Image Courtesy Aloha Exchange
Beyond the four star hotel rooms, flowing mai tais, and lovely hula hands, there’s an entirely different side to Kauai that is wild, untamed and utterly refreshing. The more adventurous at heart come to appreciate Kauai’s more rugged side, trading a heavenly bed for a carpet of pillowy sand, an ocean view room for a tent next to the ocean and a roof over their head for a ceiling of sparkling stars. With consistent 70-80 degree weather and incredible sunsets, Kauai is a great destination for camping all year round.
State vs. County Camping Permits
There are numerous campsites where you can camp for nominal fees. When it comes to camping permits on Kauai, there is a difference between a State campsites and County campsites. Knowing when and where to get your permit is key. Save time by using the State of Hawaii’s Wiki Permits website, https://camping.ehawaii.gov/camping/welcome.html, to make your camping permit reservation and pay for your permit via credit card ahead of time. If you are interested in a County campsite, you can mail in a permit application and payment ahead of time. You can’t beat the prices, camping permit fees are only $3.00 per adult per night. More information on County camping permits can be found at https://www.kauai.gov/Camping.
State Camping Areas
Polihale State Park
Locals have long favored Polihale State Park for weekend camping trips for a good reason – miles of white, powdery sand and towering cliffs signifying the entrance to the Na Pali Coastline is the idyllic setting for those who want to get away from it all. Those who want to experience the magic of Polihale must really want it; the drive consists of miles of poorly maintained dirt roads that are not recommended traversing without four-wheel drive. Rarely crowded and always sunny, there are campsites along the main road that offer pavilions, outdoor showers and bathrooms, or it is easy to set up the perfect spot on the beach. A word of caution: strong currents and rip tides make Polihale a difficult spot for swimming, especially during the winter months when large north and west swells pummel the shores. Many have drowned here. Polihale is also very dry and hot, bringing adequate drinking water is a must.
Kokee State Park
Not all Kauai camping spots are next to the ocean. Kokee State Park’s campsites are located at 3,600 feet above sea level. Kokee offers numerous mountain trails throughout the park, ranging from moderate or easy to extremely difficult. Trails along the rim of Waimea Canyon, through the Alaka’i Swamp, or from the forest to a scenic point overlooking the Na Pali Coast are among the favorites. Native bird watching is excellent in this mountainous area and also seasonal gathering of various fruits and trout fishing. The weather in Kokee is usually 10 degrees cooler than sea level.
Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
Take a walk on the wild side, literally, to camp at Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. The Kalalau Trail spans 11-miles long of traversing rugged coastline and lush valleys before arriving at the destination, Kalalau Valley and beach. It is a challenging feat that should only be attempted by expert hikers. In this valley where the ancient Hawaiians once lived, terraced campsites are set up next to the stream. During summer, layers of white sand extend the shoreline turning the beach into your natural bed. Six-miles into the trail is Hanakoa Valley, where campers can break up their trip, however no camping for consecutive nights are allowed at Hanakoa. Camping at Kalalau Valley will take preparation and having the right camping gear, as well as plenty of supplies to get you through your trip. There are composting toilets and rain shelters in some areas, and no drinking water available or trash service. Keep in mind that there are limited camping permits available for this site and reservations can be made on the State’s wikipermit website a year in advance.
County Camping Areas
Anini Beach Park
Anini Beach on the north shore of Kauai is one of the best snorkeling and swimming beaches due to a long, protective fringing reef that fronts its shores. With just over 12 acres of camping area, it’s easy to set up your little castle by the sea within the park and have close proximity to restrooms, showers, picnic tables and comfort stations. The campground closes at 10 am on Tuesdays and reopens at noon on Wednesdays.
Haena Beach Park
With Mount Makana (Bali Hai) behind you and nothing but widespread ocean in front of you, camping at Haena Beach Park is heavenly at best. The fact that it sits on a lifeguarded beach is an added bonus. The Maniniholo Dry Cave is located right across the street, a fun site for children to explore. The best time of year to camp at Haena Beach Park is during the summer months, when the north shore gets less rain and the ocean is calmer. Winter swells make swimming or snorkeling difficult at this beach. The campground closes at 10 am on Mondays and reopens at noon on Tuesdays.
Hanalei Beach Park (Black Pot)
Hanalei Beach Park, known as Black Pot, is a small 2 acre park set on the iconic Hanalei Bay. The park is next to the Hanalei River, which is popular for kayaking and paddling boarding. Fronting the campground is Hanalei Pier at the start of the 2-mile crescent shaped bay. The park amenities include picnic tables, cold showers, bathrooms and parking nearby. The campround is only open from 12 noon on Friday to 10 am on Sundays. This is a very popular and often crowded spot for camping and beach goers, however if you don’t mind the crowd, Hanalei Bay is a spot that must be explored.
Lydgate Campground is the only campsite on Kauai that has assigned stalls. Think of it as your mini camping hotel. Because of this, camping on the weekends at this site fill up fast. The Lydgate Campground is located next to the Kamalani Bridge, play bridge for children with slides, and across from a beach known as “kitchens”. Camping is only allowed from Thursday at noon to Tuesday at 10 am. Amenities at this site include individual camping sites, a large pavilion for big groups, picnic tables, showers and bathrooms.
Salt Pond Beach Park
On the southwest side of Kauai, the six acre park at Salt Pond is adjacent to a large crescent shaped bay with a protective inner reef for safe swimming. The keiki (children) pond, a small swimming area protected by a natural reef formation, is a favorite for families to splash around and play. Numerous pavilions with picnic tables are located throughout the park, as well as bathroom and shower facilities. The campground closes on Tuesdays at 10 am and reopens on Wednesdays at 12 noon.
Gear up for your camping trip
Planning a camping trip takes a lot of preparation, especially for those who plan to hike the 11-mile Na Pali Coast where convenience stores are roughly a day hike away. Day packs, tents, beach towels are all necessary to ensure a successful camping trip. Camping needs are always different around the world, depending on the location of where you are camping. It’s always good to get a local perspective, make sure you have the right gear and are prepared for your camping trip.
Part of what makes Kauai so special is its local culture, and the local residents love camping. If you want to experience Kauai in a truly authentic and local way, forgo the resorts and luaus and get in touch with your adventurous side by camping among the local residents at their favorite parks and beaches. You will leave with experiences that money just can’t buy.