Have you seen the videos of Kauai mountain tubing that are all over Facebook and Youtube? It’s where people can float down old sugar cane canals on inner-tubes through rock tunnels at the foot of Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on Earth.
May contain affiliate links.I’ve been so curious about it since I first heard about it when it first opened years ago.
But, I’m not really an “adventure traveler” and I’ve always worried it would be too intense for me. I don’t usually do anything outdoorsy or strenuous. And I’m not really into water activities.
However, let me tell you, this is one of the most fun and laid back adventurers on Kauai! And it’s one of the best things to do on Kauai with kids!
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What is Kauai Mountain Tubing?
Kauai, Hawaii used to have tons of sugar cane mills. The last one closed up shop about ten years ago and there are no longer working sugar cane plantations in Hawaii.
In 2003, Kauai Backcountry Adventures saw an opportunity to provide eco-tours to families wanting to explore the former Lihue Plantation in a unique way: through their historic irrigation system!
These sugar cane canals were hand-dug in the 1870s and run through the remote areas near Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on Earth.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures went in and renovated the area to make sure it would be great for eco-tours. They built staircases for guests to get in and out of the water. Plus, picnic shelters and restrooms.
During the tour, you’ll wear a headlamp as you float through 5 tunnels. The rest of the time, you’ll casually float through open sugar cane canals and marvel at the beautiful Kauai scenery.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures provides the only tubing activity like this on Kauai. It’s perfect for people ages 5 and older who are in good physical health.
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What Did My 5 Year Old Think of Kauai Mountain Tubing
I really like involving my kids in our vacation planning. We emphasize how everyone gets to take a turn choosing an adventure.
So, I showed him a Kauai Mountain Tubing video on Facebook to see if he’d be interested. He thought it looked pretty cool, so we decided to schedule it for the beginning of our trip.
He later told me that part of the appeal was that his 2 year old brother wasn’t old enough to do it!
When we arrived to the Kauai Backcountry Adventures headquarters, he started to get a little nervous after seeing the promo video they had on their TV. It showed participants going down a “rapid” and I think that freaked him out.
But, he stayed calm and chatted with the employees as they fitted him for a life jacket, gloves, and helmet.
He got a little tired on the van ride to the sugar cane canals. It’s a pretty windy and bumpy road (it’s on private property.)
He was still a bit apprehensive as we listened to the training presentation. One of the instructors asked if he’d like to ride up front with him and my son jumped at the opportunity!
I should mention that my son is very friendly and loves attention.
So, the instructor put our son in a kid-size inner tube and kept him off to the side as he loaded the rest of us into our inner tubes.
And that was basically the last time we saw him for the majority of the tubing adventure. See, our son stayed up front and my husband and I kept floating to the back of the group.
Every time an instructor or participant floated back, they’d report back that our son was having a great time!
I should also mention that our son was the only kid on this excursion. We went the week after mid-winter break and didn’t see many kids on vacation.
He even was the first person to go down the 3-foot “rapid” and thoroughly enjoyed it!
At the end of the tunnels, participants get to enjoy a really lazy ride back to the end point. That’s when we met back up with our son, who proclaimed “this is the best day ever!”
What I Thought About This Kauai Mountain Tubing Activity
Even though I’ve visited Kauai more than 30 times, this was my first opportunity to explore this area near Mount Waialeale.
I’ve never done a tour up there before and now I’m kicking myself for not doing one sooner.
It was stunning! Every direction I looked provided an incredible view you just can’t get anywhere else on Kauai.
Part of the tour involves stopping at a scenic viewpoint on the private property and the view was unreal. It’s amazing to see parts of Kauai untouched by construction.
And the tubing itself was a total blast!
I’m not going to sugar-coat it; the water is C-O-L-D. In fact, it becomes a running joke as the guides warn us not to use any F words (like frigid or freezing) or C words (like chilly or cold!)
They like to say the water is “refreshing” and “invigorating!”
But, after awhile, I hardly noticed. I mean, even though I was in an inner tube, I really didn’t get all that wet. It was mostly just my feet and my booty!
As I mentioned before, I’m not much for adventure. So, I had my share of thrills just turning on my head lamp to navigate the tunnels.
Actually, “navigate” is the wrong word. I really just floated and let the water take me down the canal. And every once in awhile I’d push off the side of the irrigation ditch to get myself back down the center.
I had been worried that I’d feel claustrophobic inside the tunnels, but it was a non-issue. Surprisingly, I was even fine turning off my head lamp to go through the last tunnel. It’s somewhat of a tour tradition!
We were really impressed with the staff leading our adventure. La`i and Paul were fantastic and so sweet with our son.
Paul even played an intense game of tag with our son during lunch!
And speaking of lunch, I was really happy with the Costco sandwich makings, Hawaiian chips, and cookies. It was just the right amount of food.
I’m usually not much of an eater on things like this but I really worked up an appetite with that tubing!
