Hiking in Honolulu and Oahu



More Sports and Activities

The trails of Oahu cover a full spectrum of environments: desert walks through cactus, slippery paths through bamboo-filled rain forest, and scrambling rock climbs up ancient volcanic calderas. The only thing you won't find is an overnighter, as even the longest of hikes won't take you more than half a day. In addition to being short in length, many of the prime hikes are within 10 minutes of downtown Waikiki, meaning that you won't have to spend your whole day getting back to nature.

Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources. Go to this web site for information on all major hiking trails on Oahu. You can also obtain camping permits for state parks here. 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 130, Honolulu, HI, 96813. 808/587–0300. . www.hawaiistateparks.org.

Na Ala Hele Trails and Access. Contact the Na Ala Hele ("Trails To Go On") folks for a free hiking-safety guide and trail information. The interactive website has maps and information about the current status of trails on all of the islands. You can also stop in their office for free printed maps and information. 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, Downtown, Honolulu, HI, 96813. 808/587–0166. www.hawaiitrails.org.

Best Spots

Diamond Head Crater. Every vacation has requirements that must be fulfilled so that when your neighbors ask, you can say, "Yeah, did it." Climbing Diamond Head is high on that list of things to do on Oahu. It's a moderately easy hike if you're in good physical condition, but be prepared to climb many stairs along the way. Be sure to bring a water bottle because it's hot and dry. Only a mile up, a clearly marked trail with handrails scales the inside of this extinct volcano. At the top, the fabled final 99 steps take you up to the pillbox overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. It's a breathtaking view and a lot cheaper than taking a helicopter ride for the same photo op. Last entry for hikers is 4:30pm. Diamond Head Rd. at 18th Ave., Honolulu, HI, 96815. Enter on the east side of the crater; there's limited parking inside, so most park on street and walk in. www.hawaiistateparks.org/hiking/oahu. $1 per person; $5 to park. Daily 6–6.

Kaena Point Trail. This hike is a little longer (a 5-mile round-trip) and both hotter and more exposed than the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, but it is right next to the beach, and there are spots where you can get in and cool off. Sea-carved cliffs give way to lava-rock beaches and sea arches. Halfway to the point, there is a double blowhole, which is a good indicator of sea conditions. If it is blowing good, stay out of the water. Though the area is hot and dry, there is still much wildlife here, as it is the only nesting ground for many rare sea birds. Keep a lookout for the Laysan albatrosses; these enormous birds have recently returned to the area. Don't be surprised if they come in for a closer look at you, too. There has been a cave-in of an old lava tube, so be careful when crossing it, but enjoy the view in its enormous mouth. 81-780 Farrington Hwy, Waianae, HI, 96792. Take Farrington Hwy. to its end at Yokohamas. Hike in on the old 4WD trail.

Manoa Falls Trail. Travel up into the valley beyond Honolulu to make the Manoa Falls hike. Though only a mile long, this well-trafficked path—visited by an estimated 100,000 hikers a year—passes through so many different ecosystems that you feel as if you're in an arboretum—and you're not far off. (The beautiful Lyon Arboretum is right near the trailhead, if you want to make another stop.) Walk among the elephant ear ape plants, ruddy fir trees, and a bamboo forest straight out of China. At the top is a 150-foot waterfall, which can be an impressive cascade, or, if rain has been sparse, the falls can be little more than a trickle. This hike is more about the journey than the destination; make sure you bring some mosquito repellent because they grow 'em big up here. 3998 Manoa Rd., Manoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822. West Manoa Rd. is behind Manoa Valley in Paradise Park. Take West Manoa Rd. to end, park on side of road or in the parking lot for a small fee, and follow trail signs in.

Maunawili Falls. Want to find a waterfall that you can actually swim in? Then Maunawili Falls is your trip. In fact, even if you don't want to get wet, you're going to have to cross Maunawili Stream several times to get to the falls. Along the 1½-mile trek enjoy the ginger, vines, and heliconia before greeting fern-shrouded falls that are made for swimming. The water is not the clearest, but it's cool and refreshing after battling the bugs to get here. Be sure to bring mosquito repellant. 1221 Kelewina St., Kailua, HI, 96734. Take Pali Hwy. (Rte. 61) from Honolulu through the tunnels, then take the 3rd right onto Auloa Rd., then take the left fork immediately. At the dead end, climb over the vehicle gate to find the trailhead.

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. For the less adventurous hiker and anyone looking for a great view, this paved trail that runs up the side of Makapuu Point in Southeast Oahu fits the bill. Early on, the trail is surrounded by lava rock but, as you ascend, foliage—the tiny white koa haole flower and the cream-tinged spikes of the kiawe—begins taking over the barren rock. At the easternmost tip of Oahu, where the island divides the sea, this trail gives you a spectacular view of the cobalt ocean meeting the land in a cacophony of white caps. To the south are several tide pools and the lighthouse, while the eastern view looks down upon Rabbit and Kaohikaipu Islands, two bird sanctuaries just off the coast. The 2-mile round-trip hike is a great break on a circle-island trip. Be sure not to leave valuables in your car as break-ins are common. Makapuu Lighthouse Rd., Honolulu, HI, 96825. Take Kalanianaole Hwy. to base of Makapuu Point. Look for asphalt strip snaking up mountain.

Trails at Turtle Bay Resort. When on the North Shore, check out the Turtle Bay Resort, which has more than 12 miles of trails and oceanside pathways. You can pick up a map of the resort property that includes trail and coastal jogging paths. 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku, HI, 96731. 808/293–8811. www.turtlebayresort.com.

Tips for the Trail

When hiking the waterfall and rain-forest trails, use insect repellent. The dampness draws huge swarms of bloodsuckers that can ruin a walk in the woods.

Volcanic rock is very porous and therefore likely to be loose. Rock climbing is strongly discouraged, as you never know which little ledge is going to go.

Always let someone know where you're going and never hike alone. The foliage gets very dense, and, small as the island is, hikers have been known to get lost for a week or longer.

Going With a Guide

Hawaii Nature Center. A good choice for families, the center in upper Makiki Valley conducts a number of programs for both adults and children. There are guided hikes into tropical settings that reveal hidden waterfalls and protected forest reserves. They don't run tours every day so it's a good idea to get advance reservations. 2131 Makiki Heights Dr., Makiki Heights, Honolulu, HI, 96822. 808/955–0100. www.hawaiinaturecenter.org.

Oahu Nature Tours. Guides explain the native flora and fauna and history that are your companions on their Manoa Waterfall, Mountain Rainforest, and Diamond Head walking tours. Tours include pick-up at centralized Waikiki locations. 808/924–2473. www.oahunaturetours.com.