Top 9 Hikes on Oahu, Hawaii (Picked by a Local!)
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If I had to describe hiking in Hawaii with just one word, it would be—electrifying. Soft sandy beaches caressed by the blue Pacific give way to lush jungles of the interior, while volcanic mountains—crumpled, cracked and overgrown with vegetation—rise above it all. Wherever you are, seaside serenity is always just a short hike away from dramatic sights. More often than not, those sights are hard-earned and endlessly rewarding. This is especially true on Oahu, Hawaii’s political, economic, and outdoor hub. Your visit to this tropical paradise can include a myriad of watersports, delicious food, and scenic bike rides, but to elevate your trip from standard to Instaworthy, I invite you to explore the island by foot.
Say “Aloha” to the Archipelago of AdventureThe Hawaiian islands are an archipelago consisting of eight major islands, as well as numerous atolls and islets floating in the North Pacific Ocean. Although only the third largest island, Oahu (which aptly translates to the Gathering Place) is the most populous, and home to the capital city of Honolulu. Oahu has two main mountain ranges: the Waianae and the Koʻolau. Waianae spans the length of the island’s western coast for about 34 miles and is generally warm and dry. The wet, lush Koʻolau to the east is defined by rock faces carved out by heavy winds over thousands of years. Most of the best hikes to do in Oahu are located on the east side. Scattered throughout the island are numerous post-shield outcroppings known as volcanic cones. In case you’re wondering, there are no active volcanoes on Oahu, so you won’t find lava on your hikes.
When it comes to hiking, Oahu is the king of the jungleTo state it simply: Oahu is blessed with outdoor activities. It has a longstanding reputation as one of the best surfing spots in the USA (with kiteboarding that isn’t too shabby either), and pertinent to what I’m here to talk about, it also boasts some world-class hiking trails. Before I came to Hawaii, I was comfortable in the mountains and familiar with a wide-range of terrain (my tick list read like a best hiking destinations in the world article). But then I went on my first hike here and felt completely out of my element. Surrounded by jungle mudslides and with foliage denser than the rainforest hikes you find on New Zealand’s North Island, I found the hiking in Hawaii to be completely different from the mainland: the mountains are smaller and the routes are technical—they’re muddy, rocky, and require a lot of scrambling—which I adore. What’s considered moderate on the mainland is easy in Hawaii. The terrain is so challenging that every year there are between 50 and 100 rescue missions in Oahu alone. These trails will push you out of your comfort zone, but they’ll also reward you with an unforgettable sunset from the top of a dormant volcano. How’s that for a tradeoff!
From Romania to the States: How I ended up in HawaiiWhen I was a kid, my family would go on camping trips all the time. Our favorite destination was the Carpathian Mountains in Romania. I remember my father had this old Russian camera and he would carry it everywhere, snapping photos of the mountains and documenting our hiking achievements. Having moved to the States to study physical education and sports, I began organizing trips to the White Mountains in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and the High Sierras for my friends, essentially becoming their personal hiking guide. Then, after one nasty snowstorm in Boston, I decided I’d had enough of the bad weather. Within a few months I was in Hawaii, with my own camera in tow. I started volunteering with a Hawaiian trail and mountain club and worked on clearing the trails, which allowed me to learn about local vegetation and history. A couple of years later, I founded Hungaro Explorer, and I’ve been guiding on Oahu ever since. So far I’ve climbed over 160 peaks in the mountain ranges of Hawaii and achieved the fastest known time on its tallest mountain, Mauna Kea.
Discover the Best Places to Hike in Oahu, HawaiiIf you’re looking to explore the best of Hawaii’s dense rainforests, sparkling waterfalls, hidden caves, and sprawling shield volcanoes, you’ve come to the right place. These are my top Oahu hikes sorted by difficulty. Even though most of these trails require a certain level of experience and fitness, there are some options for beginners as well. Easy hikes in Oahu:
- Diamond Head Trail, best for a volcano hike
- Manoa Falls Trail, best for a waterfall hike
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike, best for a first-time hike in Hawaii
- Ka-au Crater, best for a jungle hike
- Wiliwilinui Trail, best for an Oahu ridge hike
- Koko Crater Trail, best for a big cardio workout
- Olomana Trail, best for advanced hikers
- Stairway to Heaven, best for a historical hike
- Ko’olau Summit Trail, best for trail variety
1. Diamond Head Trail
Not even the inevitable throngs of tourists can diminish the views from the top of the Diamond Head crater. It’s a classic for a reason.
