20 Great Oahu Hikes

Here are 20 great adventures that offer beautiful vistas and waterfalls, steep climbs and relics of the past.


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A lookout on the Kealia Trail and Kuaokala Access Road hike offers a spectacular view of Makua Valley.
Photo: david chatsuthiphan​ 

 

Mānoa Falls, Diamond Head Crater, Kokohead—O‘ahu’s most popular trails attract crowds for a reason.

 

At a certain point, though, you’ve gotta expand your hiking horizons. Here are 20 great adventures that offer beautiful vistas and waterfalls, steep climbs and relics of the past. One way or another, they’ll take your breath away.

 


 

 

Disclaimer

Hiking can be dangerous, and not every trail is a good idea for every person. Keep your personal fitness and skill levels in mind, and always take proper precautions when venturing off road. Heed “no trespassing” and other warning signs.

 

 

Five Ridges to Tackle

 

1. Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail

PHOTODAVID CHATSUTHIPHAN

Difficulty: ** 
Length: 5 miles round trip 
Wet/Dry: Dry 

“The easiest of the ridge hikes,” notes hiking guru and author Stuart Ball. This mild trek may not be as bad as its Ko‘olau cousins, but you may have a Koko Crater moment when you reach the stairs at the end. Plant lovers, feast your eyes on the variety of flora, which range from alien ironwoods to uluhe ferns. Reach the summit, and get the same clear east side views, less the Lanipō struggle.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING EAST ON KALANIANA‘OLE HIGHWAY TOWARD HAWAI‘I KAI, TURN LEFT ONTO KULI‘OU‘OU ROAD. PROCEED UNTIL THE ROAD ENDS IN A CUL-DE-SAC WITH A NARROW PAVED PATH AT ITS END—THIS IS THE WAY TO THE TRAILHEAD. NOTE THAT PARKING IS PROHIBITED BY SIGNS IN THE CUL-DE-SAC ITSELF, SO IT’S BEST TO LOOK FOR PARKING ALONG KULI‘OU‘OU STREET.

 

2. Makapu‘u Ridge

Difficulty: ****
Length: 5 miles one way
Wet/Dry: Dry

Forget the Makapu‘u lighthouse—if you want a real hiking expedition, take this coarser path from the lookout all the way to Waimānalo. It starts out steep and gets pretty narrow, but glimpses of Hawai‘i Kai and the Windward Coast await you along the way. Keep an eye out for the Cold War-era missile pad, and don’t forget to get a ride back to the lookout lot—this is a one-way hike.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING NORTH ON KALANIANA‘OLE HIGHWAY FROM HAWAI‘I KAI, PASS THE TURNOFF FOR THE LIGHTHOUSE AND TURN RIGHT INTO THE MAKAPU‘U LOOKOUT PARKING LOT. THE TRAILHEAD IS LOCATED ACROSS THE HIGHWAY FROM THE LOT EXIT.

 

3. Waimano Ridge

Difficulty: ***    
Length: 15 miles round trip     
Wet/Dry: Wet

Yes, it is really that long, but fear not: This is one of the best maintained hikes around. It’s got a wide, level pathway that was originally created by the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps. What’s more, says Ball, “there’s something for everyone,” from explorable plantation-era drainage tunnels to tasty mountain apples and strawberry guava off the trees. Just don’t get too distracted and miss the view of Kahalu‘u at the ridge summit!

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING WEST ON THE H-1, TAKE EXIT 10 (PEARL CITY/WAIMALU) ONTO MOANALUA ROAD. PROCEED UNTIL MOANALUA ENDS AND TURN RIGHT ONTO WAIMANO HOME ROAD. CONTINUE ON WAIMANO UNTIL YOU REACH THE PARKING AREA ON THE LEFT AND A GUARD SHACK ON THE RIGHT. FOLLOW THE CHAIN LINK FENCE TO THE TRAIL HEAD.

