After living in Hawaii for over a year we’ve had the opportunity to explore and pitch a tent on 5 of the 6 visitable Hawaiian islands. I find that I feel a stronger connection to the earth when I fall asleep under the stars and smell the difference in the air. Every island smells different. They just do.
“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” – Rudyard Kipling
I also love that camping provides the greatest opportunity to meet other people including locals and travelers, and also save a bit of money in accommodation which we can use for outdoor activities. Besides meeting people in a hostel, what better way to make friends than with others who are doing the same thing you love to do?
We’ve written a mini guide to give you a heads up on some tent camping sites that stood out for us on Kauai. Truth be told there isn’t a bad campsite on Kauai, because lets face it, its Kauai. It’s insanely beautiful no matter where you end up. When I was researching camping on Kauai, there was no one website where I could get information. Yes, there are the official parks and rec websites but I was looking for inside tips on remote places and secret caves. Now I’m not saying we found the secret caves I was hoping for but in our time there we did find some absolutely beautiful places to camp at. Places that made us just wish we could live right there forever.
So here is our guide to camping on Kauai- by no means definitive, but based on our recent experiences I’m writing the kind of guide I wish I’d been able to find before we got there.
Then again, the exploration and time that went into researching this article account for some of the best parts of our trip!
Anini Beach Park
This is a beautiful spot on the north shore near Hanalei Bay. This campground has a 3 mile long beach that has sheltered reefs perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Pros: Great swimming beach. Most spots for camping are all along the beachfront giving you unobstructed views of the water. Lots of parking, outdoor showers and clean restrooms. There are some nice private spots at the far end of the campground. The tent area is pretty large, and each section has its own bathroom and outdoor showers.
Cons: The rooster reigns supreme here, starting to crow around 2am. I remember waking up and seeing one in a tree right above our tent, at which time I tried feebly to throw a shoe or other object to scare him away. No luck. Those cocks are relentless. Also, this is a heavily visited park so at times there was a wait to use the women’s bathroom. I know late at night it might not matter, but when you want to pee at dusk and the 2 bathrooms are occupied by people pooping, it’s hard to hold it and with so many people camping here it’s hard to find a place to go take a quick wee.
You’re supposed to get a permit to stay here, however our visit coincided with a holiday weekend so the permits offices were all closed. Stroke of luck. Also, you will need to haul your camping gear from the parking lot to your tent. No pull up parking. Not too far of a walk though, just a grassy field to cover.
Hot Tip: Make sure you check wind direction when you get there. If it’s not windy, head all the way to the far corner and camp at the very first sites which are right on the sand. If it’s windy, pick a site covered by trees in case you need to cook! Sucks to have to cook when you’re not blocked by trees or something.
Polihale State Beach Park
I’m afraid I’m just going to ramble on about this one, but THIS IS THE BEST CAMPGROUND ON KAUAI. Hands down. You want whale watching in the winter from the shoreline (complete with breaching)? Amazing waves for surfing? Privacy and romantic sunsets? Miles of empty beaches? A place to build a beach bonfire?
CAMP HERE. Thank me later k?
Polihale is a remote and wild beach park on the far west coast of Kauai. A 5 mile- long dusty and pothole filled road will lead you to paradise. Stunning views of the Na Pali coastline & sunsets with the elusive & private Niihau island in the background make this our *TOP* pick for Kauai camping. I could have stayed here for weeks. It was so hard to leave.
Pros: I think since it’s so hard to get to, there are not a lot of crowds here. The 4 camping areas are nicely spread out and you can find your own little place with few people around. We had some nice locals next to us, which turned out handy when we got the Jeep stuck in the sand (for another story) and when we traded butter for fresh Big Island grown grapefruit. Outdoor showers, clean bathrooms, and overall a gorgeous place to sleep with the waves pounding the shore. If you only want to come for the day, there are separate picnic areas labeled as you come into the park.
Cons: Like we said, it’s a remote area so you will either need a 4×4 (we saw people bringing rental cars that were just regular vehicles but if you get stuck, good luck) or you can hitch a ride into the park. Lots of locals come here so someone will be sure to bring you in! The water isn’t really safe to drink so remember to bring in all your drinking water and anything else you need, because it’s a long dusty way out if you forget something.
Hot Tip: If you’re keen on making a fire, remember that even though the Kiawe tree is considered invasive, the locals feel it protects the sand dunes on this beach so try to refrain from running into the bushes with your machete and hacking it all down. BEWARE of the thorns!! On your drive in, there are usually some already cut trees that the parks department leave laying around on the side of the road. Drive up and down that stretch of road and stop when you see potential firewood, then stick it in your car and drive it back to your campsite. Easier then ending up bloodied and scratched from your midnight run into the bushes.
**Cough*: We didn’t actually get a permit to camp here. I think this is kind of no mans land for camping. Of course, you camp without a permit at your own risk, but there is no one that comes to check on the sites daily. Or there was no one when we were there. It does help we have our Hawaii ID’s and Michael is brown, which goes a long way in Hawaii. It’s hard to explain. He’s a braddah. I don’t think anyone here had a permit from what we gathered from speaking to others. Then again some of them live on Kauai so it was not a big deal for them since they go to that park often, so they know whats up.
