Want the best views of Oahu whilst topping up your step count at the same time? You need to make time in your itinerary for these unmissable hikes on Oahu. Firstly, we managed them all. We did struggle & sweat at times (you can laugh at the video below which proves it) but we have divided this post into difficulty levels and included the stunning waterfall hikes in Oahu suited for the whole family!
Although many people visit the island for the sea, sand and surf, it’s no secret Oahu hiking trails are some of the best in the world. From the luscious landscapes to the sapphire seas, these are the best hikes on Oahu to witness these two world’s colliding. Whether a family or fitness fanatic, grab your trainers, water and sunscreen to prepare for the best views and unforgettable memories of this beautiful island.
EASY HIKES ON OAHU
Let’s start with the easy hikes in Oahu to get you warmed up. These will only take an hour or two and are ideal for families. These are the best hikes on Oahu kids, for those new to hiking or those that don’t want to leave the beach for too long. Regardless, all offer the same rewarding views and opportunity to explore Oahu from above.
The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
Location: Kalanianaole Hwy. Waimanalo, HI 96795
Best time to hike: Early Morning
How long does it take? Approx. 1 hour
Oahu hiking trails are not often push chair and children friendly but Makapu’u lighthouse is one of the most accessible for all ages. To us, this is one of the easiest Oahu hikes as we did it straight after hiking Koko Head and didn’t even break a sweat (and we’re very much beginners!). It is a short hike (approx. 2 miles) with a gentle incline. The best part is that the trail is almost entirely paved, making it ideal for a Sunday stroll with the family, you will have no clue you’ve hiked up over 1,200 feet!
It’s one of the best hikes on Oahu due to it’s star attraction – The Makapu’u lighthouse. It featured in the movie, “50 First Dates” as the location of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore’s first kiss. Sadly, no re-inactions are possible as the lighthouse itself is now closed off to hikers but the views are worth it none the less.
Don’t just stop at the lighthouse, continue hiking to the peak for even better panoramic views of the shore – from Makapu’u beach stretching towards the North Shore, all the way to south-eastern Oahu including breath-taking views of Koko Crater. The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail also offers views of the local landmark ‘Rabbit Island’ and if it’s clear enough you can see across the ocean to nearby Molokai and Lanai islands. We did say even the easy hikes in Oahu are rewarding!
If you have plenty time and ideally no small children we recommend the 1 hour detour to the Makapu’u Tidepools, a further reason why this is one of our favourite Oahu hikes. On a clear day you can admire the water blast through the tidepools in an impressive blow hole – although beware of rough seas causing scarily high waves, only commit to the detour if it’s safe.
Top Tips for Hiking Makapu’u Lighthouse
- If your itinerary permits, hike during migration Season (November until May) as you are very likely to spot Humpback Whales from the many look out spots!
- Arrive early for two reasons – the carpark fills up so fast and many cars have to park along the road and to avoid the midday sun.
- Although one of the most easy hikes in Oahu as the trail is wide and paved, it offers no shelter from the sun. There are no toilets either so bare this in mind if taking children!
EASY WATERFALL HIKES ON OAHU
Hawaii isn’t known as the rainbow state for no reason. However, in order to see a rainbow you need a vital ingredient – rain. We saw a lot of it in Oahu, which meant the most beautiful waterfalls popped up around the island overnight. As we were based in Kaneohe, after heavy rainfall waterfalls would appear on the Koolau range which was surreal to witness (and also impossible to photograph, due to intense fog).
As well as the most impressive waterfalls in Oahu, the Koolau range is also known for one of the most notorious hikes on Oahu (more on that later.) If you have your heart set on seeing these natural wonders, there are many easy waterfall hikes in Oahu – ideal for beginners and children alike!
Hiking Manoa Falls
Location: 3860 Manoa Rd. Honolulu, HI 96822
Best time to hike: After heavy rainfall for the best waterfall
Time to hike: Approx. 1.5 hours round-trip.
If searching for waterfall hikes in Oahu, this is one of the best not just for the grand finale falls but for the trail through the luscious rainforest. You will feel tiny as giant trees tower around you, and beautiful flowers and unusual plants catch your eye at every step.
Manoa hiking trail is one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu for children as the towering trees provide protection from the strong sunshine and provide homes to so much fascinating wildlife.
As you follow the trail for around 40 minutes you will arrive at the perfect picnic spot at the foot of a 150ft waterfall. You might recognise parts of the Manoa waterfall hike from Jurassic Park and Lost – both had scenes filmed within this luscious landscape adding to the reasons why it’s one of our favourite Oahu hikes.
