Everything You Need to Know About Kayaking in Hawaii

Hawaii is known as the land of sun and surf. From the famous north shore of Oahu to the sunny south coast of Maui, hanging ten while you ride the waves gets all the love. But there’s another, less flashy way to enjoy the stunning waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands: kayaking. Kayaking unveils a whole new way to explore Hawaii. And while you can’t go wrong in your exploration, we’ll take you through what you need to know about kayaking in Hawaii and some of the best places to do it.

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Is Kayaking in Hawaii Worth It?

Kayaking in Hawaii is a singular and unique way to experience the islands at their best. Different from road trips or boat tours, kayaking sets you right in the middle of the action while giving you enough time to soak in the beauty and thrill of each experience. 

How Much Does It Cost to Rent a Kayak in Hawaii?

Prices for kayak rentals in Hawaii can vary depending on the size of the kayak, the duration, and the location. On average, a single-seater kayak rental will cost around $80 for a full day, though it may be cheaper based on the site. 

Some spots in Hawaii have cheap rates, so you can spend the day kayaking for as little as $40/day. However, other areas have limited permits and services, so you may end up paying over $100 for your kayak rental. 

12 Dope Spots to Go Kayaking in Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands burst with gorgeous scenery, breathtaking views, and countless adventures all over the islands. But, if you want to narrow the scope, here are some of the best spots to go kayaking in Hawaii.

Maui Kayaking Spots

Maui doesn’t have bad angles. Driving the Road to Hana, hiking the lush jungles, or sunning on its beaches, you’re always in for a unique perspective. And one of the most distinct perspectives is kayaking off the coast of one of Hawaii’s most breathtaking islands.

1. Honolua Bay

During the summer months, Honolua Bay shines as a picture-perfect paradise. Crystal clear water unveils stunningly vibrant corals and scores of marine life. You may even catch a glimpse of spinner dolphins swimming alongside colorful tropical fish. The further you travel out from the shore, the better visibility becomes. You don’t need to snorkel to take in the wondrous underwater world at Honolua Bay, making it a perfect Hawaii spot for kayaking.

Because of its stunning beauty, Honolua Bay is no stranger to kayakers, with kayaking tours offered throughout the summer. Though they typically close up shop in winter, you can still kayak throughout the year, provided you’re experienced and comfortable enough to handle the high winds and rough surf. 

2. Makena Bay

One of the best kayaking spots in Hawaii, Makena makes falling in love with the ocean easy. A large bay stretches out from the small beach, and calm, shallow waters make it an excellent choice for beginners, from stand-up paddleboarders to snorkelers and kayakers. 

On the right side of the bay lies a treasure trove of underwater highlights. Hawaiian green sea turtles and underwater arches give the area many names, including Turtle Town and Turtle Arches. Turtles are so common in Turtle Town that tour operators guarantee sightings here!

On the left side of the bay, the highlights are topside. A volcanic cinder cone, Puu Olai, marks the southeast shore. The mile-plus journey there takes you past several beautiful beaches. Maluaka offers stunning views, while the faux black sand at Oneuli beach is a cool substitute for the real thing

Kauai Kayaking Spots

It’s hard to argue for a more beautiful location to kayak than the elysian Garden Isle of the Hawaiian Islands. With easily navigable rivers offering postcard scenery and miles upon miles of gorgeous coast, you’ll have your hands full deciding between river kayaking Kauai’s interiors or sea kayaking along the coast. Of course, the simple answer is to make time for both Hawaii kayaking tours on your next trip. 

3. Napali Coast

Speaking of miles of coastline, the Napali coast stretches for 17 miles and guarantees an ocean kayaking experience you won’t forget. The stunning landscape of beaches, cliffs, and caves is built for thrills. Even National Geographic considers it one of the best adventures in the country.

However, you won’t be the first if you’re hesitant to tackle this behemoth, even when the waters are calm. Thankfully, you’ll find top Hawaii kayaking tours that take you around Kauai’s shining emerald cliffs and valleys. A kayaking trip around the Napali coast can be completed in one day, but it’s best to split it up into multiple days to fully take in the varied shores, cascading waterfalls, and enchanting sea caves found along the way. 

4. Huleia River

Kayaking is the perfect way to explore Kauai from top to bottom. The Huleia River is a scenic choice for doing just that. In fact, the scenery is one reason the river was chosen as a filming location for Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

This lazy river winds through the Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, home to several endangered species, so you can get in some excellent bird-watching as you travel along the river. And at the journey’s end, you can make your way to a hidden waterfall and give a Tarzan-like shout as you swing into a refreshing pool of water.

5. Hanalei River & Hanalei Bay

The still waters of the Hanalei River provide an idyllic stretch of scenery for a gentle kayak outing. From Hanalei Bay, the river stretches for sixteen miles, providing lots to see. Waterfalls cascade down the mountains, palm trees dot the shores, and taro farms stretch into the distance. 

The river passes under the Hanalei bridge and traverses the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a fantastic spot to watch for Hawaii’s native species, from soaring birds to paddling turtles. Following the river’s path back to the bay, the views open up to stunning beaches and far-off mountains. Here, you can trade your kayaking gear for snorkeling equipment to explore one of Hawaii’s most beautiful bays up close.

