Kayaking in Hawaii: 10 of the Best Places to Paddle and Canoe

There is no place more synonymous with paradise than Hawaii. From vibrantly colorful fish and coral reefs to lush tropical jungles, raging rivers, and of course, the biggest waves in the world, Hawaii is nature at its finest. 

Hawaii’s different islands have a distinct vibe and their own set of natural sites to explore, with something for everyone. Whether you are looking to relax or pack in lots of extreme water sports, you will undoubtedly spend most of your time outside on the water. 

One water activity that suits all physical fitness levels and which can be as relaxing or taxing as you want is kayaking. Kayaking is extremely popular in Hawaii, and there is a never-ending list of options for all your paddling needs. Here, we will look at the top 10 best places to kayak in Hawaii. We have chosen an eclectic list of options to represent each major island in the Hawaiian archipelago.

1. Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, HI

Kaneohe Bay is a beautiful, tranquil beach on the island of Oahu that is a popular spot for swimming, picnicking, and relaxing. Due to its peaceful waters, it is an excellent bay for beginners to kayaking who want a leisurely paddle to enjoy the surrounding landscape. Kaneohe Bay covers an eight-mile expanse of coastline and reaches depths of nearly 40 feet, which means that you can spend hours exploring these deep, calm waters.

The best part about kayaking on Kaneohe Bay is the wealth of marine life. Kaneohe Bay contains two large barrier reefs that are home to a plethora of colorful fish species like parrotfish, Aku, and mahi-mahi, as well as hammerhead sharks. Therefore, we recommend you bring your snorkeling gear with you on your kayak voyage to hop out for a glimpse of the colorful world below you. 

Kaneohe Bay is so famous that it has been the backdrop of Hollywood movies and series for decades. Gilligan’s Island introductory beach montage was filmed on Kaneohe Bay, as were scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean.

You can check out kayak rentals and kayak tours in Kaneohe Bay here.

2. Honolua Bay, Maui, HI

Located on the northwestern coast of Maui in the Honolua-Mokuleia Marine Life Conservation District, Honolua Bay attracts tourists and locals alike for its water activities, including surfing, snorkeling, and kayaking. 

Honolua and the connecting Mokuleia Bay have protected nature reserves filled with wildlife and thriving coral reef systems. Depending on the time of year you visit, you can expect to see humpback whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea urchins, parrotfish, triggerfish, butterflyfish, and many more colorful fish species. 

Honolua Bay is best for surfing in the winter because that is when the waves and currents are the strongest. Therefore, if you are looking to kayak and snorkel, the summer months offer the calmest, safest, and clearest waters. Maui Kayak Tours has rentals along with elaborate tours of the coastline via kayak with plenty of stops to jump out and snorkel.

Hawaiin Paddle Sports offers various paddling options such as paddle boarding, canoe surfing, and surfboard rentals. So, if you’re looking for more extreme sports experience in winter or summer, they have everything you need. 

3. Wailua River, Kauai, HI

Kauai is one of the less developed, wilder, and more beautiful islands in the Hawaiian archipelago. Along with breathtaking beaches and jungle-covered mountain landscapes, there are also long rivers that lead to hidden waterfalls.

One of those rivers is the Wailua River. Wailua river flows with a gentle current over a 20-mile stretch that includes three enormous and enchanting waterfalls: Wailua Falls, Uluwehi Falls, and Opaekaa Falls. Wailua Falls is an iconic destination-wedding spot, while Uluwehi falls is an excellent spot for swimming with a large natural pool and even a rope-swing installation to boot.

There are also incredible views of Nounou Mountain, also known as the Sleeping Giant, due to its profile resembling a person reclining face-up. You can expect to see various birds as there is a bird refuge in the Wailua river basin region. 

Kayak Kauai offers incredible kayaking and hiking tours of this region that are a must-do if you’re in the area. 

4. NaPali Coast, Kauai, HI

One of the highlights of Kauai, the NaPali Coast is one of the most beautiful, rugged, and completely undeveloped coastlines in Hawaii. There are no roads along this coastline, so your only options are to hike or kayak. 

