Home Travel The 16 Best Hikes on Oahu for Every Skill Level

The 16 Best Hikes on Oahu for Every Skill Level

by Atlanta Business Journal

Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the gorgeous island of O’ahu. Whether you’re looking for a light stroll or a challenging climb on your Hawaii vacation, the top O’ahu trails highlight the natural beauty of this island paradise. Treat yourself to jaw-dropping views of the vast Pacific Ocean and iconic landmarks as you trek past all kinds of indigenous and introduced flowers, plants and trees. You’ll also get to hear the sounds of both rare and common birds and other critters that live in the lush valleys and forested trails. Lace up your boots and hit the trails to be inspired by what nature has to offer on some of the best hikes on O’ahu.

Hikers should be sure to proceed with caution and respect while venturing out onto the trails. Don’t veer off the paths, adhere to trail signs, check the weather beforehand, pack enough water, wear closed-toe shoes and check in at trailhead stations. It is also important to be considerate of the people, land and wildlife as you hike; visitors must remember to pack out what you packed in.

(Note: Some of the following hikes and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic or trail conditions. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Department of Land and Natural Resources for trail updates.)

The Top Oahu Hikes for Every Skill Level

Puu Ohia (Mount Tantalus) Trail

(Heather Goodman/Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Approximate total length: 1 mile
Approximate elevation gain: 350 feet
Trail type: Out and back

At just about a mile out and back, the Pu’u Ohia Trail is generally considered easy, although it’s not entirely flat. You’ll experience gradual elevation gain through a serene bamboo forest to get to the top of Mount Tantalus; look out for the iconic hibiscus flower. Recent hikers praise the trail for being shady but warn it can get slippery after rain. Some add that while the views along the hike are beautiful, there’s sometimes not much to see at the top because of overgrown bushes and trees. From the trail you can see the volcanic Lē’ahi (also called Diamond Head), downtown Honolulu, the Ko’olau Range and other peaks.

The trailhead is easily accessible with parking available at the top of Tantalus Drive. This hike is part of the Honolulu-Mauka Trail Network, which comprises 18 interconnected trails. Follow this route out and back or take connecting trails such as the Mānoa Cliffs Trail for a longer excursion. This is a popular area for hiking, birding and trail running. You can even bring your furry friend on a leash, but beware of hunting on the trail, as hunting dogs may be off-leash.

Waimea Valley Trail

Approximate total length: 2 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 270 feet
Trail type: Out and back

Waimea Valley, which stretches from the mountains to the sea, is located on the North Shore. It is directly across from Waimea Bay, a legendary big wave surfing hot spot. This plot of land is home to numerous botanical gardens with thriving flora and fauna. Recent visitors comment that the flowers, in particular, are impressive. Waimea Valley awes tourists with its natural beauty and is revered by locals as a significant cultural and historic site. Explore the area on your own or as part of a free tour, but note that you will have to pay a fee to enter Waimea Valley. The paved Waimea Valley Trail – less than 2 miles round trip – winds through the world-class botanical gardens and past historical sites, leading to a natural 45-foot waterfall.

Most of this popular trail is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible, though it can be steep. For a fee, shuttle rides also take travelers to the waterfall turnaround area. Guests are often allowed to swim in the pool at the waterfall for a truebucket list activity; swimming access depends on daily conditions, and some visitors warn that the cascade isn’t always flowing, so check ahead if you plan to take a dip. Life vests are required for swimming and provided at no charge by lifeguards on duty.

Diamond Head (Leahi) Summit Trail

Diamond Head Crater,Honolulu, HI

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 2 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 450 feet
Trail type: Out and back

The silhouette of Diamond Head, called Lē’ahi in Hawaiian, is probably what most people envision when they think of Hawaii. Did you know it’s an extinct volcanic crater and you can actually hike to the top? At just under 2 miles round trip, the steep Diamond Head Summit Trail is one of the most well-known hikes on the island. With nearly 3,000 visitors a day here, recent hikers warn it can get crowded. This trail is part of the 475-acre Diamond Head State Monument. The peak provides spectacular views of famous Waikīkī Beach and the expansive Pacific Ocean.

