Vacationing in Kauai and haven’t snorkeled yet? Just like Oahu and Maui, you’ll find amazing Kauai snorkeling beaches and tours, usually much less crowded than what you’ll find in those Hawaiian islands.
Snorkeling is an inexpensive, must-do activity when visiting Kauai, one of the best cheap things to do in Kauai!
With just a mask and a snorkel (mouthpiece for breathing), you can spend hours exploring the stunning coral reefs all around Kauai, and the hundreds of species of colorful tropical fish that inhabit the corals.
Experienced snorkeler? If you can expand your boundaries to the outer reefs, you can expect to see manta rays, moray eels, Hawaiian green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, octopuses, and even migrating humpback whales in winter can be spotted in these waters.
You will never tire of the amazing world in the coral reefs beneath the ocean waters!
Hey, by the way! Visiting Kauai? The only way to get a real feel for the rugged beauty of this incredible island is through a helicopter tour! Check out the five highest rated Kauai Helicopter tours for 2023!
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Best Kauai Snorkeling
What are the best Kauai snorkeling beaches for beginners and families with kids?
Lydgate Beach Park and Poipu Beach are two of the best Kauai snorkeling beaches for beginners and families with kids, with all the basic amenities and shallow, clear and calm waters for snorkeling.
Ke’e Beach and Anini beach are also great options, but limited to summers when the waters are more amenable to snorkeling. Ke’e Beach needs advance reservations and planning.
What are the best Kauai snorkeling beaches for seeing tropical fish?
While all the Kauai snorkeling beaches mentioned here offer hundreds of varieties of tropical fish to admire, Tunnels Beach and the outer reefs of Anini Beach and Poipu Beach provide a richer marine life viewing experience with opportunities to spot eels, rays, dolphins and octopuses.
Which Kauai snorkeling beaches are less crowded?
Hideaways Beach (summer only) and Salt Pond Beach Park (all year round) are two of the best secluded, less crowded, Kauai snorkeling beaches.
Hideaways Beach is more for the experienced snorkeler and requires a challenging hike down to the remote beach.
Salt Pond Beach Park is fine for all levels of snorkelers and families, and is off the beaten track. Weekdays are best, since this beach is popular with locals who frequent it on weekends.
What will I see while snorkeling in Kauai?
Kauai’s underwater marine life is simply amazing, ranging from varieties of corals, invertebrates and colorful tropical fish to larger marine life like reef sharks, dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopuses, eels and rays.
Common beautiful tropical fish you will see include colorful tangs, triggerfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, goatfish, wrasse, surgeonfish, and more.
Rare or endemic fish species include bandit angelfish, Hawaiian hogfish, and Achilles tang.
In winter, you may even spot migrating humpback whales in most of these locations. Spinner dolphins breaching the surface are also fairly common.
Check out our detailed Hawaii fish snorkeling guide to be able to spot and recognize these wonderful kinds of fish!
Map of the Best Kauai Snorkeling Locations
The below map shows the locations of the best snorkeling spots on Kauai.
Best Kauai Snorkeling Tours for the Na Pali Coast
Want an unforgettable Kauai adventure? And short on time?
Combine two of the best things to do in Kauai: snorkel Kauai’s coral reefs while taking in amazing views of the stunning Na Pali coast!
Kauai’s rugged Na Pali coast with secluded beaches, emerald-green lush valleys and steep cliffs is accessible only by boat (except for an epic hike along the famed Kalalau Trail), and you have a bunch of tour options.
For a thrilling, adventurous alternative, consider zodiac raft tours that can take you to hidden sea caves, coastal waterfalls and remote beaches. You need be physically fit and ready for a rough, exciting ride.
On our first trip to Kauai, we took this raft adventure tour, Na Pali 1/2 Day Snorkel, and had a great experience. The raft was nimble and maneuverable, zigzagging along the stunning coast to sea caves and waterfalls.
We stopped to snorkel at Nu’alolo Kai, with coral reefs to die for!
If you’re seeking a luxury option, then you can’t go wrong with a deluxe catamaran or sailboat tour, and they typically offer free drinks and meals.
We opted for this Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail tour when we had a friend along with a queasy stomach, who definitely didn’t want to risk the motorized raft.
The sailboat turned out to be an excellent choice, with a friendly knowledgeable crew, sumptuous breakfast and lunch, and wine and beer after snorkeling.
Na Pali snorkeling was an experience of a lifetime!
Best Kauai Snorkeling Beaches on the North Shore
1. Ke’e Beach (Haena State Park)
Ke’e Beach is one of my favorite Kauai snorkeling beaches in summer, and definitely the prettiest beach!
