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The Honest Guide to Camping on Kauai, Hawaii

camping on Kauai

So let me start out this post by saying that I have been spoiled my whole life. No, not with the newest electronics or a trust fund. I have been spoiled with amazing camping locations. Where I’m from, campgrounds include segregated camp sites, fire pits, and well maintained bathrooms (although more often than not, outhouses). Since this was all I knew about camping, I assumed this is what it’s like worldwide when it comes to campgrounds. But man was I mistaken.

Now this post isn’t meant to scare you out of camping on Kauai, because honestly we had an amazing time. This is just an honest review of what it’s really like to camp, because I didn’t find anything in my google searches before the trip to prepare me for what it would be like.

Camping on Kauai

1. The Campgrounds:

So lets start with the campgrounds. There are several beach parks located around the island, and these are your best bet when it comes to camping. They are $3.00 a night per person for non-residents making them by far the most affordable option for accommodation on your trip. Unfortunately, every park is closed at least one night a week, so you will have to move around a bit while camping.

Now, I was pretty excited to visit these beach parks and set up in my little area. Cook over a nice campfire and chill by the flames at night after the sun went down. Yeah… no. These parks are just grassy fields next to beaches on the island. They have outdoor showers, sinks and public washrooms for anyone visiting the beaches day and night. There are no fire pits (as the wood on Kauai isn’t exactly firewood) and you pretty much can put your tent anywhere you want on the grass/sand. There are also about 1/3rd as many picnic tables as are needed, which means you either need to cook on the ground or nab a spot beside a table.

The only thing that was tough about the lack of fires, was that when it’s dark, it’s really dark. This means that at about 7:00pm, if you’ve already eaten dinner, you are pretty much forced to go into your tent with your headlamp on. We ended up spending long hours in our tent in the evenings, and it made us go a little stir crazy. If you are only camping for a few days, I’d recommend going out to dinner, so you can use up some of the evening hours. For us, we were trying to be cheap, and were usually in the campground all evening, which got old pretty fast.

Something I would like to mention is to be considerate on where you place your tent. We would always try to set up far away from everyone else, and then an hour later, someone would place their tent right next to us. Every. Single. Time. So if you go camping on Kauai, or literally anywhere, give the people around you some space.

Some of these camping areas are much nicer than others, and although there are several across the island, we only chose to stay in two parks. I will go over the different parks below and tell you why we decided to stay where we did.

Haena Beach Campground, Kauai

Anini Beach Park: This was by far our favourite place to camp. Gorgeous beaches and a great location on the North Shore made Anini very appealing to us. We felt safe leaving our tent and sleeping supplies unattended during the day and never had any issues with loud groups of partiers. 

Anini is a great place for snorkelling as it’s not too wavy and there are sea turtles all over the place. The only downside to Anini is that there are chickens everywhere, and they like to wakeup at 4:00am.

Haena Beach Park: Haena was the second park we stayed at and we really enjoyed it here too. It is all the way at the end of the highway as far as you can get on the North Shore. It’s much smaller than Anini and the waves were massive when we visited, so no swimming was allowed. They have far fewer chickens and a communal area with plugs to charge your electronics. The only problem with Haena was that it’s as far away as you can get on Kauai, so if you want to go anywhere other than the North Shore while staying there, it will be a long drive. 

All the others…: We were advised by the permit officers to not go to any of the other parks. The ones on the south side of the island are frequented by a larger homeless population. This makes them less safe, and more likely that your stuff will be stolen. We were also told that Anahola (which is along the northeast side of the island), is a popular local drinking spot, and to avoid it as well. If you want to try out any other beach parks, just be smart about it and you will most likely be fine. We just enjoyed our north side areas too much to be bothered with any others.

2. Permits:

On Kauai, you need to go to one of the three locations on the island to pick up your permits. The permit office in Lihue is by far the best for hours and is open from 8:00am – 4:00 pm Monday to Friday. The other two are only open about 4 hours a day, 3 days a week, so make sure you know what times they are open.

The only issue we had with permits was knowing where we would stay in advance. You can’t just say “we are here for a month, and need a permit”. You have to choose which dates you will be in each specific park, and go back to get more permits if you are unsure of exact dates for the whole time. This was normally fine for us and we ended up going to the permit office in Kapa’a a lot while deciding where to stay.

Just make sure you have your permits for the weekends booked, because the permit offices are closed and if the park officers see you there without a permit, they will kick you out. And they normally check super early in the morning, so that would be a rude awakening.

3. The Weather:

Kauai is the rainy island. There is a spot on the island that is the rainiest place on earth. Sometimes, you will be sitting outside at your table making dinner, and out of nowhere it will start pouring.

If you’re going to be camping on Kauai, you need to learn to function in the rain. It’s not a matter of “if” you’ll get rained on. It’s a matter of “when” and “how often”. 

camping on kauai

4. The Wildlife:

So let’s just get this out of the way. If you camp on Kauai, you WILL be woken up at the wee hours of the morning by the many roosters around your site. No they don’t wait until the sun is rising before they start their days, and no they never shut up.

By the end of my trip, I got pretty used to these foghorns in the morning, but I can tell ya, the first couple nights of the trip I was T.I.R.E.D.

Also, try to avoid setting up your tent underneath low branches. We set up underneath a tree with lower branches one night and woke up the next morning to find chicken poop all over our tent. Apparently the branch we were under was a favourite spot for the local chickens to hangout.

kauai chickens

There are also feral cats all over the parks, and they like to come out at night. For the most part, these guys are totally chill and will stay out of your way. You may occasionally hear them attacking each other, and they may give you a fright as you’re walking to the washrooms and 6 cats leap out of the garbage cans, but other than that, they were not a problem for us at all.

5. Equipment:

All I have to say about equipment is bring it with you. We brought everything we needed to camp except propane (because you can’t bring that on the plane), and found one store on the island to buy some. If you need a tent, etc… you can go to Walmart, and we did to pick up cooking supplies and a cheap cooler, but we were surprised to find that Kauai doesn’t have any real outdoors stores like MEC or Coast Mountain. The only place we found pocket rocket stoves and the propane to go with them was Kayak Kauai in Kapa’a. They have a small selection of freeze dried dinners and some camping nicknacks if you end up doing an overnight hike and need that sort of thing as well.

Here’s what we brought: 

6. Other Camping Areas: 

As you may have noticed from this post, I have only talked about the Beach Park Campgrounds. There are other areas you can camp, we just ended up staying at the beach parks for convenience (and because we could’t figure out how to use the stupid camping websites…. but more on that in a second here).

There are two private campgrounds on the island that you can choose to use. One on the North Shore called the Waipa Foundation, and another in Koke’e (up by Waimea Canyon) called Camp Sloggett.

You can also camp at one of the three State Parks, by booking online. I was unable to figure out how to get the booking system to work, but maybe you’re more tech savvy than I am. These parks are located, on the south side – Polihale State Park, up in Waimea Canyon – Koke’e State Park, and on the North Shore – Napali Coast State Wilderness Park.

All these can be found on the State Park website here.

So, have these tips helped you decide on whether or not to camp on Kauai? I don’t regret it at all and am glad I had the experience of beach camping on such a beautiful island. Hopefully these points will come in handy for planning your Kauai adventure!

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Camping on Kauai

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