Camping on Kauai

Updated: I have made some changes and additions in the last paragraphs.

Ever since I suggested that people send me questions, I’ve been getting some great topics for new blog posts. Ariane writes:

loved your blog – very helpful and interesting, better than any book info i’ve seen so far

Thanks for the encouraging words. I’ve often thought I should write a book about Kauai, but writing the blog is all I have time to do for now (and barely at that). Posting reviews and critiques of existing guidebooks is something I want to do but haven’t gotten around to either.

any advice on a great camp site that is not too crowded or buggy, near the beach or water would be ideal with some toilet facilities – for our base camp or do you suggest just trying one or two nites in different places?? to get the permits, you have to tell them where you want to camp each exact day…

My wife and I camped every night on my first (her third) trip to Kauai, and we loved it. We had a rental car and moved around every day or two, in order to see the whole island. We backpacked to Kalalau, and except for some shopping and restaurants, we spent the entire 10 days outdoors.

I would at least suggest you split your time between the north and south shores. All campgrounds except Kokee are at beach parks, and you can usually pitch your tent on the grass right next to the sand (camping on the beach is illegal and unsafe). All have toilets, some better than others, but all are useable. I think they all have cold showers (even Kokee!), some with privacy, some not. Bugs tend not to be a problem because it’s often breezy, but they are around so bring repellent if you’re sensitive.


Anini Beach seen from your tent

Our favorite campgrounds are Anini in the north (though Haena is better for staging a Kalalau hike) and Salt Pond in the south (Polihale is more beautiful, but more out of the way). And of course, as hikers you should probably consider Kokee if you don’t mind the “cold” (down into the 30’s or 40’s possible at night this time of year). There isn’t much camping on the east side, both Lydgate and Hanamaulu beach parks tend to be overrun with homeless, so hike the Sleeping Giant or kayak the Wailua river (both recommended) on your way north or south. Actually, Anahola beach park is OK and not too far away.

Campsite in the forest at Kokee, others are in the middle of ginger

View along Anahola Beach, near the camping area

The only other suggestion I have is to double book the state campgrounds (Polihale and Kokee) with county campgrounds as backups. The permits aren’t that expensive, and that way you have the flexibility to change depending on your mood or the weather. Kokee is fairly miserable if it’s stormy, and Polihale is a long drive you don’t want to do in the dark. I realize that double booking is not very respectful of other users, but since campgrounds only fill up on holiday weekends, I don’t imagine you will be keeping someone else out (Kokee does fill up, but it should be your primary choice). We also double booked county parks both north and south, but I don’t know if they’ll let you do that anymore.

I should do a bit of research and ask the county park division about the number of permits they issue for each campground and what they think about double booking. Also, when you’re finally on-island, you can always go to the parks office and change your reservations. I would prefer a self-registration at each campground instead of the advance reservation system, it would make weekend camping more spontaneous. But it does avoid having designated tent sites (most campgrounds are just open fields) and it allows the state to limit the number of consecutive nights, a limit which is intended to make it illegal for homeless and vagrants to stay in campgrounds.

About vagrants in the parks: the booming real-estate on Kauai makes housing very expensive, and several hundred people have nowhere to live except near facilities at beach parks. There are also people who choose to live out of their vehicles, moving around from beach to beach. Most of these people keep to themselves, but they are friendly and you might not even guess their situation. Parks of all sorts also attract late-night drug deals, which by their nature you’re unlikely to witness.

However, like anywhere, you should stay away from drug users and drinkers who sometimes hang out at park pavillions after dark. Avoid going near and being seen by noisy gatherings, never confront or provoke rowdy people, and play down or dissipate any words or actions directed at you. Some people on Kauai do resent tourists, and drinking or smoking ice (crystal methamphetamine) can make them violent. If you are being followed, do not go back to your tent for a while. If you feel threatened in any way, call 911—cell phones usually have reception and I think all parks have a pay phone.

In several years of camping out, we have been had only one confrontation where a drunk yelled something at my wife going to the restroom in the middle of the night in Haena. It scared her and almost ruined her stay, but we were never in any danger. We also once saw a burnt-down tent at Polihale and heard that a camper did something to anger a group of local young men. I read about such instances about once a year in the newspaper, most recently this inconclusive story back in October 2006. While such actions are not excusable, they can almost always be explained by some provocation by the victims, often “homeless” or drug users themselves—in other words, not typical campers.

Your neighbor at Anini Beach Park, probably a vacation rental, probably more than $5 per night

Anini Beach park tends to have the least incidents because it is surrounded by multi-million dollar houses and vacation rentals. I think this leads to more police patrols, and I’ve heard that residents will report suspicious vehicles. Though it’s a fine line between protecting the public and harassing ordinary people, as demonstrated by this week’s news story. I’ve also heard about noisy drunks threatening someone at Anini, but I don’t know the whole story. In conclusion, don’t let your camping trip be dictated or ruined by fear, but exercise normal precautions and avoid any situations.

Update: here is a link to a 2002 travel journal that corroborates much of what I say about vagrants (start reading at 17.03.2002; there is a photo link but they do not display).

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  1. MM says:

    Very Helpful, Thank You!

  2. mauibeachbum says:

    I enjoyed reading your article on camping in Kauai. I will be spending six weeks in Kauai and Maui this summer, about two camping out. I plan to stay at Anini and Hanalei Beach parks. I have been to Maui and Kauai many times, camping only in Maui at Papalaua Beach Park. Although nobody ever threatened me, the homeless at Papalaua made me feel uneasy, sometimes I elected to sleep in the car. Last December, on my first nite camping, three MPD patrol cars showed up and escorted a ‘druggie’ off the beach. I sort of became scared especially since I was alone. Maybe I just put too much thinking into it.
    I still had a GREAT time and camping allowed me to extend my stay in Maui to a whole month. I am really looking forward to this June!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jessica says:

    Very helpful!!! And reassuring. I am backpacking kuaui by myself soon and I’ve been reading all these blogs that are making me nervous. How dangerous the kalalau trail is (which I have planned) and how sketchy every campsite is with an over flow of “permanent” residents. Your blog made me feel much better about going, even though it will still be an experience and I’m still nervous. It’s so beautiful I can not pass up this opportunity! I hope everything goes well. If you have any more tips about the campsites around the island via insight of the local residents please let me know!!!

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