7 Best Kauai Snorkeling Spots

7 Best Kauai Snorkel Spots
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#1 Ke’e Beach

Ke'e Beach Kauai
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*Public Restrooms *Outdoor Showers *Picnic Tables *Kid Friendly Beach *Lifeguard

Ke’e Beach, at the tippy top of Kauai’s north shore, is definitely well worth the (beautiful) drive. Traveling by car, this Kauai snorkeling spot is the closest you can get to the world-renowned Na Pali Coast. (If you want a better look, you'll need to hike up to the cliffs or take a boat tour.) During the summer months, the water at Ke’e Beach is usually calm, snorkeling perfection. The rest of the year, strong ocean currents can present real hazards for anyone in the water. Whenever you’re on island, Ke’e Beach itself is always magnificent. There is a forest growing just beyond from the sand, where leaf-littered pathways wind through the trees. For a more challenging hike with unparalleled views, climb Kalalau Trail! The trailhead is found to the left of the parking area, just before you hit the sand. We recommend an early arrival if you aim to find easy parking.

A variety of fish have made this area their home. You’ll see unicornfish, goatfish, needlefish, and many kinds of wrasses. There are also coronetfish, sea cucumbers, several species of butterflyfish, and babies of many different fish species. There is always a chance to swim with a sea turtle here. Head out to the very middle of this Kauai snorkeling site for the most vibrant fish and coral in the area. 

To enter the water, avoid the left hand side, just go straight out from the sand into the shallows. The snorkeling area is bordered by large lava boulders toward Na Pali on the left, and sand on down the coast. Off shore and beneath the surface, tall stony plateaus protect the beach from waves. Along with that rocky habitat, there is sand topped with boulders topped with coral. Most of the marine life is located in the center of this swimming area. Do not swim along or around the rocks to the left as the current can be very dangerous there. When visiting Ke’e Beach, it is always smart to check in with the lifeguards before entering the ocean. Enjoy!

Ke'e Beach Snorkel Rentals

#2 Haena Beach Park & Tunnels

Haena and Tunnels Beach Kauai
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*Kid Friendly *Outdoor Showers *Public Restrooms *Picnic Tables *Kid Friendly In Summer

Haena Beach Park could easily have been dreamed up from the tropical eden of your imagination. Mountains covered in dark green foliage stand watch over a stream as it empties into the sea below. Curves of white sand wind gracefully down the coast. Waves crash onto the shore, while white-tailed tropicbirds dive, swoop, and call overhead.

It is easy to spend an entire day exploring Haena. Look around the Maniniholo dry cave carved into the mountains, just opposite the lifeguard tower. (Be sure to bring flashlights if this is in your plan.) If you go up the road a mile to visit the blue Waikanaloa wet cave, know that it is not a place to swim. The fresh water there is full of the leptosporosis bacteria, which can really ruin your vacation.

Luckily, just a mile south the parking area is one of the best Kauai snorkeling and swimming spots – Tunnels! After parking at Haena Beach Park, you can get to Tunnels by walking about a mile south along the sandy beach. Like most north shore beaches, it is almost always safe and calm here in the summertime. There can be great snorkeling days other seasons, too. 

Tunnels is a good place to view sea turtles in their natural habitat – the sea! As you flounder delightfully about, all kinds of fish will surround you. You are likely to see the beautiful parrotfish (uhu in Hawaiian), Moorish idol (kihikihi), and sergeant major (manini). There are also yellow tang, pennant butterflyfish, coronet fish, and bluefin trevally (omilu). Omilu have an absolutely gorgeous outline that flashes like neon when sunlight touches it. Keep your flippers crossed you’ll see it in real life!

Upon arrival at Tunnels, you’ll notice sand channels running through the reef. (From above, sand channels look white or turquoise, while the reef looks dark green or brown.) As with all Kauai snorkeling sites, always enter where the sand is and never step on coral. A sandy entry keeps everyone healthy – your feet will not be cut, and the corals stay alive for lack of stomping. Once you’ve got your snorkel gear situated and you’re happily afloat at Tunnels, you only have to swim about ten feet to see the good stuff! The ocean floor here is comprised of mostly coral reef and rocks. If you’re an advanced snorkeler, head out past the cove to see the outer reefs! When you exit, use a sand channel for safety.

Haena Beach Snorkel Rentals

#3 Anini Beach

Anini Beach Kauai
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*Kid Friendly *Outdoor Showers *Public Restrooms *Picnic Tables *Kid Friendly

Anini Beach is a lovely strip of sand that offers very good snorkeling on Kauai. There are convenient amenities to make your time at the beach that much more relaxing. Bring lunch, walk beneath the huge shady trees, or watch the small boats come and go at the boat ramp. This beach is kid-friendly, especially in the area to the left, away from the boats. Unlike most north shore beaches, the water here is usually calm all year long. 

