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4 Day Kauai Itinerary: All on the North Shore (including the Kalalau Trail)

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The north shore of Kauai is probably the dreamiest place in the Hawaiian Islands. Lush and tropical, this is the stuff your Jurassic Park dreams are made of. 

It’s less developed than the more tourist-centric south shore of Kauai and has more of a local feel giving many the impression of visiting the “real Hawaii.” 

If the “real Hawaii” is what you’re looking for, you’ll LOVE this 4 day itinerary focused on Kauai’s north shore. 

4 Day Kauai Itinerary

The details…

This itinerary is for four full days not including travel days (so perfect for a five night trip) and assumes you’re staying on the north shore somewhere in Princeville or Hanalei (more about that in a bit). 

The only bad thing you can say about the north shore of Kauai is how much it rains. It rains. A lot. That’s why it’s so tropical and beautiful. But it can make it unpredictable. If you’re doing a trip to Kauai and planning on spending most of your time on the north shore, I would probably avoid the winter months. If you go from April to October you’ll have the best chance for sunny days even if there are afternoon showers. 

Where to Stay in Hanalei & Princeville

Before we get into the specifics of how to spend your days, let’s make sure you have the perfect place to stay. 

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay: They say go big or go home, and, well…this is about as big as you can go in Hawaii. 

Previously the St Regis (and the Princeville Resort before that), this property overlooking Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore just underwent EXTENSIVE renovations before opening earlier this year as the new 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. 

I haven’t gotten to visit yet, but I’m so excited to see it in person because it looks absolutely insane. And honestly, the property has needed some help for a while. 

Here’s what I can tell you…I think the property has the #1 setting of any resort in Hawaii. It’s terraced on a hill overlooking Hanalei Bay and those majestic green mountains Kauai is famous for. Honestly, it kind of makes all those other fancy beach resorts with just a plain ole ocean view a little…ho hum ; )

Anyways, now that the property is up to par with the setting, I think this makes this one of the top places to stay anywhere in Hawaii. But it’s definitely a splurge. 

Book your stay at the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay here.

If the 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay is just way over budget, check out the Hanalei Colony Resort or the Hanalei Bay Resort. They’re both really lovely and a little more lowkey. 

Besides these options, there aren’t a ton of hotels and resorts on the north shore. That’s part of the charm! But there are a lot of vacation rentals and condos (in Princeville) in the area. I always book with Vrbo. They’ve got the largest selection of rentals you’ll find anywhere and you can easily filter to find exactly what you’re looking for. Need a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms? Narrowed it down to a certain location? Want flexible cancellation terms? Need to stay under a fixed budget? Click here to search for Kauai vacation rentals for your trip.

Okay, let’s get to the itinerary!

Day 1: Snorkeling & North Shore Beach Day

Start your trip off with breakfast at Wake Up Cafe, Hanalei’s best local breakfast joint. Don’t miss the macadamia nut cinnamon rolls. 

Tunnels

Next up, spend the morning at one of the best beaches on Kauai. Also called Haena Beach Park, Tunnels is famous for its offshore surf break but it also has an amazing reef and a gorgeous white sandy beach. 

Tunnels is definitely the best snorkeling spot on Kauai, but it’s kind of a rugged adventure. You’ll need to bring your own snorkel gear with you (bring from home, buy, or rent from a surf shop) and there’s no lifeguards so you’ll want to be extra cautious. 

Parking is also an…adventure. The beach access is pretty hidden, but it’s about a mile before you come to the parking lot for Ha’ena BeachPark (not the paid, reservations required lot, but the smaller one with the picnic tables). 

There are two direct road/pathway entrances with minimal parking. There’s no parking lot and there are plenty of “no parking” signs on the street. That’s how you know you’re near. If you’re having trouble finding it, you can park at Ha’ena Beach Park and then walk down the beach about a mile to the right.

Head back to Hanalei to grab lunch at Hanalei Gourmet. It’s a great local lunch and dinner spot with fresh and tasty grub in a laid back atmosphere. Sometimes they have live music. Either dine in or get it as a picnic to take to the next spot.

Find Hideaways Beach

One of the north shore’s best beaches is pretty hidden (hence the name) and requires quite an adventure to find. 

It’s in Princeville (make the turn into the resort area and then go about two miles through Princeville and then turn right into a tiny little parking lot just before you reach the guard shack. 

Just outside the parking lot, you’ll see a small pathway between the two fences. You’ll need good shoes to do this little trail (not flip flops!). There’s a pretty sketchy staircase you have to navigate before you get to the series of rope handles that will lead you to the hidden beach. 

Don’t miss this one!

Cap off your first day with dinner and drinks at Tahiti Nui, a Kauai institution. Order the mai tai. You’re welcome. The pizza is also pretty good too. 

***Want to save major $$$ on your trip to Hawaii? I get asked ALL the time how I’m able to travel so often to Hawaii and stay at really nice resorts. Well, my favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free airfare and free nights at some of Hawaii’s most high end resorts. Read my full guide on the exact system I use to max out credit card rewards here. Seriously, it’s going to save you soooo much money. 

