Written by Meagan Drillinger
May 23, 2023
Author Meagan Drillinger tackled hiking trails in Oahu as part of her journey in Hawaii in January and February 2023.
Oahu is a dream destination for hikers. Its jungle-covered peaks, meandering coastal trails, and rainforest paths to plunging waterfalls are seemingly endless for such a small island. In fact, you could spend months on Oahu and still be uncovering the best hikes on the island.
What's wonderful about Oahu is that it has terrain that is fit for everyone. These range from gentle, paved trails with beautiful views to death-defying cliff walks that require lots of bravery and skill to complete. Whatever outdoor vibe you're seeking, chances are you'll find it in Oahu.
To help plan the perfect adventure in Oahu's great outdoors, I've combed through the best hikes in Oahu to bring you a roundup of which ones to hit first.
1. Diamond Head Summit Trail
If you do one hike and one hike only on the island of Oahu it really should be the Diamond Head Summit Trail. Diamond Head is the most iconic landmark on Oahu — the remains of a dormant volcano that overlooks Honolulu and Waikiki.
The summit trail is a 1.8-mile out-and-back trail that takes about an hour to complete. It's considered relatively easy, as most of the path is paved, and it only begins a steep incline towards the very end of the trail.
This is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu because the summit has breathtaking views out over Honolulu and the surrounding area.
Keep in mind that you will need a reservation to access Diamond Head. Because the trail is so popular, it can often be crowded, and that may affect how quickly you reach the top of the trail. The earlier you go in the morning, the fewer people will be on the trail with you.
Accommodation: Top Resorts in Honolulu
2. Koko Crater Tramway to Kokohead Lookout
If you want a serious leg workout, the Koko Crater Tramway is an excellent and challenging hike — with nothing but a straight incline. A popular workout routine for the locals of Honolulu, the Koko Crater Tramway will certainly give your legs the burn, if that's what you're looking for.
The trail is 1.6 miles out-and-back and has an elevation gain of 885 feet. The path follows more than 1,000 steps along a walking track made of abandoned railroad ties. The steps climb up the west side to the summit of Koko Crater.
The path is an incline the entire way up, so brace yourself. The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular, though. As a bonus, the way back is all downhill.
Address: 7604 Koko Head Park Rd #7602, Honolulu, Hawaii
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on Oahu
3. Manoa Falls Trail
Oahu is an island practically spouting with waterfalls. Many of these magical falls can be found along the island's beautiful hiking trails. One of the most popular waterfall hikes on Oahu is the hike to Manoa Falls within the Round Top Forest Reserve.
This moderate hike is 1.7 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 633 feet. The trail winds its way through a lush, green rainforest practically dripping with vines and bursting with wildflowers. Think serious Jurassic Park vibes. It takes people an average of just over an hour to complete the hike.
The path is quite rocky and can be very slippery after it has rained. Proper shoes are highly recommended for this trail, which is a consistent incline the entire way in. Once you reach the end of the trail, you are rewarded with the splash of the 100-foot-high Manoa Falls, which tumbles down the rock face of a cliff. The force of the falls is dependent on how much rain there has been, so keep that in mind as you approach the waterfall.
Regardless, the hike itself is beautiful through the misty, green rainforest. A gushing waterfall at the end is just the cherry on top of an already great hike.
4. Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail
Oahu's east coast is wild and windswept and home to some truly gorgeous and unspoiled landscapes. Waimanalo, in particular, is exceptionally beautiful and rugged. The best way to experience Waimanalo is to spend time outdoors, and the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail is a perfect way to see the area.
This 2.5-mile out-and-back trail takes a little more than an hour to complete and has an elevation gain of 505 feet. The trail is paved, which makes it accessible to a variety of hikers, and the views are pretty incredible. The path leads along the sea cliffs to an observation deck and a lighthouse with vistas out to sea. Keep your eyes peeled for whales in the distance, too.
Some of the views you can expect to see are of Koko Head and Koko Crater, as well as the lighthouse, which dates back to 1909. You may even be able to see Molokai and Lanai in the distance if the weather is clear.
