This Road Trip Route On Kauai's Coast Shows Off Some Of The Island's Best Natural Wonders

Kauai, the fourth largest Hawaiian Island, is a lush land of peaks and valleys, postcard-worthy beaches, and many other must-see landmarks. From wildlife viewing to floating down a lazy river, it's a dynamic landscape with countless ways to take it all in. While some features, like the famous waterfall where "Jurassic Park" was filmed, are only accessible by helicopter, many of the island's gems are easily reachable by car and foot. In fact, if you hit the coast highway, you can see many of Kauai's icons during a single road trip.


The island is small, so in reality you could drive from where the road ends on the north end all the way around the island to where it ends in the southwest corner in about two hours. But who would want to drive straight through? It's important to note that there is no road up the rugged western Na Pali coast. However, there is a road that travels north to south slightly inland on the west side (Hwy 530). This road also ends, so you can't make a complete loop around the island. With this in mind, work from top to bottom or bottom to top and choose your must-see sights for the perfect Kauai road trip.

Northern waterfalls and natural wonders

From the northwest corner of the island, start your adventure in the Ke'e overflow parking lot. Look for the trailhead across the road and hike the trail to Waikanaloa and a bit further to Waikapala'e, two wet caves that are fed by freshwater springs. If the second cave looks familiar, it's likely because it was used as the location of the Fountain of Youth in the 2011 film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." Once you've put a wrap on the wet caves, stop off at Maniniholo (a dry cave) just up the road.


As you work your way across the north part of the island, Kilauea Lighthouse and Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, Sculpture Park and Hardwood Plantation (reservations required) might be worthy stops. Heading down the east coast of Kauai, turn inland south of Wailua on Hwy 580 to visit Opaeka'a Falls. If you're feeling adventurous, kayak or join a boat tour up the Wailua River to see the Fern Grotto, which is a popular wedding spot on the island. Back in the car and about 20 minutes away, you'll find the easy-to-view Wailua Falls in the same general area.

Southern Kauai natural wonders

The southern half of the island is renowned for a cluster of amazing beaches, including Poipu, Brennecke's, and Shipwreck, but if you continue to the east you'll find Makauwahi Cave Reserve. This unique offering is a limestone cave and fossil-rich archeological site that offers free tours daily. If you enjoy plants and gardens, you can also make a stop at Kauai's Allerton Botanical Garden, just a short drive down the coast to the west. With a goal to preserve the Indigenous knowledge, culture, and history of Hawaii, you will find the largest collection of native Hawaiian plant species and breadfruit cultivars on the planet. 


When you're ready to swap the green landscape for a red one, head inland to Red Dirt Falls. This is a small waterfall with a dynamic contrast to its red rock backdrop. When it's flowing, it's a quick roadside stop on the route through Waimea Canyon State Park. Finally, make your way to Waipo'o Falls, the tallest waterfall on the island. You can catch glimpses of the waterfall as you traverse the highway, or you can make the 3.2-mile roundtrip trek along the Waipo'o Falls Trail to be rewarded by views of the dynamic, multi-colored canyon and this 800-foot wonder. Whether you tackle it in a day or break this itinerary into sections, driving Kauai's coast makes it easy to see how it earned its name as the Garden Island.