Whether you’re an avid, experienced hiker or simply looking for a leisurely morning workout, Oahu has a hike for you. The island offers a variety of terrains from wet rainforest to rocky, volcanic shoreline. Here are 10 amazing places to experience Hawaii’s nature.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
This beginner-friendly, 2-mile hike is perfect for families with smaller children. Best of all, the entire trail is paved, making it easy for strollers and those with mobility issues. The reward at the top is a bird’s eye view of the famous Makapuu lighthouse built in 1909 and almost all of the windward coast. During the winter months, the trail at Makapuu is one of the best spots on the island to see migrating humpback whales, and the neighboring islands of Molokai and Lanai can be seen in the distance on clear days as well. Hop back in your car after the hike and continue up Kalanianaole Highway for a few miles to enjoy nearby Makapuu Beach Park for some body surfing and sunbathing.
The undisputed favorite hike amongst visitors on Oahu has got to be Diamond Head. The popular hike’s close proximity to tourist friendly Waikiki paired with the jaw-dropping ocean views at the top have kept people coming in full force over the years. Not to mention, as one of Oahu’s most memorable landmarks, something about looking at the 300,000-year-old volcanic crater just makes you want to climb to the top! Less than one mile each way, the rugged path does have some steep spots and relatively no shade, so remember to bring plenty of sun protection, water, and appropriate footwear.
Hiking through the Hawaiian rainforest to a hidden natural waterfall should be on everyone’s island bucket list, and 100-foot Manoa Falls is definitely a fantastic place to accomplish it. While the trail is well-maintained and the entire hike falls just under 2 miles roundtrip, the spots leading up to the legendary waterfall can get sufficiently steep and rocky. Sturdy hiking shoes are a must, and don’t be surprised if you see more than a few hikers wearing ponchos to combat the notoriously wet Manoa weather (that’s what makes it a rainforest, after all). The easy-to-find parking lot and location just 15 minutes from the center of Honolulu makes this hike as user-friendly as it is epic.
'Aiea Loop Trail
Located within the Keaīwa Heiau State Recreation Area in Aiea, this loop trail is just under 5 miles long and will take you along a ridge of the historic Halawa Valley. If you’re into trees, this area will be of particular interest, as a variety of lemon eucalyptus, native ohia, koa, and pine trees line the trail. The unique wreckage of a B-24J bomber from a 1944 plane crash used to be visible off the trail, but these days it is nearly impossible to see. The hike itself isn’t very strenuous, but it can get muddy with some steep moments, providing a relaxing workout.
Also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail (though you will rarely hear the locals calling it that), the Lanikai Pillbox Hike offers scenic views of the brightest blue waters on the island. Get an Instagram-worthy shot of the Mokulua Islands and the famous white sands of Kailua Beach below once you reach the top, and spend some time enjoying the breeze while you’re at it. With the trailhead being mere walking distance from the nearest beach, don’t be fooled by your fellow hikers in bathing suits and casual sandals—you definitely don’t want to tackle this hike without closed toed shoes with good grip.
This isolated trail has not one but two different trailheads, each from a completely separate part of the island. Both, however, lead to the same place: a protected seabird sanctuary on the western most tip of Oahu. Hike in from Yokohama Bay on the leeward side of the island for a dry, hot coastal trail full of switchbacks and volcanic rocks, or start from Mokuleia on the north shore to experience more of a green, sand dune-filled terrain. Both are about 2.5 miles in each direction, and make sure to allot plenty of extra time to explore the seabird sanctuary at the end. This trail has long-been considered a local secret, so be sure to be respectful when you visit (and do so before the word really gets out).
With more than 1,000 vertical steps to reach the top, bragging rights are reason enough to visit the Koko Head Trail; and it goes without saying, this hike is best avoided by those who are afraid of heights. The steps are actually old railroad ties that were mounted to the side of the crater during World War II to bring supplies to the military bunkers on the top. You will undoubtedly see regulars trying to beat their previous record by hustling to the top, but don’t be intimidated, everyone respects each other's pace on Koko Head. The reward at the end will be a windy, panoramic view of the eastern coastline below, so be sure to take your time enjoying the top (while you catch your breath).
An accessible, beautiful hike to Maunawili Falls near Kailua is the perfect way to spend a Saturday (as long as you don’t mind a little company). This 2.5-mile round-trip hike is highly trafficked on the weekends and is often frequented by people spending time enjoying the area around the waterfall on their days off, though it quiets down significantly during the weekdays and tourist off season. Balancing is key, as it requires more than a few maneuvers over slippery rocks to reach the falls, so sturdy shoes that you don’t mind getting wet are a must.
With three separate waterfalls, more than 7 miles of nearly unmarked trail, and an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet, the Ka’au Crater Hike has earned its reputation as one of Oahu’s most difficult. Only experienced hikes should attempt to tackle this rocky, slippery trail, as it takes knowledge of the area and some scrambling skills to reach the end successfully. From the tops of the extremely narrow ridges, you’ll get a breathtaking view of the eastern side of the island from Upper Palolo, and spanning the time of at least five hours, your legs will definitely be shaking once you’re done.
Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Trail
A ridge hike set in the Hawaii Kai neighborhood overlooking Kuli'ou'ou Valley, this intermediate trail takes hikers through several different environments including a wooded forest, steep hillsides with gnarled roots, and verdant, natural vegetation. Be prepared for a good workout, though the panoramic views at the summit are more than worth the burn. The entire hike spans about 2.5 miles each way through several switchbacks and a couple of more challenging inclines; you’ll know you’ve almost made it once you reach the erosion-proofing stairs.