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Guide To Kayaking In Kauai, Hawaii

Mark Armstrong
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​Known as the Garden Island, Kauai is the most northerly island in Hawaii and said to be the oldest. It’s home to several slow moving rivers, many beautiful bays and a rugged, unspoilt coastline, meaning there is plenty of choice for paddling adventures.

We’ve put together a list of some of the best places to go kayaking in Kauai so you can enjoy some of the island’s most stunning natural scenery for yourself.

Guide To Kayaking In Kauai, Hawaii PinterestPin

​Best Kayaking Locations in Kauai

​​1: Wailua River

Wailua River HIPin
Courtesy: Martin Criminale on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Located on the east of the island, the Wailua River is the largest navigable river on Kauai and a popular location for kayaking. It meanders through lush green jungle landscapes and past picturesque waterfalls and historic temples, or heiau.

The river is very calm and has no rapids. One of the main draws of the river is that you can paddle upstream and then hike to Secret Falls (Uluwehi Falls), where you can swim and stand underneath the waterfall.

​Video: Kayaking ​And Hiking ​To Secret Falls, Kauai

Another attraction you likely won’t want to miss is Fern Grotto, a natural cave in the lava rock that is covered by overhanging ferns and is only accessible by kayak or boat.

​2: Na Pali Coast

Napali Coast KayakingPin
Courtesy: Filipe Fortes on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kayaking along the Na Pali Coast can be one of the most scenic and adventurous paddling trips in the world. But this 17 mile trip from Haena Beach Park to Polihale State Park might not be for everyone. It can be pretty rough at times, with dangerous surf.

It is advisable to only paddle this route in the summer when waves and currents are generally calmer.

Along the route there are sea caves to discover and waterfalls to marvel at. The Napali Coast is on the northwestern side of Kauai and features towering cliffs and a wild landscape with no roads.

​3: Hanalei River

Hanalei River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Brandon Dalton on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The slow moving Hanalei River can be found on the north coast of the island. You can begin from the beach in Hanalei Bay and paddle upstream where you can pass under the old Hanalei Bridge (the current bridge is a replica of the original that was built in 1912).

The route takes you into the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, which provides essential habitat for a wide range of birds, including the world’s largest population of endangered Hawaiian ducks (koloa maoli).

​4: Huleia River

Huleia RiverPin
Courtesy: Robert Linsdell on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Huleia River flows through the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge and can be a great trip if you’re looking to spot wildlife, including endangered species of native birds.

The calm river can be accessed from Nawiliwili harbor in Lihue and from there you can paddle upstream through beautiful natural landscapes. And if any of it looks familiar, it’s because the Huleia River has been used as a filming location for several blockbuster movies, including Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

​5: Kalihiwai River

Kalihiwai RiverPin
Courtesy: S.J. & Jessie Quinney Library on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Kalihiwai River is located on the north shore of Kauai and can be a gentle paddling trip for families. It’s a shallow, slow moving river that can be accessed from Kalihiwai Beach in Kalihiwai Bay.

The calm river takes you through tropical jungle landscapes. There are waterfalls on this river, however they cannot be accessed without a tour guide because they are on private property on the Princeville Ranch.

Not far from Kalihiwai Bay is the Kilauea volcano, which can be seen from the coast but can be very dangerous to kayak past as there can be molten lava pouring into the ocean.

​Are There Any Good Kayak Tours To Check Out??

​Wailua River Tour

The Wailua River Tour, provided by Kayak Wailua in Kapaa can be a great tour for family groups. They provide life jackets for all ages and sizes as well as triple, tandem or single kayaks, depending on the numbers in your party.

The guides escort you on your paddle up the Wailua River and on your hike to Secret Falls, giving you information on local legends and history along the way.

​Napali Coast Tour

Napali Kayak offers several options of tours of the Napali Coast, including a day trip for the 17 mile journey from Haena Beach to Polihale Beach. On the tour, you’ll be guided along the wild coast, through sea caves and under or past waterfalls. There is also an option for a kayak camping tour.

​Hidden Valley Falls Tour

The tour to Hidden Valley Falls takes you along the Huleia River, paddling through the jungle before stopping for a hike through the wilderness to reach waterfalls and secluded pools for swimming. The tour includes lunch and is suitable for beginners of all ages. Your return journey is by motorized canoe.

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