Having a well-planned itinerary for Kauai ensures that you maximize the most precious commodity there is on the island – time!
With only a week in Kauai, every second of your vacation wasted on planning is a second that have lost exploring the savage beauty of the Na Pali Coast, relaxing on the pristine beaches of Hanalei Bay, or swimming amongst the exotic marine life off of Poipu Beach.
To ensure you get the most of your time in Kauai, we have put together this easily adaptable 7 Day Kauai Itinerary. This travel guide is intended to provide the perfect itinerary for first-timers traveling to the island who want to see it all, but also want time to relax and feel like they’re on vacation.
As the individual pace and taste of travel is as unique as our readers themselves, this particular itinerary for Kauai has been made to be malleable. Rather than a rigid itinerary, we have aimed to provide as much information and as many options as possible for you to hone the perfect schedule according to your preferences.
For those of you planning on doing a bit of island hopping, you may want to queue up some (or all!) of our travel and photography guides to the other Hawaiian Islands:
- Big Island Photography Locations
- Best Maui Instagram Spots
- Best Instagram spots on Oahu
- Kauai Photography Locations
Itinerary for Kauai: Getting Around
We are going to keep this short and sweet; unless you plan on staying at your resort for all 7 days in Kauai, you will need to rent a car. Rentals are very reasonably priced, the roads are safe and easy to drive, and relying on limited public options will simply eat up more of your precious vacation time than its worth.
If you are planning on never leaving the beach or pool outside of your resort, then what you need is not an itinerary but simply a drink menu! If, however, you plan on exploring, you will need to rent a car.
Map of Kauai
The Garden Isle is extremely small. The longest drive on main roads is only 2 hours and 20 minutes; this is from Wainiha Beach on the North Shore to Pu’u O Kila Lookout on Koke’e State Park. What this means is that every point of interest in Kauai can be visited on a day trip!
Click on the image below to open our Kauai Points of Interest Google Maps in a new tab.
Where to Stay in Kauai
Perhaps the most crucial decision you will have to make in planning your 7 day itinerary for Kauai is where to stay.
As the island is small and it is possible to make day trips, you may decide to spend the duration of your week in Kauai in one place. However, the recommended option is to break up your vacation by region. This would minimize your drive times and allow you a few days at a time at each location.
The choice you must make to craft your ideal 7 day Kauai itinerary is this: would you prefer the simplicity in unpacking only once but increasing drive times for day trips, or would you prefer relocating at least once to limit the amount of driving you do each day.
With this 7 day Kauai itinerary in mind, we would recommend breaking up your stay as follows:
- 4-5 nights on the south shore in the Poipu region
- 2-3 nights on the north shore in Princeville
This will allow you to explore Wailua on your way from the south to the north shore. However, we’ve also included the option of staying one night in Wailua / Kapa’a region for those that want longer in the area.
To help you decide, we’ll discuss the three major hubs to consider booking accommodation, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Poipu (4-5 nights)
Pros of Staying in Poipu
Poipu is the hub of the south shore. This is considered the “dry side” of Kauai, but there is still plenty of lush vegetation and swaying palms to marvel at!
Like Princeville, Poipu offers a wide variety of places to stay. Here you’ll find everything from hotels and resorts to more moderately priced Air BnBs. Also like Princeville, Poipu is home to some truly incredible beaches. These include Shipwreck Beach and Poipu Beach, which many consider the best snorkeling spot on Kauai.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to staying in Poipu is that you are much closer to the more remote Kauai points of interest. If you are planning on spending significant time in the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park, which you absolutely should, you will allow yourself a lot more time on a day trip by starting from Poipu. The same goes for visits to the isolated Polihale State Park.
Cons of Staying in Poipu
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there are any cons to staying in Poipu. However, you may find more affordable and less touristy options by electing to stay in Wailua or Kapa’a instead.
Poipu is a great place to stay due to the proximity to beautiful beaches, as well as the south shore gems. We recommend planning to stay at least 4 nights in Poipu. This will give you the chance to organize day trips to Polihale, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali coast, all while remaining fairly close to home. And believe us, you will want to have at least one free day to just soak in some sun right there from the sands in Poipu.
If you are planning your one week in Kauai itinerary around staying in just one place, Poipu would be our recommendation! You are a bit further from the north shore, of course, but still only about an hour away.
