Oahu has a surprisingly diverse range of flora with differing climate zones based on location and elevation. Throughout my travels I’ve been lucky to have hiked in some of the most stunning mountains in the world, including the Cascades in Washington State, the Chautauquas in Colorado, The Andes in Ecuador, Gorges in Greece, and the Dolomites in Italy, and Oahu is still home to some of my favorite hikes. The great thing about hiking on Oahu is that any given hike is never more than an hour drive away. Also, we have very few things here that will kill you; there’s the centipede, which you can step on, or the wild boar, which you can probably outrun. We have no poisonous snakes (or snakes of any kind for that matter), no mountain lions or vicious marsupials. The downside of hiking on Oahu is that the elevation never exceeds 4,000 feet. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had, so below I will detail my 17 most favorite and popular hikes on Oahu arranged in two categories:
1) Waterfall Hikes
2) Ridge Hikes
**Disclaimer – Hiking can have various challenges and hazards. Know your limits, be well-prepared, wear proper footwear, and hike at your own risk**
Below is a table of contents (listed in alphabetical order – click on the hike name if you’d like to jump to the hike description on this page).
All photography is my own.
|HIKE NAME (In Alphabetical Order)||LEVEL||LENGTH (ROUND TRIP)||APPROX. DURATION (ROUND TRIP)||LOCATION|
|1) Diamond Head||Easy||3.5 km / 2 mi||1 hour||Kahala / Waikiki|
|2) Ehukai Pillbox||Easy||3.5 km / 2 mi||1 hour||North Shore|
|3) Haiku Stairs (AKA “Stairway to Heaven”)||Advanced||Depends||5 hours||Kane’ohe|
|4) Hanauma Bay Rim Trail||Easy||5.8 km / 3.5 mi||1 hour||Hawaii Kai|
|5) Ka’au Crater||Moderate||8 km / 5 mi||2 – 5 hours||Palolo Valley|
|6) Ka’ena Point||Easy||8 km / 5 mi||3 hours||North Shore / Waianae|
|7) Ko’olau Summit above Waimanalo||Advanced||3.5 km / 2 mi||6 hours||Waimanalo|
|8) Koko Crater Tramway||Difficult||2.4 km / 1.5 mi||1.5 hours||Hawaii Kai|
|9) Koko Head Arch||Moderate||1.4 km / .8 mi||30 min||Hawaii Kai|
|10) Kuli’ou’ou Ridge||Moderate||8 km / 5 mi||2.5 hours||Aina Haina|
|11) Lanikai Pillboxes||Moderate||As long as you want||1 hour||Lanikai|
|12) Lulumahu Falls||Easy||3.7 km / 2.3 mi||1 hour||Pali Highway|
|13) Makapu’u Lighthouse||Easy||3.5 km / 2 mi||1 hour||Ka’iwi Shoreline|
|14) Makiki Loop Trail||Moderate||4 km / 2.5 mi||2 hours||Makiki Valley|
|15) Manoa Falls||Easy||3.5 km / 2 mi||1 hour||Manoa Valley|
|16) Olomana Three Peaks||Advanced||As long as you want||2 – 7 hours||Kailua|
|17) Wa’ahila Ridge||Easy||7.2 km / 4.5 mi||2 hours||Saint Louis Heights|
This is my go to for an easy hike with a beautiful view. Great for sunrise, the brilliant colors really pop! You can hike as far as you’d like and eventually end up in Waimanalo, but it typically takes around 20 minutes to reach the first pillbox and another 5 minutes to the second pillbox. Wear sunscreen and a hat and bring water as it’s completely exposed to the sun without any shade. Parking is anywhere you can find it along the residential streets in Lanikai. Please take caution not to block anybody’s driveway. Take a refreshing dip in the ocean at Lanikai Beach after a sweaty hike!
This relatively short, easy hike can be muddy at the start of the trail if it has been raining. Located just across the street from Ehukai Beach, you can park at Sunset Elementary School and the trail begins there. It will take you around 30 minutes to reach the top where you can turn around and come back, or continue on into a pine forest.