After lunch, we got to ride back in an open air, all-terrain vehicle and it made me feel quite outdoorsy!
Our guide La`i gave us recommendations of his favorite places to eat (and who has the best happy hour!) as well as lesser known beaches, interesting hikes, and lots of Kauai history.
I’d definitely recommend this Kauai activity to families with kids ages 5 and older looking for a bit of adventure. I’m looking forward to doing it again when our youngest is old enough!
What to Bring on your Kauai Mountain Tubing Adventure:
The rocks in the caves are very scratchy and you’ll want to protect your feet. I found these cute Minnow Designs water shoes for my 5 year old. And I bought this inexpensive pair for myself.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures offers Crocs to rent if you don’t bring your own waterproof shoes.
Since this is a water activity, you’ll need to wear a swimsuit or clothing that can get wet. I’d suggest wearing a rashguard to protect against the sun as well as the rocks.
You’ll also need dry clothes to change into later.
They don’t provide towels, so you will need to bring your own. Borrow some from your hotel or bring along a quick drying travel towel.
We were fine sharing 2 towels between the 3 of us.
When you get to the tubing site, you’ll need to put all your belongings into tubs that will be transported to the pick up area.
Bring a bag or backpack to keep your items sorted from everyone else’s stuff. You don’t want to lose your phone or car keys!
What NOT to bring:
Because of the water, don’t bother bringing fancy photography or video equipment. I even left my beloved gimbal in the dry tubs for fear of it falling into the water.
And be careful about your jewelry. Our guides told us that several people lose rings in the water every year when taking their gloves on and off.
Also, this tour is alcohol-free. You’ll have to finish your drinks before you get into the van.
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Kauai Mountain Tubing Tips for Families
WEAR A WETSUIT
The sugar cane canals are at the base of Mt. Waialeale and the water is C-O-L-D. I thought I’d be fine with just a rash guard, but my mom insisted I wear her neoprene wet suit.
I’m so happy I did because it kept me warm and comfortable in the frigid water and while it rained on us.
DON’T FORGET THE SUNSCREEN!
Make sure to apply sunscreen before you get into the water. It takes some time for the sunscreen to soak in.
My advice is to apply when you are sitting at the picnic tables inside the Kauai Backcountry Adventures office. That way, it can soak in on the van ride to the tubing location.
BE PREPARED FOR SPINNING
The only thing that surprised me about tubing was the spinning. Any time my inner tube hit the side of the canal or another inner tube, I would start spinning.
I heard a couple of other participants say they took Dramamine before they started. That hadn’t occurred to me, but might be a good option if you are prone to motion-sickness. Or eating a ginger chew.
I didn’t feel sick, but definitely noticed the spinning.
EAT THE APPLE BANANAS
If you haven’t tried a Kauai apple banana, they are my favorite type of banana (and I don’t usually like bananas.)
There are baskets of them available after you check in. It’s a great way to fuel up a bit!
GET A WATERPROOF POUCH FOR YOUR PHONE
The only way you should bring your phone on this tubing adventure is if you have one of these waterproof pouches for your phone.
It’s really easy to drop your phone into the water while you are floating and it would be lost.
So, we left our phones in our backpacks and there were only a few times I wish I would have been able to take some photos.
Which leads me to my last tip…
BUY THE PHOTOS
While I’m always a pusher of investing in quality photos on family vacations, I don’t usually buy the ones at attractions.
But, I was really impressed with how many great photos the staff got of my family. And they even did a video!
You can see all the photos online anytime after your tour and can buy them individually or get the whole set for $40.
How to Book your Kauai Mountain Tubing Tour:
To sign up for this Kauai tubing adventure, click here.
Cost: $116 per person
Tour Length: About 3 hours
Tour Times: 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am, Noon, 1pm, and 2pm
Restrictions: Kids must be at least 5 years old and 43 inches tall. Guests may not exceed 300 pounds. Not recommenced for those with hip, knee, or back problems. Women in first trimester of pregnancy will need a doctor’s note to participate.
Location: Their main office is located at 3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue Hawaii, 96766
Kauai Backcountry Adventures hosted our trip in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Friday 15th of March 2019
This look like so much fun! You've got some brave boys. :)
Saturday 16th of March 2019
It was so much tamer than I expected, which was PERFECT!
Julie D. Wirtz
Tuesday 12th of March 2019
Glad you kept warm during our unusual cold snap here on Kauai this winter. Probably not necessary in the warm summers, but for chilly days in the winter, if anyone is looking for a cute and practical neoprene wet suit top and shorts, they sell them at Nukomoi Surf Company in Poipu and also the Poipu Surf Shop in Kukui'ula during the winter months. https://www.nukumoi.com/ and http://www.poipusurf.com/ and of course you can find them on amazon or surf shops on the mainland.
Tuesday 12th of March 2019
I'm totally buying one next time we visit Kauai during the winter! What a lifesaver!