Nine Kauai Snorkel Spots
Kauai has some of the best snorkeling conditions in the world. If you’re visiting, you should absolutely take some time on your vacation to get to know the colorful tropical fish and sea life such as the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa (the state fish of Hawaii), angelfish, and sea turtles. Here, we'll share some of the best Kauai snorkel spots based on region so you can start planning your underwater adventure.
Keep in mind that during the winter, swells increase which can make conditions at several of these spots too rough to snorkel. If you’re looking for great places to snorkel year-round, stay tuned until the end, where we’ll also answer other questions like where to rent equipment.
North Shore Snorkel Spots
Check out Hideaways Beach | Diiaannx, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
There is no shortage of places to snorkel anywhere on Kauai, but the north shore is particularly saturated with amazing locations. Any of the beaches will have tropical fish to view, but some locations are better than others. If you’re looking for a guide around northern Kauai, be sure to check out our North Shore Driving Tour!
1. Anini Beach
The advantages of snorkel spots that are protected by reefs are two-fold. Of course, you’ll find outstanding marine life anywhere there’s a healthy reef, but reefs also protect an area from more extreme swells, creating calmer, more swimmable waters. The largest reef in Kauai’s surrounding waters is found off the coast of Anini Beach, conveniently located just west of Princeville.
2. Hideaway Beach
There is also an excellent reef at Hideaway Beach, but it does not provide as much protection from large waves of wintertime. The beach becomes a surf spot during the winter, so it’s best to look elsewhere to avoid collisions with surfers when the winter swells begin. Parking for this beach is limited, so arrive early if you’ll be driving. The hike down to this beach is only about .5 miles but is still rated as difficult for the steep, slippery slopes you’ll be traversing.
3. Tunnels Beach
Further west, almost to the Na Pali Coast, the underwater lava tubes of Tunnels Beach provide protection to a large variety of sea life. This area can be a bit choppy, especially during the winter, so we recommend it for experienced snorkelers only.
Na Pali Coast Snorkel Spots
Casey Allen / Unsplash
In general, you’ll need to book a boat tour to access the off-shore snorkeling destinations around the Na Pali Coast. Where exactly your tour stops at along the coast will depend on the conditions and swells. There is, however, one excellent snorkeling beach less than a mile into the Kalalau Trail. If you’d like to explore the Na Pali Coast by land, definitely check out our Kalalau Trail Travel Guide or partake in our Waimea and Na Pali Driving Tour for a glimpse of the coast.
4. Ke’e Beach
All the way to the west of Kauai’s north shore, just before rounding the corner to the Na Pali Coast, you’ll find Ke’e Beach. This area has awesome snorkeling and generally good swimming conditions during the summer. The area does have some strong currents, however, so consider another location during the winter.
South Shore Snorkel Spots
Turtle resting at Poipu Beach | Photo by Benjamin Bindewald
The areas surrounding the towns of Poipu, Hanapepe, and Kekaha also have wonderful snorkeling beaches. The south shore of Kauai is also better protected from the winter swells than more northern locations, so consider these areas for snorkeling when others are unswimmable. For a complete guide to Kauai’s southern shore, check out Shaka Guide’s Poipu and Koloa Driving Tour.
5. Poipu Beach Park
Poipu Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the entire island of Kauai. You’ll find calm, swimmable waters throughout the year, here. When looking to snorkel stick to the west of the long sand strip that juts into the ocean, where marine life is more abundant. Poipu Beach Park is a stop on our Poipu and Koloa Driving Tour.
6. Prince Kuhio Beach
Prince Kuhio Beach doesn’t have as many tropical fish as other spots on this list, however, it is one of the best locations on Kauai to see Hawaiian green sea turtles. These truly surreal animals are something you’ll never forget, and their colors show up much more brightly if you’re able to swim with them underwater rather than catch them lounging on the shore. If you see one, marvel from afar — these animals are protected in Hawaii and getting too close can result in a fine.
7. Salt Pond Park
Salt Pond Park is a smaller beach to the west of south shore. It is protected from waves and currents on both sides by rocks and reefs. There’s plenty of fish to see here, and the waters are generally quite calm.
East Coast Snorkel Spots
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
You have a couple of great options for snorkeling along the east shore of Kauai. Much like the north shore, the waters along Kauai’s eastern coast can become unswimmable during the winter, however, when conditions are good they are really good. For more guidance on the east side of Kauai you can take our Wailua Valley and Waterfalls Tour.