6. Wailua River

The perfect Kauai kayak adventure can be found along the largest navigable river on the island. Twenty miles long, the Wailua river cuts a gorgeous path through the Garden Isle, snaking through lush jungle and rolling fields and past towering mountains and roaring waterfalls. The result is an enchanting expedition through one of Hawaii’s most scenic islands. 

The Wailua River forks off into different branches, providing kayakers with a choose-your-own adventure. The first river branch leads to Opaekaa Falls, one of the best waterfalls in Hawaii. The river then has two main branches, with the north fork going on to the more popular kayaking destination of Secret Falls, while the south end leads to a fern grotto and swimming hole. Either way, you get to end your kayaking trip with a rewarding dip in Hawaii’s refreshing waters before heading back down Wailua River to the beach.

Oahu Kayaking Spots

It should be no surprise that world-famous beaches and incredible ocean surf lend themselves to sensational kayaking opportunities. Oahu may be king of the surf, but you won’t regret kayaking in these gorgeous spots in Hawaii.

7. Kaneohe Bay

Oahu is one of the most popular islands for kayaking in Hawaii for a good reason: Kaneohe Bay. Pristine waters hide sprawling coral reefs, a vast sandbar stretches as long as a football field, and stunning landmarks dot the view, from charming Chinaman’s Hat to the half-natural and half-man-made Coconut Island. Kaneohe Bay is full of beauty and ripe for exploration. 

The waters are sheltered from the open ocean thanks to the protective reefs. So, you can kiss your fears about tipping over goodbye and enjoy the view of blue water, green sea turtles, and more as you kayak around Kaneohe Bay.

8. Kahana River

Kayaking along the Kahana River will make you feel like you’ve entered the Amazon. As the wettest place in Oahu, the Kahana Valley is in full greenery pretty much year-round. The river gently cuts through the valley, taking kayakers on an enchanting ride with glimpses of mountains in the distance. 

The Kahana Valley is wild and overgrown. The path sometimes becomes an obstacle course as you duck below or maneuver your kayak around overhanging branches. Other times, it’s a fun quest as you come across a rope branch from which to swing back into the river. And finally, at its end, the river opens onto the expansive Kahana Bay, with sweeping views of mountains framing the valley.

9. Haleiwa Beach Park

Many might hear Haleiwa Beach Park and immediately think of Oahu’s infamous north shore surfing. Who could blame them? The world-renowned stretch of beach known as the Seven Mile Miracle officially starts at Haleiwa Beach Park.

But there’s more to the story than just the world-class waves of the ocean. The slow-moving Anahulu River flows right into the park. Starting from the beach, it’s a gentle, mile-long kayaking journey upstream, where you may find yourself sharing the waterway with some unlikely friends. Pods of sea turtles frequently travel up the river to nibble on the grass that grows at the bottom.

After traversing the river, the bay awaits. During calm bouts in summer, you can often explore the bay, while the winter waves lend themselves to relaxed viewing from the shore as you watch the pros go to work.

10. Mokulua Islands

Lanikai and Kailua spoil visitors with picture-perfect white sand, rolling blue waves, and stunning views. Just offshore of Lanikai sit the Mokulua Islands, also called the Mokes. The two islands serve as seabird sanctuaries, nestled among coral reefs and sea turtle feeding grounds. The result is a magnificent mix of beauty, nature, and wildlife that you’ll be hard-pressed to find kayaking anywhere else.

The journey starts at Kailua Beach, where visitors can rent kayaks to head out to the Mokulua Islands and explore the stunningly calm waters. If you’re up for some thrills, you can try your hand at cliff jumping off the Mokes! Then, for a bit of R&R, Kailua’s sister beach, Lanikai, awaits. You won’t find any kayak rentals or amenities here, just a scenic and inviting stretch of coast.

Big Island Kayaking Spots

The Big Island was made for adventuring, from its skyscraping peaks to its technicolor shorelines. While you can’t experience everything the Big Island has to offer from the water, it’s the perfect place to start, as kayaking in Hawaii opens up beautiful ocean views and a unique look into the fascinating landscapes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii. 

11. Keauhou Bay

Once upon a time, Keauhou Bay was a quiet Hawaiian village that served as the birthplace of King Kamehameha III. From humble and royal beginnings, it’s become a bustling commercial port, but that does little to detract from the beauty or adventure found here.

Abundant sea life captivates with playful antics, while nearby sea caves create a sense of mystery. Kayak tours here also get in on the action and adventure, pairing Hawaii kayaking with exploring sea caves, cliff jumping, and even snorkeling with manta rays in the evening.

12. Kealakekua Bay

The calm water of Kealakekua Bay marks an important moment in Hawaii’s history. It’s the site of Hawaiians’ first contact with westerners upon the arrival of Captain Cook in 1779. The Captain Cook Monument even sits just across the bay, a short twenty minutes by kayak. If you head over that way, don’t forget your snorkeling gear! The monument is a favorite snorkeling spot with a gorgeous coral reef and plenty of marine life—spinner dolphins often rest in the bay!

Because of its beauty and subsequent popularity, Kealakekua Bay now requires permits for the use of boating vessels. However, an easy way to get the proper permissions is by joining an official Hawaii kayaking tour or renting a kayak for a self-guided exploration of the bay.

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