Be sure to bring plenty of water, as the trail has no shade cover and can be very hot. A hat and sunscreen are also recommended.
5. Lanikai Pillbox Trail
A quick half-hour drive from downtown Honolulu will put you in the suburb of Lanikai. This quiet, residential area not only has one of the best beaches on Oahu, it also has a really beautiful hike. The Lanikai Pillbox Trail creeps up from a cul-de-sac in a quiet neighborhood and leads to some of the most beautiful views of the surrounding area.
The trail is 1.7 miles out-and-back and is considered a challenging route because most of the way in is uphill and can be a bit of a scramble in some areas. The trail follows along Kai'iwa Ridge offering views on either side of Lanikai and Kailua.
Overall the trail is short, but it is quite steep. It takes about half an hour to hike from the trailhead to the top of the pillbox. You'll have gorgeous views of Lanikai and Kailua Beaches, as well as the looming mountains in the distance. When you're finished, head over to either of the beaches for a refreshing dip.
6. Kuliouou Ridge Trail
Honolulu may be the largest city in Hawaii, but it's at the doorstep of some of the best hiking. Kuliouou Ridge Trail, for example, is one of the best hikes on Oahu and is not far from the capital city.
This 4.7-mile out-and-back trail takes an average of three hours to finish with an impressive elevation gain of 1,650 feet. The peak of the trail looks out from the back of the Kuliouou Ridge, offering spectacular views of the lush, jungle-covered landscape. The end of the trail offers really lovely views of Waimanalo.
The trail can be slippery after it rains, so proper footwear is strongly recommended. Be prepared to get a little muddy, too. Hikers recommend that you pack plenty of water because the trail can get quite hot.
7. Aiea Loop Trail
If you're looking for a fun, moderately challenging hike, the Aiea Loop Trail is a beautiful forest escape not far from downtown Honolulu. The hike is a five-mile loop completely shrouded in lush, jungle scenery. It runs along the Halawa Valley, which means that several parts of the hike open up to stunning mountain views.
The total incline of the hike is 1,250 feet and will take most people roughly two hours. That may seem like a lot of incline, but the elevation gain is spread out over the course of the five miles, so it actually ends up being a pretty manageable hike. You'll get some exercise for sure, but it won't be a quad killer like some other hikes on Oahu.
You'll find five separate parking lots at this trailhead. The upper parking lot is the closest to the trail, and if you visit on a weekday, you'll likely have ample parking.
8. Olomana Trail
One of the most challenging and treacherous hikes on Oahu also happens to be one of the most breathtaking. The Olomana Trail within Mount Olomana State Monument is a 4.4-mile trail that will definitely test your skills as a hiker, but will reward you for your hard work with some spectacular views.
The out-and-back trail near Kailua is not for the timid. In fact, several sites warn travelers that this is a perilous route, especially when it rains. It's an extremely technical hike complete with rope sections, bouldering, and plenty of tree routes. If you are not an experienced hiker, this may be one to skip. That said, if you have some hiking chops, you will find this to be one of the most exciting hikes on Oahu.
The hike will take an experienced hiker about three hours to hit the third peak and return. Ropes are strategically placed and will be more than necessary, especially if the path is muddy. Most hikers stop at the second peak, as the gap between the second and third peak is the most dangerous and exposed on either side of the ridge to plunging depths.
9. Waimano Falls Trail
A quick drive north from Oahu, past Pearl City, is the trailhead for Waimano Falls Trail. This challenging hike is just shy of three miles out and back with an elevation gain of 810 feet.
The trail is steep and crosses over uneven terrain (often overgrown with tree roots), but the reward at the end is a waterfall that spills down into a series of smaller waterfalls and natural pools.
While the length of the trail itself isn't very long, the incline is intense, and you will definitely get a workout. The way in is mostly downhill, which means coming back is tiring, so keep that in mind when you're swimming at the falls. A few areas have ropes to help you pull your way up, if that gives any indication about the intensity.