Wailua / Kapa’a (1 night)
Pros of Staying in Wailua / Kapa’a
The majority of locals live in the central region of Kauai. For this reason, you will find high-end hotel and resorts options far more limited than in Princeville or Poipu. Accordingly, those of you looking for more budget-friendly accommodation in Kauai will want to begin your search in the Wailua or Kapa’a region. Most of the more affordable AirBnBs, restaurants, and grocery stores are found nearby.
Another advantage of staying in Wailua or Kapa’a is that you are more central. Therefore, you are cutting drive times on your individual day trips to the north and south.
The last reason to consider spending at least one night in Wailua is that it is a truly stunning place. The Wailua River is famous for renting kayaks and paddling about the tropical jungle. Plus, the nearby waterfalls are the best in all of Kauai.
Cons of Staying in Wailua / Kapa’a
While the Wailua Valley is beautiful, it is also very wet. Additionally, the beach options nearby are rather poor by Hawaii standards. They are not swimmable, nor are they particularly photogenic. Furthermore, many of the points of interest in Kauai are dotted along the north and south shore. This means you may find yourself doing a lot more driving than you’d like.
If budget is your primary concern, you may find your best options in Wailua or nearby Kapa’a. Due to the island’s small size, even those of you spending your entire 7 days in Kauai in the same place will have no trouble making this home base.
However, for those of you planning on dividing your time amongst multiple accommodations, we feel one night is more than enough here. This will allow you to spend your day exploring the waterfalls and paddling the Wailua River, and offers a bit more of a local experience.
Princeville (2-3 nights)
Pros of Staying in Princeville
Princeville neighbors the famous Hanalei Bay, and is the hub of the North Shore. When the trade winds are kind and the sun is shining, there are few places anywhere in the world that boast beaches as beautiful as Hanalei Beach, Wainiha Beach, and Tunnels Beach.
Those interested in exploring the Napali Coast by foot will be only a short drive away to the Kalalau Trail. This trail offers one of the only access points to this stretch of the coast via land. There are also plenty of boat and helicopter tours that pick up from Princeville.
Princeville also has a wider variety of accommodation than anywhere else on the island. More options is never a bad thing!
Cons of Staying in Princeville
Every Hawaiian Island has a wet side and a dry side; Princeville and the north shore happen to be the wet side of Kauai. The ample rain is credited for the lush greenery and beauty it creates. However, it is less appealing for beach bums or those of you planning to spend a lot of time poolside.
Those electing to make Princeville home for all 7 days in Kauai will discover that visiting Polihale and Waimea Canyon make for extremely long days. In fact, if you truly want to have sufficient time to see some of the best Kauai points of interest on the south side of the island, you may be looking at having to make two separate trips that entail 4-5 hour days of just driving.
Due to the lengthy drive times to the south shore and less reliable weather, we recommend spending just 2-3 nights in Princeville. There is simply so much to see and do in the south that wasting too much time driving just doesn’t make much sense. That said, if you are one of those travelers who plan on spending your week in Kauai in one place, you would not be the first to fall in love with Hanalei Bay and never want to leave!
Planning your 7 Day Itinerary for Kauai
We’ve aimed to keep this itinerary for Kauai as flexible as possible. Therefore, we have divided the days up by what we feel most people can see and do at an enjoyable pace.
We have also separated the days according to our recommended way of traveling Kauai. That is, to spend 4-5 nights on the south shore and 2-3 nights on the north. Of course, those of you planning on spending your entire week in one accommodation will simply have to factor in slightly longer drive times.
If you are planning a sky or boat tour to the Na Pali Coast, and we strongly recommend doing so, I would make sure you book that for the day where the weather looks the most reliable! All days are basically interchangeable, and this experience will surely be the most memorable of your week in Kauai!
The PERFECT 7 Day Itinerary for Kauai
Our proposed 7 day itinerary for Kauai breaks down as follows:
- Day 1: Arrive & Check-in; time permitting, explore locally
- Day 2: Waimea Canyon / Koke’e State Park
- Day 3: Poipu Region
- Day 4: Na Pali Coast Tour / Polihale State Park
- Day 5: Wailua Region
- Day 6: North Shore Region
- Day 7: North Shore Region
Alright, now it’s time to get into the details! The daily breakdown below will tell you everything about what you will want to see and things to do in Kauai.
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 1: Check-in
Most people traveling to Kauai will arrive via the Lihue airport on the Southeast corner of Kauai. If you are island hopping, however, there is a chance you will be arriving via Princeville. Therefore, be sure to arrange your rental car accordingly!
