Top 10: Best Hikes on Oahu

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Rick Pefley

Olomana, also known as 3 Peaks, is one of the most difficult and rewarding hikes on Oahu.

Oahu is known for its beautiful beaches and tourist attractions.  However, once you have gone on all of your tourist adventures and want to do something other than lounge by the ocean all day, you should consider going on a hike.  Oahu has many trails, from flat, easy, beginner trails to advanced hikes requiring you to climb questionably fixed ropes that are not for the faint of heart.

Before you start your hike, keep a few safety considerations in mind.  Even the “easiest” hike can be dangerous.  The most important part of the hike begins before you step foot on the trail.  Preparation is the key to a successful hike.  Ensure you have the proper amount of water, which is half a liter of water per mile.  Ensure you have proper footwear, either hiking boots or a steady pair of sneakers.  Make sure to carry a flashlight, even if you don’t plan on hiking in the dark.  Lastly, make sure to inform someone who is not going on the hike with you of your plans and what time you plan on being back.  This is important because if something happens to you on the trail, this person will be able to alert local authorities to start a search for you.

So in order from easiest to hardest, here are my top 10 hikes on Oahu:

10. Waimea Falls

This is one of the easiest hikes on the island with the added benefit of a waterfall and swimming hole at the end.  The hike is only 3/4 miles long each way and is paved the entire route.  This north shore hike starts in the Waimea Valley, directly across the street from the famed Waimea Bay.  The park is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week.  Admission is $10 for kamaaina.

9. Kaena Point

This is another very easy beginner hike.  This hike wraps around Kaena Point, the western-most tip of Oahu.  There are two way to get to this hike, either from the Waianae side up the west coast or the Mokuleia side along the north shore.  This hike is relatively flat.  If you go during the winter, you can sometimes see whales from the shoreline.  At the point, there are usually Hawaiian monk seals lounging around in the tide pools.

8. Mariner’s Ridge

(Editor’s note on February 7, 2014: This hike is now illegal and closed to hikers.)

This hike puts you at the top of the Koolau Mountain to enjoy views of Waimanalo Bay as well as the windward coastline.  This hike is uphill all the way, so make sure to take lots of breaks, stop to check the scenery and take a lot of pictures.  This hike begins at the top of the Mariner’s Ridge subdivision in Hawaii Kai on Kaluanui Road.

7. Manoa Falls

This is an easy to moderate hike depending on the weather conditions.  When the trail is dry, it is a fairly straightforward, mostly uphill hike that ends at a waterfall in Manoa Valley.  When it is raining or has rained over the previous days, it can get muddy and slippery, so make sure to take extra care.  The waterfall empties into a small pool, which I would recommend not entering.  There used to be signs warning of bacteria in the water, but they have been vandalized to the point where the county no longer bothers to replace them.  You can drive and park at Lyon Arboretum for free or park on the residential street right before the entrance to the park.  Otherwise parking at the bottom of the trailhead is $5.

6. Lanikai Pill Boxes

This hike starts in a residential neighborhood in Kailua.  I would recommend doing this hike for the amazing view of the sunrise over the windward coast.  Make sure to bring your flashlight and start early.  The hike is short, yet has a few steep sections and some loose gravel to contend with.  At the top are two military pillboxes.  Climb to the top of these pillboxes and take a panoramic picture of the sunrise.

5. Koko Head

Koko Head is more like a grueling workout than a hike.  The hike follows old railroad tracks directly up the side of the mountain.  Make sure to take lots of breaks and when your legs can’t take anymore, try to lean forward and place your hands on top of your knees to help push yourself to the top.  Once you get to the top, you have a beautiful view of the southeast coast of the island, looking down into Hanauma Bay.

4. Maunawili Falls

The trailhead for this hike is located in a residential neighborhood, so be considerate of residents when parking.  This moderate trail has quite a few elevation changes going up and down over the course of the trail.  Once you walk down the last steep section, you will end up in the river that emanates from the waterfall.  Be careful traversing the river as it can be very slippery.  The payoff, however, at the end of this hike is beautiful waterfall with a deep swimming hole.  For those who are more adventurous at heart, you can jump from three spots into the pool.  First, you can jump from about 10 feet up directly off the rocks.  Second, farther up the rocks to the right, there is a jump from about 25-30 feet.  Lastly, for the brave souls, there is a path to the left of the falls that leads up to a clearing to jump from about 50-60 feet up. Keep your shoes on if you plan on doing any of these jumps because the rocks are very slippery and sharp.

3. Mt. Olympus

This hike is a hidden gem in the St. Louis Heights area, with a stunning 360-degree view of both the north and south coasts of the island from the top.  The trail starts at Waahila Ridge State Park.  After going up and down some pretty treacherous steep sections, you are rewarded with a spectacular view from the top. A few ropes on this hike assist you up the more steep sections.

2. Crouching Lion

This hike, originally named Crouching Dog after a Hawaiian legend, as the ancient Hawaiians had never seen lions, is a steep and narrow ridgeline hike overlooking Kahana Bay on the windward coast.  There are a few variations on the starting point of this trail. For simplicity sake, you can park along the Kam highway about a 1/4 mile past the Crouching Lion Inn going toward Haleiwa.  This hike can be sketchy at some points where you will literally be scooting across the ridge on your butt to avoid falling hundreds of feet down the mountain.  Gloves and long pants are highly recommended on this hike.

1. Olomana

This is probably one of the most difficult and scary hikes on the island.  Olomana or 3 Peaks is a ridgeline hike with three separate peaks, the first two being difficult and the third peak being advanced.  The only way to reach these peaks is to trust your weight to fixed ropes attached to the mountain.  However, be warned, these ropes are not maintained, so use at your own risk and try to avoid placing your entire weight on them.  In some places the ridgeline is only a few feet wide, with sheer drops of hundreds of feet on either side.  This hike is not for everyone, but if you complete it, you will have conquered one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes on Oahu.