Located in the Haena State Park, snorkeling at Ke’e Beach can easily be combined with other activities like hiking part of the Kalalau Trail along the stunning Na Pali coast line and visiting the restored taro fields, making it a full day family outing!
Ke’e Beach also has an extensive coral reef, and the water is clear and warm in summer, making for ideal snorkeling conditions. The water is shallow and under water visibility is good.
Ke’e Beach is excellent for families with kids, with restrooms, showers and lifeguards.
Beginning snorkeler? You can start snorkeling in the lagoon protected by the reef.
Stronger swimmers and experienced snorkelers can head to the right side of the beach, with rocks jutting out from the shore – you can expect to see a lot more fish, coral and even a Hawaiian green sea turtle or two!
Winter is another story though, I wouldn’t recommend swimming or snorkeling at Ke’e Beach due to the typical high surf conditions.
Can you stay till late evening? You don’t want to miss the sunset on Ke’e Beach, typically one of the most colorful ones you’ll see on Kauai!
Since Ke’e Beach is in Haena State Park, home to the very popular Kalalau Trail, you will need to carefully plan your snorkeling trip, and make advance reservations.
Consult our detailed guide to visiting Haena State Park for planning.
Location: Haena State Park, North Shore of Kauai
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers
Food Nearby: No shops or restaurants close by
Parking: Ke’e Beach Parking Lot, reservations needed, shuttle recommended
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
2. Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach)
Tunnels Beach (Makua Beach) is a hidden gem, one of the best snorkeling locations in Kauai.
While you’ll see colorful tropical fish in every location mentioned here, Tunnels Beach has a unique coral reef with lava tubes, tunnels, underwater caves and other formations, making it an exciting spot to explore.
Snorkelers of different abilities can snorkel here, though beginners should restrict themselves to the safer inner reef.
I like Tunnels Beach because it has many different zones and habitats, from shallow lagoons to deep drop-offs.
If you’re a stronger swimmer, head to the left side of the beach where there are some rocks marking the entrance to the reef. You’ll find all kinds of tropical fish here, including jacks, arc-eye hawkfish, and Hawaiian monk seals.
This beach is in a residential neighborhood, and has no facilities. Parking is also limited.
I recommend you park at the adjacent Haena Beach Park (not to be confused with Haena State Park), enjoy the amenities there, and then walk roughly half a mile northeast to Tunnels Beach.
Tunnels Beach is also a summer snorkeling destination like Ke’e Beach above, winter snorkeling is risky with dangerous surf conditions, rough waves, and strong currents.
Location: North Shore of Kauai, 5 miles west of Hanalei
Beach Amenities: None
Food Nearby: Head to Hanalei for food options
Parking: Small lot, best option may be Haena Beach Park
Directions: Look for “Tunnels” signs around mile marker 8, access road off Kuhio Highway
3. Anini Beach
Anini Beach is renowned for the longest, widest coral reef along the Kauai coastline. And with that comes almost unlimited snorkeling spots!
The fringing reef provides a natural barrier from waves and currents. You can expect a safe, protected area for snorkeling in calm and clear waters, though the depth varies from shallow (near the beach) to deep (further from the beach).
You have a whole bunch of facilities: restrooms, showers, picnic tables, pavilions, shady trees, and even campsites (you need permits for overnight camping).
But no lifeguards, so keep an eye on the kids!
Beginners and kids should stay within the inner reef, where you can see a variety of tropical fish and the occasional sea turtle.
Need a richer experience? If you are a strong swimmer and experienced snorkeler, you can venture to the outer reef where you may even see rays, eels, octopuses and reef sharks (the smaller kind!).
But watch out for channels where the currents may be strong and unpredictable.
As with the other North Shore beaches, snorkeling in winter is dangerous here.
Location: North Shore of Kauai, near Hanalei
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, pavilions, shade trees
Food Nearby: Head to Princeville or Kilauea for food options
Parking: Road parking
Directions: Anini Beach, Anini Road, Kilauea
4. Hideaways Beach (Pali Ke Kua Beach)
Hideaways Beach is precisely that, a beach tucked away and quite difficult to get to, one of the best Kauai snorkeling beaches for those seeking to get away from crowds.
Hideaways Beach is more for the thrill seeker, the adventure tourist. You have to hike a steep trail (sometimes with the help of ropes), down the cliffs to the beach.
This is definitely a hard hike, especially when the trail is wet and slippery.
But the payoff is sweet for those who hike down: an almost picture-perfect, powdery golden sand beach, protected by a large reef, making the ocean waters great for snorkeling and swimming!
Snorkeling at Hideaways Beach is primarily for the experienced snorkeler and good swimmer. The water along the reef is a bit deep and rough.
Hideaways Beach has no facilities or lifeguards, and limited parking on Ka Haku Road near the trailhead.