Day 2: Napali Coast Boat Tour

Seeing the Napali Coast is the #1 thing to do on Kauai and since you’re staying on the north shore, you’re in a prime position to see it in my favorite way. 

Kauai’s Napali Coast is so isolated and rugged that it can only be seen by helicopter, by boat, or via a challenging hike (that’s coming on another day). 

Well my favorite way to see it is by boat…it’s way better bang for your buck than a helicopter tour. 

Book a raft tour leaving out of Hanalei. The smaller ocean rafts are able to zip in and out of sea caves, plus departing from Hanalei gets you to the Napali Coast WAY quicker than leaving from the south.

FYI…boats only leave out of Hanalei in the summer (April to October) when there’s no surf. Also, it’s most just smaller ocean rafts (Zodiacs) instead of the big catamarans that leave from the south side year round (weather permitting). 

So, assuming you’re doing this trip during the summer season, there are several reasons I like the smaller boats that leave from the north shore over the catamarans that leave from Port Allen, but it mostly boils down to:

1) The tours that leave from Hanalei are on the Napali Coast almost IMMEDIATELY after the boat pulls out of the bay (the ones in Port Allen have to sail for almost 1.5 hours before they reach it and then another 1.5 hours to go back) so you’ve got stellar scenery you’re entire trip instead of only in the middle. 

2) The smaller ocean rafts are able to zip in and out of sea caves and get up a lot closer to the island. 

3) There’s just a lot less people on your tour. 

I will warn you though…the boat tours that leave from Hanalei are more expensive than the ones from Port Allen (there are fewer companies with permits and they have a shorter season) and it’s a much more adventurous and immersive experience than the catamaran cruises.

 Also, a lot of these tours are advertised as “snorkel cruises” or “snorkel adventures,” but don’t go in expecting too much. These are definitely boat tours of the Napali Coast to revel in the scenery of one of the most magnificent parts of Hawaii with a (sub par) snorkeling spot thrown in. 

It’s not terrible, but I’ve done a few different tours that stop at different spots and it has never been anything to write home about. You’re going to see the scenery and enjoy being out on the water.

If you’re prone to motion sickness, definitely take your meds before you get out onto the water! Generally speaking, those who are prone to seasickness might feel it more on a smaller boat than a larger boat.

Some tour companies provide dry bags for you to use (ask ahead of time). I recommend getting a waterproof case for your phone or camera though so you can keep it out, and bring along a towel or dry clothes for the ride back. It gets pretty windy and it’s nice having a long sleeve shirt to put on.

You should be back in Hanalei around noon which leaves the whole afternoon to hang out at the beach or your resort.

Try Wishing Well Shave Ice or Aloha Juice Bar for a cold treat.

Day 3: Hike the Kalalau Trail

You’ve got to do at least one hike on Kauai (it’s arguably the best Hawaiian island for hiking) and this is the one to do. 

**But before that start your morning off at Hanalei Bread Company. This yummy coffee shop has the best homemade breads, bagels, and pastries. They also have some breakfast options and sandwiches.

The full Kalalau Trail stretches 11 miles along the Napali Coast from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach. To go all the way to Kalalau, you’ll need a permit to camp overnight in the valley since it’s impossible to do the full hike on a day trip (22 miles round trip). If you’re up for doing the full hike and camp, plan it way far in advance as permits are hard to come by. 

If you didn’t come quite so prepared for a 22-mile hike and the thought of it makes you want to reach for the nearest bag of donuts, don’t worry-you can still catch those ah-mazing views! 

The first two miles of the Kalalau Trail are open to day hikers. Don’t be scared off by harrowing tales of overnight hikers who had to cross 18” ledges with a sheer drop off into the ocean below…the first two miles of Kalalau, while strenuous, are very doable.

Most day hikers will hike to Hanakapiai Beach (2 miles in) but don’t forget you’ve got to turn around and go back the way you came so it’s really 4 miles.  

If that’s not doable, you’ll come to the first lookout down the Napali Coast about half a mile into the hike making for a challenging, but very doable one mile hike. 

Unless you have a physical limitation (knee problems, etc.), I strongly strongly strongly recommend powering through and doing the four mile round trip hike to Hanakapiai Beach and back. 

I’ve hiked this stretch a few times now and I won’t lie…time always fades the pain for me haha. After a few days I’m usually left remembering the epic views and adventure of it all and minimizing how hard it actually was. 

Well this last time I hiked it, I vowed I would remember exactly what it felt like when I was on  the hike. I’m not going to lie…it’s TOUGH. But a doable tough. 

There is a lot of elevation gain coming both ways and the trail is mostly rocky and uneven. 