For other things to do on the North Shore, including the best eateries, check out my post on Things to Do on Oahu’s North Shore.
Koko Crater Tramway
I used to live right across the street from this hike and would do it three times a week until my knees started bothering me. That was the best shape I’ve ever been in! Locals have a love/hate relationship with this trail and it has been coined “the stair master of death” or “stair master in paradise”; pick your poison. Get ready to ascend 1,048 steps with 1,200′ of elevation in the hot sun.
I recommend going early for sunrise to beat the crowds, or later for sunset when it’s cooler; just don’t forget your headlamp if you overlap into dusk! This Oahu hike goes right up the side of a dormant volcano crater to bunkers that were used during WWII. You’ll be climbing right alongside a shooting range, so if loud firing guns makes you nervous, you may want to think twice about this climb as it can often sound like a war zone. During my best runs training for the half marathon, my record time was 19 minutes up and 6 minutes down (I do not advise this, as running at that speed and steep angle can result in a twisted or broken ankle), but average time to ascend is 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down. Bring lots of water and try to avoid going at mid-day when the heat is strongest. This is also my favorite hike to do when there’s a full moon, as it naturally lights the way.
There are two mountain ranges on Oahu: Ko’olau and Wai’anae. Many of these trails interconnect, but the section over Waimanalo is, in my opinion, the most spectacular of views. If you want to hike the entire trail, you will need to stage two cars at the start and end points, or hitch a ride back to your car. This trail is advanced, as it requires some bouldering, climbing ropes, and scaling the side of cliffs. It most certainly is not for the faint of heart.
Olomana Three Peaks
This hike is also not for the faint of heart and can be extremely dangerous on the second and third peak, as you’re climbing a narrow ridge with 1,400′ of cliff on either side of you. Several rescues and deaths have happened on this hike. However, you can choose to do just the first and/or second peak rather than taking on the whole hike. Doing all three peaks takes anywhere between 5 – 7 hours round trip depending on your hiking ability, but the first peak takes between 1.5 – 2 hours. Take more water than you think you need on this hike. This hike is located inside the Luana Hills Country Club (Royal Hawaiian Golf Course).
Koko Head Arch
This is a fun one to do for a quick jaunt up to photographic views. Technically this hike connects to Koko Head Tramway if you’re okay with a bit of weed whacking through the bush, and includes scenic views of the deep blue ocean on Oahu’s East Side.
Hanauma Bay Rim Trail
Completely exposed with no shade, this Oahu hike traces the rim of the famed Hanauma Bay. Park across the street at the lot for Koko Head Tramway. This trail also leads down to the natural rock bridge by the ocean. Do NOT attempt to go near or cross the rock bridge during high tide or strong waves. It is easy to be knocked over and swept out to sea.
This hike can be done from either the West side (Wai’anae) or the North Shore past Dillingham Airfield. I do not recommend driving a nice car, and do not leave valuables in your vehicle as the car park for this trail is a high break-in area; you’ll see shattered glass all over the dirt lot. This is also a great mountain biking trail starting from the North Shore side. During the month of February, expect to see Albatross as this is their mating season! Hawaiian monk seals and turtles are a common sighting, as this is their safe zone for sunning and resting. Please do not touch or approach the wildlife.
This is my go-to for a challenging trail run or an all around great workout. I love the variety of flora that changes so drastically as you ascend to the top. You’ll go through dry forest, then pine groves (which I refer to as the “wooly mammoth” section because the pine needles make for a soft trail underneath your feet.) On a clear day, the views from the top are outstanding, as you can see a full 360-degree view of Diamond Head, Koko Head, and out to the East Side in Waimanalo.
Located in the St. Louis Heights area, this trail is an out-and-back, go-as-far-as-you’d-like trail. The start of the trail looks like a view straight out of the Pacific Northwest with tall thick trees and forested pines.
Makiki Loop Trail
This is a great trail if you’re looking for a peaceful walk through nature with a bit of an incline. It is actually located in between two other trails, so it can be easy to get lost if you take different junctions, so stay on the path and you will end at the same place you began at the stream.