 

4. Lanipō​

Difficulty: ****
Length: 7.5 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Friends may tell you that this one is a walk in the park. Don’t believe them. Once you set out from the trailhead at Maunalani Circle, you’ll have to follow the ridge up, then down, then up, and … well, you get the picture. Don’t count on the elements to give you a break, either. The (narrow) path is muddy after rain and blistering in the sun. The payoff? Stunning views from Waikīkī to Waimānalo with the Ko‘olau range in between.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING EAST ON WAI‘ALAE AVENUE, TAKE A LEFT ONTO WILHELMINA RISE, CONTINUING ALL THE WAY UP THE RIDGE UNTIL THE STREET INTERSECTS SIERRA DRIVE. TURN RIGHT ONTO SIERRA, THEN RIGHT AGAIN WHERE IT INTERSECTS MAUNALANI CIRCLE. CONTINUE ON MAUNALANI—THE ROAD WILL CURVE TO THE LEFT—UNTIL YOU REACH THE MARKED PATH TO THE TRAILHEAD JUST AFTER A DRIVEWAY WITH A SURFBOARD MAILBOX STAND. SIGNS PROHIBIT PARKING ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE STREET, BUT NONE ARE POSTED ON THE SIDE YOU ENTER ON.

 

5. Mānana Trail

 

Difficulty: ****
Length: 11.6 miles round trip     
Wet/Dry: Mixed

Build your own adventure by going only as far as you want. Whether you’ve got the gusto to make it to the summit or feel fatigued at the picnic rest site, this route above Pacific Palisades offers some of the best ridge hiking on the entire Ko‘olau range. The most important rule? Stick to the main trail—follow a tributary path, and you may wind up in Waimano Valley.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING WEST ON THE H-1, TAKE EXIT 10 (PEARL CITY/WAIMALU) ONTO MOANALUA ROAD. PROCEED UNTIL MOANALUA ENDS AND TURN RIGHT ONTO WAIMANO HOME ROAD. TURN LEFT ON KOMO MAI DRIVE AND FOLLOW THE ROAD UNTIL IT ENDS. THE TRAILHEAD IS REACHABLE THROUGH THE METAL GATE AT THE END OF THE CUL-DE-SAC. HERE TOO, PARKING IS NOT PERMITTED IN THE CUL-DE-SAC, SO BACKTRACK TO THE STREET FOR A SPACE.​

 

 

Go Chasing Waterfalls

 

1. Likeke Falls

Difficulty: **
Length: 4 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Spice up your next jog on Old Pali Road by taking an old cobblestone path up through a nearby valley to the falls. Be persistent: The sound of running water makes the falls seem closer than they are. At the end is a moderate-sized cascade with plenty of foliage and tree branches around, making it a great spot to hang out—literally. 

DIRECTIONS
THE TRAIL TO THE FALLS IS ACCESSIBLE FROM THE OLD PALI ROAD, WHICH IN TURN CAN BE REACHED FROM THE PALI LOOKOUT (SEE DIRECTIONS AND PARKING FOR PALI PUKA). CONTINUE ON OLD PALI ROAD UNTIL YOU REACH A CONCRETE BARRIER AND A SET OF STAIRS. BY THIS POINT, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO HEAR THE RUNNING WATER.

 

2. Lā‘ie Falls

Difficulty: ***
Length: 7 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Mixed

Yup, there’s a waterfall up there! Grab a permit from Hawai‘i Reserves at the Lā‘ie Shopping Center and head up a quiet country road to find the trailhead. From grasslands to dense forests, this hike features a variety of biomes on the way to the main attraction. This isn’t the largest waterfall, so aim to go after a good rain, when the pool and cascade should be most impressive.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING NORTH ON HIGHWAY 83 TOWARD Lā‘ie, PASS THE POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER AND TURN INTO Lā‘ie SHOPPING CENTER ON THE LEFT. LOOK FOR THE HAWAII RESERVES OFFICE (OPEN 9 A.M. TO 5 P.M. MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY) WHICH GRANTS THE PERMIT REQUIRED FOR THIS HIKE. FROM THE CENTER, CONTINUE NORTH ON HIGHWAY 83 AND TURN LEFT INTO NANILOA LOOP. ONCE IN THE ROUNDABOUT, TAKE THE POOHAILI STREET EXIT AND PROCEED TO THE PARKING LOT NEXT TO LĀ‘IE PARK. FROM THERE, YOU WILL NEED TO PROCEED ALONG THE ROAD BY FOOT TO REACH THE TRAILHEAD.

