There’s a lot of advice out there on what to see and do on the island of Kauai. But one thing that most people agree on, one day is just not enough to see all the Garden Isle has to offer. Still, if you’re short on time, there’s no doubt that one day is worth it to spend some time exploring. If you only have one day on the island, check out some of these top stops, depending on where you stay.
A scenic drive up the Grand Canyon of the Pacific is one of the experiences that comes most recommended when you visit Kauai. Waimea Canyon drops 3,500 feet and extends 1 mile wide by 14 miles long. Follow the winding road to high viewpoints over the rugged rock cliffs and vibrant green plant life.
At the end of the road through Waimea Canyon,Kōkeʻe State Park offers picnic spots, hiking trails, and views out over the Kalalau Valley from 4,000 feet in elevation. Nonresidents pay $10 per vehicle and $5 per person, with fees going to support Hawaii’s state parks. Trails through the native rainforest explore the flora and take hikers along the rim of Waimea Canyon. You can make a big day of it and explore the trails that wind through the park and into the nearby nature reserves. Don’t miss Kalalau Lookout for big views out over the ocean.
When you’re done with your rainforest explorations and canyoneering, take some time to spend on the shore at black-sand Waimea Beach. The jury’s still out on whether the sand should truly be described as black or whether it’s more of a grayish brown. But where the Waimea River’s red water meets the sand and sea, it makes for a dramatic view.
For a stay on the western half of the island, book a night or two at Starry Night Lodging’s ocean view vacation home in Koloa. With a tiki bar and just a few steps to get to the beach, the only problem is you won’t want to just stay one day.
This popular deli isn’t a sit-down restaurant. At Pono Market, you’re meant to grab, go, and get outside to enjoy the beauty of the island. But the flavors are big and the dishes traditional, with a menu of rotating entrees and fresh poke always ready to grab. Kapaa Beach nearby makes a good picnic site when you’ve gathered your favorites.
With so many muddy trails and adventurous treks to find on Kauai, it’s nice to have an option for a stunning waterfall that you don’t have to work for. Wailua Falls fits the bill. This double cascade drops 80 feet for a view easily seen from the road.
A boat tour up the Wailua River (the only navigable river in Hawaii) will reveal much about the history of the island. And it will also bring you to the popular observation deck overlooking Fern Grotto, a natural cave formed from volcanic rock, with dense ferns growing down from the ceiling in the moist environment.