The Best Snorkeling in Kauai 🤿 My 5 Most Tip-Top Spots

Hawaii's "Garden Isle" has excellent snorkeling if you know where to look

When you see a photo of epic, lush-green Hawaiian cliffs gracefully tumbling down into turquoise Pacific waters, you’re probably looking at Kauai.

The “Garden Isle” is constantly gorgeous and incredibly vibrant, and there’s so much to do for outdoor adventure lovers from hiking to sailing to climbing to kayaking to, of course, snorkeling.

For whatever reason, snorkeling in Kauai doesn’t have the same incredible spots in terms of sheer number like the Big Island or Maui might. But, that definitely doesn’t mean that they don’t exist — you just need to know where to look to find the best snorkeling in Kauai.

So, if you’re on the island in the snorkeling offseason, you might want to find time for more hiking or beach time (though my last “best snorkeling in Kauai” recommendation below is usually accessible all year long).

Since it’s Hawaii, Kauai snorkeling is typically best from May to September along the north shore of the island assuming the waves are calm (which they typically are during the summer). But, in the fall, winter and spring months, some snorkeling spots become surf spots, often with huge waves. No matter the time of year, limit your snorkeling to when the water is calm. It’s just a better time to go in this part of the world.

When I’m here in the summer, though, I’m absolutely going to make sure to get in plenty of incredible snorkeling in Kauai along with the rest of everything that I can do in its special, special nature.

So, to balance out your epic adventures sailing along the Nā Pali Coast or hiking to Wailua Falls, let’s find those spots with some of the best snorkeling in Kauai.

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai

1. Nu’alolo Kai Snorkeling on the Na Pali Coast

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai: Nu'alolo Kai on the Na Pali Coast

When I’m snorkeling somewhere as popular as Hawaii, finding excellent snorkeling spots without a ton of people can be challenging. But, Nu’alolo Kai snorkeling is just that and it’s tops on that list for me.

Situated on the iconic Nā Pali Coast, Nu’alolo Kai is one of the spots with some of the best snorkeling in Kauai due to  tons of very vibrant coral and seemingly endless tropical fish and healthy marine life. But, you won’t find it very crowded because it’s more difficult to get to.

The beach (mostly rounded-out lava rocks and boulders) is surrounded by steep cliffs, so you’ll need a boat to get there. Your best bet is to take a boat daytrip that surveys the gorgeous cliffs of the Nā Pali Coast (which is totally worthwhile and a must-do while in Kauai, anyway) that stops here for lunch and some snorkeling. Not all tours stop at this spot, so make sure to pick one that heads to Nu’alolo Kai specifically and runs during the best months for conditions (usually May-September).

Kauai Sea Tour's unique beach-landing snorkel tour is one of the very few chances you'll have to land at Nu'alolo Kai.

In my experience, the coolest snorkel tour for Nu’alolo Kai is with Kauai Sea Tours. Since the ecosystem is so delicate here, any company that actually wants to land on shore needs a special permit, which is really hard to come by. As part of the deal, Kauai Sea Tours beach-landing tour uses a low-impact raft that keeps from damaging the reef, which is key for the reef and allows way better access for us. So, it’s pretty much impossible to get any closer to Nu’alolo Kai than with their tour.

Landing on shore at Nu’alolo Kai is a unique and awesome experience (and a great way to avoid a bunch of people), but Kauai Sea Tours also has a version of their Nu’alolo Kai Nā Pali snorkel tour that doesn’t land at the beach (and instead just floats above the reef for snorkeling) which saves a few bucks if that’s more preferable.

Otherwise, booking a Nā Pali Coast tour is pretty easy, and you can check out options that include snorkeling on Viator. If you dig insane views and awesome snorkeling, booking a tour to sail Nā Pali and snorkel at Nu’alolo Kai will pay off for you.

[Google Maps Link of Nu’alolo Kai’s location]

2. Hideaways Beach

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai: Hideaways Beach
Original Photo by dronepicr / flickr. Adapted by Coral Nomad. CC BY 2.0

Another spot with some of the best snorkeling in Kauai and often without crowds of people is Hideaways Beach. Again, it’s less crowded because it takes some effort to get to, but you don’t need a boat this time.

Instead, you’ll be waking up early (for easier parking and better conditions) and getting over to a trailhead near the Princeville Resort to hike down to Hideaways beach. The trail itself is very steep and definitely dicey (even dangerous) in spots, so you need to make certain that you’re sure-footed and in good shape. If you feel like that’s no problem for you, take it slow and be careful anyway.

Once you’re at the bottom, you’ll find a secluded sandy beach with a coral reef that nearly comes right up to the shoreline. The water here is very shallow and runs through various channels of the reef, making it a great spot to let you feel like you’re actually part of the reef for a time instead of just seeing it from high above.

You will see tons of gorgeous tropical fish like butterflyfish, unicornfish, parrotfish and plenty else, and you’ll have great chances of snorkeling with other fascinating marine life like moray eels, sea cucumbers and Honu and Honu’ea, the Hawaiian green and hawksbill sea turtles, which always seem to be really big in Kauai.