— Nandor Szotak
1. Diamond Head Trail - Good to Know
This is a beginner-friendly hike. Although the stairs can get a bit steep, they don’t pose too much of a challenge.
1-2 hours; 1.8 miles out and back
This is a short and steep hike that consists of a paved trail and a great number of steps, with around 450 feet of elevation gain in total.
Start early in the morning to beat the crowds. The trail closes in the afternoon.
There are food stands right next to the trailhead.
Diamond Head State Monument is located just east of Honolulu along Diamond Head Road. You can take a bus from the city or go by car. There’s a parking lot right next to the trailhead.
2. Manoa Falls Trail
Although swimming in the pool is not allowed, some hikers disregard the warnings. Be respectful and enjoy the untouched nature around you.
— Nandor Szotak
2. Manoa Falls Trail - Good to Know
Easy hike suitable for families. Just make sure to wear hiking shoes because it can get quite slippery.
1-2 hours; 1.7 miles out and back
The trail used to be quite muddy, but it’s now wider and drier after recent renovations.
After (or during) rain, when the waterfall is at its most powerful, which is most common from January to May. As always, an early start is the best way to avoid crowds.
Grab a refreshing shaved ice or some sandwiches at Rainbow’s End, a snack bar near the parking lot.
You can either rent a car or take bus #67 from Honolulu and get off at the very last stop. From there it’s a half-mile ascent to reach the trail. Note that going by car means you have to pay a fee.
3. Lanikai Pillbox Trail
People usually like to get to the top of the pillboxes and watch the sunrise. You can see Lanikai Beach, and two beautiful islands: Moku Nui and Moku Iki.
— Nandor Szotak
3. Lanikai Pillbox Trail - Good to Know
Easy to moderate. It will pose a challenge to beginners, but it’s still doable.
At sunrise or sunset because it gets too hot in the middle of the day.
This hike is short and steep. At 1.8 miles with around 650 ft elevation gain, it usually takes hikers anywhere 40-90 minutes, depending on their skill level.
There are no designated parking spots for this hike; you must park on the street in a residential area. Once there, please be respectful of the locals.
Head to Kailua, Hawaii for something to eat. There is everything from pizza to health food.
Kailua and Lanikai beaches are great for a post hike swim
Head to Castle Break at the far north end of Kailua Beach for surfing or go kayaking to Mokulua Island.
4. Ka’au Crater Trail
If you came to Hawaii for a great jungle hike, this is your best bet. Hiking through a lush rainforest decorated with three spectacular waterfalls—what’s not to love?
— Nandor Szotak
4. Ka’au Crater Trail - Good to Know
Moderate to advanced
Starting early in the morning is ideal. Since it is a long hike, this will allow for extra time in case something goes south.
This hike is muddy, traversing through the rainforest and on slippery rocks. It is a 4.5-mile loop, with an elevation gain of around 1,940 feet.
The trail starts in a residential area so parking is scarce. Please be mindful of blocking people’s homes or disturbing them with loud talking or music early in their morning. Respect the locals and their homes.
Head to Honolulu for dinner
Learn about Hawaii’s many orchids, including some very unusual ones, at the Kawamoto Orchid Nursery
To take a break from nature and visit a different kind of art visit the Honolulu Museum of Art.
5. Wiliwilinui Trail
The Wiliwilinui Trail boasts beautiful views that are usually reserved for more strenuous hikes. If you can handle steep stairs and the occasional scramble, don’t miss out on the vistas it offers.
— Nandor Szotak
5. Wiliwilinui Trail - Good to Know
Moderate. The biggest challenge are the steep steps, which are sometimes slippery or eroded.
It’s best to go early and during weekdays in order to secure a parking pass from the guard at the entrance.
The trail consists mostly of dirt and volcanic soil, with quite a lot of steps to reach the ridgeline. In total, it’s 4.7 miles out and back with around 1600 feet of elevation gain, which should take you 3-4 hours to complete.
Follow Laukahi Street to the guard station in front of the Waialae Iki gated neighborhood. Once inside, turn left on Okoa and follow the trail signs to reach the parking lot.
Try the Beastside Kitchen for delicious Pacific fusion cuisine, then for dessert enjoy the renowned shaved ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha.
6. Koko Crater Trail
The highlight of the Koko Crater hike is getting to the top. The feeling of accomplishment you get is something else.
— Nandor Szotak
6. Koko Crater Trail - Good to Know
Strenuous. This hike is made for experienced hikers with endurance.
