We Tried It: Hiking Mānoa Falls Trail in Honolulu with Kids
Less mud and more safety upgrades make the newly reopened hike in Honolulu a more family-friendly adventure.
What: A 0.8-mile trail to a 150-foot waterfall
Who: Two moms and their curious explorers ages 3, 4 and 7
Where: The end of Mānoa Road in Mānoa Valley
When: Wednesday at 3 p.m.
After being closed for two years for safety improvements, I heard that the Mānoa Falls Trail had finally reopened. I had hiked it years ago before my son, Duke, was born and remembered the stunning lush scenery, dramatic waterfall, and a LOT of mud. As a condo kid, I’m always looking for ways to get Duke outside exploring nature, mud and all.
Our friends joined us for moral support; we were nervous about the rain earlier that morning and whether our kids would be able to make it to the waterfall. After summer school pickups, we headed straight for the trail. Kama‘āina parking is $4 and we were pleasantly surprised by the number of available stalls. Following a bathroom stop and liberal application of sunscreen and insect repellent, we were off!
“Eww. Mom, it smells bad here.” Duke noticed a different aroma—it smelled like nature to me—and the humidity of the rainforest right away. So different from the air conditioning he is used to!
The trail has been covered with gravel, making it much less muddy than I recall, and excited to be outside and with friends, the kids led the way for most of the hike. When they spotted the empty shipping container tunnel on the trail, they ran inside and yelled to hear their echoes.
Along the way, we stopped a few times at benches for water and snack breaks. The kids liked looking at the new informational signs with environmental, geological and historical facts about Mānoa Valley. The stream ran alongside the trail to our right with several small waterfalls to enjoy. About halfway up is a bamboo forest where the kids pretended to search for pandas.
Then the trail became steeper. The kids didn’t seem to notice, though the 3-year-old in our group started walking a little slower. They distracted themselves from the increased intensity by picking up leaves and branches to use as umbrellas and walking sticks. The trail was busy, but not crowded with other hikers—mostly visitors from what I could tell from the large family groups, mainland sports’ team shirts and rental cars in the parking lot.
I kept thinking “we must be getting close” but the trail kept winding up. Then to our surprise, we turned a bend and there was the glorious waterfall. There were shouts of joy all around! A new rock wall surrounds the waterfall viewing area, keeping keiki from getting too close to the pool below.
After gazing at the falls and guessing how tall it is, we snapped a few photos and headed back down the trail. Surprisingly, the kids still weren’t complaining about being tired (a miracle!). The trail down was a little tricky with unsteady rocks, so we took our time. The new reinforced steps really helped us out. The kids were frolicking and playing make-believe like they were kings and queens of the animal kingdom.
We made it back in an hour and 45 minutes, round-trip. The group was sweaty, shoes were muddy, but we all wore proud smiles (especially the moms). We did it!
Our 5 Tips
- Bring friends. There’s something about camaraderie that squelches whining and keeps kids moving forward.
- Check the weather. Despite the new gravel and safety improvements, I wouldn’t recommend tackling the trail on a rainy day. Disaster comes to mind.
- Stop for a photo op. You may think that the best Instagram opportunity is at the waterfall, but one of the new additions is a tree stump “throne” framed by woven branches and roots about halfway up the trail.
- Consider mud containment. Yes, you will need all the usual suspects: water, snacks, sunscreen, insect repellant and hats. My secret weapon is the gallon jug of water and plastic bag in my car’s trunk; once the hike is over, we first douse and then quarantine our mud-drenched shoes.
- Splurge for a sweet treat. While the Treetops restaurant near the parking lot is closed, there are restrooms and a snack stand selling fruit, shave ice and pineapple soft serve for a cool reward.
Mānoa Falls Trail is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset. Free to hike. Parking is $4 for kama‘āina. hawaiitrails.hawaii.gov