Salt Pond Beach Park
This beach got its name from the traditional Hawaiian salt collection ponds nearby. While it had plenty of open space for swimming and possibly boogie boarding, I wanted to know about the camping so we headed for the lifeguard tower. As we approached the beach, I noticed the tent/camping area had traces of homeless folks’ belongings. I could tell because there were few tents but lots of other gear including those blue tarps used to lock up stuff/keep it dry. Plus I live next to a huge homeless population in Chinatown on O’ahu so I know what’s up. I was dispatched to talk to the lifeguard (LG) on duty. Our conversation went something like:
Me: ‘Hey how’s it’
LG: *Gives surprised look*
Me: ‘Would you say this is a good beach for camping?’
LG: ‘I guess, I mean it ain’t no Rio’
Me: ‘So is it pretty quiet at night? I mean, besides the obvious roosters?’
LG: *chuckles* ‘Ya, if the roosters get to drinking!’
I’m confused at this point. What we took from the rest of the conversation was that this park was possibly filled with drunk homeless people at night. So we moved along. Plus the vibe we got was just so-so. And with so many beaches to choose from, we knew we had other options.
Pros: Bathrooms, Grassy area to pitch tent, nice views of the ocean.
Cons: Drunk roosters
Anahola Beach Park
This little gem is tucked away down a residential neighborhood with the Kalalea mountains in the background making it a local favorite. I’m assuming in the summer it must get super crowded with tents, but due to a lack of planning, we ended up here at 5am in the dark just trying to find a place to get a few more hours of sleep. The park was supposed to be closed the night before, so it was empty except for a few super drunk locals talking loudly from their trucks. We put up our tent on a slope underneath soft pine needles. I woke up in a panic an hour later when the drunkies were having a bit of fun by revving their truck engine all the way up and according to Michael, ‘almost getting stuck out at sea’ popping wheelies on the beach & I half thought they’d come up and run us right over. Other than that little incident, it was nice and quiet.
I woke up again a short time later to the most delicious wind flapping the tent around and a beautiful soul playing an Ukulele on the beach some feet away from me. I could faintly catch the music over the waves and combined with the wind, it made the earlier stressful events fade away.
Pros: Easy to get to, nice wide beaches for swimming. There are bathrooms. Pretty beach with a wide camping area.
Cons: The bathrooms were dated and unkempt. If the park was really busy, I’m sure the line would be out the door because there are only 2 stalls. You can only camp on one side of the park. If there were people camping there it might have been more clear as to where is the best place to put the tent, but the trees had thick roots and finding a spot was hard, especially in the dark. And where to leave the car? Not really clear. No port a potties which would have been perfect since the bathroom is all the way on the picnic side.
We would definitely come back and camp here again just to check it out on a sunnier day. It’s one of the few legit places to camp on the east coast.
Lydgate State Beach Park
Lydgate was our favorite campground site for the east coast. Spacious and meticulously maintained, this state park has everything! Each site was numbered and came with a little grill pit and the tent area was great. However, if you’re after privacy, the sites are situated so cars can drive by up to a certain point, and then there is a walking/biking path which is generously used by locals all day long. This campground is patrolled, and if you’re thinking to get away with not buying a permit, this isn’t the spot for that. Unforeseen circumstances put us here hoping to purchase a permit on the spot when the guard showed up (bad idea they won’t go for it) and forgetting which night this park is closed is also a bad idea. Even if you have a fishing pole, or are a local, they will come at 4:30am and force you to leave. Even if you apologize and explain you had no where else to go. Other than that, if you play by the rules, this is a sweet spot!
Pros: Indoor showers (4 of them in the women’s bathroom alone!) so that was an unexpected bonus. Lots of bathroom stalls. Which is good because this is a huge campground. Lights stay on at night but the well designed landscaped bushes make the lighting reflection from that bathroom area pretty mind.
Cons: Getting a permit for this park was incredibly difficult. The ranger had given us a paper with locations/hours to pick up a permit. Drove to one, they said it was closed. Drove to another location, also closed. At this point I call the office number again and they tell me the only thing they can advise is to head north to a location about 2 hours away (with afternoon traffic) so I’d never make it in time to get to the permit place before it closed. I had to call again and get pretty harsh over the phone as we couldn’t understand why we were given a brochure which we were now told was outdated. Especially when you’re on vacation – it should be pretty easy to obtain a permit. Eventually we were able to reach an agreement where we returned to the first spot and someone was able to provide a permit. I was told they are reprinting the brochures and are working on better ways to take payment. I will address this more in another post.
Hot Tip: Pick spot #18 when you get your permit as it’s the spot with no neighbors to one side and privacy by a tree. Also, the car lights seemed diminished as they approached this particular spot, which isn’t the case with the others as the car lights can be kind of annoying in the middle of the night.
Other parks worth camping out at are listed below. We visited all of these parks on our road trip around the island but we didn’t do any camping there. Keep in mind that Koke`e State Park is at a higher altitude and therefore will be much colder at night so bring warm gear.
Nā Pali Coast State Park (requires hiking in + permit to camp)
Haʻena State Park (lovely but super crowded on weekends and holidays)
Wailua River State Park (good base for kayaking trips down the river to secret waterfalls)
Koke`e State Park (what a gorgeous drive getting to this park!)
Other camping tips for Kauai:
Before your trip, take a moment to visit the websites listed below dedicated for permits and camping info. There is a list of which park is closed on what day. I believe they do this so that people don’t try to ‘live’ at the campgrounds. Keep that in mind in case you would like to camp on a particular day at a specific park, it might be closed so check ahead. Getting camping permits should be pretty straightforward so Kauai needs to work on making it easier for people to purchase permits for camping.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, please feel free to give it a share! If you have any questions about camping on Kauai island please send us an email and we’ll be happy to help out.
Any spots we missed that we should go back and visit? Let us know in the comments!