Anini’s coral reef is chock full of beautiful fish and sea turtles. You will see surgeonfish, unicornfish, and Moorish idol. There are humuhumunukunukuapua’a cruising around. Eels peer from their dens or swim out from coral crevices to go hunting. You might even see a gigantic manta ray or a teeny tiny seahorse hanging in the water nearby! How cool would that be? As always, respect the wildlife and the coral reef they depend on. Do not touch anything while Kauai snorkeling, and give the turtles 30 feet of space to swim as they please. Mahalo!

When you are ready to jump in, walk down the beach to the left, and enter the water just in front of the campgrounds. It is sandy and shallow here. For the best fish viewing, swim about 60 yards out to the reef. The water gets deeper the farther you go, to a maximum of about 30 feet. Enjoy yourselves out there, and make sure to reserve some energy for the return trip. If you’re just getting used to swimming and snorkeling, you may want to stay in the shallows just off the beach. The water is beautiful there, and you will still see some fish. When you’re in shallow water and you need to take a break, you can easily touch the sandy bottom! While swimming, pay attention to the boats getting in and out at the boat ramp.

Anini Beach Snorkel Rentals

#4 Lydgate Beach Park

Lydgate Beach Park Kauai Beaches
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*Kid Friendly *Lifeguard *Outdoor Showers *Public Restrooms *Huge Playground

Lydgate Beach Park was created by a couple who wanted a safe space for children to swim in the ocean. Thanks to them, this is a very family friendly beach! This shallow Kauai snorkeling site is well protected from the open ocean. For the little ones, there is a lovely natural saltwater wading pool. Here you can relax completely, because Lydgate has everything you’ll need: lifeguards, restrooms, shaded picnic tables, trash cans, and a huge playground.

For those interested in Hawaiian history and culture, venture respectively to the edge of the Hikinaakala Heiau. This sacred temple was built to worship the sun, and the power of the place can easily be felt to this day. Be sure to heed the signs declaring “kapu,” and stay off the temple grounds. When facing the ocean, the heiau is on the far left of Lydgate Park, near the Wailua River.

This Kauai snorkeling beach is incredibly interesting, partly due to the fact that new fish are arriving all the time – carried in by the waves that wash over the walls. You are sure to enjoy watching surgeonfish, chubs, jacks, and milletseed and threadfin butterflyfish here. Snorkelers will also encounter sharpnose mullet, sergeant majors, schools of Hawaiian flagtail (aholehole) and maybe even a pufferfish! How exciting is that? We do not know if turtles make it past the walls, but stranger things have happened. Keep your flippers crossed for that, and have a great time!

Stroll anywhere down the gently sloping sand to enter the water. The waves at Lydgate tend to be gentle, and the water is very shallow at entry. This allows for ample time and space to get your snorkel gear on. This Kauai snorkeling site is nicely protected from the open ocean by a rock wall. The sandy bottom slopes up like a bowl, and there are tons of large rocks just inside the outer wall. This is where most of the fish hang out! While you explore along the wall, realize that waves can make it over and hit you. The center is all sand, except for the woody debris that collects on the bottom. It can be very hard to see anything in the center, but also thrilling if you’re willing! If you wait long enough, a school of large yellowfin surgeonfish is almost sure to swim by and check you out.

Lydgate Beach Snorkel Rentals

#5 Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach Kauai
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*Kid Friendly *Lifeguard *Public Restrooms *Outdoor Showers *Picnic Tables

One of the top Kauai snorkeling beaches, Poipu offers magnificent marine life, ample amenities, and a bit of lawn, sun, and sand! It’s also just a short walk from vehicle to beach so you can bring all the gear. Swim, snorkel, barbeque, and relax the day away. The cove here is medium sized, and home to colorful fish of all shapes and sizes. Lifeguards watch over the swimmers and snorkelers. If you walk left, there are amazing tide pools hosting all kinds of interesting marine life. Although pine and palm trees grow at Poipu, there isn’t much shade available. We suggest renting a beach umbrella (or two) along with your snorkel gear.

Sea turtles (honu) come close to shore quite often at Poipu. While you swim, make sure to give them at least 30 feet of space. You will definitely see large schools of needlefish, baby unicornfish, and all sorts of butterflyfish at this beach. Keep your eyes open for saddleback wrasse, juvenile rockmover wrasse (they look like seaweed!), and don’t forget the Hawaii state fish – say it with me now! – the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.

