Family Vacations to Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai Mountains, Hawaii
Kauai Mountains (courtesy, Hawaii CVB)

Kauai Highlights

  • See Waimea Canyon, the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific"
  • Get a bird's-eye view of Kauai, aka the Garden Isle, on a helicopter ride.
  • Hike part of the scenic Kalalau Trail.
  • Visit the fragrant and lush National Tropical Botanical Garden.
  • Swim in the Pacific and sun on the golden sands of top-rated Poipu Beach.

Less developed than Maui, Kauai lives up to its lush rep as the Garden Isle, a tunnel of towering eucalyptus trees that signals the turnoff from Koloa towards popular Poipu Beach—one of the signature shots of this intriguing isle. Bougainvillea, bird of paradise, ginger, and hibiscus all grow in profusion on Kauai and ferns feather the roadsides. And, of course, this profusion of tropical flora makes for the perfect wardrobe for several spectacular natural wonders: Waimea Canyon, the Alakai Swamp, and the fluted Na Pali Cliffs.

Dubbed "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," Waimea Canyon is one mile wide and ten miles long. Along the road to the scenic lookout at 3,400 feet, several easy hikes yield views of the pink-and-gray striated formations. A helicopter tour, while costly, is the most memorable way to see the canyon and get a bird's- eye view of the dramatic coastline. Most tours fly you above the Alakai Swamp, through the canyon, and along the Na Pali coast. You float over taro and sugarcane fields, cross gorges, and hover near waterfalls cascading down the Na Pali cliffs, where legend has it that caves shelter the bones of ancient Hawaiian kings.

Outdoor families will find Kauai to be a hiker's paradise. Next to Waimea Canyon, Kokee State Park offers a variety of trails. Some wind through groves of koa and lehua trees and others penetrate a small sliver of the vast Alakai Swamp, where the waterlogged soil keeps the trees dwarfed at only three feet.

Only the hearty—and well-provisioned—should attempt the multi-day, round-trip 22-mile hike of the Kalalau Trail, but even families with gradeschoolers can experience the natural majesty of these cliffs. From the trailhead at Ke'e Beach it's a half-mile climb past wild orchid and kukui trees to the first lookout, a windswept path of sand and sea.

For easier walks through tranquil flower-filled landscapes, visit two National Tropical Botanical Garden sites. Reserve ahead for a tour of the more than 100 acres of the Allerton Garden, or just show up for a stroll through the adjacent 252-acre McBryde Garden. Both bloom with fragrant orchids, towering palm trees, glistening ferns, and thousands of tropical flowers.

Keikis (children) like the "Under the Rainbow" children's garden at the 12-acre Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, a play area with a maze, treehouse, mini-railroad train, plus bridges, tunnels, and slides. The Kauai Children's Discovery Museum, also aimed at youngsters under ten, has a Play Space for toddlers and a new Kids' Kauai area with a lava tube crawl and slide, plus a volcano climbing wall

Best of all, kids love Kauai's beaches. Rated as one of America's best beaches by the Travel Channel, Poipu, on the sunny south shore, offers a series of golden crescents where you can pass countless fun-filled days. Lydgate Beach Park, on the south side of the Wailua River, has two lava pools for gentle swimming along with playground equipment.

Tip: Take a guided kayak tour along the Hanalei River, one of only 14 designated as an American Heritage River. On your gentle paddle through the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, you see birds, taro plants, and Makana Peak, a tooth-shaped icon featured in such celluloid classics as South Pacific.

Recommended Side Trips: Maui, Oahu, Big Island, Molokai's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »