Take a Hike!

view of Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse

by Dawna L. Robertson

Discover Oahu’s heart with off-the-beaten-path adventures

It’s interesting how the road less traveled so often delivers the richest rewards. Such is the case with Oahu’s off-the-beaten path hiking experiences that often convert newbies into nature lovers for life.

If you’re hungry for recreation that inspires with beautiful settings and eco-education, it’s time to hit the trail on these family-friendly foot excursions.

Since routes at Manoa Falls, Diamond Head and Makapu‘u Point are highly hyped, expect company. Unless noted, adventures are free.

Please check local and state guidelines for the most up to date COVID-19 recommendations.

Paved Paths

Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail

Off Kalanianaole Highway, Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail is a view-packed passage with moderate incline to the 647-foot summit. Go selfie crazy with the epic backdrop capturing Oahu’s eastern shoreline, offshore islets, and islands of Molokai and Lanai on the horizon. Naturally, this primo perch sees a spike in traffic during whale watching season.

  • Trail Length: 2.0 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Terrain: Hot, Dry Slope
  • Elevation Change: 500 Feet

Ho‘omaluhia Lake & Stream Trails

Whether you stroll or drive through this lush 400-acre Windward haven, Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden flourishes with collections from the Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India, Melanesia, Hawaii, Polynesia and Africa. The gardens include streams, meadows, footbridges, visitor center, picnic pavilions and network of trails weaving along the Ko‘olau foothills.

As a bonus, weekends lure with a catch-and-release fishing program to hook tilapia and midas cichlid from the 32-acre lake. Due to a temporary COVID-19 closure, be sure to check the website to confirm that fishing is being offered.

  • Trail Length: 2 Miles Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Open
  • Elevation Change: Negligible

Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout

Known for high velocity winds that are so strong that you can typically lean against the force, Nu‘uanu Pali State Wayside off the Pali Highway wows with sweeping Windward beauty.

It was here in 1795 that Kamehameha The Great conquered Oahu in one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history. Led by Kalanikupule, island defenders backed into the valley where they were trapped above the cliff. More than 400 of Kalanikupule’s soldiers plunged off the edge to their deaths 1,000 feet below. While you don’t necessarily have to explain all those specifics to youngsters, let them think the easy walk from your car to the lookout is a beginner’s hike!

  • Trail Length: .4 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Open
  • Elevation Change: Negligible

Waimea Valley

The North Shore’s Waimea Valley presents a mellow waterfall trek bringing everyone into the fold–from toddlers in strollers to tutu with walkers. The .75-mile paved pathway meanders through gorgeous botanical gardens and historical sites to the ultimate payoff.

Waimea’s 45-foot wailele (waterfall) tumbles into a 30-foot deep pool where swimming depends on the weather. Teach your children that the fall’s name alters with water level–from Waihe‘e (softly trickling water) to Waihe‘e (purging water).

At Waimea, families are also privy to cultural practitioners who welcome you to learn their family histories and mo‘olelo about this sacred area.

A park admission fee for kama‘aina ($10 adults, $6 keiki 4-12, $8 seniors 62+) covers use of required life vests for swimming at the falls and lifeguards who keep a watchful eye as hikers refresh. To check on conditions before visiting, call (808) 638-7766.

  • Trail Length: 1.5 Miles Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Gardens & Forest
  • Elevation Change: Negligible

Forested Fitness

female and male adult hiking in Manoa falls
Jungle hike to Manoa Falls. Photo: Oahu Visitor Bureau

Manoa Falls Trail

While the centerpiece 150-foot waterfall is legendary, Manoa Falls Trail also earns high marks for its tranquil rainforest environs flourishing with native flora and bamboo trees. The unpaved trail provides ample rocks and roots for footing. When traipsing with smaller kids, consider a hiking carrier since strollers simply won’t cut it.

The .8-mile hike ends at a viewing area for ogling the falls and pool. Although the well-maintained route is suitable for most novice hikers, conditions change quickly with rain.

  • Trail Length: 1.6 miles Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Forested
  • Elevation Change: 800 Feet

Aiea Loop Trail

Better suited for teens than toddlers, Aiea Loop Trail at Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area is culturally rich with remnants of an ancient heiau and B-24 Bomber that crashed in 1944. Running along Halawa Valley’s west ridge, it unfolds to vistas stretching from Pearl Harbor and Waianae Range to Honolulu and Diamond Head.

Count on a frenzy of lemon eucalyptus trees, strands of Norfolk pines, and native ohia and koa trees along the way. Challenges include gradual uphill climbs, a steep switchback and stream crossing at the finale.

  • Trail Length: 4.8-Mile Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Terrain: Forested & Open
  • Elevation Change: 900 Feet

Panoramic Pleasures

female and male at the top of Diamond Head
Diamond Head View from the top. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson

Diamond Head Summit Trail

On the backside of Leahi Crater on Diamond Head Road, you’ll find the typically crowded parking lot for Diamond Head State Monument. While this hike is recommended for bigger kids, smaller ones can join the fun with a physically fit hiker capable of toting them in baby carriers.

When ascending 560 feet from trailhead to summit, you’ll encounter dark tunnels, old military bunkers (flashlight required) and two sets of stairs–the first with 76 steps and the second with 99. The reward is spectacular gawking from Koko Head across Waikiki, Downtown Honolulu and the Leeward Coast to Waianae.

Although it’s warmer, the trail is less crowded in the afternoon. Admission is free for Hawaii residents. Saturday morning brings the perk of Kapiolani Community College Farmer’s Market just across the road. Pick up snacks and fruits to fuel your effort or indulge in a plate lunch to refuel afterwards.

  • Trail Length: 1.6 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Terrain: Hot, Dry, Slopes
  • Elevation Change: 560 Feet

Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Lookout

More vantage points than hike, Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Lookout off Tantalus’ Round Top Drive is a natural for small children since it delivers an awesome view without over-testing.

It’s also the trailhead for ‘Ualaka‘a Loop Trail, where the uphill end of the route intersects with Makiki Valley, Moleka and Maunalaha trails. Check the website for each route’s details.

  • Trail Length: 1-Mile Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Forested
  • Elevation Change: 400 Feet
collage of photos from Makiki Valley Loop Trail
Makiki Valley Loop Trail

Makiki Valley Loop Trail

The primo Makiki Valley Loop Trail spins geography with its remote feel in an urban setting.

You’ll find the trailhead just behind Hawaii Nature Center at 2131 Makiki Heights Dr. Plan on wet gulches, large boulders, old bridges and strawberry guava trees along the way.

For a great Diamond Head glimpse, take ‘Ualaka‘a Trail detour that leads to Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Park.

HNC also welcomes families to exercise their interests through weekend calendar activities, nature excursions, weeklong school intersession programs and community-based environmental restoration projects. By fostering a respect for nature, HNC is confident that keiki will grow into environmental stewards and impress upon future generations the importance of protecting our planet.

  • Trail Length: 2.2 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Terrain: Lush Vegetation
  • Elevation Change: 200 Feet

Coastal Cruising

family running along the shore
Enjoy miles of unspoiled beaches. Photo: Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort

The 850-acre Turtle Bay Resort welcomes hoofing it through 12 miles of ironwood forests, plus five miles of unspoiled sand fringed by coral reefs, eroded lava projections and tide pools.

Heading east from the resort, the coastal Kahuku Point Trail is often garnished with honu and Hawaiian Monk Seals napping amid the rocks. Extend this jaunt beyond the point to an isolated stretch with dunes and nothing but the sound of waves.

  • Trail Length: 3 Miles+ Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Coastal
  • Elevation Change: Negligible
monk seals on the beach
Do not disturb the Monk Seals, frequent visitors to Kaena Point.

Kaena Point Trail

Literally at the end of the road in Mokuleia, Kaena Point State Park reveals secluded sandy coves and huge wide-open spaces. The path rolls out with tide pools, natural stone arches and dozens of small seaward paths branching off to the ocean’s edge. Check the website regarding access permits.

  • Trail Length: 5 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Terrain: Open Coastline
  • Elevation Gain: Negligible

When you spark a curiosity and passion for wanderlust, you may just find your family hooked on a healthy outdoor sport for life!

Waterfall Wonders

waterfall at Kapena Falls Trail
Kapena Waterfall and Alapena Pool

Alapena Pool and Kapena Falls Trail

Alapena Pool and Kapena Falls Trail is an easy-breezy town hike that feels like you’re miles from Honolulu. After parking at the back of Nu‘uanu Memorial Park, stroll up Pali Highway until you reach the “Scenic Lookout 500 Ft” sign where the trail branches off.

Evoking visions of Jurassic Park with its lush vegetation, the dirt route beneath a forest canopy travels for about 10 minutes before reaching the beautiful pay-off of a 15-foot waterfall and pool beneath it.

Exercise caution as the water is typically shallow and becomes a bit dirty after it rains. As a bonus, you can bring your dog provided you keep it on a leash.

  • Trail Length: .06 Miles Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Terrain: Forested
  • Elevation Change: 98 Feet

Naturally, Manoa Falls Trail and Waimea Valley both fit into this category as well.

Rules Of The Road

With a little preparation, Oahu hiking will reap boundless rewards for your entire family.
Be prepared with these essentials:

  • Treaded hiking shoes
  • Hat & sunscreen
  • Light shirt & pants to keep cool, or shorts
  • Light rain jacket and mosquito repellent (especially for rainforests or valleys)
  • Backpack with ample water & food/snacks
  • Cell phone

For longer, tougher hikes with older keiki, also bring:

  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight/headlight
  • Work gloves
  • Pocket knife
  • Additional water & food
  • Compass
  • Topographical map

Also follow these safety tips:

  • Never hike alone & always tell someone where you’re hiking
  • Review the latest trail information
  • Never head out in bad weather
  • Follow trailhead markers
  • Never drink from streams or fresh-water ponds–and don’t enter these with open cuts
  • Pay attention to your environment & use common sense!

Learn more about the State of Hawaii Na Ala Hele Trail and Access System.

If you are more comfortable starting out with an organized group, contact Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club and Hawaii Nature Center.

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