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The Ultimate Kauai 3 Day Itinerary for First-Timers

Planning a trip to Kauai, Hawaii? You’ve come to the right place! Check out my Kauai 3 day itinerary for the best hikes, nature spots, and things to do in Kauai for 3 days. Kauai is known as the “Garden Island” because of it’s lush landscapes. It gets the most rain out of all the Hawaiian islands, but that means it’s SUPER green, vibrant and beautiful!

kauai 3 day itinerary

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Kauai Trip Overview

  • PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 1-3
  • Nights: 2-3
  • Cost: $$
  • Closest Airport: LIH

Kauai 3 Day Itinerary Overview

First Day:

  • Waimea Canyon
  • Dinner in Hanalei Bay

Second Day:

  • Hideaway Beach
  • Queen’s Bath
  • Dinner with a view

Third Day:

  • Na’Pali Coast
  • Tunnels Beach

How to Get to Kauai, Hawaii

The airport in Kauai is called Lihue Airport (LIH). You can fly directly there from LAX in just around 6 hours. Many people combine their trip to Kauai with a trip to Oahu, as it’s only a 25-minute flight between the two islands.

SEE ALSO: The Best Oahu 3 Day Itinerary for First-Timers

Once you get to Kauai, you’ll need to rent a car to easily get around the island and get to all the spots mentioned in this Kauai 3 day itinerary. One important thing to note is that you are not able to drive around the full island of Kauai (because of the Na’Pali Coast section), so if you are on the North Shore and want to visit a spot on the West Side, you’ll have to backtrack all the way around.

Best Time to Visit Kauai

I recommend visiting Kauai in the dry season, between April – October. Even visiting in the dry season, you can expect to experience a little bit of rain showers each day, so make sure you pack a rain jacket! One interesting thing about the rain in Kauai, though, is that it operates a bit like a micro-climate. Even if it’s raining on one part of the island, you can drive to another part of the island to get sunny skies. Also, the rain typically doesn’t last long, so don’t worry too much about it! When it rains, you’ll likely see a rainbow afterwards anyways (seriously – we saw 2 rainbows within our 3 days of visiting Kauai!)

Where to Stay in Kauai

When picking lodging in Kauai, there are two main areas where first-time visitors stay: The North Shore (Princeville and Hanalei Bay) and the South Shore (Poipu). The North Shore is known for it’s lush, green landscape and epic nature views. It’s also super close the iconic and beautiful town of Hanalei Bay. Poipu is known for its beaches. The weather is consistently more sunny in Poipu, and there is a more developed town (more restaurant and bar options).

I chose to stay in Princeville, and absolutely loved it. It’s conveniently-located to the Na’Pali Coast, Queen’s Bath, and Hanalei Bay, which are three epic spots that are on this Kauai 3 day itinerary.

source: vrbo.com

If you’re traveling with just two people and are on a budget, I recommend this condo in Princeville (pictured above). I stayed in this same complex and it was perfect for what we needed! Budget-friendly and walking distance to Queen’s Bath, Hideaway Beach, and the amazing diner + drinks spot that I’ll talk about later in this post.

best place to stay in kauai
1Hotel Hanalei Bay

If you’re more of a luxury traveler, I highly recommend staying at the 1Hotel Hanalei Bay. It was recently re-modeled, and its gorgeous! The views from the patio dining + pool are seriously incredible.

If you’re looking for a mid-tier budget option in Princeville, check out this open & airy condo with a nice yard that sleeps 4 people.

Kauai Packing List

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Kauai 3 Day Itinerary

Day 1:

Waimea Canyon State Park

kauai 3 day itinerary

Waimea Canyon is nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. And it definitely lives up to this nickname! It’s epic. The canyon is HUGE and there’s a waterfall running down inside it. You can’t miss seeing this when you are in Kauai.

Waimea Canyon is located on the western side of Kauai. If you’re staying in the North Shore/Princeville, it makes the most sense to visit Waimea Canyon on the first day of your 3 day Kauai itinerary. After you land at the Lihue Airport and pick up your rental car, head straight there! It’s about an hour drive from the airport (but a 2 hour drive from Princeville, which is why it makes the most sense to go straight from the airport when you arrive).

Exploring the Different Lookout Points

As you drive through the state park, you’ll encounter various official canyon lookout points where you can park, get out, and check out the views. However, we found the best view of the canyon and the waterfall was just from pulling off the side of the road. When you go to one of these “unofficial” road turnouts to see the view, there’s no walkway or fence (or other people) to get in the way. Just you and nature!

Kalalau Lookout

After you check out the canyon from a view different viewpoints, head up to the Kalalau Lookout. This spot gives you an epic, sweeping view down to the Na’Pali Coast, a spot which can only be accessed by hiking (or by viewing from the ocean via boat or by aerial view via helicopter). This view is extra special if you are in Kauai to hike or backpack the Kalalau Trail because you are essentially seeing the view looking down onto the hiking trail!

Note that it is very common to have clouds in this area that will be blocking the viewpoint. If this happens to you, I recommend waiting 10-20 minutes as the clouds come and go pretty quickly. (It was cloudy the whole time for us at this spot, unfortunately!)

Dinner in Hanalei Bay

kauai 3 day itinerary

After your time spent at Waimea Canyon, it’s time to head to the North Shore and check in to your lodging, relax, and get dinner! I recommend heading to the little town of Hanalei Bay for dinner. There are a few great spots to to choose from, and the views and vibe of this main street are incredible.

