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Kauai, known as the Garden Island, is the oldest island on the volcanic archipelago that makes up Hawaii. Five million or so years of Pacific breezes and tectonic activity have shaped it into one of the most strikingly beautiful places in the world, from the towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coast to the rocky red depths of the Waimea Canyon, the white sandy beach of charming Hanalei and the verdant wetland taro farms in the island’s center. Because of the diversity of the landscape, and the fact that much of it is inaccessible by vehicle, a helicopter tour can be a great way to get a look at some of Kauai’s remarkable geography. It’s a bit of a splurge, but with tours available at multiple price points and focusing on different points of interest and topics, there’s almost definitely one that’s worth it for you. These are the best helicopter tours that Kauai has to offer.
Best Eco Tour - Kauai Eco Adventure Helicopter Tour
Climb into the luxe business-class seats of this new Eurocopter Eco-Star helicopter for a comfortable, surprisingly quiet aerial tour of gorgeous Kauai. You’ll start at the Lihue Airport and head over the lush green Hanapepe Valley on the way to Mana Waiapuna, casually known as “Jurassic Park Falls,” which was famously featured in the opening credits of the original Jurassic Park movie. From there, you’ll head into Olokele Canyon, whose green-covered walls are rarely seen by human eyes, given how hard it is to get there, other than by air, and then Waimea Canyon, the massive red-rock formation often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Over the farthest edge of Waimea Canyon, you’ll reach the towering Na Pali Coast, inaccessible by land vehicle, and the Bali Hai Cliffs and the sparkling blue Hanalei Bay.
Finally, if weather allows, you’ll head up and over the top of rainforest-covered Mount Waialeale, where massive waterfalls drop around the massive ancient volcanic crater. With massive windows giving panoramic views from every seat, you will feel truly immersed in Kauai’s ancient ecosystem, and the two-way radio headsets allow you to both hear the pilot’s live commentary and ask any questions you might have.
Best Shore Excursion - Kauai Shore Excursion: 55-Minute Helicopter Adventure
If you’re coming into Kauai on a cruise (and even if you’re coming by some other method), consider this helicopter tour, which is really the best way to get an in-depth look at the island’s geography in a short period of time. You’ll be picked up from the cruise port in Nawiliwili and shuttled to the Lihue Airport (just ten minutes away) for your tour. The flight includes trips over the Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast, as well as the stunning National Tropical Botanical Garden and the jaw-dropping Waipo’o Falls, which drops 800 feet over the edge of Mount Waialeale.
Departures are available throughout the day, but because you need to attend a short safety briefing and orientation, the tour company requests that you schedule a tour where you’ll be available for pickup a full hour before the tour’s official departure time.
Best Combo Tour - Kauai Private Tour: Waterfalls, Caves, and Beaches
Get a view of Kauai from land and air in this combination tour, which includes both a drive around the island in a luxury SUV and a helicopter flight. It’s a small-group tour, capped at five people, so you’ll have lots of personal attention and plenty of access to your tour guide to ask any questions you might have. The driving portion of the tour starts with a hotel pickup at 9 a.m. and a drive along the eastern side of the islands. You’ll see the Kilauea Lighthouse, Moloa’a Beach, Kahalalala Beach, the lava caves at Ha’ena Beach, and some of the island’s sprawling taro fields.
At this point, you’ll be dropped at Lihue Airport, where you’ll board your helicopter for the aerial portion of your tour. From the air, you’ll see the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and the waterfall-ringed crater of Mount Waialeale.
Best Extended Tour - Jack Harter Helicopters 90-95-Minute Tour
Most Kauai helicopter tours last from 45 to 55 minutes, but this tour lasts a full hour and a half and is particularly ideal for photographers, as the extended time allows you to see more of Kauai’s wilderness, take your time exploring the island’s canyons and craters, and it even gives the pilot chances to move the helicopter into different angles, giving passengers a chance to see detailed views (and snap pictures from multiple vantage points).
This tour is the longest-duration helicopter tour available on the island of Kauai, so if maximum airtime is important to you, this is your best choice. Jack Harter has been offering helicopter tours of Kauai since the early 1960s and has a depth of knowledge and experience that makes it one of the top-rated tour companies anywhere in Hawaii.
Best Doors-Off Tour - Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours Private Island Adventure
Allowing a maximum of three people per group ensures that everyone in your private party gets a window seat on this helicopter tour. If you choose, the doors can be removed entirely for no extra fee, to give you the most immersive possible experience on your Kauai flight, feeling the Pacific breeze blowing through your hair while viewing the Garden Island from above. The tour lasts 60 minutes and flies over all of Kauai’s most beautiful sights: the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, Mount Waialeale’s 4.5-million-year-old crater, and Manawaiopuna (“Jurassic”) Falls.
Best Tour From Princeville - Discover Kauai (Departs From Princeville)
Most of Kauai’s helicopter tours take off from the Lihue Airport, but if you’re staying in or near the planned resort community of Princeville, on Kauai’s North Shore, consider taking this helicopter tour. (It’s a gorgeous drive to the North Shore, so even if you’re staying elsewhere on the island, it’s still worth your consideration.)
From the air, you’ll see the Hanapepe Valley, Manawainapuna Falls, Olokele and Waimea Canyons, the Na Pali Coast, the Bali Hai Cliffs, Hanalei Bay, endless sandy beaches and even the island of Ni’ihau (where tourists aren’t allowed to visit) off in the distance.
Best Kauai Tour from Oahu - Best of Kauai Land & Helicopter Air Tour from Oahu
Spending your Hawaiian vacation on Waikiki Beach (or elsewhere in Oahu), but want to spend a day in less-populated Kauai? This tour is perfect for you. You’ll start your day before the sun comes up with a shuttle pickup from your Waikiki Hotel, which will take you to the Oahu Airport for a quick flight to the Lihue Airport. There, your minibus will pick you up for the land portion of your tour, which will include stops at Opaeka’a Falls, the cove at Ahukiki Landing, Lydgate Beach, Kealia Scenic Viewpoint, Kalalea Mountain, and the towns of Kapa’a, Princeville, and Hanalei. Along with local and natural history, your guide will point out a number of filming locations of movies and TV shows that were filmed on the island, including King Kong and Blue Hawaii. After several hours of touring and an included lunch at a cafe featured in The Descendants, you’ll take to the air for a 55-minute helicopter tour of all of Kauai’s most impressive natural features. After your helicopter tour, you’ll take the quick hop back to Oahu, where you’ll arrive in time for a late dinner.
Our writers spent 2 hours researching the most popular helicopter tours of Kauai on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 20 different tours overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers and read over 25 user reviews (both positive and negative). All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.