Since the reef comes so close to shore, make sure to be very careful when getting in not to step on any coral. Water shoes are a good idea (I like to use the Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip On Water Shoes [Amazon] and my wife uses the Aleader women’s version [Amazon]) if you aren’t wearing fins, but pick one of the sandy channels between coral spurs for an entry to avoid damaging the reef (or your feet).

[Google Maps Link to the Hideaways Beach parking lot]

3. Ke’e Beach

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai: Ke'e Beach

Ke’e Beach on the island’s north shore has more of the best snorkeling in Kauai, and it’s much easier to get to than Nu’alolo Kai or Hideaways Beach.

Instead, just take the Kuhio Highway west along the north shore until it dead-ends at the Ke’e Beach parking lot. After that, it’s a simple walk down to the beach and snorkeling area.

Ke’e Beach has a barrier reef surrounding it which makes for some excellent snorkeling and generally calmer conditions than many other more open spots, but it’s always a great idea to ask the lifeguard (which the beach does have) how things are looking before diving in.

Enter the water at the center or right side of the beach (as you look out to the ocean) and generally avoid the left-hand side since it has a strong exit current back out to the sea. It’s generally safer to stay inside of the barrier reef (calmer currents) and the marine life is still abundant. Coral, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaii’s beautiful state fish), Hawaiian monk seals (the state’s only native seal), sea turtles and even the occasional white-tipped reef shark are common sights at Ke’e.

[Google Maps Link to Ke’e Beach]

4. Tunnels Beach

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai: Tunnels Beach

Even if you aren’t a snorkeler, Tunnels beach is worth a visit. Long stretches of fine island sand, amazing views of verdant green mountains, and plenty of turquoise water to go around. But, as tempting as it might be to spend all day lounging here, Tunnels also has some of the best snorkeling in Kauai.

And, the beautiful thing about Tunnels Beach is that it has some of the best snorkeling in Kauai for both beginners and more advanced snorkelers alike.

If you’re a newer snorkeler, there’s a more protected and shallower area with caves (or tunnels, where the beach gets its name) to explore along the inner reef on the left side of Tunnels Beach closer to Haena Beach Park. You’ll have a great time with plenty of coral and tropical fish to keep you company; just make sure to stay in the shallows since the current gets strong as you venture farther out on the left side.

Or, if you’re an experienced snorkeler and strong swimmer, the large half-moon-shaped reef surrounding Tunnels Beach is good old-fashioned awesome Kauai snorkeling with varying depths, channels, fish, turtles, and everything else you’d look for in a sweet snorkel spot.

Your best bet is to enter the water from the right-hand side of Tunnels Beach (near the point) and work your way around the inner side of the barrier reef toward the middle. Make sure to follow the curve in a way that takes you back toward shore and watch for strong ocean currents pulling you toward the ocean. When you reach a spot where the reef continues out toward the sea instead of toward the beach, swim back to shore across a channel toward Haena Beach Park.

[Google Maps Link to Tunnels (Makua Beach)]

5. Lydgate Beach

The Best Snorkeling in Kauai: Lydgate Beach
Original Photo by Fuzzy Gerdes / flickr. Adapted by Coral Nomad. CC BY 2.0

Since it’s Hawaii and water conditions can often be unpredictable and sometimes downright brutal, we need a fallback just in case some of our other “best snorkeling in Kauai” spots aren’t accessible, but we still really want to spend some time in the water with tropical fish friends.

Lydgate Beach Park has several lagoons protected by large rock barriers that are typically chill even when our other spots aren’t. Here, you’ll still find plenty of fascinating fish to swim with in between breaks on the beautiful sandy beach.

Lydgate is a great spot for families as well (and for teaching young ones how to snorkel) and has plenty of facilities along the lines of restrooms, showers, lifeguards, etc. to make everything easier.

For other spots that tend to still be somewhat calm in the snorkeling offseason, you can also look into Anini Beach since it’s somewhat protected, or Koloa Landing (near the old boat ramp) and Poipu Beach since they’re on the south coast which is calmer during winter.

[Google Maps Link to Lydgate Beach]

The Deep Dive

Kauai may not have the same sheer number of great snorkel spots as Maui or the Big Island might, but it most certainly still has plenty of awesome snorkeling if you know where to look. Plus, when you do find the best snorkeling in Kauai and every spot has the incredible natural beauty of the “Garden Isle” surrounding it, both your in-water and out-of-water experiences will be epic.

Since it’s Hawaii, snorkeling is usually going to be found during the May-September months each year, especially on the north-shore locations (though some tours can still find workable days). If conditions aren’t quite lining up for you at some of the top snorkeling spots in Kauai, though, you can still find calmer protected lagoons like at Lydgate Beach to satisfy your snorkeling fix.

Up Next

You might need to pick up a couple of snorkeling items before your trip (for example, Hawaii has outright banned traditional sunscreen and requires biodegradable and reef-safe sunscreen), so make sure you have what you need below:

Curious about snorkeling on other Hawaiian islands?

Alex Axon snorkeling

Alex Axon

Alex was born landlocked, but has been hooked on the ocean ever since first wading in. He's obsessed with snorkeling as a beautiful and easy way to experience the underwater world, and having been able to learn first hand from in-the-water experience across the world what gear, tips and trips work, he shares that knowledge in the hope that it will inspire others to find their own underwater adventure.

Recent Articles