We do warn that kayaking the NaPali Coast is a strenuous, all-day affair that requires at least some kayaking experience and a good physical fitness condition. Waters can have a strong current, and tours of the coast are usually a 20-mile paddle route that starts from either Haena Beach Park or Polihale State Park.

We cannot recommend this scenic route enough. You will see the most incredible panorama of the NaPali Coastline cliffs that drop down into the greenest valleys you will ever see. You will stop along the way to explore sea caves and admire the many waterfalls that dot the cliffs. 

Perhaps the most magical part about kayaking in the NaPali Coast is the sea animals you will witness. These waters are home to bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, pilot whales, and, in the deeper waters, killer whales, sperm whales, and blue whales.

5. Mokulua Islands, Oahu, HI

Mokulua Islands, HI by Cristo Vlahos (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Mokulua Islands are two islands known to locals as the Twin Islands that lie off the shores of Lanikai beach on the island of Oahu. They are small, uninhabited islands with pristine, virgin white sandy beaches that back up to impressive cliffs. There is a wealth of seabird species since the Mokulua Islands are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.

You can rent kayaks in Kailua Beach or on Lanikai beach and paddle for about an hour to reach the Twin Islands. This is another intermediate to advanced kayak trip because the water currents are strong and require some experience to maneuver. You will have to stay in your kayak the whole time and admire the beaches, cliffs, and tidal pools from the water because no one is allowed to step foot on either island. 

6. Kealakekua Bay, Big Island, HI

Located on the Big Island, also known as Hawaii, Kealakekua Bay has great cultural and historical significance for Hawaiians. British Captain James Cook discovered Hawaii in 1779, landing in Kealakekua Bay.

His memory is honored with a large monument known as the Captain Cook Monument in the form of an impressive white tower that you can kayak to in under an hour.

In addition to the historic monument, Kealakekua Bay is a perfect snorkeling spot rich in marine life, and if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll witness dolphins jumping and playing alongside your kayak. 

7. Kahana River, Oahu, HI

If you’re on the island of Oahu, the Kahana River rainforest kayak tour should be high on your list of priorities. The Kahana River traverses a lush tropical rainforest nestled within the mountains of Oahu, replete with numerous waterfalls that you can stop and swim in. 

Oahu Kayak Tours offers rentals and a self-guided tour of this calm, lazy river perfect for beginners and adventure seekers alike. 

8. Makena Bay, Maui, HI

Makena Bay is on the island of Maui in Makena State Park. Makena Bay offers world-class snorkeling and is known especially as a major sea turtle haven with a special area known as Turtle town, where most of them reside. Turtle town is also home to groups of seals, which are equally entertaining and enthralling to watch from your kayak.

There are plenty of kayaking and snorkeling packages where guides will lead you on your kayak to Turtle Town and to different spots for snorkeling and dolphin sightings. 

9. Keauhou Bay, Big Island, HI

Keauhou Bay, HI by Blake Handley (CC BY 2.0)

Located on the Big Island, Keauhou Bay is the birthplace of King Kamehameha III and contains a large stone monument to commemorate him. Keauhou has long been a preferred vacationing spot for royalty and continues to be one of the most popular beaches on the island.

There are large resorts and numerous kayaking and snorkeling tour companies in the area offering tours of the crystal clear, tranquil waters of the bay filled with marine life such as dolphins, turtles, and a wide variety of colorful tropical fish. There are also night-tours on kayaks where you can also snorkel to catch a glimpse of impressive manta rays that come out to feed at night.

Day-tours will take you along the coast to explore the many sea caves and lava tubes, which are a system of underground passageways formed by past lava flows that end in a sea cave. You will also have the chance to cliff-jump from the surrounding rock faces. 

10. Huleia River, Kuai, HI

Another iconic river located on the wild island of Kuai is the Huleia River. This river appeared in the Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones: The Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it may be less known than the Wailua River, it is likewise surrounded by waterfalls and fishponds.

It is an excellent river for beginner kayakers who want a leisurely and relaxing float down the river. 

Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Kayak in

No matter where you are in the Hawaiian Archipelago, you will find the purest, most breathtaking experiences of unfettered nature. We hope you get to experience views of mountainous jungles, sea cliffs, and marine life from your kayak. Any place on our list is the perfect option to enjoy paradise on the water.