To get to the summit, you have to endure about 200 steps and a few dimly lit tunnels. The trail and tunnels were originally built as part of the coastal defense system in O’ahu; atop the crater you’ll notice old military bunkers and a 1917 navigational lighthouse. This trail is easy to get to since Lē’ahi sits only a few miles east of Waikīkī. Reservations are required for out-of-state visitors, and the parking and entry fees must be paid online in advance. No dogs are allowed here.

Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

Trail to Makapu'u Point Lighthouse, Oahu, Hawaii

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 2.5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 500 feet
Trail type: Out and back

This hike is a relatively easy 2.5 miles round trip with about 500 feet of elevation gain. The paved trail leads to the 1909 red-roofed Makapu’u Lighthouse, which can be seen from the summit. Located within the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail provides stunning views of Koko Head and Koko Crater, Makapu’u Beach, the small islands of Mānana (Rabbit Island) and Kāohikaipu, and Moloka’i on a clear day. Also keep your eyes open for migrating humpback whales in December through May; you may want to pack a pair of binoculars. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as hikers warn it can get hot on the exposed trail. The parking area with trailhead access is located off Kalaniana’ole Highway.

Kaena Point Trail (from North via Farrington Highway)

Sunset Sunlight at the Sand Dunes of Kaena Point Nature Park in Oahu. The image shows the Waianea Coast of Oahu stretching away to the south and the rocks of the north shore. Kaena Point is also Albatros nesting place and a playground for Hawaiian Monk Seal.

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 225 feet
Trail type: Out and back

If you’re looking for a hike closer to the ocean, this is the one. The Ka’ena Point Trail hugs the coast along the westernmost point of O’ahu and offers dramatic ocean vistas. The 5-mile dirt trail, which used to be a railroad bed, is accessible to hikers and bikers, but leave your dog behind. Recent visitors commented that the trail, which is considered fairly easy, is rocky and there’s no shade; it can also be windy.

Along the way, you may spot monk seals on the beach, but don’t get too close. While hiking in this area you’ll also find tide pools, natural stone arches, blowholes, seabirds and native vegetation. For an intermediate-level addition to your hike, climb up to the pillbox – a World War II-era observation structure. If you begin on the Mokulē’ia side, at the end you’ll arrive at the remote Ka’ena Point Natural Area Reserve; you can park at the end of the paved road before setting out.

Manoa (Waihi) Falls Trail

Amazing green forest. Manoa falls trail, Oahu, Hawaii

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 1.5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 630 feet
Trail type: Out and back

Situated only a short drive from Waikīkī at the back of lush Mānoa Valley, the Mānoa Falls Trail is one of the most easily accessible waterfall hikes on O’ahu for all skill levels, meaning it’s also often heavily trafficked. This out-and-back trail – part of the Honolulu-Mauka Trail Network – is about 1.7 miles total and has an elevation gain of about 630 feet. If you feel like you’ve just set foot on a tropical movie set when you hike this trail, that’s because you have: The trail has served as a filming location for shows like “Lost” and movies such as “Jurassic Park.” The dog-friendly trail (for pets on a leash) winds through a shipping container into a field, across a wooden footbridge framed by eucalyptus trees and past a freshwater pool, taking hikers through a lush rainforest before arriving at a viewing area of Mānoa Falls. There are a couple of rest stops along the way.

Parents praise this hike as being family-friendly. To get to the trailhead, take Mānoa Road to Paradise Park and park either in the lot there or in the neighborhood, taking care not to leave valuables in your car. Due to the year-round rainfall in the area, the trail can be muddy, so wearing appropriate footwear is advised. Mosquitoes can also be found here as well, so it’s not a bad idea to carry bug spray.

Makiki Valley Trail

Dense lush green foliage on the Makiki Trail, Oahu, Hawaii with trunks of forest trees in a tropical background

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 2.5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 800 feet
Trail type: Out and back

This out-and-back hike starts at the Hawaii Nature Center. Considered an easy to moderate trek, the Makiki Valley Trail is part of the Honolulu-Mauka Trail Network. As you wander along the path, you’ll encounter many types of vegetation, including banyan trees; native ti (also called ki) plants, which are used to make skirts for hula; and kukui trees, whose nuts were used by early Hawaiians to make leis. Near the end of the trail, travelers will climb along the side of the volcanic black cinder cone, Sugarloaf (Pu’u Kakea). Watch your footing on this hike, as the trail includes stream crossings and slippery rocks; past hikers do warn that it can be muddy. Visitors’ dogs must be on a leash on hiking trails.

