Many think it cannot be done, but a vacation in Kauai is absolutely doable on a budget. We spent a week exploring the best of what Kauai has on offer and all on a shoestring budget. We rented a car, camped, ate cheap food, and had an amazing time.
And we’ll tell you exactly how we did it.
Pulling up to the Kalalau lookout, one of the last lookouts in Koke’e State Park, we were soaking in the views. Stepping towards the viewpoint, Yana noticed a small trail beyond the railing. A sign clearly states to stay behind the railing, that it is not a trail, and I think it implied danger.
Per our typical exchange, I asked Yana not to go. Standing next to 2,000-foot vertical drops to the Kalalau Valley, Yana glanced over at me, and as usual, she ignored my request. She continued and before I knew it, she was out of sight.
Within a minute, there were stunning panoramic views. It made the overlook seem like an afterthought. Yana had a grin on her face – whether it was her sense of success, or she hadn’t had enough, I didn’t know. She continued on down the trail and again, I followed.
The further the trail goes, the more exposed it became. We were clearly on a ridgeline of a mountain that began as manageable with a 20-30 foot wide ridge. But the ridge narrowed to just three feet wide with clear evidence of mudslides. The ground was soft. We gave each other a look, but no words. Yana continued on the trail and I followed.
We hit a dead end. Any further and we would’ve fallen to our deaths. Looking around us, the views were breathtaking – we could see Kalalau Beach beneath us and miles of the Na’Pali coastline. In just two days’ time, we would hike the Kalalau trail, ending just below where we were standing.
The silence reminded us of the 2,000-foot drop on both sides. Clouds were quickly gathering. A raindrop fell. It was time to leave.
Kauai is a land of adventure and has some amazing hikes. The island has stunning mountains that meet the Pacific, at the famed Na’Pali coast. And while Hawaii is expensive, cheap camping options exist all around Kauai with excellent food that caters to those on a budget.
Read on to learn more about how to visit this spectacular island without breaking the bank!
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
- Kauai on a Budget
- Where to Stay in Kauai
- Camping in Kauai
- Cheap Food in Kauai
- How to Travel on a Budget in Kauai
- Best Hikes in Kauai
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Kauai on a Budget
Where to Stay in Kauai
There are a few options that won’t break the bank. The first is the Koke’e Lodge cabins at the Koke’e State Park. The cabins are located in the mountains, so temperatures tend to lower during the night.
The Islander on the Beach is also a good option as it offers apartments with ocean views. There are a few beaches within walking distance. For the quality and the price, you will have a good experience at these places in Kauai.
Camping in Kauai
Camping is one of the best ways to cut down costs while visiting Kauai. With dozens of campsites around the island and cost as little as $3 per adult, per night, or $30 per night in State Parks for non-residents, we highly suggest packing a tent, or heading to Costco to buy one!
Read more about Camping in Kauai: Ultimate Guide to Campgrounds and Permits.
Cheap Food in Kauai
Kauai has excellent food, and without question, some of the best poke in Hawaii. The seafood is incredibly fresh, and there are plenty of options for those on a budget. You can find many delicious places to eat for under $10 per person.
How to Travel on a Budget in Kauai
Traveling in Kauai or anywhere in Hawaii comes with a cost. Accommodation can add up quickly and nice meals out can break the bank. However, a visit to Kauai doesn’t have to take months of savings to be splurged in a few days.
There are several ways to see all the beautiful places in Kauai without breaking the bank! Here are some of our tips on how to travel on a budget in Kauai.
By far the cheapest option for accommodation in Kauai is to camp. Camping is very cheap on the island with county and state campsites options. As mentioned before, getting camping permits is a bit tricky, especially for the county permits, so be sure to read our guide on camping and permits in Kauai.
Camping can save lots of dough, which you can then spend on a rental car to explore the island. If you don’t have camping equipment to bring, don’t worry. You can buy everything you need from Walmart, and it will still cost less than 1 night at a hotel. Grab these from the Lihue Walmart:
- Tent ($60 – $80)
- Sleeping Pad ($30/each)
- Blanket ($10 – $20)
- 2 Camping Chairs ($30)
- Camp stove + Butane ($25)
- Cookware and utensils/plates ($20)
- Head torch/lantern ($10)
- Cooler ($10)
Rent A Car
While vacationing in Kauai, it is best to not rely on their poor public transportation system. We would highly recommend getting a rental car. A weekly rental with Advantage Rent a Car will run you around $45/day. If you combine the cost of a weekly car rental and camping for a week, you can stick to a budget of around $350 for the week for accommodation and a car – that’s not too shabby!
Explore the Beautiful Island by Hiking
Kauai is best explored on foot. Whether it is the famous views on the Na’Pali coast, exploring the Waimea Canyon, or trekking around Koke’e State Park, there are dozens of hikes to choose from. And the best part about it is they are all free!
Beaches are Free
Exploring the beaches in Kauai is the best free activity you can do! Sand and water are abundant on the island of Kauai, so spend a few days finding your favorite spot. Some of our favorite beaches are Hanalei Beach, Kee Beach, Poipu Beach, Haena Beach, and Polihale Beach.
Best Hikes in Kauai
Kalalau Trail, Na’Pali Coast State Park
The famous Na’Pali coastline is bound to be a highlight of your vacation in Kauai. The Kalalau Trail is a 22-mile round trip hike and is the only way to truly explore this coastline up close. This is by far the best hike, not just in Kauai, but all of Hawaii!
The Kalalau Trail is also recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous hikes with 11 miles of continuous ascents and descents, which include river crossings. The hike is grueling but has a big payoff at the end – a stunning beach, caves, and an enormous valley with swimming holes to explore.
This hike is for experienced hikers and can be very dangerous, in particular during the river crossings. For more on obtaining a permit and the hike itself, read our Ultimate Guide to the Kalalau Trail.
Canyon and Cliff Trail, Waimea Canyon State Park
Two of the most popular hikes in Kauai are the Canyon Trail and the Cliff Trail, and both are within Koke’e State Park. These trails can be joined for a single hike to multiple viewpoints into the Waimea Canyon (known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific).
The hike to the top of the Waipo’o Falls is a 4-mile round trip hike. It is a suitable hike for most; however, there is a steep ascent on the return.
Kalalau Lookout Ridge Trail, Koke’e State Park
Described in the introduction of this article, the Kalalau Lookout Ridge trail is officially closed and not a formal hiking trail. However, there are still many who hike out on this ridge for the incredible views. This 2-mile trail is adventurous as they come in Kauai. But sadly, we can’t suggest you go on this hike, because it is closed.
Awa’awapuhi Trail, Koke’e State Park
This in and out hike is 3 miles entirely downhill through a forest. Although the hike in itself is not very impressive, there is a spectacular reward at the end. Views of the two valleys, the Nualolo and Awa’awapuhi, are remarkable.
There is a narrow section beyond the lookout with vertical drops 2,000 feet on each side so beware. The hike back is entirely uphill, or combine with the Nualolo trail to make a 12-mile loop.
Wailua Falls Trail, Wailua River State Park
Just north of Lihue is the Wailua River State Park and the Wailua Falls lookout sits at the end of the park. There is a very short 0.3-mile trail to the bottom of the falls that is officially closed.
This trail is not easy to get down to, especially if the track is muddy. It is extremely steep and requires some scrambling. Head past the fence for the start of the trail. There is a nice swimming lagoon at the bottom of the falls so bring a swimsuit.
we hope you have an amazing (and inexpensive) trip to Kauai!
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