the other Hawaiian island, Kauai has months that are cooler and rainier and months that are warmer and drier. That said, Kauai does get more rain than the other islands, giving it it’s lush garden landscape. Therefore, April to October is the drier period on the island. But read our article below for details on the weather as it depends where you stay on Kauai!
Related read: Where to Stay on Kauai. It’s Complicated.
I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We live on Maui with our toddler Henry and our sweet but quirky dog Hattie. I am a planner! I love to plan island-hopping adventures, days out on Maui, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time on our SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!
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