Waahila Ridge Trail

Waahila ridge trail in Honolulu, Hawaii, as the sun sets over Manoa Valley

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 3 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 960 feet
Trail type: Out and back

Located in the Wa’ahila Ridge State Park, the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail is about 3 miles long. This hike winds through forested woodlands and across an open ridge with vistas of Mānoa Valley, Pālolo Valley, Honolulu and the Ko’olau Range. Native birds and plants can be viewed along the trail. Many who have hiked here said they rarely saw another person on the trail. If you’re feeling energetic, at the end of the trail there is an option to continue down the Kolowalu Trail into Mānoa Valley. The trailhead in Wa’ahila Ridge State Park has a lot for travelers to park in.

Nakoa Trail

Approximate total length: 4 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 810 feet
Trail type: Loop

If you’re an avid hiker, you’ll be stoked to explore this moderate loop located in Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park. The Nākoa Trail winds through the lush Kahana Valley, the wettest valley on O’ahu. You’ll have to make several stream crossings along the trail; some past visitors caution that the streams can be deep. Use care and check the weather before hiking on Nākoa Trail since it can be wet, muddy, slippery and subject to flash flooding. On the other hand, the abundance of precipitation makes the perfect conditions for indigenous plants to thrive, such as hau, hala, kukui, guava and mango trees.

Here’s a note of interest for history buffs: During WWII, the military used the Kahana Valley for jungle warfare training. You may notice the remains of 1940s bunkers and tank barriers on the hike. To get to the trail within the state park, take Kahana Valley Road to the designated hiker parking lot and head for the check-in station. Dogs making the trek must be on a leash. Beware of hunters.

Maauka Ridge Trail

Approximate total length: 4 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,030 feet
Trail type: Loop

Before hitting this trail, register at the hunter/hiker check-in mailbox. The Ma’auka Ridge Trail, also called Papali Trail, is an approximately 4-mile loop that features thick hau forest, wide open spaces, stream crossings, switchbacks and gulches. Hikers love that it has lots of shade. This trail has places to stop and catch your breath at a covered picnic table, a shelter with benches and a lookout with views of the town Hau’ula. While making this trek, see if you can spot a strawberry guava tree or arching Christmas berry trees. Leashed dogs are allowed here. If you’re driving from Kamehameha Highway, turn onto Hau’ula Homestead Road and head for the access road, where you can park before the cable gate.

Kaunala Trail

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Trail type: Loop

If you want to combine hiking with overnight camping, the Kaunala Trail is a good place to go (but note that it’s typically only open on weekends and holidays). This 5.2-mile loop trail in the Pūpūkea Forest Reserve is a combination of paved, gravel and dirt roads and single-track trails. While hiking along the path, you’ll pass through native and introduced vegetation, such as a eucalyptus forest, a paperbark grove, uluhe ferns, koa and iliahi (sandalwood) trees, and Cook pines. You’ll also cross over a small stream. Hikers love that this is a jungle hike.

To access the trailhead, park on the road before you get to the Boy Scout camp. You’ll find the trailhead about a half-mile up the dirt road. There has been construction in the area that can hinder access to part of the trail, so check for trail closures prior to going. Permits are required to camp, but you can pitch your tent anywhere along the trail corridor; there are no designated campsites.

Aiea Loop Trail

Scenic landscape view of the Aeia Loop Trail on Oahu, Hawaii with tree roots overgrown on path.

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,300 feet
Trail type: Loop

Located in lush Halawa Valley, the nearly 5-mile ‘Aiea Loop Trail is a treat for the senses. Take in the aroma of the lemon eucalyptus and pine as you slowly make your way up. The ascent is gradual to the highest point, Pu’u Uau, where you’ll find native koa and ohia trees. As you navigate the switchbacks to the top, keep your eyes open for remnants of a B-24 bomber crash site from 1944.