We have intentionally kept Day 1 of our 7 day Kauai itinerary very light. We know some of you will have just traveled great distances, some will be arriving at night, and you will need to deal with rental cars, check-ins, etc. Allow yourself a bit of a free day here! After you’ve got the keys to your rental and have dropped your bags off, find a good bar or beach nearby and drink in that aloha spirit; figuratively or literally!
When you visit Kauai or any Hawaiian Island, it is important that you remember that you are on vacation! Use this first day to simply wander about locally and find a place you love to start taking in some island vibes.
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 2: Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park
If you are anything like us, you will be too excited by the beauty of Kauai to spend your first full day sitting at a beach. While your energy reserves are at their highest, we recommend visiting Waimea Canyon, as well as neighboring Koke’e State Park.
You may recall that these Kauai destinations are the furthest inland you will be required to drive. For many of you, this will also be the most “hiking” required as well.
Waimea Canyon State Park
The Waimea Canyon is also known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. It is an incredible expanse of color and layers that even the best photos scarcely do justice to. As you drive along Hwy 550 you’ll discover a ton of viewpoints that provide unique vantage points of the canyon and distant Waipo’o Falls. Some require short walks, while many are basically roadside pull-offs. Allow yourself plenty of time to stop at these various overlooks, have some lunch, and enjoy the views.
Koke’e State Park
As you continue along the road, you will eventually leave the Waimea Canyon State Park and enter Koke’e State park instead.
This is home to some of the best views of the Na Pali coast that you can access by land. Be forewarned, however, that most of these are muddy and unmaintained trails. Be absolutely sure to read up on our favorite hike in Kauai, the Kalepa Ridge Trail. This guide details the legality and how to find the trail , as well as alternative options.
The Na Pali coast is hands down the most special feature of the island of Kauai. For those physically able, it’s well worth including one of the hikes to your 7 day itinerary for Kauai.
If you do not have the time, interest, or athletic ability for one of these hikes, fear not! Kalalau Lookout is easily accessible and provides incredible views of part of the Na Pali coast. Just beyond that is the Pu’u O Kila Lookout with similar and also impressive views.
Plan to spend the first day of your Kauai trip exploring all that this region has to offer. However, you’ll need to come prepared. There may be a few vendors selling some snacks and drinks at some of the lookouts, but you are best off packing a lunch and bringing it with you. If you plan to stay through sunset, which is always recommended for photography, bring some food for dinner too!
READ MORE: Best Kauai Photography Locations
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 3: Poipu Region
After an active day exploring the impressive Waimea Canyon on Day 2, you’re undoubtedly ready for a day on the beach! Not to worry – there is plenty to see and do around Poipu!
One of the reasons we prefer an itinerary for Kauai that divides your trip up into accommodation on both the south and north shore is that it will give you longer days at each destination. In addition, many of the parking areas fill up at the local beaches. If you are staying nearby, you will find it much easily to leave your car at the hotel and explore by foot, or at least get to the beach nice and early to get a parking spot.
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail
To begin Day 3, we recommend waking up early (groan!) to watch and photograph the sunrise from our absolute favorite vista. Park at Shipwreck Beach and, facing the ocean, find the trail and follow it to your left. This is the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail and it takes you to incredible ocean views facing east as the sun rises.
There are plenty of incredible places to watch the sunrise over the ocean along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. However, our favorite composition from a photography standpoint was from Makawehi Bluff. From here, the first light kisses the lush tropical landscape and distant mountain ranges that make Kauai so beautiful.
Explore the Beaches
Following sunrise, we recommend enjoying the divine beaches of the south shore. Shipwreck Beach is very nice, and if you meander down the beach you will stroll past the Grand Hyatt Kauai. This is a beautiful resort and a great place to enjoy a hammock and a cocktail, even if you are not staying there. There is also a turtle viewing area if you walk to the end of Shipwreck Beach and continue toward The Point at Poipu.
After spending some time at Shipwreck Beach, consider visiting Poipu Beach for some of the best snorkeling on Kauai. Many varieties of tropical fish call this cove home. It is also very common for honu (Hawaiian for green sea turtles) to come ashore. There are also resorts and plenty of services nearby.
If you want to explore one more beach, you can access the neighboring Kiahuna Beach from Poipu easily by foot. This is yet another beautiful, golden sand beach with all the qualities one seeks on a beach in Hawaii.
Polihale State Park
For those of you who are too active to spend all day on beaches, consider using the afternoon of Day 3 to head to Polihale State Park. This is the most remote stretch of beach accessible by road on Kauai and is a favorite spot for campers and locals. Four-wheel drive is recommended and some rental car companies will not allow you to take their vehicles here. Check with your rental company if you want to include Polihale in your 7 day itinerary for Kauai.