I would strongly recommend against swimming or snorkeling on Hideaways Beach in winter (as with other Kauai North Shore beaches), when you typically have high surf conditions.
Location: North Shore of Kauai, Princeville
Beach Amenities: None
Food Nearby: Princeville has great food options
Parking: At the trailhead, small parking lot or 1 Hotel paid parking
Directions: Ka Haku Road to Hideaways Beach Parking or 1 Hotel
>> Book these 5 star rated, highly popular, Kauai Tours now!
Best Kauai Snorkeling Beaches on the East Coast
5. Lydgate Beach Park
Visiting Kauai in winter and looking to snorkel? You probably know by now that Kauai North Shore beaches are to be avoided, due to the rough waves and high surf conditions.
Luckily, Lydgate Beach Park is one of the few year-round snorkeling destinations along the East Coast of Kauai, and one of the best family-friendly Kauai snorkeling beach spots!
Our kids loved the small pool that was behind a man-made rock wall, probably one of the safest swimming and snorkeling locations on Kauai!
Depths can vary from 3 feet to 8 feet depending on the tides, so we used flotation devices for our younger kids. There are handy ladders on the rock wall to enter the water.
I was pleasantly surprised at how many different species of tropical fish had sneaked in through the barriers, when I went in snorkeling with the kids in the smaller pool.
While the marine life and tropical fish is not as extensive as in some of the other locations, you can still expect to see hundreds of fish species here, including schools of yellow and black tang.
Best of all, there were several reasonably priced food trucks near the entrance to the park, serving delicious Hawaiian, Thai, Indian and other cuisines!
Location: East Shore of Kauai, 6 miles south of Kapa’a (next to Wailua River)
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, huge playground, bike path
Food Nearby: Food trucks serving ethnic food, Coconut Marketplace nearby and many other options in Kapa’a
Parking: Beach parking along Nalu Road
Directions: Nalu Road off Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a
Best Kauai Snorkeling Beaches on the South Shore
6. Poipu Beach
Visiting Poipu Beach, one of the more popular Kauai beaches, is one of the best things to do in Kauai!
Two beautiful crescent-shaped bays, with a shallow sandbar separating them, along with golden, finely powdered sand, and calm, clear and warm waters year-round make Poipu Beach one of the best beaches on Kauai!
You have a lifeguard, restrooms and showers, excellent beach facilities for families with kids. We used to take our kids to Poipu Beach all the time when we stayed in the nearby resort area, and they loved snorkeling here!
The bays are protected by a barrier reef, providing a safe snorkeling and swimming environment.
You can see hundreds of different kinds of colorful, tropical fish here, big and small!
We even saw a Hawaiian monk seal lazing in the sand, soaking in the sun! Keep your distance, though, they are endangered and protected.
The smaller bay is closer to the parking lot and playground, and being shallow, more suitable for kids and beginners.
The bigger bay is better for experienced snorkelers, and can be close to 12 feet deep in some areas (depending on the tide), with bigger fish and the occasional green sea turtle.
Food trucks serving poke bowls, tacos, burgers and curry are available nearby.
Location: South Shore of Kauai, Koloa
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, playground
Food Nearby: Food trucks at the entrance
Parking: Poipu Beach Park parking lot
Directions: Poipu Beach Park, Koloa
>> Book these 5-star rated, highly popular, Kauai tours now!
7. Salt Pond Beach Park
Salt Pond Beach Park, well away from nearby towns, is a remote, secluded beach along the southwestern shore of Kauai. Watching the sunset here is one of the best things to do near Poipu!
Salt Pond Beach is one of my favorite Kauai snorkeling beaches, and I frequent this beach when I just want to relax and have a quiet day with the family.
One of the primary attractions here are the salt ponds, built by the natives to make salt for cooking and medicine.
But Salt Pond Beach is an excellent snorkeling location as well, with a beautiful sandy beach and crescent-shaped bays protected by an underwater fringing reef.
Salt Pond Beach is broken into three main pools: a big one in the middle, deeper and meant for good swimmers, a right one called the baby or keiki pond for smaller kids, and a left one, popular for snorkeling.
Salt Pond Beach is a very popular haunt with the locals, and you can expect to see a large variety of tropical fish in its three pools.
In winter, you can often see pods of migrating humpback whales from Salt Pond Beach!
Location: Kauai’s Southwestern Shore, near Eleele, on the way to Waimea Canyon State Park
Beach Amenities: Restrooms, showers, picnic tables, shaded huts
Food Nearby: Food trucks or head to Hanapepe, nearest town, for food options
Parking: Beach parking lot
Directions: Salt Pond Road, Eleele (take Lele Road off Highway 50)
Important Tips for Snorkeling in Kauai
You will need to rent snorkeling equipment from one of the bigger towns, most beaches won’t have rental stores nearby.
