Kauai’s 10 Best Views

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Nicknamed the Garden Island, Kauai embodies Hawaii’s wild side, its untamed greenery, misty peaks, glittering waterfalls, and seemingly endless beaches forming the state’s most unspoiled natural hideaway. Kauai is crisscrossed with hiking trails that reward everyone from the novice to the experienced hiker, while some of the island’s best spots can only be seen from above. Other times, you won’t even need to get out of the car to take it all in. There’s hardly a bad view on the whole island, but here are 10 of Kauai’s the most jaw-dropping vistas. —Abbey Chase

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Hanalei Valley Lookout

As you drive north in Kauai, you’ll come across a small turnout just past Princeville that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Pull over and immediately you’ll see the panoramic view of Hanalei Valley below. The Hanalei River wends through patchwork taro fields with the mountains acting as the perfect backdrop (if it’s rained recently, you’ll be able to see several towering waterfalls). Drive north toward Hanalei and you’ll cross a 100-year-old steel truss bridge; turn right to head into town or veer slightly left to get to the Okolehao Trail, a short hike with stunning views of the Valley and Hanalei Bay.

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Waimea Canyon Lookout

The Grand Canyon of the Pacific runs for nearly 10 miles with depths up to 3,000 feet in the western part of Kauai, known for its rusty red walls and proliferation of waterfalls along the canyon edges. Erosion caused by the Waimea River, which gushes down from nearby Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest places on earth, has exposed layers of lava rock and basalt along the side of the canyon, adding to Waimea’s spectacular colors. If you’re short on time, head to the Waimea Canyon Lookout for a photo op. Otherwise, try one of the many trails in Koke’e State Park that take hikers along the edge and down into the canyon.

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Courtesy of The St. Regis Princeville Resort

Sunset at the St. Regis Princeville

At the St. Regis Princeville Resort, they take happy hour seriously. Every night at sunset, a member of the hotel staff sabers a champagne bottle on the terrace with an unobstructed view of the crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay below. You can’t go wrong with the Mai Tai, the unofficial drink of Hawaii, and the ginger margarita offers an innovative twist on a classic. You’ll pay for the privilege of enjoying your cocktail on one of Kauai’s best terraces, but it’s worth it for the stunning sunset.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Guide

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Kilauea Lighthouse

Kilauea Point is the northernmost point in the Hawaiian Islands, making the lighthouse an important beacon for travelers in the Pacific. Construction on the lighthouse began in 1912, and though it has been dark for almost 30 years, it still serves as a fantastic viewpoint to see along the north coast of Kauai in either direction. Today, the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge operates here, a 200-acre protected zone for several species of rare and indigenous birds. If you’re lucky, you may be able to spot a pod of dolphins jumping along the shore. Be sure to stop at the turnout just before the road that leads to the ticket office to get a picture of Kilauea Point from a distance.

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Hanakapiai Trail

The Hanakapi’ai Falls Trail is the first section of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail that leads all the way to the Na Pali Coast and the perfect day-hike for experienced trekkers. Start from the trailhead at the scenic Ke’e Beach and climb along the coast trail. You’ll catch glimpses of the Na Pali Coast before descending to Hanakapi’ai Beach, a serene stretch of sand, but one that’s very dangerous for swimming (take a dip at Ke’e Beach on the way back). If you’re not too tired after the two-mile hike, take the trail up toward Hanakapi’ai Falls, another two miles along a relatively flat trail, but bring your sense of adventure, as you will have to cross several rivers. Be aware that if it has rained on the north shore recently, the trail will be treacherously muddy.

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Manawaiopuna Falls

More often known as Jurassic Park Falls because of their appearance in the 1993 movie, Manawaiopuna Falls are another of Kauai’s remote gems. The 400-foot falls in the Hanapepe Valley on the south side of the island are privately owned, which means you’ll have to take a helicopter to see them. Jack Harter Helicopters offer 60- to 65-minute and 90- to 95-minute tours of the island, plenty of time to see Manawaiopuna Falls, the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and a few of Kauai’s other highlights from above.

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Na Pali Coast

In terms of size and reputation, nothing tops the Na Pali Coast in Kauai. The 16-mile expanse along the northern coast features ragged cliffs and breathtaking valleys, all covered in resplendent flora. Because it is so difficult to access, this part of the island is almost entirely untouched, and as such is tricky to get to. Helicopter rides out of Port Allen will take you past the Honopu Valley and over the open-ceiling sea caves, or hop aboard a boat tour for a different perspective and see the coastline looming above you. More adventurous travelers can opt for the 11-mile, 2-day hike along the Kalalau Trail. On an island filled with outstanding scenery, the Na Pali Coast is still in a class all its own.

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Awa’awapuhi Trail

Find the parking lot near mile marker 17 along Koke’e Road and suit up for one of the most amazing views on the whole island. The scenery along the three-mile, downhill hike won’t make any greatest hits list, but the view from the lookout point at the end is more than worth the trek. A sheer drop into the Nualolo Valley and staggering views of the Awa’awapuhi Valley (part of the Na Pali Coast) make the vista at the end of this hike one of the best spots on the whole island, and one of the few places to see the Na Pali Coast on foot without camping overnight. The only downside? The three-mile, uphill hike back to the car.

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Kalalau Valley Lookout

In Kauai, it’s impossible to see too much of the Na Pali Coast, and the Kalalau Valley Lookout affords another unique view of the famous landscape. Just past the parking lot for the Awa’awapuhi Trail you’ll come to the well-marked turnoff for another viewpoint from which to see the sweeping valleys along Kauai’s north coast. Kalalau Valley is the largest on the island, spanning two miles at its widest point, and was home to a relatively large group of Hawaiian farmers until the mid-20th century. If possible, try to arrive before noon, as clouds tend to roll in in the afternoon and obscure the view.

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Holo Holo Koloa Scenic Byway

It’s a testament to the island’s natural beauty that you often don’t even need to get out of your car to enjoy Kauai’s best. Simply roll down the windows and go. Highway 56 along the east side of Kauai takes you through the lush, almost primeval side of Kauai, with the small towns along the way hidden behind walls of vegetation. For an equally scenic, flatter drive with great coastal views, head south to the Holo Holo Koloa Scenic Byway. Begin on the tree-lined Maluhia Road north of Koloa and continue south along Highway 520 through the town and end at the sunny Poipu beach.

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