Best Places To Kayak In Hawaii

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Hawaii state is an archipelago of islands in the Pacific Ocean, located 2000 miles of the west coast of mainland USA. The island group is one of the states of the United States of America, and the idyllic island setting of these islands makes them a popular holiday destination worldwide. Hawaii offers a diverse range of kayaking opportunities for people of all levels of kayaking skill levels.

Kayaking in Hawaii is a popular activity, with options ranging from river kayaking to coastal kayaking. The river kayaking has rapids from class I to class V rapids and beyond, while coastal bays and lagoons offer calm water kayaking. Kayak surfing is popular at beaches with suitable breakers.

Watersports, including kayaking, are a major tourist drawcard for the island state, with ocean kayaking featuring prominently in this sector. However, many other kayaking opportunities are available in Hawaii that increases the kayaking prospects for kayaking enthusiasts. We will introduce the basics you need to know when kayaking in and around Hawaii.

When Is The Best Season To Kayak In Hawaii?

The state of Hawaii is the only USA state situated in the tropics, which gives the islands a tropical climate, making it a popular holiday destination all year round.

Hawaii is populated by the indigenous Polynesian people, but due to its central Pacific location, it has become a cultural melting pot from Indonesian peoples to westerners and the local people.

The cultural experience, tropical climate, and ease of travel to Hawaii make the islands a prime kayaking destination, particularly for US citizens.

Most people associate a tropical climate with heat and humidity, but the location of Hawaii in the path of the Trade winds brings some relief to these conditions. This gives Hawaii a milder climate than other tropical islands.

Is The Climate in Hawaii Good For Kayaking?

The summer temperatures range between the nighttime temperatures of 75°F or 24°C to a daytime high of about 88°F or 31°C.

Winter temperatures are equally mild, with daytime temperatures reaching an average of 83°F or 28°C and the night temperatures dropping to 65°F or 18°C.

High rainfall is a consequence of the tropical location, and Hawaii receives about 460 inches of rain (12 000mm) annually in the wet season, from October to April.

The dry season in Hawaii is typically from May through October, but the dry season does not mean no rain, but rather less rain than in the wet season.

The winter months typically have stronger winds and rough seas, making kayaking a turbulent affair at that time of year, only suitable for experienced, hardy kayakers.

The rainfall in Hawaii follows the two seasons, summer and winter, with the summer months between May and October. These warm, lower wind summer months are considered the best months for kayaking in Hawaii, but you may need to cater for some flexibility in your plans to accommodate the rainfall.

Kayaking is a year-round activity in Hawaii, but the summer months are preferable for ocean kayaking. Several rivers and lakes inland on some islands allow for kayaking at any time of the year.

The 750 mile or 1210Km coastline and the attraction this provides for surfing and kayaking keep kayakers coming back to Hawaii for more! Coastal kayaking may be the focal point, but it is not the only kayaking opportunity in Hawaii.

What Type Of Kayaking Can You Do In Hawaii?

Kayaking has been part of the culture of the indigenous Polynesian people of Hawaii for generations, with many people using the sea as a means to feed their families.

The traditional kayaks of the native Hawaii people were dugouts with outriggers for stability for ocean kayaking. Ocean kayaking is what most people think of when they consider kayaking in Hawaii, but there are other waters suitable for kayaking in the region.

Whitewater Kayaking In Hawaii

Several rivers in Hawaii offer great kayaking opportunities in the islands. The high level of rainfall in the region can create some exciting whitewater kayaking adventures for adrenalin junkie kayakers!

Some of the most notable whitewater kayaking opportunities in Hawaii include the following.

  • Waimea River. The Waimea River on Kaua’i island, specifically the Waimea Canyon, offers class IV and class V rapids on this section of the river. Consequently, this adventure is classed as difficult and is for the more experienced whitewater kayaker.
  • Hanalei River. This river, also on Kaua’i island, with mild class I rapids, can be navigated by kayakers from the headwaters in the Halelea Forest all the way down to the sea. This 22 mile or 35km trip is an adventure the whole family can enjoy!
  • Wailuku River. This river, on the Big Island, Hawai’i, is a 28 mile or 45km long river which has rapids ranging from class III to class V and beyond. It is best to traverse the river with a guide so that you can take out before the many waterfalls on the river and put in again below the falls. A river guide will also be a great help to know the classes of rapids on the river.

Flatwater Kayaking In Hawaii

While several small lakes and dams in Hawaii offer flatwater kayaking opportunities, it is not a popular undertaking among tourists.

Many of the dams, lakes, and ponds in Hawaii are small and do not offer much scope for adventure for the kayaking community.

Many of the lakes are at high elevations, surrounded by difficult, volcanic terrain, effectively putting them out of reach of the average kayaker.

The nature of the turmoil in the underlying geography of Hawaii can have implications for the survival of many of these flatwater kayaking locations. For example, Green Lake, a freshwater lake in the Pu’u Kapoho crater, was destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 2006.

Other lakes in Hawaii offering kayaking opportunities include the following.

  • Halali’I Lake. Located in the central-southern region of the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau, this lake is the biggest in the state during the wet season when the lake fills up, but the water level drops dramatically in the dry season.
  • Halulu Lake. This lake, also on Ni’ihau island, is a permanent lake known for its birdlife and mullet that enter the lake from the sea via lava tubes. The local people harvest the mullet and sell the fish in markets across the island chain.

While the limited numbers of lakes and dams in Hawaii limit the inland flatwater kayaking options, many calm water bays on the coast offer similar conditions to what you can expect on a lake or a dam.