 

3. Maunawili Falls

 

Difficulty: ***
Length: 2.6 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

The trail itself may be muddy and uneven, but “the pool and falls are spectacular,” says Ball. Indeed, many take advantage of the swimming hole by diving from the top of the falls or from a ridge even higher up. This windward trail is crowded with locals and tourists at midday and on weekends, so plan to go very early or late and on a weekday. Don’t miss the great Ko‘olau views on the way up. A word of caution: If you’re leery of leptospirosis, this might be one to skip.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING NORTH ON THE PALI HIGHWAY, PROCEED TO THE INTERSECTION WITH KALANIANA‘OLE HIGHWAY, AULOA ROAD AND KAMEHAMEHA HIGHWAY. TURN RIGHT ONTO AULOA ROAD, THEN RIGHT ON LUNAAI STREET, LEFT ON LUNAHELU STREET, AND FINALLY RIGHT ONTO MAUNAWILI ROAD. PROCEED ON MAUNAWILI UNTIL YOU REACH ITS INTERSECTION WITH KELEWINA STREET. THE TRAILHEAD IS LOCATED AT THIS POINT. PARKING IS SCARCE AT THE TRAILHEAD, SO LOOK FOR A SPOT CLOSER TO THE INTERSECTION OF MAUNAWILI AND ALOHA OLE DRIVE.

 

4. Lulumahu Falls

Difficulty: **
Length: 2.5 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

The old ruins, bamboo forest, and 50-foot waterfall make you feel like you’ve leaped right into one of the Indiana Jones movies. Look for the trailhead near where Nu‘uanu Pali Drive reconnects with the Pali Highway, and be sure to follow the trail. If you’ve lost your way, just head upstream. The ruins are the remnants of King Kamehameha III’s summer palace, known formally as Kaniakapupu.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING NORTH ON THE PALI HIGHWAY FROM HONOLULU, CONTINUING PAST THE FIRST INTERSECTION WITH NU‘UANU PALI DRIVE. IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE SECOND INTERSECTION WITH NU‘UANU PALI, WHICH IS PRECEDED BY A YELLOW DIAMOND-SHAPED SIGN MARKING THE END OF THE RIGHTMOST LANE OF THE HIGHWAY, PULL OFF OF THE HIGHWAY AND ONTO THE GRAVEL PARKING AREA. THE TRAILHEAD IS THROUGH THE BREAK IN THE FENCE.

 

5. Koloa Gulch

 

Difficulty: ****
Length: 8 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Stuart Ball calls this one “somewhat more rugged and wild than other waterfall [hikes].” He’s probably right, judging from the stony stream crossings and the aquatic life around them. Enjoy the verdant valley walls and smaller cascades as you head further into the gulch, eventually reaching the 80-foot-tall Kalo Falls and pool. Pick up a hiking permit from Hawai‘i Reserves at the Lā‘ie Shopping Center but be ready for difficult, tricky going.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING NORTH ON HIGHWAY 83 TOWARD LĀ‘IE, PASS THE POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER AND TURN INTO LĀ‘IE SHOPPING CENTER ON THE LEFT. LOOK FOR THE HAWAII RESERVES OFFICE (OPEN 9 AM TO 5 PM MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY) WHICH GRANTS THE PERMIT REQUIRED FOR THIS HIKE. FROM THE CENTER, HEAD NORTH ON THE HIGHWAY AND PARK IN THE LOT FOR LĀ‘IE BEACH PARK. WALK SOUTH ON THE HIGHWAY UNTIL YOU REACH A NARROW PAVED ROAD ON THE RIGHT, ACROSS FROM A LARGE WHITE MANSION AND JUST BEFORE THE 20-MILE MARKER. THE TRAIL BEGINS BEYOND A CHAINED PORTION OF THE ROAD.