The hardest part is the heat. Sunrise or sunset is the best time of the day. If you go at sunset, bring a headlamp!
This hike is on a steep wooden railway. It covers 1.6 miles round-trip with about 885 ft elevation gain, and a peak grade of 50%.
Bring lots of water on this hike in particular because you’ll definitely need it.
Uloha is my favorite small local shop to satisfy all of my hiking needs.
Visit the Makapuu Lighthouse or the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve to explore ocean life and learn about marine biology
Grab a beer and a mix of Hawaiian and American cuisine at Kona Brewing Company
7. Olomana Trail
The Olomana Trail is worth it for the sunrise views alone, but the adrenaline rush I get from scaling these peaks is what keeps me coming back.
— Nandor Szotak
7. Olomana Trail - Good to Know
Advanced. Use extreme caution and only hike areas within your comfort zone.
Start early in the morning because it will take a long time. You want to have enough time in case anything goes wrong.
The first leg of this hike is muddy, but quickly turns into scrambles on narrow ridges. It’s a 4.6-mile out and back trail with an elevation of around 2500 feet, taking between 2 to 4 hours to complete.
You have to park on the street, so be mindful of people’s privacy and don’t be too loud. Also, don’t leave any valuables in the car because there have been reported break-ins into rentals.
Head to the beautiful town of Kalua for a bite!
For a rewarding dessert head to Crepes No Ka’Oi.
Kayaking in Kailua Bay.
8. Stairway To Heaven (the Haiku Stairs)
Although illegal, Stairway to Heaven has become one of the most popular Oahu hikes thanks to social media. There is another way to do it, but it’s not without its risks.
— Nandor Szotak
8. Stairway To Heaven (the Haiku Stairs) - Good to Know
Moderate. The biggest challenge might just be avoiding the guards.
Anytime during the day. The sunsets are spectacular up here.
The Moanalua Valley Trail is a mix of muddy and steep sections. It’s a very long hike at just over 10 miles and can take between 7 and 10 hours.
You’re parking in a neighborhood so be respectful of the people living there.
Drive a scooter around Oahu for a fun afternoon.
9. Ko’olau Summit Trail
Every one of the trails leading to the Ko’olau Summit is packed with lush vegetation and Instagrammable views.
— Nandor Szotak
9. Ko’olau Summit Trail - Good to Know
Moderate to strenuous, depending on your approach and chosen section of the trail. The Ko’olau Summit Trail in its entirety is the hardest trail on Oahu.
Go early in the day for optimal visibility as the trails can be almost impossible to navigate in low light.
Mostly dirt surrounded by lush mountain vegetation. Gets quite muddy and treacherous after rain.
There are many different trails leading to the Ko’olau Summit. For the Konahuanui Ridge Trail, go uphill from Makiki Heights Drive to reach Tantalus Drive. Once you’re near the top, go over a narrow bridge to find the trailhead on the left.
Make sure to wear long pants to protect yourself from the sun, mosquitoes, overgrown vegetation, and minimize injury in case of falls.
Good-to-know Info for Hiking on Oahu
If you’re planning an Oahu hiking trip, you should do your due diligence and thoroughly prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind:
Does Oahu have good hiking?Oahu has the best hiking of all the Hawaiian islands, hands down. Its trails cover two volcanic mountain ranges that border the island and feature waterfalls, rainforests, World War II pillboxes, and the rugged coastal ridgeline. Overall, Oahu offers a diversity of terrain for every skill level that’s hard to find on any other island.
Tips for hiking on Oahu
- Do your research beforehand so you know about the challenges and perils of each trail.
- Stick to the trail and follow the official trail markers to avoid getting lost or hurt.
- Make sure to always have enough water and food on you.
- Bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and a light rain jacket.
- If you’re traveling by car, never leave your valuables inside.
What is the best time of the year to hike on Oahu?While the weather permits you to hike on Oahu year-round, the best time to visit Oahu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. These are the shoulder seasons, meaning less crowds and cheaper airfare and accommodation.
What to pack for hiking on Oahu?Here’s a list of the equipment you need to bring:
- Day pack large enough to carry all the items listed (around a 25-40L bag)
- Hiking poles — optional
- Water bottle or hydration bladder (2L capacity)
- Lightweight hiking boots or shoes
- Shorts or long pants
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Spare clothes for layering
- Toiletries (sunscreen, hand sanitizer, bug spray, toilet paper, etc.)
- Mosquito repellent
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Camera — optional (but recommended)