Day 3 is all about enjoying the beaches and aloha, treat yourself to some shave ice, poki, and other local favorites, and consider having dinner somewhere that offers traditional Hawaiian fare.
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 4: Na Pali Coast Tour
There are two Na Pali Coast tour options available; by sea or by sky!
Despite exploring the Na Pali Coast via the trails from Koke’e State Park multiple times, NOTHING compared to our experience from the water. Even if budget is limited, make sure you give yourself the time and budget to arrange at least one tour of the Na Pali Coast during your week in Kauai.
Whatever you decide to book, we recommend booking a tour for as late in the day as possible! The light is best on the Na Pali coast when the sun is hitting it, which won’t be until the late afternoon. Some companies offer sunset and dinner cruises, and that is a beautiful time to be on the water!
Na Pali Coast Tour by Boat
The advantage of a boat tour is that you get a lot more time for your money, and some of the companies are extremely accommodating for photography requests and such. You also get access to sea caves and waterfalls that are extremely beautiful. Last, as anyone who has tried will know, it is a lot easier to photograph from a boat than a plane or helicopter!
We chose to book our boat tour through Na Pali Craze, and cannot recommend them enough! This family-owned company is passionate about what they do and were unbelievably accommodating. They knew all of us on the boat were interested in photography. With this in mind, they custom-made our itinerary to give us the most time in the best places for photography. They also did some insane tricks in that boat that are not for the weary!
To that end, we strongly recommend them for young and active Kauai travelers. Na Pali Craze is all about FUN! If you have young children or are less interested in these kinds of shenanigans, there are plenty of boat tours that prioritize COMFORT. Some of these options include sunset sailing with dinner or even full-day tours including Niihau.
We recommend booking your Na Pali coast tour a couple of days in advance. This way you can choose a day with the best weather!
Na Pali Coast Tour by Flight
One of the most amazing sights you could ever witness are the Na Pali cliffs from the sky. If you’ve not been on a scenic flight before, it’s also a great excuse to tick an item off your bucket list over one of the most incredible landscapes on the planet.
The views and access you are able to get from the sky are just so unique! While seeing the savage Na Pali cliffs from the water is incredible, we are all accustomed to taking in the world from eye level. Seeing this place as only the birds can is a very unique opportunity that you will never forget.
A helicopter tour is definitely something to consider. There are plenty of tour providers offering scenic flights over the Na Pali coast to choose from.
If you’re taking a flight with photography in mind then we’d highly recommend a helicopter ride over an airplane ride. This way, you won’t be battling a restricted view due to the plane’s wings. For an even better photography experience, book a doors-off helicopter ride to avoid having to shoot through glass.
Pro Tip: Avoid early flights as the Na Pali Coast is on the western side and will be in shade early. If you are visiting the island with Kauai landscape photography in mind, a late afternoon into evening flight will provide the nicest light for your photos.
Polihale State Park
Assuming you have taken our advice and booked an afternoon tour, you will have plenty of time in the morning to kill. Therefore, if you didn’t visit Polihale State Park yesterday, you should consider doing so today.
As previously mentioned, not all rental companies will allow it and 4WD is required for much of the park. However, even standard cars can access the parking lot for the beach there. It was not the most impressive beach we saw on Kauai, but it does have a unique charm, ample space, and silky soft sand!
READ MORE: Camera Gear for Epic Travel Photos
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 5: Wailua Region
After spending the first half of your Kauai vacation on the south shore, it is time to head north!
You may wish to spend the night in Wailua. However, we recommend seeing as much as possible on your way through and ending the day at your new home on the North Shore.
The Wailua region is known for its lush, tropical forest and its unswimmable beaches. Not to worry though, there’s no need to put your flip flops away just yet!
Kayak the Wailua River
One of the most popular activities in Wailua is to rent a kayak and explore the beautiful Wailua River. If you have even basic confidence in kayaking, you can rent one easily enough and simply go for a paddle. There are also plenty of local companies who will take you on guided trips, which is probably the better option for most who want to enjoy this activity. We’d definitely recommend taking a “Secret Falls” tour! This tour requires a bit of kayaking and hiking to discover a stunning waterfall in the heart of the forest.
If kayaking the Wailua River does not have a spot on your Kauai itinerary, then you can leave in the morning at a more relaxed pace.