 

 

The Paths Less Traveled

 

1. Pali Puka

Photo: DAVID CHATSUTHIPHAN​ 

 

Difficulty: **
Length: 1 mile round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Want the most gawk for your walk? Instead of heading straight to the Pali Lookout, find the trailhead that begins with a gap in the stone wall in the parking lot. Twenty minutes later, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Windward Coast framed by the puka itself.  Be careful, though—the trail is often just feet from a sheer cliff drop, and there are no guard rails here to keep you safe.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING NORTHEAST OUT OF HONOLULU ON THE PALI HIGHWAY, FOLLOW THE SIGNS FOR NU‘UANU PALI STATE PARK (COLLOQUIALLY PALI LOOKOUT). EXIT THE HIGHWAY BY FOLLOWING THE SIGNS JUST BEFORE THE WILSON TUNNEL. AT THE LOOKOUT PARKING LOT, SCAN THE ROCK WALL FRONTING THE BUS STALLS FOR A CRUMBLING DIP WITH SOME BAMBOO ON THE OTHER SIDE. THIS IS THE TRAILHEAD.

 

2. Mokulē‘ia & Kuaokalā Firebreak Roads

Difficulty: **
Length: 10.8 miles one way
Wet/Dry: Mixed

The Wai‘anae Range gets hiked less often than its sister mountains. That means more room for sprinting on this wide dirt road. See Wai‘anae on one side and Mokulē‘ia’s shore on the other, or come early for a stunning sunrise. Where to enter? That’s up to you: Intersections with the Keālia Trail and Mokulē‘ia Forest Reserve Access Road mean you can approach from either side of the mountains.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING WEST FROM HALE‘IWA ON FARRINGTON HIGHWAY, PROCEED UNTIL YOU REACH A GREEN METAL GATE ON THE LEFT THAT MARKS MOKULē‘IA FOREST RESERVE ACCESS ROAD WITH A GROVE OF COCONUT PALMS JUST OFF OF THE HIGHWAY. THE ROAD IS NOT MARKED BY A STREET SIGN—THE LAST CLEARLY NAMED STREET WILL BE MAHINAAI STREET ON THE RIGHT. THE ACCESS ROAD LEADS TO THE TRAILHEAD, BUT IS ONLY ACCESSIBLE BY BICYCLE OR ON FOOT. AVOID LEAVING VALUABLES IN THE CAR IF YOU PARK ALONG THE HIGHWAY, AS VEHICLE BREAK-INS ARE COMMON.

 

3. Kuaokalā–Trail

Difficulty | **
Length | 5 miles round trip
Wet/Dry | Dry

Tired of windward views? Try this Wai‘anae ridge for something new. It ends at the same point as Keālia, but the gain is more gradual and (relieved sigh) switchback free. Don’t hold out for the best views until the end—glimpses of both sides of the range are best on the way up. Forks abound, but if you always hang a left, you will survive. The top two necessities for this hike: a four-wheel drive vehicle for getting to the trailhead at Ka‘ena Point Tracking Station and a permit from the state.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING WEST ON FARRINGTON HIGHWAY, PASS WAI‘ANAE AND PROCEED UNTIL YOU REACH YOKOHAMA BAY ON THE LEFT AND SATELLITE TRACKING STATION ROAD ON THE RIGHT. CHECK IN WITH YOUR STATE-ISSUED PERMIT AT THE GUARD STATION. CONTINUE ON THE ROAD AND TAKE A RIGHT AT THE STOP SIGN. AFTER PASSING THE SATELLITE STATION, YOU WILL REACH ANOTHER INTERSECTION WITH A DIRT LOT NEARBY. PARK HERE, AND LOOK FOR THE TRAILHEAD NEXT TO AN UNPAVED DIRT ROAD THAT DESCENDS DOWN INTO THE GULCH.