This is such a delightful and surprising hike! If you make it up above the cascading waterfalls, you’ll arrive to a giant football field-looking meadow marsh, which is the inside of the crater. What’s neat about this section is that you’re several hundred feet above sea level and there’s a giant crater in the middle of the mountains, which is completely unexpected. During September, bring a bag to collect strawberry guavas and lilikoi (passion fruit) to make home made jam, or just snack on guavas along the way! You can do just the lower part of the trail and turn around at the waterfall, or do the entire rim trail looking into the crater. Get ready to scale up the side of waterfalls (ropes are in place), and get super muddy during rainy season.
Haiku Stairs (AKA “Stairway to Heaven”)
This trail is officially closed and has been illegal for many years now, so please do not attempt this from the stairs side. If caught, you can be fined up to $1,000 per person, and rescues can be costly, dangerous and very difficult. However, there is a way to do the hike legally from the back side, called Moanalua Middle Ridge, or Kaulana’ahane Trail, which takes around 4 hours round trip. Once you reach the top, you’ll see the stairs on the other side, and this is where I advise you to turn around and go back the same way you came. The photos I took on this hike were from over 7 years ago when this trail was not so dangerous, and access was much easier and more common, prior to the mudslides that have since wiped out some sections of this trail.
This is the most popular and trafficked hike on Oahu, mostly by visiting tourists. Admission is $5 per vehicle (or you can park across the street at Kapiolani Community College for free and walk the half mile into the start of the crater) and $1 per person if you’re walking in. If you take an Uber, they can drop you right at the entrance of the hike, or if you take the city bus, it drops you off on Monsarrat Avenue and you’ll need to walk into the crater, adding additional mileage.
After your hike, walk down Monsarrat Avenue towards Honolulu Zoo and check out Ars Cafe for a great cuppa Joe or avocado toast, or hit up Hawaii Sushi for your raw tuna fix, or Bogart’s for a great acai bowl or breakfast burrito.
For other great Oahu eats, check out my Local Ultimate Oahu Foodie Guide.
Makapu’u Lighthouse & Tide Pools / Pele’s Chair
If you’re looking for an easy and pleasant (but sometimes very windy) walk, this is the perfect hike! Fully paved in concrete, this hike is great for joggers, kids, babies in prams, and dogs, so bring the whole family! There are several lookout points along the way, and at the top you will reach the lighthouse. December – April marks whale season, and the viewpoint from the top is the perfect place to see them, so bring your binoculars or telephoto lens for your camera!
At the start of the trail, if you stay to the right and go down the dirt path, it will lead you to Pele’s Chair, which, according to ancient Hawaiian mythology, is one of the last places where Madame Pele, Goddess of Fire, sat before making her way over to the Big Island. When I was in University, this beach was nearly always deserted, save for a few locals. Now it’s more well-known. The log in the below left photo is no longer there, but you can still jump off the rock wall into crystal clear waters that are protected from surf surge.
Right around the midway mark of Makapu’u is where you can hike down to the tide pools on a calm day. Wear proper footwear as the lava rocks can be slippery and sharp.
First off, can we just take a moment to acknowledge how fun it is to say the name of this hike? It’s pronounced “loo-loo-ma-hoo” and reminds me of the word “Yahoo!!”, which makes me think of frolicking happily through meadows of tulips. An easy out and back, this trail is off the Pali Highway and leads to an impressive tall skinny waterfall. The trail passes the Kaniakapupu Ruins where King Kamehameha III’s summer home was located dating back to the mid-1800’s. Please enter with respect, and do not climb or stand on the ruins.
Another popular hike easily accessible, located approximately 15 minutes’ drive from Waikiki, this is a beautiful rainforest hike that goes through a thick bamboo forest and culminates in a 75′ waterfall. During dry season, don’t expect much of a flow; it’s more like a trickle, but a beautiful hike nonetheless. Admission is free, but there is a $5 parking fee per vehicle. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting muddy. Swimming in the falls is not permitted, nor recommended, especially during dry season when the water is stagnant because it carries a bacteria called leptospirosis, which comes from the urine of infected animals that gets washed downstream.
What are some of your favorite hikes on Oahu? Tell me in the comments below!