A helicopter tour is the best way to see the island of Kauai. With over 70% of the island being inaccessible by land, you'll see areas that can only be seen from the air. You'll also have better views of many parts of the island.
Highlights of most helicopter tours on Kauai include Jurassic Park Falls, the Hanapepe Valley, Waimea Canyon, the Na Pali Coast, the Hanalei Valley, and Mt. Waialeale. Most tours last between 50 minutes and an hour, though some companies offer longer tours that are usually accompanied by a stop.
One common concern of most people considering helicopter tours is whether they are safe. The answer is yes. That being said, accidents do happen. The FAA is requiring even more stringent equipment checks and maintenance than ever before. Remember that on Kauai, there have been as many as ten helicopter companies operating at one time with well over 100 flights each day total, depending on the weather. Over the 15 years, that's over 50,000 flights.
When considering a tour company, know that each passenger, by federal regulation, should be given a detailed safety briefing before any flight and instructions on how to use the safety equipment provided. For doors-off flights, it is imperative that all loose objects are secured and that your hands and cameras remain inside the helicopter. You would be right to be suspicious of any tour operator that does not offer a full safety briefing.
Do Your Research
The smart traveler does his or her research and makes sure that they are comfortable with the company they choose. The tour operators recommended in this list are included because they have been tested by the authors of this article, but many other reputable, safe, and enjoyable tours available. It is important for anyone considering a helicopter tour to check out the websites and read reviews before choosing which company to book.
There are two benefits to booking ahead of schedule: One is due to the fact that Kauai has a tropical climate, and it rains a lot there: For your safety and enjoyment, flights often are canceled due to bad weather. It is recommended that you book your helicopter tour early in your visit to Kauai so that you have time to reschedule should it be canceled.
The other reason it is wise to book in advance is that most companies offer significant discounts if you book online.
Here are the helicopter companies currently operating on Kauai. Check their websites for the most up-to-date information on tour schedules and fees.
- Blue Hawaiian, Hawaii's largest and most acclaimed helicopter company, flies state of the art ECO-star helicopters, the first helicopter designed exclusively for touring, on 55-minute "Kauai ECO Adventure" tours from the Lihue Heliport. It is reported that often their flights run shorter, i.e., 48-50 minutes. They also offer private charters.
- With over 30 years of service, Island Helicopters flies the newest Eurocopter A-Star helicopters with custom ceiling to floor glass doors and windows on 50-60 minute "Deluxe Kauai Grand Tours" from the Lihue Heliport. They also are the only company that offers a 90-minute tour that includes a landing at the base of Manawaiopuna Falls (Jurrasic Park Falls). You can read my review of a Jurassic Falls Helicopter Landing Adventure with Island Helicopters.
- Jack Harter flies six-passenger A-Star helicopters with floor-to-ceiling windows for excellent visibility as well as four-passenger Hughes 500s that are flown with the doors off. They offer 60-65 minute tours in the A-Star & Hughes 50-and-90-minute tours in the A-Star only. All flights are from the Lihue Heliport. You can read my review of a 60-minute flight with Jack Harter Helicopters and view a gallery of 84 photos taken on the flight. This is my personal choice for favorite Kauai helicopter tour company.
- Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours flies the four-seater R44 helicopters manufactured by the Robinson Helicopter Company. They fly exclusively private tours for parties of two, three, or four. They offer four tours, including a 50-60-minute "Ultimate Island Tour," a 60-70-minute "Extreme Island Tour," as well pilot training with their "Ultimate Instructional Tour Package," and a special "Photography Flight." They fly from the Lihue Heliport.
- Safari Helicopter Tours flies the A-Star 350 B2-7 helicopter with mega viewing windows, an onboard two-way communication system utilizing the Generation Bose X noise-canceling headsets, and air conditioning. They offer a 55-minute "Deluxe Waterfall Safari" tour and a 90-minute "Kauai Refuge Eco Tour" that includes a 30-minute stopover at the Kauai Botanical Refuge overlooking Olokele Canyon.
- Sunshine Helicopters, Inc. and Will Squyres Helicopter Tours are now merged together as one company. They offer a 45-50 minute "Ultimate Kauai Experience" tour from the Lihue Heliport using both FX STAR and WhisperSTAR helicopters. They also offer 30-40 minute and 40-50 minute tours from the Princeville Airport on Kauai's North Shore, a convenient location for visitors staying in the Princeville or Hanalei areas.