Kahana Valley; photo credit: Marvin Chandra via Flickr

The 6 Best Hikes in Oahu

Steeped in natural beauty and incredible history, Oahu is one of the best places in Hawaii to go hiking. Check out our top six recommendations for the best hikes in Oahu to get you out exploring.

Oahu is the most visited island in Hawaii, and one of its claims to fame is its amazing hiking trails. The landscapes, flora, and fauna are unique on every hike, and there’s no shortage of beautiful views, historic landmarks, and fun activities.

Plus, history buffs will find Oahu really interesting for its extensive WWII history, some of which you’ll encounter on the trails.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, Hawaii Governor David Ige issued a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all visitors from outside the islands. This order is set to expire Sept. 1, 2020, however all travelers should check the state’s current travel advisories BEFORE planning a trip here.

Koko Head Crater Trail

Photo credit: Remi Yuan via Unsplash

Located in Koko Head District Park, this hike was the only trail that came recommended on nearly every single Oahu hiking guide. So it tops our list too.

This trail will definitely put your fitness to the test, with a 1,048-“stair” climb to the top. The reason “stair” is in quotation marks is that they aren’t really stairs. You’ll actually be climbing an old military railroad that once took supplies up to the top of the ridge during World War II. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Many locals actually do this hike as a regular workout. And once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the east coast of the island and Hanauma Bay. It’s so beautiful you’ll even forget about the burn in your thighs! Be careful going up and down these steps, as they can be slippery, and you don’t want to have to trek down 1,048 steps with a rolled ankle.

Location: Koko Crater Regional Park
Distance: 1.8 miles round trip
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation gain: 1,200 feet

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Lookout Trail

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail; photo credit: John Osumi via Flickr

This trail is easy and even stroller-friendly, with a paved path leading to the lookout at Makapu’u Lighthouse. This is a great starter hike or an easy hike if you’re just looking for something relaxing and not too strenuous. The sights of Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline along the southern coast of Oahu from this vantage point are vast and beautiful.

Nearing the peak of the hill, you can also spot WWII pillboxes peeking through the landscape. And don’t be surprised if you see giant spouts in the ocean beyond Makapu’u beach — there are often whales!

Humpback season typically runs from November through May, and this is an ideal spot to relax and enjoy some whale watching, a great activity for the kids as well. The path doesn’t have much shade, so be sure to start early in the summer and bring plenty of water and sun protection.

Location: Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline
Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation gain: 500 feet

Olomana Three Peaks Trail

Olomana Trail; photo credit: Thomas Jundt via Flickr

Attention experienced hikers! I have a challenge for you. The Olomana Trail is one of the hardest hikes on the island. It’s also called the Three Peaks Trail because (you guessed it) there are three peaks.

The reason why it’s known to be so difficult is that you traverse all three peaks. At the third peak, you have to use a rope to scale a rock face in order to reach the top. And once you’re done with that, you have to retrace your steps all the way back to the start.

Don’t let this discourage you! All of the reviews have said the Olomana Trail has the most rewarding views. And don’t be afraid to call it a day at the first peak, Mount Olomana, if you aren’t feeling up for the full trek. Mount Olomana offers amazing 360-degree views of Ko’olau Range, Kailua Bay, and Waimanalo and is definitely more than satisfying.

If you decide to hike all three peaks, here are a few tips. First of all, start early. You don’t want to be caught on this trail at night, because it’s very easy to get lost. Secondly, be careful. There have been three deaths over the past 7 years, so please be aware of your surroundings and know your limits.

And lastly, if you’re afraid of heights, don’t hike this trail. It has many exposed and steep parts, sections that involve rock climbing, and no guard rails.

Location: Kailua near the intersection of Maunawili Road and Auloa Road off of Pali Highway
Distance: 5 miles round trip
Difficulty: Extremely difficult
Elevation gain: 1,600 feet

Lanikai Pillbox Trail

Lanikai Pillbox; photo credit: Nicola Horscroft via Flickr

The Lanikai Pillbox hike is said to be one of the least challenging hikes with some of the most rewarding views on the island — it’s a win-win. After about an hour of hiking, this trail delivers panoramic views of the Mokulua Islands, Lanikai Beach, and Kailua.

And though this trail is famous for its views, of course, it’s also known for the pillboxes remaining from WWII. You can reach the first one in about 20-30 minutes and have the option of turning back here, or continuing on to the second one, about 10 minutes farther.

Many reviews say this hike is great to tackle at sunrise because of the 360-degree views from the top. If you have time after your hike, I would strongly recommend making a pitstop in Kailua Town for a post-hike snack! There are a bunch of cute cafes, restaurants, and smoothie places to revitalize you after your day on the trails.

Location: Kailua off Kaelepulu Drive
Distance: 2 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Elevation gain: 500 feet

Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls; photo credit: Edmund Garman via Flickr

Located at the end of Manoa Road on the south of the island, this easily accessible trail is a short distance from downtown. This trail is well-known for its appearance in scenes in “Jurassic Park” and “Lost,” making it an extremely popular destination — and for good reason. You’ll have a fairly easy hike through bamboo and guava tree forest to the grand finale, the 150-foot Manoa Falls.

This lush, rainforest-like hike can be quite muddy even when it hasn’t rained recently, so come equipped with proper hiking shoes. But don’t be afraid to get a little dirty, because at the back of the trailhead you can find hoses to rinse off your shoes and legs after your hike.

There’s no swimming allowed at the falls, but the sight of this spectacular waterfall makes the trek well worthwhile. Note that this popular trail is often closed for trail repair and maintenance, so be sure to check for current closures before heading to the trailhead.

Location: Round Top Forest Reserve
Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation gain: 800 feet

Waimano Falls

Waimano Pool; photo credit: Andrew K. Smith via Flickr

This hike is somewhat strenuous but definitely rewarding — and worth the trek for a beautiful waterfall and a swim. You’ll hike on narrow pathways through steep hills, but as you near the end, the beautiful Waimano Falls greets you. There are two pools to swim in, and one of them is deep enough for cliff jumping with a 15- to 20-foot drop. There’s even a rope swing that you can have some fun with while jumping into the pool!

The walk back is a little harder because it’s uphill, but it shouldn’t take you more than an hour. You can access the falls on the Manana Trail from Pearl City. Many reviewers of this hike said that this is their favorite waterfall hike in Oahu. Don’t forget to bring a towel!

Location: Ewa Forest Reserve
Distance: 2.8 miles round trip
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation gain: 500 feet

Important Tips for Hiking in Oahu

  • There’s often no shade, and the Hawaii sun is hot. We recommend going early or in the evening to avoid crowds and the beaming midday sun. Save your afternoon time for the beach.
  • With the sun in mind, wear sunscreen! Again, there’s often no shade. So be sure to protect your skin while you’re out there.
  • Water, water, and — I cannot stress this enough — water. It’s so easy to get dehydrated when you’re exercising in the heat. And overheating at any of these locations could be a disaster.
  • Be sure you have all your hiking essentials before you hit the trail.
Rhea Jha

Rhea lives for the adrenaline rush and will likely be down to do anything from hiking to sky diving. She especially enjoys board sports like surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. In her downtime, you can find her enjoying a cheese board, petting her dog, or probably watching Chopped. Rhea is currently pursuing a B.A. in Journalism and History at Penn State University.