Ocean Kayaking In Hawaii

Ocean kayaking is the most common form of kayaking undertaken in Hawaii, and the level of difficulty varies depending on the location, the season, and the condition of the sea.

There is a myriad of bays, lagoons, and estuaries that offer calm, gentle kayaking conditions, as well as kayak surfing on the popular beaches with breakers.

The island of Kauai is a common favorite, whit spectacular views on the Na Pali coastline. Maui is also a common coastal kayaking destination with a wide variety of kayaking skill levels catered for.

Kaneohe Bay is known for its clear, calm water and is a great location for beginner kayakers to get their sea legs before trying something a little more challenging. The two reefs close to the shore offer a great combination of kayaking and snorkeling for the whole family!

Ocean kayaking in Hawaii can be a rewarding wildlife experience, with sightings of humpback whales and sea turtles during certain seasons of the year. Several kayak tour operators in the region specialize in these kinds of kayak tours.

Can You Island Hop In A Kayak In Hawaii?

Many kayakers are under the incorrect assumption that it will be an easy outing to paddle from island to island in Hawaii. The distances between the islands are deceptively far, and most are beyond the reach of most kayakers.

The one exception to this is the twin Mokulua Islands located offshore from Oahu Island. However, the tides and currents in the 2.5 miles or 4km trip can be quite strong for inexperienced kayakers. The two islands are restricted to the public, especially Mokulua Iki, but Kokulua Nui has a beach that is open to the public. The two islands are known for their birdlife and are a sanctuary for the birds.

What Are The Rules For Kayaking In Hawaii?

Like any other state of the USA, Hawaii has its own regulations regarding boating and watercraft, which also govern the use of kayaks in the region.

Due to the proliferation of tourism operators in Hawaii, purchasing your own kayak or transporting your kayak to Hawaii is not necessary. The many tour operators in the islands have kayaks of various styles and configurations available for rent.

Even though you can rent these kayaks, you need to ensure the kayaks are compliant with the local regulations since the person operating the kayak will be held liable for infringements of the law.

Must You Register Your Kayak In Hawaii?

As in most US states, kayaks are considered to be non-powered watercraft and are not required to be registered with local authorities.

As long as your kayak is only powered by yourself, either paddled or poled, or a small sail is used, it is considered a non-powered watercraft exempt from the boating registration requirements.

If a trolling motor or any other form of motor is fitted to the kayak, it changes the non-powered status of the kayak to a mechanically-powered vessel. In this case, the kayak will need to be registered with the local authorities.

Do You Need A License To Operate A Kayak In Hawaii?

As of 2014, if you operate any motorized vessel in Hawaiian waters, you must be in possession of a certificate as proof of attendance of a boating safety course.

Children under the age of 16 are not allowed to operate motorized vessels, including kayaks with motors. Children between the ages of 16 and up must have completed a boating safety education course and must be accompanied by a person of 21 years or older who has also completed the boating safety course.

The fines for contravening this law can result in a fine of between $50 and $1000 and a ban on operating a vessel in Hawaiian waters for 30 days.

What Are The Alcohol Laws For Kayaking in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, it is against the law to operate any vessel, including kayaks, with a blood alcohol level above 0.08%. Likewise, it is a contravention of the law to operate any vessel while under the influence of any narcotics.

The fines for these BUI offenses can range from $150 to $2500, can include jail time, or the revocation of a boating license, depending on the seriousness and frequency of the offenses.

It is also illegal to have drugs aboard your kayak in Hawaii, and local law enforcement has the authority to stop and perform a search of any vessel for these substances at any time.

Must Your Kayak Have Lights When Operating in Hawaii?

Kayaks operated in Hawaii need to comply with the local laws regarding warning lights for boats under 23 feet. At the very least, the kayaker must carry a white light that has 360° visibility from a distance of 2 miles (3.2km). This light must be displayed to avoid a potential collision with another vessel.

Wherever it is possible, the regulations state that any boat under 23-feet in length should have a red bow light and a white stern light. Kayakers are encouraged to follow this standard, but the minimum requirement is the white light with all-around visibility.

The regulation lights must be displayed during periods of limited visibility or between sunset and sunrise, or whenever moored or anchored away from a standard mooring area during this period.

Is It Required To Wear A LifeJacket When Kayaking In Hawaii?

Every vessel operating in Hawaiian waters must have a USCG-approved life jacket or another personal flotation device (PFD) for each person onboard the vessel. This rule also applies to kayaks.

Although the regulations stipulate that the lifejacket or PFD must be aboard the vessel, it does not require that it be worn by the kayaker at all times. However, in most cases, the best place to have your life jacket while kayaking is on your body, so rather wear the lifejacket.

Any child under 13 years of age on a kayak must wear an approved lifejacket at all times, even if the kayak is docked.

Do You Need Any Other Safety Gear While Kayaking in Hawaii?

All kayakers in Hawaii are required to carry a sounding device, such as a whistle, which must be audible at a distance of at least half a mile.

Kayaking at night requires that you have visual distress signaling gear, such as flares, aboard the vessel. This includes kayaks that are operated between sunset and sunrise. It is not a requirement to have this equipment onboard your kayak during the day.


Kayaking in Hawaii is a superb way to enjoy the sunshine and blue seas during an idyllic tropical island holiday. However, some of the rivers are hidden whitewater gems that will challenge even the most experienced kayakers.

Hawaii has something to offer every kayaker, and no Hawaii holiday will be complete without some time spent on the pristine waters aboard a kayak!