It is one of the top hikes for Honolulu locals thanks to its proximity to the city and the sheer natural beauty. It's a great place to escape from the cosmopolitan energy and disappear for a while into nature.
10. Aihualama Trail
Once you reach the base of Manoa Falls, you may notice another trail that branches off up a hill, disappearing into a dense, lush forest. What you've discovered is the Aihualama Trail, and it is definitely worth an add-on after you reach Manoa Falls.
This gorgeous hike takes you through a thicket of towering bamboo. On a windy day, the tubes of bamboo clank together like natural wind chimes and are beyond mesmerizing. It's a challenging trail with lots of roots and rocks, but unlike the Manoa Falls trail, you'll have this patch of forest likely all to yourself.
A series of switchbacks rise up out of the Manoa Valley before you reach Pauoa Flats. The entire trail has spectacular views of Honolulu, Diamond Head Crater, and the Manoa Valley.
It will take about three hours to finish this out-and-back hike.
11. Ehukai Pillboxes
Along Oahu's North Shore, just behind Ehukai Beach Park and the Banzai Pipeline, is a challenging jungle hike that leads up to an overlook with beautiful views out over the eponymous beach. The alternate name for this hike is Sunset Pillbox Hike because, as you can imagine, the sunsets from here are stellar.
The entire trail is just over two miles with an elevation gain of 734 feet. Parts of the trail are very steep and muddy, so you'll find rope assists to help you up. The entire trail takes about an hour and a half to complete, and the end section of the trail is a loop.
The entrance to the trail is found just off the parking lot of Sunset Elementary School. The first pillbox is just minutes away when you reach the ridge, but it will take some effort to get here as the trail up the mountain is very steep. You can walk around the old military bunker once you get there, which is definitely cool.
12. Likelike Falls Trail
One of the loveliest waterfall hikes is located just outside of downtown Honolulu. The Likelike Falls hike is a Honolulu local favorite — a two-tiered waterfall that is just below the Pali Lookout.
The best way to see the falls is to take a hike on the trail from the Koolau Golf Club, which is a 25-minute hike through the forest to reach the base of the falls. It's a moderately challenging hike with an elevation of 206 feet.
One thing to note about this hike is you have to keep your eyes peeled for the blue arrow marked on a tree that keeps you on the trail. It's easy to miss the arrow and if you do, you'll end up scaling the side of the mountain and following a trail that leads to a dead end. The blue arrow is about 10 minutes into the hike and points to the right.
Once you get to the falls, it's a great spot for taking off your shoes and splashing in the cool water. The trail can get muddy in places, so you'll be able to wash off just beneath the falls.
13. Lulumahu Falls Trail
The hike to Lulumahu Falls is definitely a fun one. This trail weaves its way through a lot of different landscapes, from narrow passageways through thick forest, to a bamboo grove, to a scramble over rocks and through a stream. The end result is a beautiful tiered waterfall that splashes into several pools below.
The entire trail is out and back and is less than two miles. The 1.6-mile trail has an elevation gain of 930 feet. The trail is definitely a challenge and can be muddy in some places. It's also not uncommon to get a bit confused about where the trail actually is. When in doubt, just keep following the stream because it leads directly to the waterfall.
Parking for the hike is off the side of the Pali Highway. From here, you'll easily find the entrance to the start of the trail.
14. Turtle Bay to Kahuku Point
One of the prettiest hikes along the North Shore of Oahu is the hike from Turtle Bay to Kahuku Point. Kahuku Point enjoys the title of the northernmost point on the island of Oahu. It's the last stop before the endless Pacific Ocean opens up before you.
The 2.3-mile hike is an easy one, with an elevation gain of 134 feet. The entire out-and-back trail takes about 45 minutes to complete. You'll find the trailhead just off the parking lot of the beautiful Turtle Bay Resort. The parking lot has ample spaces, and the trail is paved for much of the way.
Address: 57-236 Kakipi Pl, Kahuku, Hawaii