Camping on Kauai should be on every backpacker’s bucket list. Surrounded with beautiful, tropical flora, rugged coastlines, and aquamarine water, it’s easy to see what makes this destination so popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts around the globe. Luckily, Kauai is one of the most camper-friendly destinations I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling to. The entire coast is lined with public beach park campgrounds, where you can camp for as little as $3/night per person.
Camping on Kauai is also available at the state parks around the island, but you’ll want to secure these permits online a few weeks ahead of time. In the far northwest you’ll find the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park, known for the world famous Kalalau Trail, and on the opposite end of the road (as southwest as you can go), you’ll find Koke’e State Park.
I find it worth mentioning here that for the entire 2 weeks I spent camping on Kauai, no one ever checked my permits at any of the public campgrounds. Not once. In fact, a few locals had told me that I could really set up camp anywhere, and as long as I wasn’t being obnoxious, no one would bother me. In fact, I spotted people camping at both Secret Beach and at Hideaways Beach. Technically camping at these two locations is illegal, however, people still do it anyways without being bothered.
I’m not recommending you to camp at these locations, nor am I saying you shouldn’t purchase public camping permits. I’m just stating that when I visited, it did not seem like these permits were being enforced. And to clarify, we’re talking about the Public Campground permits, not State Park permits. Personally, I would still purchase all necessary permits when you arrive. $3/night is way cheaper than the massive ticket you’ll receive if they happen to check your permits and you didn’t purchase them.
Okay, now that you know a bit about camping on Kauai, let’s take a look at all the campsites available on the island!
Kauai is divided into two sections: the North Shore and the South Shore. You’ll fly into Lihue, which is located just about in the middle of the two, on the East side of Kauai. I recommend planning your trip around doing either the North Shore or the South Shore first, followed by the other. The main road on Kauai is in the shape of a backwards “C”, with the rugged Na Pali Coast dividing it on the western side. This means going from the far south (Waimea Canyon/Koke’e State Park) to the far north (Hanalei Bay/Ha’ena State Park) could take you upwards of 3 hours depending on traffic, even though they appear right next to each other on the map. To prevent a lot of driving back and forth, I chose to do the North Shore first, followed by the South.
Anahola Beach Park
This was my favorite site I camped at, as it was the least crowded. It’s also where I chose to spend most of my nights on the North Shore, opting to stay here over Anini. Whereas the rest of the public campgrounds seemed crowded during the day, this one was much more mellow. There were only a few local families that came to Anahola during the day time, and at night it was quiet. Plus I mean, look at those mountain views!
The permit for Anahola is $3/night per person, and the closest location to pick them up is at the Kapa’a Neighborhood Center. You cannot purchase Kauai public campground permits online, but rather by snail-mail or in person. I recommend purchasing them in person when you arrive. For a list of locations where you can purchase camping permits, click here.
The Anahola campground has bathrooms and two outdoor showers. If showering in the open with a bathing suit on isn’t something that sounds okay to you, then I’m going to narrow it down for you: Lydgate is the only public campground on Kauai with an indoor shower. However, this is the one campsite that isn’t $3/night per person. Instead, it’ll set you back a whopping $25/night per person.
Anahola is closed every Thursday night for maintenance. If on the North Shore on a Thursday, I recommend camping at Anini Beach Park, the next closest campground. Anini is located just a little further north of Anahola.
Anini Beach Park
Much bigger and more crowded than it’s neighbor, Anini Beach Park seemed like a popular location to snorkel, even though we found the water to be a little hazy here. The water is very shallow here, so you can go out pretty far and still be able to stand. Therefore, I recommend this campsite for families camping on Kauai with smaller children. And although not on the top of my list of beaches to snorkel at on Kauai, we did see a ton of fish and coral here. There’s also a fallen tree with a rope swing a little ways out that is fun to climb on/jump off of.
There are two bathrooms and outdoor showers with a barricade around them for some privacy. As with Anahola, camping permits are $3/night per person and can be purchased via mail or in person. Anini Beach Park is closed Tuesday nights for maintenance, so you’ll want to stay at Anahola if you are on the North Shore on a Tuesday.
Black Pot/Hanalei Beach Park (CLOSED due to storm damage)
Hanalei Beach Park is a popular beach known for its breathtaking sunsets (and sunrises, as pictured above!). Currently closed for camping due to storm damage, the site is being remodeled and will hopefully be open to the public again in 2020. Although not currently an option for camping, I recommend stopping by the pier for sunset one night! Arrive early, as it gets crowded around sunset time. You can check the campground status here to see if it has reopened.
Haena Beach Park (CLOSED due to storm damage)
This is the northernmost public beach park where camping on Kauai is permitted, however it was also closed due to storm damage during my visit in October 2019. You can check the campground status here to see if it has reopened.
When it does reopen, camping is located about a mile from Ke’e Beach or the end of the road. Camping is permitted across Haena Dry Cave, and the campsite will be closed Monday nights for maintenance.
The Kalalau Trail
Hikers come from all over the world to do the famous Kalalau Trail, a rugged, 22-mile trail that traverses 5 valleys to the secluded Kalalau Beach. In fact, this is what I had planned for my trip to Kauai, as well. I bought the permits online a month in advance for 3 nights, and two days before I left for Hawaii I blew my knee out. So unfortunately, I opted not to do this rigorous hike this time around.
