With over 50 miles of sandy shores—more than any other Hawaiian island—Kaua'i is a beach bum's dream. It's easy to give in to "Hawai'i time" and spend your trip relaxing at spots like Hanalei Bay (pictured) on the North Shore. But you'll miss out on some of Kaua'i's most exciting activities if you're parked on the sand the whole time. Here are five ways to get off your beach towel and experience some of the island's top adventures.
For Adrenaline Junkies: Ziplining
It may not feel natural to take a running leap over the ledge of a valley, but it sure is fun. Guides clip your harness to wires and slow you down for landings, leaving you free to enjoy ocean and mountain views as you "fly" over treetops and across valleys. Most outfitters offer a shorter "express" version of their signature tours, though we recommend the full tour so you have time to catch your breath—you're sure to lose it screaming.
Where to do it: On the North Shore, Princeville Ranch Adventures combines nine zips with lunch at a swimming hole in the jungle. Those with a stronger stomach for heights might try Just Live's course near the South Shore—your feet won't touch the ground until you finish the course. Both of these tours end with a long tandem zipline, so you can race a friend to the other end.
For Cost Cutters: Hiking
If saving money is your goal, you're in luck on Kaua'i. Most of the spectacularly scenic hiking trails here are free, except for the cost of a sturdy pair of shoes. The crown jewel is the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile path along the Nāpali Coast. Most people trek the first two miles to Hanakāpī'ai Beach before turning around. If you're in good physical condition, this trip will take roughly 3½ hours. You'll get a good sense of the trail, and some awesome Nāpali views, but be prepared for many steep hills.
More experienced hikers can get a permit ($10 per person) and attempt the whole 11 miles to Kalalau Beach, where you can camp overnight.
Where to do it: Kalalau Trail begins at Kē'ē Beach on the North Shore. Other top hiking spots include Waimea Canyon on the West Side and the Māhā'ulepū Trail on the South Shore.
For Family Fun: Mountain Tubing
If you've ever tried the lazy river ride at a water park, you'll know what to expect when mountain tubing. This is a great activity to do with kids because the only exertion required is lifting your bottom when you hit a few gentle rapids. The three-hour tour floats down an old irrigation track and concludes with lunch at a swimming hole. It's a good choice for a cloudy day; most of the course winds through tunnels (headlamps are provided) and the rest is shaded under a forest canopy.
Where to do it: Kaua'i Backcountry Adventures leads tubing tours daily from their headquarters in Līhu'e.
For Photographers: Helicopter Tour
If your budget allows, a tour of Kaua'i by helicopter is something you absolutely must do. You'll dip into valleys, hover over waterfalls, and of course, soar along the iconic Nāpali Coast. While there is no 'best' time of day for a helicopter ride—that depends on the weather—we strongly recommend scheduling a tour early on your trip. This allows you to scout out spots to visit later on, and should weather cancel the flight, you'll have time to reschedule. If photography's your thing, consider taking a doorless helicopter ride—you'll capture the unbelievable scenery without catching your reflection in the window.
Where to do it: Many helicopter tour operators are located in Līhu'e, including Blue Hawaiian Helicopters and Island Helicopter. For a doors-off flight try Jack Harter Helicopters. See our Kauai destination guide for more details and tours.
For Everyone: Boat Trips
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water on Kaua'i. You can chug leisurely along the coast on a catamaran, stopping to snorkel, or sipping mai tais on a sunset cruise. Another option is to hold on tight on a Zodiac raft—it's exhilarating to bounce over waves, and if the tide is right you can explore coastal caves. On calmer days, you can head out on your own in a kayak. However you do it, seeing Kaua'i's coast from a boat will give you a new perspective of the island. It's also the best way to get a glimpse of sea turtles, dolphins, and if you're visiting between December and April, humpback whales.
Where to do it: Most boat tours depart from the West Side and the North Shore. Outfitters include Blue Dolphin Charters, Kaua'i Sea Tours, Capt. Andy's, and Nāpali Kayak. For more details see our Kauai destination guide.