Top Tips for Hiking Manoa Waterfall
- Although an easy hike in Oahu, the end of the trail is quite rocky so wear proper footwear (like all hikes)
- Like most waterfall hikes in Oahu it usually involves hiking through the jungle so pack plenty mosquito repellent.
- Don’t forget your camera – the rainbows are stunning over the waterfalls on a sunny day!
- Parking costs $3
Waimea Falls Hike
Location: 59-864 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa, HI 96712, USA
Best time to hike: After substantial rainfall – otherwise the falls will be only a trickle
How long does it take? Approx. 20-30 minutes to the waterfalls
Although one of the most touristy Oahu hiking trails, it is one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu for one reason – you can swim in the waterfall!
If you head to Waimea bay, the Waimea falls are within the beautiful botanical park and are one of the best things to do on North Shore, Oahu.
A little heads up, there is a fee to enter the park and see the falls. However these fees go towards the upkeep of the park and the paved trail as well as covering the cost of the facilities at the falls so please be a responsible traveller and don’t try to sneak in, which we’ve heard of people doing.
As mentioned earlier, Waimea is one of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu as you are rewarded with a refreshing swim at the end. It is one of the best Oahu hikes for families with young children as there are free life vests, changing facilities and even a life guard on duty – which let’s you easily see where the park fee is going.
Costs for the Waimea waterfall hike, Oahu
$16.95 for Adults
$8.95 for Children, ages 4-12
The trail itself is only ¾ of mile and paved so is definitely one of the easiest Oahu hikes as it is more of a leisurely stroll through the beautiful botanical gardens. We were told the reason the hike is so short is because historically the Waimea falls park was more of an entertainment theme park. You were able to drive right up to the falls, grab a seat and a snack and watch cliff divers plunge alongside the Waimea Waterfall.
Needless to say, nowadays there are no death defying divers however there are usually demonstrations, workshops and traditional Hawaiian performances taking place as you enter, to educate visitors on the island’s fascinating culture.
Top Tips for Hiking Waimea Falls
- You can attend a traditional Hawaiian Luau at the Waimea visitors centre. Note that this luau only takes place on Mondays – Wednesdays. For more information on what a Luau is – read this best places to eat in Oahu post.
- Following this beautiful waterfall hike in Oahu, simply follow the river back down the park, across the highway and into Waimea Bay Beach Park. It is known as one of the most stunning beaches on the North Shore and produces some of the highest waves on the Island during Winter!
- Fancy more things to do on the North Shore? Check out our complete guide!
MEDIUM DIFFICULTY HIKES ON OAHU
If you’ve ticked off the easy hikes on Oahu and fancy bit more of a challenge then these are the trails for you. Forget the flip flops, these will require proper footwear and a snack or 10 to get you through, but the views will be more than worth it.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike – Kaiwa Ridge Trail
Location: 265 Kaelepulu Dr. Kailua, HI 96734 (park on the side of the road nearby)
Best time to hike: Anytime – although we did it around 1pm and it was crazy hot!
How long is the Lanikai Pillbox hike? 30 minutes to the first pillbox, allow 90 minutes to hike all three.
Bored of the easy hikes on Oahu then it’s time to take it up notch and the Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the best as it can be adapted to your ability.
The Lanikai Pillbox hike starts in a residential street, so it’s understandable to think it’s going to be an easy trail however the very start is the steepest part! There is a rope to help pull yourself up the first few minutes, luckily we went on a dry day so this wasn’t too hard, however can imagine it being incredibly slippery following rain.
After the tricky start, the rest of the climb (although steep) is relatively straight forward – heck, I even managed it in a dress before breakfast!
As mentioned earlier, the Lanikai pillbox hike is one of the best hikes on Oahu as it can be adapted to your ability – or itinerary. It will take around 30 minutes to reach the peak and first pillbox, however if time and fitness permits you can continue the trail and hike to all three. This will take around 90 minutes if going at a decent pace.
Don’t believe us that Lanikai Pillboxes are one of the best Oahu hikes? Watch our Oahu Highlights video where we feature the insane views we were rewarded with.
The Lanikai pill box hike is also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail and due to the trail’s location on the East side of the island, it is one of the best hikes on Oahu for views across the island.
From this hike, you will be able to capture the famous Oahu landmarks such as the award winning Lanikai Beach (where Darren swam in the sea for the first time!), Kaneohe Bay, Mokula Islands, the Chinaman’s Hat and Kailua Beach. On the descent, you will also be rewarded with amazing views of the enchanted lake and Kaneohe Marine base.
Top Tips for Hiking Lanikai Pillboxes
- Firstly, not the best plan to hike it in a dress
- Hike it early in the morning, to avoid the heat, there is no shelter (except inside the pillboxes)
- As it starts on a residential street, park in permitted spaces only. Many careless people have been parking illegally resulting in angry residents and eventually the hike will be made illegal if this continues. Please only park in legitimate spaces.