 

4. Pu‘u Manamana Mini Hike

 

Difficulty: ****
Length: 1-2 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

The mountain’s nickname is “Crouching Lion,” but the hidden beauty of this trail is the short 45 or so minutes you’ll need to reach the top—and don’t worry, there’s no need to continue on to the deadly ridge. Look closely to find the trailhead near Trout Farm Road, just off the pavement on Kamehameha Highway. Make it through the steamy jungle path, and the sweeping ocean views near the top of the big cat are yours to take in. 

DIRECTIONS
FROM KA‘A‘AWA, HEAD WEST ON KAMEHAMEHA HIGHWAY TOWARD KAHANA BAY BEACH PARK. TURN LEFT ONTO TROUT FARM ROAD AND FIND PARKING (SPACE OFF OF THE HIGHWAY NEAR THE TRAILHEAD IS LIMITED). WALKING BACK TO THE HIGHWAY, TURN RIGHT AND WALK BACK TOWARDS KA‘A‘AWA UNTIL YOU REACH A “DO NOT PASS” SIGN. THE TRAILHEAD IS BETWEEN THIS MARKER AND THE NEXT TELEPHONE POLE.

 

 

Hikes with History

 

1. ‘Aiea Loop Trail

Difficulty: *
Length: 5 miles
Wet/Dry: Wet

Hunting for an ancient hei‘au? Wondering where to find wreckage from a World War II bomber? This trail at the end of ‘Aiea Heights Drive has a variety of sites for history buffs, and the path is suitable for hikers of all abilities. For a more modern vignette, check out the bird’s-eye view of the H3. When you’re finished, pavilions make this the perfect place to picnic, post-hike. 

DIRECTIONS
HEADING WEST ON THE H-1 TOWARD ALOHA STADIUM, TAKE THE STADIUM/‘AIEA EXIT ONTO MOANALUA ROAD. TURN RIGHT ON ‘AIEA HEIGHTS DRIVE AND FOLLOW IT UNTIL IT LOOPS AROUND IN KEA‘IWA HEIAU STATE PARK, WHERE THE TRAIL IS LOCATED. PARKING AND FACILITIES SHOULD BE PLENTIFUL HERE.

 

2. Kamananui Valley Road

 

Difficulty: **
Length: 7 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Finding petroglyphs on O‘ahu is hard, but you can check some out on a boulder just off this path in Moanalua Valley. Add in some old carriage bridges and ruins from the former Damon Estate, and you’ve got a great hike made even better by fascinating archaeological sites. Experienced hikers: Motor past the official end of the trail to find the legal(ish) backdoor route to the top of Ha‘ikū Stairs, along with some of the most treacherous ridge hiking on the island.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING WEST ON THE MOANALUA FREEWAY, TAKE THE MOANALUA VALLEY/SALT LAKE/RED HILL EXIT ONTO ALA AOLANI STREET. CONTINUE ON ALA AOLANI UNTIL THE STREET ENDS. PARK IN THE LOT NEXT TO THE BASKETBALL COURTS. PROCEED BY FOOT ON THE DIRT PATH TO THE TRAIL.