However, if you plan on hiking the Kalalau trail, then first and foremost you need to secure your camping permits. They can be purchased for $20/night per person here, up to 90 days in advance. You can stay for up to 5 consecutive nights. There are 2 designated campsites on the trail: Hanakoa (about 6 miles in) and Kalalau Beach (the end of the trail, 11 miles in). I recommend staying for a minimum of 2 nights, and that’s if you plan to hike all the way to Kalalau Beach in one day. This way, you’ll have a full day to hang out and explore Kalalau Beach, sandwiched in between 2 full days of hiking. If you’d like to hike slower and camp at Hanakoa on the way in and out, or if you just want more time to explore Kalalau Beach, then give yourself 3-5 nights.
Keep in mind this is an out-and-back trail. You will need to bring everything with you that you’ll need the next few days on the way in. Don’t forget water purification tablets or a filter, as there is no potable drinking water on the trail.
I met a girl when I was out there who hiked all the way to Kalalau Beach and back in one day, and thus did not need to purchase a permit. She also didn’t need to carry any heavy camping gear with her this way. However, unless you are a very fit, expert hiker I do not recommend attempting to do the entire trail in one day. Although it is possible and something to consider if you are a very experienced hiker.
There is also no overnight parking at the trailhead, so you’ll need to secure a ride in advance. There’s a shuttle that will pick you up from Waipa Park and Ride and drop you off at Haena State Park (where the trailhead is located). Unless you know a local who can take you, I recommend this method to get to the Kalalau Trailhead. The earliest shuttle departs at 7a.m.. To reserve your spot on the shuttle, click here.
Note: Advanced reservations are required to visit Haena State Park and beyond. Even if you’re just planning on going to Ke’e Beach for the day, you still need to make a reservation in advance. That goes for visitors arriving in private vehicle, shuttle, bike, or on foot. No one is allowed to enter without a confirmed reservation. Reservations cost $1.05 per person and can be made here. A separate permit is still needed for those camping on the Kalalau trail.
Lydgate Beach Park
Located closest to Lihue is Lydgate Beach Park. This is the most expensive of the public campsites at $25/night per person. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is the only public campsite with an indoor shower. I opted to stay at the cheaper public campgrounds, however if your flight leaves early the next morning, or if you are arriving late at night, this is a good option as it is the closest one to the airport.
Salt Pond Beach Park
A favorite of the locals, this spot is a popular hangout during the day, and can be a little noisy at night. You’ll find the friendly locals spear fishing and cooking at night. It was cool to watch and didn’t go on too late. But if you’re trying to find a peaceful spot to pass out early, Salt Pond might not be a good fit for you.
This site is $3/night per person. It’s important to note that camping is designated to the left of the first restrooms, and anything to the right of that is for day use only. However, as with every other site I stayed at on Kauai, no one came to check up and see if I had a permit. So, you could probably get away with camping further down the beach if you want a quieter site. There are bathrooms and a couple outdoor showers here, as well. Salt Pond Beach park is closed on Tuesday nights for maintenance.
Also, there was this super annoying guy hanging out just outside my tent on the beach with a metal detector that was beeping ALL NIGHT LONG. He was there every night I stayed at Salt Pond Beach Park, so if you see him when you visit, then set up camp closer to the parking lot than the beach to avoid the annoying beeping sounds until well into the morning.
Another thing to note is minding your table manners…literally. It is offensive to the Hawaiian locals to sit on top of the picnic tables. Someone actually came up and asked us if we could get off of the table we were sitting on and watching the sunset from. So just be courteous of the local culture. In fact, this article lists 10 Hawaii etiquette tips everyone should know before visiting Hawaii.
Lucy Wright Beach Park
Definitely the sketchiest public camp site on the island. I wouldn’t even recommend staying here. The whole park just seemed like a big homeless shelter. If you decide you want to camp here anyways, permits are $3/night per person, and there are bathrooms as well as outdoor showers here. Lucy Wright Beach Park is closed on Monday nights for maintenance. This is the farthest southwest beach park on the island, however you can camp at Polihale State Park (the Westernmost campground on the island) or Koke’e State Park (by Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Lookout), if you’re trying to stay close to a trail you plan on hiking the next day.
Polihale State Park
I really only recommend this site for those with 4×4 vehicles. Polihale is located about 5 miles down a notoriously bumpy dirt road. If visiting after a storm, the road is known to get very wet and muddy. Although it’s possible to get here with a 2 wheel drive car, I don’t recommend it. Many people get stuck or pop a tire who trying to get there in a non 4×4 car.
Those who are renting a car, beware! Most (if not all) rental companies on the island will void your insurance if you are caught driving on non-paved roads. Therefore, if you get stuck on the road or get a flat tire heading to or from Polihale and need to be towed out, they can void your insurance, meaning you will have to pay for the tow and any repairs. Thankfully, this is a very popular beach so chances are someone will help pull you out if you get stuck. I didn’t risk it, as it had been storming the days before and I had heard how bad the road was from numerous campers during my trip.
Purchase camping permits for Polihale State Park here in advance. Permits are $18/night per site (up to 6 people).
Koke’e State Park
Located on the West side of Kauai just past Waimea Canyon, Koke’e State Park can be accessed from the South Shore via a long and winding road uphill. This is a great option for those planning on hiking Kalepa Ridge, Awa’awapuhi, or any hikes in Waimea Canyon. However, there is no cell phone reception up here. Expect to drive about 30-40 minutes downhill from the site before getting service again.
As with all State Parks on Kauai, you’ll want to make reservations here ahead of time. Permits are $18/night per site (up to 6 people).
Hope this article helped you plan your trip, and have fun camping on Kauai! I’ve created an interactive map with pinpoints on all campgrounds in Kauai below.
Have you been camping on Kauai before? Where did you stay? Comment below!
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