You will need a mask that fits well, a snorkel with a mouthpiece, and, optionally, feet fins, flotation devices and a wetsuit (or a rash guard).
You should restrict snorkeling on Kauai’s North Shore to summer, since during winter, the waves are rough, and you have high surf conditions. Check beach conditions here.
Best time of day to snorkel is usually mornings, when the water is calm and clear, and underwater visibility is high. Beaches tend to be less crowded in the morning as well!
Pick a location appropriate for your snorkeling ability. If you are a beginner, prefer beaches with lifeguards where you can ask them for the best spots to snorkel.
If you are planning a snorkeling boat tour, make reservations early, since Kauai is a popular destination!
Wear reefs-safe sunscreen, and use a rash guard or wetsuit to protect your skin from sunburn.
Don’t forget towels and a change of dry clothes!
Take a waterproof camera to capture some of the amazing marine life you will see underwater.
Make sure you have lots of water and snacks, many of the beaches have no food store or restaurants close by.
Finally, make sure you are respectful of the reef and marine life! Don’t step on or break corals. Don’t touch, feed or harass the marine life.
Some of the species you may encounter like the Hawaiian green sea turtle and the Hawaiian monk seal are endangered and protected by laws requiring you to maintain a respectable distance!
The Best Kauai Tours
Have you booked these top Kauai guided adventures yet?
Sunset catamaran tour of the Na Pali Coast (relatively more stable ride, insane views on good weather days!)
Doors-off helicopter tour of Kauai (unobstructed views, chance to see more of the island than you can by land, no middle seats!)
Kayak on the Wailua River plus hike to a waterfall (a super fun activity for active travelers, albeit a little muddy sometimes!)
Raft trip to the Na Pali Coast plus snorkeling (prepare to get wet on this exhilarating adventure!)
Eurocopter ECO-Star helicopter tour over Kauai (the most booked Kauai helicopter tour on Viator with close to 2K reviews and a 5-star rating!)
Renting a Car in Kauai
The best things to do in Kauai are scattered all over the island.
Public transport options on Kauai aren’t great, so if you want to explore the island beyond your base, you’ll want to book a rental car for your Kauai trip.
We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Lihue Airport-Hotel Shuttle
Not planning to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport? Pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back!
This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Where to Stay in Kauai
Depending on whether you want a vacation rental with more room and the option to cook some of your meals, or you want a resort or hotel experience, and depending on which part of Kauai you want to choose as your base, you have a variety of options.
Since you’ll likely want to base in a couple places on your trip to Kauai, we suggest starting your search for Kauai accommodations by browsing vacation rentals on VRBO.
We have stayed in VRBO rentals in both Poipu and Princeville and find that the choice and quality are generally great.
Want detailed recommendations for accommodations in Kauai? Check out our comprehensive guide to the best places to stay in Kauai!
More Kauai Travel Inspiration
Considering a trip to the Garden Isle in Hawaii? You’ll definitely want to check out some of our other comprehensive Kauai travel and attraction guides!
If you are a first-time visitor to Kauai, start by discovering the best things to do in Kauai! From beaches and botanical gardens to cliffs, canyons, and waterfalls, Kauai has it all, and our round-up lists all of Kauai’s must-experience activities and attractions.
Read our in-depth guide to visiting the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. We give you the full scoop on the best ways to visit this stunning coast in the remote northwest of the island.
Discover our round-up of the nine spectacular state parks in Kauai, which house some of Kauai’s most treasured natural wonders.
Check out our round-up of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai, from waterfalls you can view from the road to falls that require hiking and falls that are best seen from a helicopter or sightseeing flight.
Read our guide to Wailua River State Park to discover two easy-to-access Kauai waterfalls, and our trail guide for the easy hike to Ho’opi’i Falls. We also have an article on the best Kauai waterfall hikes.
And if a helicopter tour is part of your plans for Kauai, read our article on the top-rated helicopter tours in Kauai!
We also have a trail guide for the Mahaulepu Heritage Trail on Kauai’s scenic south shore, an article on how to hike the Sleeping Giant Trail, and a guide to the Kuilau Ridge Trail, one of the easy hikes on Kauai.
Get the scoop on the best botanical gardens in Kauai, from Limahuli Garden on the north shore to McBryde and Allerton Gardens on the south shore.
Learn about the best things to do in Hanalei, the charming town that sits in the middle of Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Read our guide to the best swimming beaches on Kauai, from Hanalei Bay on the north shore to Poipu Beach on the south shore! We also have a guide to the best snorkeling beaches on Kauai, and a round-up of the best Kauai north shore beaches.
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