But you will pass ALL KINDS of people doing this hike. Locals who sprint through it barefoot, pro hikers with all the gear, parents trying to keep up with their kids, and older folks who are determined and willing to go slow to take part. I’ve personally hiked it with multiple “active seniors” who powered through just fine (although maybe they didn’t feel like it at the time ; ) 

Right before you reach Hanakapiai Beach, there’s a pretty big stream you’ll have to cross. It always makes me nervous hopping across slippery rocks, so I like to wear shoes where I can just wade through the water. 

Plan some time to sit and take a rest at the beach, but admire the water from a distance. This is NOT a swimming beach and almost 100 people have lost their lives here. The waves are rough, the currents are strong, and a rogue wave can come out of nowhere so stay away from the water!! Even when it looks calm. 

From the beach it’s about a mile up the valley to Hanakapiai Falls (this is an offshoot of the Kalalau Trail, not a continuation). I’ve read that the trail can be tricky to stick to and is pretty strenuous. I haven’t done that bit yet, and honestly I don’t know if I ever will. But if you want to extend the hike to 6 miles to see the waterfall, more power to you!

The first ½ mile or so of the return was probably the toughest for me. It’s a pretty quick ascent back up from the beach and I was huffing and puffing! It’s hotter in the day and psychologically, it’s just less exciting when you know you’re just retracing your steps. 

Read this post for ALL the details on hiking the Kalalau Trail including how to get reservations (which you now NEED).

For dinner, you’ve earned something really special. Head to the Dolphin for fresh fish and some of the island’s best sushi. Their teriyaki ahi is one of my favorite dinners on the island!

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip!

Day 4: Beach Day & Sunset Golf Course Tour

Start your last full day on the island off with coffee and breakfast at Kilauea Bakery. 

You’ve got two options for morning (or you can do both!):

Anini Beach

If you want to take it easy, spend the morning at Anini Beach. This is probably the best overall beach on the north shore, especially for families. It’s very accessible (plenty of parking and good facilities) and the large reef leaves the wide beach pretty protected for swimming, even when there’s large waves on the north shore.

Queen’s Bath

If you’re up for a little hike, you might want to check out Queen’s Bath. 

If you’ve done much research about top things to do in Kauai, you’ve likely heard of Queen’s Bath. It’s a sinkhole in the lava along the coast in the Princeville area that creates a natural swimming pool during calm ocean days. 

Unfortunately, during high surf times (which can be unpredictable), it can be extremely dangerous. Numerous deaths have occurred here, however it doesn’t stop people from attempting it. 

I can’t recommend swimming in the pool under any conditions, BUT if you’d like to see it, the hike down to the pools is very pretty. In the Princeville resort area, there’s a small parking lot on Punahele Road. If there’s no parking available, you can pay to park at the golf course up the road. It’s a short (but often muddy and slippery) hike down where you’ll even pass a waterfall. 

I’d stay well away from the pools as even in calm weather, rogue waves can come out of nowhere. When I’m entering any area near the ocean, I like to hang back and watch the conditions for 15-20 minutes before deciding what a safe distance is. 

During high surf advisories, the trailhead will often be gated. Of course, many people will climb around the gates, but know that if you choose to do so you’re officially breaking the law and may be subject to fines.

Princeville Makai Golf Club Sunset Cart Tour

This tour just popped up on my radar a few weeks ago and now it’s top of my list next time I’m on Kauai. I love a good tour, and this one sounds so unique!

Start off at the Makai Grill for drinks before hopping on a golf cart to cruise around the Princeville Makai course, regularly named one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. The tour is limited to 12 carts per night so you’ll get plenty of time with your guide as you learn about local culture, flora and fauna, and see some of the course’s most beautiful holes. 

The grand finale is a stop at the course’s legendary 7th hole, which offers one of the best sunset views on the island. 

If you love a unique sunset experience, this is for you. If you love a good guided tour, double whammy. And if you’re also into golf, it’s a no brainer! Can’t wait to do this on my next trip. 

Book your tour here

Make reservations for dinner at Bar Acuda in Hanalei. This tapas restaurant is a favorite spot on the north shore and serves up both traditional small plates and unique combinations inspired by the island.

Want to read more posts about Kauai? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on Kauai // Things to Do in Poipu (South Side) // 5 Day Kauai Itinerary // 4 Day Kauai Itinerary (North Shore) // 3 Day Kauai Itinerary //

Where to Stay on Kauai: Princeville vs Poipu // Grand Hyatt Kauai Review // My Favorite Restaurants in Poipu

Kauai Travel Tips (Things to Know Before You Go) // Napali Coast: Boat Tour vs Helicopter // Kauai Helicopter Tour FAQs

Maui vs Kauai

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable. 

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan. 

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too. 

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours). 

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before. 

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).  

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset. 

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly. 

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window). 

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot. 

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person. 

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle. 

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM. 

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of. 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day. 

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before. 

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online. 

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor. 

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here

You’ve got three options here: 

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation. 

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas. 

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer. 

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation. 

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist.  Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch). 

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist. 

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance. 

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance. 

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance. 

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.