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Kauai’s reputation as the most tropical of all the Hawaiian Islands is well deserved. The verdant isle, which erupted into existence over 5 million years ago, is 552 square miles of emerald jungles, jagged volcanic spires, lush waterfalls, aquamarine pools, and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. If you’re the active type, there’s so much to do on Kauai — hiking, snorkeling, sailing, scuba diving, horseback riding, and much more. The island is also a mellower and less crowded experience when compared to either Oahu or Maui, and it’s not uncommon to find a stretch of beach or hiking trail to call your own.
Direct flights from the mainland into Kauai’s quaint Lihue Airport (LIH) are the most convenient and affordable way to reach the Garden Island. Alternatively, some may consider flying first into Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Oahu for a stay before continuing on to Kauai, as flights between the two islands take only 25 minutes.
Renting a car upon landing is advisable if you plan to venture beyond resort towns like Princeville. Many of the most scenic destinations around the island, such as Waimea Canyon and Alakaʻi Wilderness Preserve, are best experienced by car, and having your own wheels offers opportunities to explore smaller beaches, tide pools, waterfalls, and other sites along the way.
Vacationers will be pleased to know temperatures are pleasantly warm in Kauai year- round, peaking around August with an average of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, reflective of the island’s lush greenery, it also drizzles and rains year-round. The dry season spans from April through October, with wetter storms arriving more regularly between November and March. But rain is often intermittent, allowing interludes of sunshine to peek through most days.
Despite its Garden Island moniker, Kauai hosts numerous microclimates to prepare for if you explore beyond the beaches. These microclimates span from shirt-soaking humidity in the tropical rainforests to arid heat on the southwestern side, where cactus can be common. It’s always a good idea to pack a light windbreaker, hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen when visiting Kauai.
Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a hiker, the first 2 miles of the 11-mile out-and-back Kalalau Trail deserve the effort. The views along this steep oceanside trail are spectacular, with a picturesque pocket beach and the hidden valley of Hanakāpī‘ai awaiting.
Imagine the Grand Canyon overtaken by a tropical jungle and you get a rudimentary sense of the awe-inspiring vistas visitors experience while surveying this majestic, red-tinged canyon.
Anyone approaching the sheer emerald walls of Mount Waiʻaleʻale, which reach upward 5,148 feet, shouldn’t expect to stay dry. Reputedly the wettest place on Earth and the originating source of all seven of Kauai’s rivers, Mount Waiʻaleʻale requires a special guide (or helicopter ride) to explore, but is a uniquely Kauai experience.