I only have one day on Kauai. What should I see?

Kalalau Valley
Kalalau Valley

I’m kicking off this new series of one day island itineraries with a visit to Kauai. If I only had one day to visit Kauai, I would focus my time on seeing the Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks.  These colorful parks are adjacent to each other, so it’s easy to see both in one day and they are completely free to visit.  Baring any weather issue, I promise you’ll end up with many beautiful photo opportunities and views that will almost take your breath away. The photo above shows the Kalalau Valley that you can see from the Kalalau Lookout and Puu o Kila Lookouts at Kokee State Park. So, let’s take a practical look at how we can see these excellent parks in one day.

waimea canyon go visit hawaii
Waimea Canyon

Arrival and arranging transportation:

First, you’ll most likely arrive in Kauai at the Nawiliwili Harbor or at the main airport in Lihue.  You can pick up a rental car and/or shuttle service to the rental companies.  (I suggest you shop around for rates and make a reservation before you arrive. See our Hawaii rental car tips.) Be sure to grab a free map provided by the rental car company and use it to navigate your way to the Southwest side of the island heading in the direction of Highway 550, Waimea Canyon Drive.  If you don’t want to do the driving, you can easily find tour companies who can arrange a full service tour for you.

Considerations before you get to the parks:


  • There is only one restaurant in the park.  It’s located at the Kokee Lodge and it serves breakfast and lunch, so plan accordingly.
  • You’d be wise to bring along a sweater or other types of layers as the higher altitude means about 10 to 20 degrees cooler weather in these two parks.
  • Allow approximately 90 minutes travel time to and from Lihue.  Maybe add a tad more to be on the safe side.  Be sure and allocate enough time to return your car and get to your gate at the airport or harbor for your cruise ship.
  • If you are prone to car-sickness on winding roads, you may want to bring something to prevent it.

At the parks:

  • Allocate about three hours to drive around and stop at the canyon lookouts. Most of the lookout points will be very obvious.  Don’t miss the Kalalau Lookouts. Clouds often drift in an out of here, so if it’s cloudy at first, wait for a bit.  That’s what I did and I was able to capture the photo at the top.
  • If you the time available, consider some hikes, but be prepared with water, proper shoes and clothing, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant.  I particularly liked Canyon Trail. You can learn more about the hikes here.
  • I liked driving Highway 550 into the parks and Highway 552 out.
  • See my article on Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks for a few more details.

If you still have time, here are other ideas of what to see on your way back to Lihue:

And what else would I do if I had two days or maybe more?

  • I’d take a helicopter tour of Kauai. In my opinion, Kauai is one of the most beautiful islands for helicopter tours.  (Make sure you do your helicopter tour homework in advance.)
  • In smoother water during summer months, I’d take a catamaran cruise of the Na Pali Coast.
  • See the North Shore and stop along at some of the gorgeous beaches there.
  • See more of my suggestions for best Kauai things to see and do.
  • Also see these other itinerary ideas.
  1. G’day,
    My wife and I are travelling from Sydney, Australia to Hawaii in late July 2011. This site has been exactly what I was looking for as we will be spending only 1 day in Kauai. I am planning an itinerary based on some of your suggestions as a surprise day for my wife. I have already booked a scenic flight and a dinner cruise and I hope we will have time to see the rest in our rental car.
    Ill let you know how it goes when we return to the land of Oz (Australia)
    Cheers – Jason

    1. Jason — glad you are finding these suggestions to be useful. I’ll look forward to hearing about your experience. Hope you and your wife have a wonderful time!

  2. G’Day Sheila,
    Got back to Sydney a few days ago and I thought I would let you know how we went with your suggestions.
    As I said in my earlier email, we only had one day in Kauai to see as much as we could.
    We had a great time thanks largely to your web site. We were able to maximise our time and we got to see a lot of the island.
    We hired a Mustang convertable for the day and headed off around the island. We also managed a scenic flight and a dinner/sunset cruise in our busy schedule.
    Kauai is a beautiful island and when we return to Hawaii we will most definatly spend a lot more time there/
    Once again thanks for the info in your site. It helped us more than you could imagine.
    Cheers – Jason
    Sydney, Australia

    1. Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to share your kind feedback. I’m so glad to hear that you were able to see and do so much with just one day in Kauai.

      As you said, Kauai is a beautiful island. It’s definitely worthy of more time on your next visit.

      Thanks again!

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