Enter the water on the far left, where the cove is sandy. The rest of this Kauai snorkeling area is rocky and covered in algae. For your safety and that of the fragile habitat, do not put your feet down on rocks or coral. The best snorkeling is on the right hand side of the cove, just to the right of an underwater rock line. Once you swim to that stone border, don’t try to swim or climb over it – the water is too shallow. Instead, swim toward shore to detour around the wall, and you will love what you see on the other side. Before entering the water to enjoy snorkeling at Poipu Beach, it is wise to ask the lifeguards what you ought to be aware of that day. Oh, and have a great time!

Poipu Beach Snorkel Rentals

#6 Prince Kuhio Beach

Prince Kuhio
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*Public Restrooms *Outdoor Showers

Tiny Prince Kuhio Beach (aka Lawai Beach) hosts a busy underwater reef, so the snorkeling here is fantastic. In fact, the fish are so abundant, many offshore snorkeling trips leave from “PK’s” (as the locals call it). This beach has a little sand, but it’s mostly made of lovely lava rock – not super family friendly. This is a good winter snorkeling site, because that is when the water is calm on this section of the coast. There are restrooms and outdoor showers, but no other amenities here. The bay is right next to the road, and also next to the Beach House Restaurant. While not the best beach for lounging, this IS a good place for water sports. A heads up, parking is minimal so you may need to walk a ways or get creative. 

Sea turtles swim by often at Lawai Beach, and you are sure to find the gorgeous yellowtailed coris, needlefish, and rockmover wrasse (a rarity at many other beaches). I have even seen a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse here! You’ll enjoy the graceful coronetfish, several species of butterflyfish, and the ever popular humuhumunukunukuapua’a. As with every Kauai snorkeling site, do not feed the fish, and make sure to give sea turtles plenty of space. Let them swim where they wish. Mahalo!

We make it a point to get into the ocean where it’s sandy, to spare the fragile habitat our body weight. At PK’s, however, you need to walk on rocky shelves to get in the water. You’ll find the shelves mid-bay, where it looks light yellow and sandy in the water. These shelves can be slippery, and they can also cut your feet. Wear water shoes for protection, and be ready to float as soon as you can. Once in, you’ll find a jetty to the left, rocks to the right, and coral rubble in between. There are truly awesome fish everywhere! Do not go into the cove around the left hand side, just off the restaurant as it is too shallow. Because the entry and exit are a bit difficult at Prince Kuhio Beach, this Kauai snorkeling site is rated as intermediate.

Prince Kuhio Beach Snorkel Rentals

#7 Salt Pond Beach Park

Salt Pond Beach Kauai
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*Kid Friendly *Lifeguard *Public Restrooms *Outdoor Showers *Picnic Tables & BBQ Grills

Salt Pond, named after the Hawaiian salt collecting ponds nearby, is a great Kauai snorkeling site for beginners. An offshore reef holds back big waves, resulting in a fairly calm spot for ocean exploration. Lifeguards stand watch, and beach facilities make your day at the shore a restful one. Even the parking here is relaxing – there’s plenty. Choose to hang out on the lawn, play on the sand, or spend time in the water. Hawaiian monk seals sometimes haul out here on the sand, they like the place so much. If you’re not a seal, ideal swimming conditions at Salt Pond are in winter, when south shore waves are smaller. 

The multitude of fish that swim at Salt Pond Park are truly amazing. Among them are rainbow colored wrasses, Moorish idol, baby parrotfish, baby unicornfish, baby goatfish (do you sense a trend, here?), and sea cucumbers (ok, not technically a fish but still kinda cool). You can also expect to find beautiful raccoon butterflyfish, and boring sea urchins. (No, the sea urchins are not boring, they’re quite interesting, but they do bore into rocks and reef.) Take your time hanging with the fish here, and you are sure to enjoy yourself. If you are lucky enough to see an endangered Hawaiian monk seal, what should you do? ANSWER: Give the large mammal a wide berth, and let the lifeguards know about your exciting find!

The entry for snorkeling at Salt Pond is sandy and simple. However, as you walk down the sloping sand to the water, prepare to sink more than you’d think – the sand here is very 'squishy'! Stones covered in algae line the outer edges of the two coves, but the centers of both are all sand. The fish swim among the huge rocks, where the water is more shallow. If waves are rolling into the coves, expect to be pushed along, as if you’re on a drift dive. This Kauai snorkeling area is fairly protected from the open sea, so even when you move fast, you’ll always stay near shore. Snorkeling is great fun in both coves, but most of the fish are found on the left side.

Salt Pond Beach Snorkel Rentals