A trip to the north side of Kauai just isn’t complete without a visit to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, an important sanctuary for Hawaiian wildlife. The refuge is home to variety of seabirds, though most people know it for the lighthouse. Known today as the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse (though many residents still refer to it simply as “Kilauea Lighthouse”), the lighthouse at Kilauea Point is one of Kauai’s most iconic landmarks. Learn about to visit the lighthouse and the refuge with this guide.
Kilauea Point was formed 15,000 years ago by an eruption of the Kilauea Volcano. The refuge itself was created in 1985, and has since been operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Originally commissioned in 1913, the lighthouse went through a renovation from 2010 to 2013 to restore it to its former glory. The humid conditions and salty air from the ocean had reduced the metal railings and fixtures to little more than a pile of rust, while the hot Hawaiian sun had faded the paint. U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye played an important role in raising the money necessary for the restoration project, hence the decision in 2013 to rename the lighthouse in his honor.
The once-rotating Fresnel lens that had previously worked to alert boats and ships to the rocky coastal edge from up to 22 miles out was, unfortunately, unable to be fully restored. At 8,000 pounds, the lens was initially designed to float on 260 pounds of mercury in order to rotate. With the modern understanding of mercury and its dangers to humans and wildlife, introducing hundreds of pounds of it back into the lighthouse design would, of course, be impossible. However, the beautifully prismed lens still has to ability to light up using a quartz iodine lamp and is often lit to celebrate ceremonies held at the refuge.
Things to See and Do
The refuge is home to some of the largest populations of Hawaii’s nesting seabirds. Birds such as albatross, shearwaters and the red-footed booby can be seen in their natural habitat completely protected. You may also catch glimpses of spinner dolphins, turtles and monk seals from the ocean cliffs, as well as native coastal plants.
Besides the abundance of wildlife, the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse is the highlight of the area. The restored structure serves as an important connection between Kauai’s past and present. The massive lens, originally powered using a kerosene lantern, was the watchful eye that protected passing ships from getting too close to the island’s northernmost tip.
Operating hours for the refuge are Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with tours of the lighthouse offered Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. (pending availability of staff). Tour participants can show up at the lighthouse no earlier than one hour in advance, and everyone taking the tour must be present to sign up and receive a ticket. Those with health conditions should be advised that the tour involves walking up steep, narrow steps, and the top gets hot due to limited coverage. Large items such as tripods and backpacks aren’t allowed, and children must be at least 44 inches tall to enter. To help further preserve the structure, participants are also required to remove shoes before entering the lighthouse (they provide protective booties if you don’t want to take your shoes off).
If you’re visiting in between tours, check out the Visitor’s Center to learn about the different wildlife and habitats both inside the refuge and throughout Hawaii. Or, stop by The Kilauea Point Natural History Association bookstore to buy a souvenir.
The walk from the entrance booth to Kilauea Point is an easy 0.2 miles. Keep your eyes peeled for the Hawaii state bird, the endangered nene goose. The park provides observation scopes and binoculars for birdwatching, and volunteer staff members are available throughout the refuge to help identify and answer questions about the wildlife and plants.
The town of Kilauea is located about 23 miles north of Lihue by way of the Kuhio Highway. Make a right on Kolo Road, left on Kilauea Road and the refuge entrance will be about two miles down. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends calling ahead for parties of 20 or more, as most buses and vans with 15 or more passengers aren’t permitted without prior notice.
There is limited parking at the refuge, and walking in from the road is not allowed due to the steepness of the driveway. For disabled visitors, there are two handicapped stalls available and the walkway is wheelchair accessible.
You can contact the refuge at (808) 828-1413 for questions.
What to Do Nearby
- Garden Isle Chocolates is less than 2 miles away from Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Take a gourmet chocolate tasting tour and see how cacao is grown and processed, held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
- Go horseback riding at Silver Falls Ranch in Kilauea.
- Drive about 10 miles to famous Hanalei Bay, stopping in the town of Princeville along the way. Go ziplining, kayaking or off-roading at Princeville Ranch, or take a walk through the Princeville Botanical Gardens.
Tips for Visiting
There is a $10 entrance fee for adults 16 years or older, and children under 16 are free. The fee can be paid by credit card, cash or traveler’s check. An annual pass is available for Hawaii residents for $20, allowing entrance for the holder and three guests throughout the year.
Amenities include restrooms, drinking fountains and water refilling stations. While outside food and beverages are prohibited, water is allowed. In order to ensure the safety of the animals who live inside the refuge, pets are not permitted.