Kauai Itinerary Day 2:

Breakfast in Hanalei Bay

Kick off your second day of your Kauai 3 day itinerary with breakfast in town at Hanalei Bay. We went to Wake Up Delicious for a tasty breakfast sandwich enjoyed on their front porch, and then to Wishing Well afterwards. When you are in Kauai, you HAVE to try Wishing Well. This cute little coffee shop is tucked away off the main street in this peaceful spot with a yard and picnic tables. Not only do they have great coffee and matcha, but also THE BEST smoothies! I still think about it. They also come in this nice glass that you can take home with you as a souvenir. They also have a shaved ice business on the same grounds, but I didn’t have a chance to try it (I’ve heard it’s great, though)

Hideaway Beach

After breakfast, it’s time to hit the beach! I highly recommend going to Hideaway Beach in Princeville. There are a few parking spots at the entrance, but it is also walking distance from the condo that we stayed in (that I linked) which is super convenient!

best beaches in kauai

To get down to the beach, you have to climb down a steep, half-mile trail. If it has rained recently/if it’s muddy, it can be a bit difficult and isn’t best to do in flip flops. Once you get down to the beach, the views are amazing! We were the only ones down there when we were there, and it was so tranquil. The beach is like a small little hideaway, hence the name, with big, billowing trees casting shade along the sand.

Queen’s Bath

You’ve probably seen Queen’s Bath on Instagram before – the aerial view of this epic tide pool on the edge of the ocean. It’s truly incredible! This unique tide pool was formed by lava rock and is the perfect place to relax and float with a view.

queens bath kauai

IMPORTANT NOTE: Queen’s Bath is very dangerous during high tide/high surf. Don’t go here if the waves are over 4ft or else you risk being swept out to sea. It’s recommended to only go in the summer (avoid going October – May).

Queen’s Bath is also located in the neighborhood of Princeville. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead that can fit about 10 cars. If you don’t get a spot, there isn’t really any street parking allowed in this neighborhood, but, I’ve heard of another lot nearby that’s about a 15-min walk away. Or, if you are staying at an Airbnb in Princeville, you can likely just walk there instead of worrying about parking!

The trail to get down to Queen’s Bath is about a half mile, but it can be difficult if it’s muddy/if it’s rained recently. Definitely do not do this hike in flip flops! We saw a few people trying it in flip flops, but it was so muddy they ended up just taking their shoes off and going barefoot. Wear hiking boots!

You’ll pass a small waterfall and then will be out on the lava rock. Keep walking about 5 minutes and you’ll get to the Queen’s Bath tide pool!

Dinner with a View

To cap off your second day of your 3 day Kauai itinerary, treat yourself to a nice dinner with a view! I highly recommend 1Hotel Hanalei Bay. This hotel is in Princeville, very close to Hideaway Beach. They have valet parking, or you could park at Hideaway Beach for free and walk from there. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to eat dinner there. Their outdoor patio has THE BEST view! Treat yourself to dinner (or if you’re on a budget, at least just go here for a cocktail and an appetizer!) There was even a rainbow stretching across the ocean view when we were there. It was magical!

Kauai Itinerary Day #3:

Na’Pali Coast

kauai 3 day itinerary

On the last day of your 3 day Kauai itinerary, you’ve got to check out the iconic Na’Pali Coast! There are 3 ways to experience the Na’Pali Coast: by hiking, by helicopter, or by boat.

Hiking the Na’Pali Coast
napali coast

Hiking the Na’Pali Coast is such an amazing experience! You can do a day hike to Hanakapiai Beach (about 4 miles round trip) with the option to extend the hike to 8 miles round trip with a detour to a waterfall. Hanakapiai Beach is a little oasis of a beach that you can only reach by hiking!

kauai 3 day itinerary
Hanakapiai Beach – 4 mile round trip hike

OR if you are an avid hiker and feeling adventurous, you can plan to hike the full Ka’lalau Trail, which is 22 miles round trip. You cannot do this as a day hike (you’ll want to plan for spending at least 1 night there, but ideally 2) so you would need to have more than 3 days in Kauai if you have been following this itinerary so far! You also need permits to do this hike, which come out 90 days in advance (or you can check my favorite site, Outdoor Status, for cancellations)

kalalau beach kauai
Ka’lalau Beach – only reachable by hiking 22 miles round trip

This backpacking hike should be on every adventure-lover’s bucket list. Making it all the way to the secluded Ka’lalau Beach is so special and rewarding! You can read all the details in my blog post: Backpacking the Na’pali Coast: The Ultimate Guide to the Kalalau Trail

If you don’t want to hike to see the Na’pali Coast, don’t worry – there are two other options! You can either do a helicopter tour and get an aerial view, or you can take a boat tour to see the view from the ocean.

Na’Pali Coast by Helicopter

If I had more than 3 days in Kauai, I would have loved to see the Na’Pali Coast by helicopter after hiking the full Kalalau Trail. It would have been so cool to see it from an aerial vantage point afterwards! The views from above are insanely beautiful (based on the pictures I’ve seen!). The helicopter ride is not cheap, but I feel like this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that’s so memorable & worth it to spend the money on. This Na’Pali Coast helicopter tour in particular has great reviews and is the one that I would choose!

Boat Tour of the Na’Pali Coast

If you want to get out on the water, a boat tour of the Na’Pali Coast is for you! There are a few options, but I recommend either:

Depending on how much time you want to spend, both of these options look amazing!

Tunnels Beach

If you have time after exploring the Na’pali Coast, you should check out Tunnels Beach which is just 5 minutes down the road from the Ka’lalau Trailhead. Tunnels Beach (also known as Makau Beach) is an awesome spot for snorkeling! There is a maze of lava tubes just under the water’s surface throughout this reef, acting as a home to lots of marine life. Also, the beach itself if beautiful!

After your 3 days in Kauai, consider jetting over to one of the other islands! I recommend visiting Oahu, which is just a 25-minute plane ride away. Check out my itinerary for more details: Best 3-Day Oahu Itinerary for First Timers.

Enjoy!

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