Camping around Kauai—hands down the best camping trip we’ve ever done.
Kauai is the fourth largest Hawaiian island and we chose to visit it because it’s a little rustic and a lot more mellow than the others. It is also the wettest island (so plan your camping accordingly!) which is why it is also known as the “Garden Island” because of its lush greenery and beautiful blooms. Have you seen the 1997 Jurassic Park movie? It’s filmed on the dramatic Nā Pali Coast of Kauai … a must visit on the island!
Jimmy and I were in Kauai for 13 days in July 2022 … and 11 of 13 nights were spent in a tent (we bookended our camping with a hotel stay so that we could get organized and have a nice, hot shower!). Honestly, we enjoyed every campsite. Here are the places we camped (yes, in order of our favourites) and what we loved about each. *Note: some of the campgrounds were closed due to weather damage. This seems to be a common occurrence so please do your own research and know that information could change.
Kumu Camp (East)
Located on Anahola Bay, Kumu Camp - “A Campground like Home” - is a private campground and non-profit belonging to the Hawaiian Homestead Association. All proceeds go towards protecting Hawaiian home lands and culture.
We stayed at Campsite 6—a tent site basically on the beach. This was the closest we camped to the ocean … and pretty private too (FYI: campsites in Kauai in general aren’t very private at all compared to Canadian campgrounds, with the exception of Kōke’e … hence why it’s our second favourite ;). We had our own bamboo privacy wall (which also acted as a wind barrier) and were able to park our [rental] SUV right at our site, adding more privacy and convenience.
Anahola Bay is a much quieter bay (from what we experienced) and we enjoy that. It seems to be more popular with the locals (for fishing and driving on?) … but overall not very busy. We spent our mornings walking/running along the shore and afternoons jumping waves and relaxing on the beach.
Pros: close to ocean, can park vehicle at site, privacy wall, personal picnic table, showers (hot, enclosed), covered kitchen area with sink & BBQ, power at common areas, wifi, complementary coffee (we brought our own set-up so never tried theirs!), all proceeds go to the perpetuation of Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions as well as youth and community programming
Cons: can get windy, locals sometimes like to drive on the beach at night
Kōke’e State Park (West)
Kōke’e is a State campground and unlike the other sites, it is located away from the ocean and up in the mountains. Although we were hesitant to stray too far from the water, we are so glad we did! The landscape is much different from the rest of the island—ranging from lush mountains and cliff-side views (hello Kalalau Valley!) to the red sands of the Waimea Canyon.
We stayed at site #5—out of a total of 9 campsites (so make sure to book early!). We were at the top of a hill, backed onto a forest, and surrounded by what looked like corn stalks. I’d say sites 2-8 are all very private (especially compared to the rest of the island). Bonus: each site has its own picnic table, water tap, and fire pit. You can purchase wood from the Kōke’e Lodge store and have your own private fire!
From here, we spent our days exploring Waimea Canyon, taking in the views of the Kalalau Valley, hiking trails and relaxing under the trees in the park.
Pros: private, quiet, personal picnic table, water tap, fire pit, wood for purchase, flush toilets, showers (enclosed, cold and not the cleanest), delicious food & drink at Kōke’e Lodge Restaurant (Hunt Pig)
Cons: sites are a little walk uphill from parking lot, colder and damp at night because of elevation (bring layers!), no cell service, no power
‘Anini Beach Park (North)
‘Anini is on the North shore and is popular with families, campers, and locals alike because of the white sand beach and calm waters (great for swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, etc.).
This is a County site—which in general is cheaper and busier with no assigned site numbers; you just pop your tent anywhere you’d like within the boundaries (often marked by signs). Although you may think that you can get away with camping for free, there is a park ranger that comes around early in the morning to check for permits (tip: display permit in a clear bag on the outside of your tent to avoid being woken up!).
Although this site has lots to offer, we used it mostly to sleep and access activities on the North shore. Because it is busier and you don’t have your own private site, we chose to pack up each morning and take our belongings with us. However there are lots of trees on this site, so depending on the location it could feel more private and protected.
Pros: close to ocean, lots of shade, plenty of space, some picnic tables, outdoor sink for washing dishes, restrooms, showers (outdoor, cold), trees provide some privacy
Cons: busier (especially on weekends), short walk to parking lot
Salt Pond Beach Park (South)
This campsite is situated right beside the only natural salt ponds on Kauai (hence the name ;). It’s another beautiful beach with great swimming, enjoyed by families, campers, and locals alike! Dotted with palm trees, this area feels much more tropical than the other side of the island … and it’s almost always sunny!
Salt Pond is another County site—again, meaning that it’s cheaper and busier with no assigned site numbers; you just pop your tent anywhere you’d like within the boundaries (often marked by signs). Although this site is much more open (few trees, mostly palms) the sunsets alone make it so worth it!
Again, we used this site mostly to sleep and access activities on the South/West shore. Because it is busier and you don’t have your own private site, we chose to pack up each morning and take our belongings with us. It can also get quite windy!
Pros: close to ocean, flat ground, picnic tables in pavilions, outdoor sink for washing dishes, restroom, showers (outdoor, cold), parking lot close by, beautiful sunsets, lifeguard on beach
Cons: no privacy, smaller space to choose from, can get windy, can get hot (no shade)
How to #travelbetter in Kauai (or should we say camp better ;)
- Camp in designated areas
- Pack out when you bring in
- Use biodegradable soaps (both shampoo & dish soap)
- Use the sinks provided (for teeth brushing & dishes)
- Bring reusable dishes, cutlery, water bottles
- Bring your gear vs. purchasing new for one-time use & leaving behind (we ran into no issues bringing our tent, sleeping pad, bedding, small stove, etc.)
- If you do buy new, pass on to the next campers (we couldn’t bring a lighter, sharp knife, propane on the plane)
- Pay for permits … so that the areas can be maintained and enjoyed for years to come!