 

3. Judd Memorial Trail & “Jackass Ginger” Pool

Difficulty: *
Length: 1.5 miles
Wet/Dry: Wet

This hike’s a quick one, with a sweet swimming hole just past a grove of banyan and mango trees. All were planted by territorial forester Charles S. Judd decades ago. The trailhead is off Nu‘uanu Pali Road near Reservoir No. 2. Apparently, a donkey was tethered there in the early 20th century, surrounded by (you guessed it) a bunch of ginger.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING NORTH ON THE PALI HIGHWAY, TURN RIGHT ONTO NU‘UANU PALI DRIVE. SHORTLY AFTER THE HAIRPIN CURVE, LOOK FOR A CONCRETE BRIDGE AND A SIGN ON THE RIGHT THAT READS “PLEASE KOKUA NO DUMPING” JUST BEFORE IT. THE TRAIL STARTS JUST BEFORE THE BRIDGE. PARKING IS LIMITED, SO CONSIDER OTHER SPACES IN THE RESIDENTIAL AREA BEFORE THE TRAILHEAD.

 

 

The Bad-Ass Hikes

 

1. Ka‘au Crater

 

Difficulty: *****
Length: 5 miles round trip
Wet/Dry: Wet

Can’t decide whether you want to conquer a ridge, a crater or a waterfall? Do all three! Beginning in upper Pālolo, navigate three waterfalls before reaching the crater’s rim and the marsh inside it that feeds them. Continue along the ridge for great views of both Waikīkī and the Windward Coast. The going is steep, both up and down, but if you’ve ever dreamed of being in a scene from Lost, the climb is worth it. 

DIRECTIONS
HEADING EAST ON WAI‘ALAE AVENUE, TURN LEFT ONTO 10TH AVENUE. PROCEED UNTIL WAIOMAO ROAD; TAKE A RIGHT. CONTINUE ALL THE WAY UNTIL THE END OF WAIOMAO WHERE THE ROAD CONTINUES ON A NARROWER PATH. FROM HERE, THE TRAILHEAD IS ACCESSIBLE BY FOOT, AND THE MOST CONVENIENT PARKING AREA IS ON THE RIGHT ACROSS FROM A RESIDENCE. (NOTE: WAIOMAO ROAD IS DIVIDED INTO TWO SEGMENTS BY HALENOHO PLACE. TO REACH THE TRAIL, CONTINUE ON WAIOMAO WHEN IT BECOMES HALENOHO, THEN TURN LEFT ONTO THE SECOND SEGMENT.)      

 

2. Keālia Trail & Access Road

 

Difficulty | *****
Length | 5 miles round trip
Wet/Dry | Dry

Get your cardio fix with 19 switchbacks that rise 1,000 feet up the hill behind Dillingham Airfield, followed by a steady two-mile incline. Distract yourself from the burn with views of Mokulē‘ia and Hale‘iwa on the way up, and a stunning vista of Mākua Valley waiting for you at the top. And if you can make it all the way up, going down will be a cakewalk.

DIRECTIONS
HEADING WEST FROM HALE‘IWA ON FARRINGTON HIGHWAY, PASS CAMP MOKULē‘IA AND TAKE THE THIRD ENTRANCE TO DILLINGHAM AIRFIELD INTO THE GLIDER-PILOT PARKING LOT. THE TRAIL STARTS TOWARD THE HILL HERE.

 

3. Wai‘anae-Ka‘ala Trail

 

Difficulty | *****
Length | 6 miles round trip
Wet/Dry | Mixed

Your goal: the 4,000 foot tall summit of Mount Ka‘ala, the island’s highest peak. Your starting point: the end of Wai‘anae Valley Road, elevation 1,000 feet. In between: paved roads, steep ridges, rock faces, a boardwalk trail, and panoramas of the Leeward Coast and the North Shore to Central O‘ahu. Not sure where you’re going? Follow the trees tagged with purple bottle caps up and the orange ones down. It doesn’t get any higher than this—on O‘ahu, at least.

DIRECTIONS
TRAVELING NORTHWEST ON FARRINGTON HIGHWAY INTO WAI‘ANAE, TURN RIGHT ONTO WAI‘ANAE VALLEY ROAD. CONTINUE UNTIL THE ROAD ENDS AT THE TRAILHEAD. PARKING IS IN THE GRAVEL LOT ON THE LEFT.

 

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