26 Jun A Visitor’s Guide to Hiking on Oahu – Hawaii
To truly enjoy Hawaii’s natural beauty, we recommend hitting the trails. Oahu has many beautiful hikes to explore around the island. Here is our guide to the best hikes for visitors, plus some hiking tips to help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience.
Best Oahu Hikes
Wondering where to hike around Honolulu, Hawaii? If you’re visiting Oahu, there are a few iconic trails that are the most popular:
1. Diamond Head
This State Monument is Honolulu’s most well known natural landmark. The trail (only partially paved) takes you to the edge of Diamond Head crater – a former military lookout – with fantastic views of Waikiki. Entrance is $1 per pedestrian or $5 per vehicle, and the parking lot does fill up quickly. The hike itself is fine for beginners but gets steep, especially on the 99 stairs at the end.
If you’re limited on time and/or transportation and can only do one hike while staying in Honolulu, Diamond Head is probably your best bet. It’s close to town, family-friendly, and is very iconic.
2. Makapu’u Lighthouse
The second most popular hike on Oahu is probably the Makapu’u Lighthouse. It sits on the southeast corner of Oahu, along an incredibly scenic stretch of coastline. The one-mile, paved pathway leads up to a gorgeous look out. You can admire the century-old lighthouse from above, as well as views of Koko Head and a couple off-shore islets. Entrance is free, and the parking lot fills up quickly.
After the ever-popular Diamond Head and Makapu’u Lighthouse, consider the following options for hiking depending on location, difficulty level, and type of experience.
3. Wilhelmina Rise Ridge Trail
In our opinion, the first section of the Wilhelmina Rise/Mau’umae trail makes a great first Oahu hike for visitors. You get beautiful views over neighborhoods, mountains, valleys, and all the way out to the ocean.
The first turn-around point (at a viewpoint with a bench) is 0.7 miles – but you can go as far as 3.5 miles one way. There is a little bit of scrambling involved going up and down, and it is a bit steep sometimes. It’s not technical or scary, but you do need to be somewhat agile and wear decent shoes.
4. Kuli’ou’ou Ridge
Kuli’ou’ou is another ridge hike, just a bit further out of town than Wilhelmina. It’s moderately challenging, especially with all the stairs at the end. But it comes with rewarding views of the south coast as well as the east, plus some interesting changes in landscape along the trail.
5. Lanikai Pillboxes
In the beautiful west coast area of Kailua, you’ll find the scenic Lanikai Pillbox hike. There’s a quick, steep ascent at the beginning and then plenty of rewarding panoramas to admire from the coastal hillside. The hike gets its name from the pillbox structures used as military lookouts in the past.
6. Wa’ahila Ridge
Wa’ahila is another nice ridge trail just outside Honolulu that departs from a State Park. While it has a couple great views and interesting terrain changes, we put the views of Wilhelmina/Mau’umae trail ahead of this one. It is probably a bit less challenging than Wilhelmina though.
7. Manoa Falls
The Manoa valley is a quiet, lush residential area outside the city. In the back of the valley is a moderately easy 1/6 mile waterfall hike that is pretty popular. During dry times of year, the falls can dwindle to a trickle, but otherwise, it’s a nice hike with a cool bamboo forest area.
8. Old Pali Highway
Departing from the Ko’olau Golf Club property, the Old Pali Highway hike is an easy 3.1 mile round trip hike. The abandoned highway is nice and peaceful. Once you cross under the current highway and climb a small ladder, you’ll start getting awesome views of Kaneohe Bay. There’s also an option to take the Likeke Falls trail, an offshoot toward the beginning of this hike.
9. Koko Head Crater
What was once a railway to haul cargo up to look out bunkers during WW2, is now a trail up the outside of Koko Head. The railroad has become 1,050 steep stairs to the summit where you’ll get panoramic views of the southeast side of Oahu. Not the best hike for folks afraid of heights, as one short bridge section has a 40 foot drop below and there are no hand rails along the trail. Great for a work out, though!
10. Maunawili Falls
Maunawili waterfall hike gets a bit tricky with stream crossings, muddy spots, and undefined pathways. It’s another beautiful part of Kailua with a nice pool and waterfall at the end, and it’s not too long (2.6 miles).
11. Aiea Loop Trail
The Aiea Loop Trail is one of the few good hikes west of Honolulu, found in Keaiwa Helau State Park. The loop hike 4.8 miles and not too strenuous. While not particularly spectacular like some of our other favorites, it’s a nice, peaceful place to get exercise.
If you’re ready for a challenge, the Olomana 3 peaks hike near Kailua packs a punch. This strenuous 2.5 mile climb requires the use of ropes in order to pass certain sections. The area between the second and third peak can be especially dangerous when wet – in fact, there have been serious accidents and casualties from falling there. (We didn’t go that far up ourselves.)
13. Lulumahu Falls
Though not a registered, maintained trail, Lulumahu Falls hike is pretty popular for folks who like getting off the beaten path. Starting with bamboo forest and grassy hills, the hike ends with a scramble up jungly creek beds to reach the towering falls. Mud and adventure is inevitable on this one!
Tips for Happy Hiking on Oahu
1. Many trails, especially in the valleys or cloud-covered mountains, can get pretty muddy. Hiking during or after rainfall is often going to be extra slippery and messy, and should usually be avoided. Some places that don’t get direct sun will stay mucky for days or weeks. Be prepared with a change of shoes and plastic bags to store muddy duds after your hike.
2. Ridge trails typically don’t have as much of a mud problem, however, the trade off is that there’s less shade cover. To save yourself from direct sun and heat, start your hike early in the morning and bring sunscreen.
3. Valley trails that follow a stream also tend to have more mosquitos around. Pack some repellant (or wear long pants and long sleeves).
4. Many Oahu trails start in a neighborhood. Follow parking sign instructions, keep your voices down, and be courteous to the neighbors. Obnoxious and disrespectful visitors can really annoy the neighbors, and their complaints can affect whether the hike is kept open in the future.
5. Unless the hike is paved, the path will likely have lots of tangled tree roots and rocks underfoot, so it’s wise to wear sturdy shoes.
6. Mountains and cliffs are what make Oahu beautiful, but they can also be treacherous. Pay attention to posted warning signs. Stay back from steep drops and keep an eye on children or dogs that may run ahead.
7. In summary: Hike first thing in the morning. Pack sunscreen, bug spray, wear sturdy shoes, and bring plenty of water!
Closed Trails: Makapu’u Puka, Mariner’s Ridge, Stairway to Heaven. Recognize that hikes get closed down for a reason. Locals are always hearing news stories about tourist fatalities on hikes like these. Even experienced hikers need to take precautions.
If you have hiking plans for your Oahu trip, we’d love to hear about them! Let us know if you have any questions, or if there are hiking tips you think we should add to our list.
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