O‘ahu Hike of the Month: Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail
This popular trail is great for beginners and dog owners alike.
Editor’s Note: We love hiking! Fortunately, O‘ahu is full of great hikes. With this new web series, we bring you our favorite O‘ahu trails—a new one every third Wednesday of the month.
TRAIL NAME: Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail
LENGTH: 3 miles roundtrip
LOCATION: On Kalaniana‘ole Highway past Sandy Beach and before Makapu‘u Beach Park
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.
Even before there was a parking lot here—we’re talking decades ago—I would hike this short but scenic trail to the top of the windswept cliffs above the easternmost point of O‘ahu. Though this hike is often dismissed as easy—and it is, especially since the entire trail is paved—the views of the rugged coastline and offshore islands, including Moloka‘i and Maui on clear days, are breathtaking. Most recently, this trail has become my favorite spot to take my three dogs, especially in the early morning when it’s not scorching hot.
Its location makes this one of the best spots to view the sunrise, and thousands of people head here for the annual sunrise hike on New Year’s Day, a tradition held around the country at U.S. state parks. The trail has recently undergone a $3 million renovation to resurface the path and add new lookouts, which have made this hike much more enjoyable, and popular.
Though entirely uphill to the summit, which overlooks the historic Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, this isn’t a very strenuous or difficult hike, leaving me feeling more invigorated than fatigued. The spectacular views help, too.
Most people walk up the paved road with the goal of seeing the 46-foot-tall Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, built in 1909. While that’s an impressive sight, the real reward is the views throughout the hike. On one side is a panoramic vista of the pristine Ka Iwi shoreline, with native ma‘o (Hawaiian cotton), wiliwili (Hawaiian leguminous tree), naio (false sandalwood) and ‘ilima (Hawaiian shrub). On the other is the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean, where, during winter months, you can often see humpback whales frolicking in the warm waters. At the summit, you’ll be greeted with the offshore islands Mānana (Rabbit) and Kāohikaipu, the golden sands of Makapu‘u Beach, the long stretch of Waimānalo and the iconic Mokulua Islands off Lanikai. All in just a 20-minute walk.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car, even if you’re parked in the lot. Theft is common here.
- Bring water and wear sun protection. Because of its location, this trail, which isn’t shady at all, tends to be hot and dry.
- Dog owners need to keep their pooches on leashes and pick up after them. There are trash cans conveniently located along the trail.
- Bring binoculars, especially during the winter months when humpback whales can be spotted offshore.
- Best times to go are early morning or at dusk, as the trail during the day can be uncomfortably hot.
- About halfway to the summit, by a new lookout for whale-watching, is a path that leads down to tide pools at the base of the cliffs. This has become a popular side trip for hikers looking to lounge in the cool, inviting waters below. It takes about half an hour to hike down, and the terrain is much more rugged. Bring sturdy shoes or reef-walkers, a swimsuit and towels.
Map & Directions
The park and trailhead are located off of Kalaniana‘ole Highway (Highway 72) at the southeastern-most point of O‘ahu. From Honolulu, take the H-1 east until it becomes Highway 72. Follow the road beyond Hawai‘i Kai, Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach Park until you reach the park area adjacent to the highway. From the Windward Side, take the Kalaniana‘ole Highway southeast beyond Kailua, Waimānalo and Makapu‘u Beach Park, after which the road climbs up toward Makapu‘u Head. The park will be on the left side of the highway.