8. Lydgate State Park
This beach is protected by a man-made rock wall and conservation area, which create calm waters for swimming and an abundance of sea life. This is a great area to bring children as there is little-to-no current or riptides that might otherwise prose dangers to beginner snorkelers and little ones. Lydgate Beach Park is a stop on our Wailua Valley and Waterfalls Tour!
9. Larsen’s Beach
There are several deep channels that run through the reefs at Larsen’s Beach which contain lots of marine life. However, this location is right on the island’s north-east corner, which is often pounded by waves and strong currents during the winter months.
Best Kauai beginner Snorkel Spots
Maja Novak / Unsplash
We highly recommend Anini beach for beginners. Due to the reef, sea life here is extremely abundant and varied, and the conditions are excellent for swimming. If you’re looking for a great place to take the kids, Salt Pond Park has a fully protected area that contains tropical fish and easily swimmable waters. On the east coast, Lydagage State Park is protected by a rock wall, which breaks waves before they come into the snorkeling area.
Where do you want to snorkel in Kauai? | Jakob Owens, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Snorkeling: Do it on our own or with a tour?
If you aren’t sure where you’d want to go, or if you prefer to have things taken care of for you, snorkeling tours are a great way to go. Snorkeling tours along the Na Pali Coast are particularly surreal. You wouldn’t be able to get to these Na Pali locations without a boat of your own, so we highly recommend tours if you’d like to go snorkeling here.
However, if flexibility is more important to you, and you don’t want to feel rushed, you may want to go snorkeling on your own. Keep in mind that going at it alone also means you’ll need to acquire snorkel equipment, which you can read about below.
Where can I rent snorkeling equipment?
Any of the snorkeling destinations within major towns will have several locations from which to rent equipment. In Princeville, check out Pedal & Paddle, Hanalei Surf, or Hanalei Surfboard Rentals. In Lihue, you can acquire equipment from Kauai Bound Snorkel and Golf Gear Rental, or Snorkel Bob’s a bit further north. For the south shore, Poipu has great rental outlets such as two Boss Frog’s locations, Kimo’s, and Nukumoi Surf Shop.
Snorkeling in the Winter? Where are the best Kauai snorkeling spots for December through February?
Snorkeling during the winter requires a bit more attention than other months due to larger waves and stronger currents. Kauai’s winter occurs from November to March, but from December to February snorkeling and swimming becomes downright dangerous at many locations. If you’re visiting during this time, however, there are still a few excellent places to try.
Anini beach is protected by the largest reef on the island, which mitigates some of the more extreme conditions. You’ll still want to be careful, but you should be able to find some time to snorkel here during the winter months.
Queens Bath in Princeville can also be a great winter destination. This tidepool was created by a sinkhole in the surrounding lava rock, so it is mostly protected from the shifting conditions of the ocean. Occasionally, however, this location becomes dangerous as the waves can sometimes carry over the cliff creating a current that has pulled several people into the ocean. Do not attempt to visit this location when the gate and trail are closed.
The south shore is better protected from winter swells, so Poipu Beach is an excellent option for snorkeling during the winter. Similarly, Salt Pond Park on the south shore is further is protected by rocks and reefs on both sides.
Snorkeling with a hike and waterfall?
Queens Bath is also an outstanding destination for two other reasons. The hike there is beautiful and there is a small but lovely waterfall at the tidepool. You can start your hike to queens bath at the end of Kapiolani Loop. The sea life at this location is mostly small such as angelfish, ghost fish, and sea urchins.
Tips for Snorkeling in Kauai
- Wear reef safe sunscreen: Hawaii's ocean and coral reef are precious resources. Please help protect these for generations to come by wearing reef safe sunscreen on your visit!
- Be mindful of protected animals: We're sure you want to swim the sea turtles but please respect Hawaii's marine life. Animals like sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals are protected and getting too close will result in a fine.
- Use caution: We've said it before in this post, but depending on the season ocean swimming can be dangerous. Please use caution and your best judgement and don't snorkel in conditions that are unsafe.
When you're in Hawaii remember that the beaches and marine life are fragile. Please show your aloha by wearing reef safe sunscreen, respecting the animals - don't get too close or touch them EVER - and by leaving the beach better than you found it. For more on how to be a safe and responsible traveler when you visit Hawaii, click here.