You should absolutely visit the beautiful Wailua Falls, as well as the nearby ‘Opaeka’a Falls regardless. These beautiful waterfalls can be driven to and seen from easy-to-access roadside viewpoints, and will not require too lengthy a detour. While there was once access to both, the trails have now been closed.
As most Kauai locals live in this region, Wailua and nearby Kapa’a have some of the best local food you will find, and at reasonable prices. As our primary concern is photography over all else, I must admit that we did not explore enough of the restaurants to provide any well-rounded insight. However, we did destroy some burgers from Bubba’s Burgers in Kapa’a! If you’re a local burger kind of person, many consider Bubba’s the best on the island!
If you skipped the Wailua River, then you should consider stopping by some of the more remote central beaches on your way north.
In particular, there is a hidden gem called Papa’a Bay Beach that is absolutely stunning. It requires a short walk, but it’s not often you find such a stunning slice of paradise so empty.
To access Papa’a Beach, use Google Maps to locate ‘Aliomanu Beach Parking and find the trail once parked. When you arrive at the first beach, walk left and scramble over some boulders a short distance. Through the trees, you’ll happen upon one of our favorite beaches in all of Kauai.
If you are beached out or do not have time for this detour, continue north toward Princeville instead and get checked in for your next few nights.
Time permitting, nearby Hanalei Bay is one of the most heralded beaches in all of Hawaii, and will now be right on your doorstep! We definitely recommend getting to Hanalei Beach or one of the Hanalei Valley overlooks in time for sunset if you are able.
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 6: North Shore
While the North Shore tends to be the wetter shore, there is a reason the beaches there have such impressive reputations. We don’t need to tell you much about the Hanalei Valley; you will see for yourself that it is another level of beautiful. Various overlooks will provide views of the valley and Hanalei Bay below which you can access right from the roadside. Obviously you will likely want to spend at least one sunset here.
Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach
Beyond Hanalei, you have a handful of other amazing beaches. Tunnels Beach and Ke’e Beach are both incredibly scenic, dawning the amazing Na Pali coast as their backdrop. You should spend this last full day by getting an early start and checking out all of the amazing beaches the north shore has to offer. The more moderately-paced can make a full day out of this, soaking in those final aloha vibes with every moment available.
You more active readers may want to consider including the Kalalau Trail to your 7 day itinerary for Kauai! The trail begins at Ke’e beach and ends 2 miles later at Hanakapi’ai Beach for people not holding a permit.
If you are really adventurous and have the time, get your permit ahead of time. This allows you to walk as far as the land will allow, ending at Kalalau Beach. This hike requires serious planning and is an all-day affair. Therefore, you will need to amend your Kauai itinerary appropriately if this is a priority for you. Otherwise, simply enjoy the hike and views available on the short hike from Ke’e Beach.
Relax and Enjoy Your Final Night
As this is your final night in Kauai, make the most of it. We will not be so brash as to tell you how to do that. But we do urge you to consider the best way to create a once-in-a-lifetime memory to take home with you.
Perhaps it’s one final flight over the Na Pali Coast or enjoying a Hawaiian luau, or maybe just finding a spot in the sand of your favorite North Shore beach and watching for “the green flash” as the sun goes down.
Whatever you do, make it count!
7 Day Kauai Itinerary Day 7: Depart
We didn’t want to include any specific recommendations for Day 7 of your one week in Kauai itinerary as the amount of time you have available depends entirely on what time you depart.
Fortunately, Lihue Airport is only 45 minutes away from Princeville. Therefore most of you should have time for one final sunrise and perhaps even a snorkel. If you didn’t have time the previous day, use this last day as an excuse to taste the Pacific Ocean once more and enjoy the aquatic life from Tunnels Beach!
Oh, and don’t forget to pick up some world-famous Kauai coffee as a souvenir, as well as the quintessential macadamia nut varieties. If you have the time, you can even consider visiting a coffee estate. Kauai coffee offers free tastings and complimentary walking tours daily.
7 Day Itinerary for Kauai Final Thoughts
We hope you have found this guide to the perfect 7 day Kauai itinerary useful in planning the vacation of a lifetime. We visited all of the Hawaiian Islands on our 6-week visit and while they all charmed us in different ways, there is nothing anywhere in the world quite like the Na Pali coast! There is also no island in the world quite like Kauai!
The blessed among you will not be saying farewell to Hawaii, but simply hopping on a short flight to another island. If this includes you, be sure to check out our other Hawaii travel guides:
- Big Island Photography Locations
- Best Maui Instagram Spots
- Best Instagram spots on Oahu
- Kauai Photography Locations
See something we missed, let us know in the comments below!