This hike provides views of the southern coastline of O’ahu from Pearl Harbor and the Wai’anae Range to Honolulu and Diamond Head. The trail begins and ends in the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, which is equipped with parking lots, picnic areas, restrooms and campgrounds. Travelers comment that this a good trail but it can be slippery when muddy. Help prevent the spread of the tree-destroying “Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death” disease by using the boot cleaning station at the trailhead. Dogs are welcome on trails but must always remain leashed; mountain biking is not allowed.

Nuuanu Trail

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,530 feet
Trail type: Loop

Climb the west side of upper Pauoa Valley through a series of switchbacks and descend into Nu’uanu Valley. The fairly challenging route rewards hikers with panoramic views of Honolulu and the Wai’anae Range. Some travelers have mentioned, though, that the trail can be overgrown. To find the Nu’uanu Trail, park along the road at the start of the Judd Trail, next to a clearing of ironwood trees. The Judd Trail intersects with the Nu’uanu Trail; in total your hike through both will be about a 5 mile loop. If you want to extend your trek, the Nu’uanu Trail is conveniently located within the interconnected Honolulu-Mauka Trail Network.

Kaiwa Ridge (Lanikai Pillbox) Trail

Looking down the Pillbox Hike over Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii.

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 2 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 620 feet
Trail type: Out and back

“Pillbox” refers to the WWII-era observation structures that are encountered on the Lanikai Pillbox hike. Although the Kaiwa Ridge Trail is only about 1.7 miles out and back, it can be challenging with steep sections. The trail is located behind the popular Lanikai neighborhood and winds its way up with an elevation gain of more than 600 feet along Kaiwa Ridge. The lookout point offers views of the turquoise Pacific Ocean and picturesque Mokulua Islands off Lanikai Beach. Most travelers who have trekked here praise this trail for the beautiful views. The trailhead is past Kailua Beach Park, off Kaelepulu Drive. Parking is limited, so carpooling is recommended to be mindful of residents. The trail is not maintained so proceed with caution. You’re welcome to bring your dog on the hike; just be sure to keep your furry friend on a leash and bring some extra water.

Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail

Stunning aerial drone view of a communications tower at the summit end of famous Wiliwilinui Ridge Hiking Trail near Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Coastline in the background & cloud cover.

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,600 feet
Trail type: Out and back

The Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail challenges you to a steep climb up the ridge, with many plastic steps, to arrive at the 1,600-foot Ko’olau summit. Hikers say the steps can be a challenge but your efforts will pay off with breathtaking views of O’ahu’s windward coast. While making your way up to the top, be sure to look out for a variety of flora, including Cook pines, native koa and ohia trees, and guava trees. You might even be lucky enough to hear or see the Japanese bush warbler or amakihi birds on your journey.

There are no designated campsites here, so you can camp anywhere in the trail corridor with a reservation booked online. To get to the Wiliwilinui hike, park in the parking area before the cable gate and hike about 1.5 miles along the access road to the trailhead. Be sure to show respect and care while hiking in this area, since the state land is accessed through private property.

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Kuliouou Ridge trail hike just outside Honolulu, Hawaii.  The trail is popular for active locals and tourists.

(Getty Images)

Approximate total length: 5 miles
Approximate elevation gain: 1,650 feet
Trail type: Out and back

Active travelers will enjoy this moderately difficult hike that winds through a variety of terrain, including dense woodlands and steep ridges. The Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail is a 4.7-mile round-trip journey that gains more than 1,600 feet in elevation, bringing you to the summit of the Ko’olau Range. Hikers do caution that it is a steep and steady uphill climb. Your effort is rewarded with expansive views of the Kailua coastline, Kāne’ohe peninsula, and Hawaii Kai area of O’ahu’s east side. Pack a snack and take a break at the picnic tables on the way up. Street parking is available on Kala’au Place. To access the trailhead, walk to the end of the road and past the cable gate. Be sure to sign in at the hunter/hiker check-in station and use caution when navigating this trail. Hikers have had to be rescued for getting lost. It is also recommended that you wear bright colors since the trail is shared with mountain bikers and hunters.

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