Diamond Head Hike
Location: Diamond Head Rd., Honolulu, HI 96815
Best time to hike: Anytime – The trail is open 6am until 6pm although last entry is 4.30pm.
How long is the Diamond Head hike? Approx. 1.5 – 2 hours round-trip.
Diamond Head crater is an astonishing 450 acres and is essentially, a giant volcanic rock. Chances are due to it’s size, you’ve already seen this unmissable landmark from your sunbathing spot on Waikiki beach. You can even start the Diamond Head hike from the beach if time is on your hands. It is one of our favourite hikes on Oahu for the most incredible views of Honolulu, the challenging climb is so worth it.
The volcanic crater was created over 300,000 years ago but was titled Diamond Head in the 1800s by British sailors. They nicknamed the crater after the sparkling stones at the top, that glittered like diamonds. Despite the hand rails and paved steps, we wouldn’t class it as one of the easy hikes on Oahu as the steep gradient means this 1.4 mile trip takes nearly 2 hours.
However, during our hike we did witness a few children braving the climb – watch our video for our honest thoughts on the Diamond Head hike…hopefully it won’t put you off.
We will warn, if you are at all claustrophobic there are a few scarily narrow corridors and steep steps to conquer before the summit. However, once you brave these and the spiral staircase at the old Fire House, clamber through the military bunker and you will be rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views that you will literally feel on top of the world – or on top of Oahu at least.
These spectacular views do attract a crowd however and Diamond Head is one of the busiest Oahu hikes, so ideally leave early and go on a weekday! When you’ve completed the hike, head to Diamond Head Market & Grill – it is one of the best places to eat on Oahu for an afternoon treat. We had the BEST scones there that were the perfect reward.
Top Tips for Hiking Diamond Head
- Oddly, when we hiked Diamond Head there was a man selling “certificates” at the top, which didn’t seem legitimate. Beware of this tourist scam.
- Make sure to take cash as there is a small entry fee of $1 per person for pedestrians or you pay $5 for a car and they do not accept card.
- It was very, very busy even though we hiked on a week day around 9am. At parts of the hike we even had to queue (you can see the queues of people in the video.) We are unsure if there are other times of year/day to avoid this (we were backpacking Hawaii in January) but just a heads up in case you expected the place to yourselves.
DIFFICULT HIKES ON OAHU
If you’re pretty darn confident and have motivation in abundance, then these are the best hikes on Oahu for you. Warning, you will break a sweat and on one, potentially break the law so do your research, read the rules and stay safe when attempting the toughest Oahu hikes!
Koko Head Crater Trail
Location: Koko Head Regional Park at 423 Kaumakani Street
Best time to hike: Sunrise
How long does it take to hike Koko Head? Within an hour, although feels like a lifetime
Koko Head is one of the best hikes on Oahu if you enjoy a challenge. However, we’re talking climbing 1050 steps sort of challenge. The “steps” were historically a railroad used by the military to run supplies up to the Air Force Station at the summit during World War II.
We strongly advise beginning this hike prior to sunrise, although it will require a torch it does mean the temperature will be so much cooler. It also means your strenuous climb will be rewarded with the most unforgettable sunrise at the summit.
Despite dragging ourselves out of bed in the dark, we were surprised just how many other people also did this. Koko Head is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu with fitness fanatics who RUN up those 1050 steps – some of which have completed it in a crazy 15 minutes!
Needless to say, our sweaty selves managed it in a far more respectable hour (although it felt like a lifetime) and still with plenty time to enjoy the epic views of Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach and Koko Marina.
Following a few sunrise selfies, it is time for the descent – word of warning, this is harder than the hike up! This could have been because my legs were in shock from the 1050 steps up but also because some of the steps are particularly wide apart and scarily high.
This resulted in a few heart-racing moments where I feared I’d fall between the gaps in the steps to the overgrown below. Therefor I went for the safer (although far less flattering approach) of sliding on my bum to get down.
We would agree Koko head is one of the toughest hikes on Oahu and definitely not ideal for small children – if my legs struggled with the far apart steps, I’d imagine most children would too!
We really recommend watching our video below as a truthful review of what hiking Koko head is like. Too often travel bloggers only share the beautiful, sunrise photos from the top and rarely show the sweat and struggle behind the scenes. Ashamedly it shows how unfit
we Loz is but it will hopefully inspire you to complete one of the best hikes on Oahu.
Top Tips for Hiking Koko Head
- If starting the hike at the recommended time of 5:30 am you will need a torch. If you use your phone, make sure there’s enough battery so you can take photos at the top! Read our backpacking travel essentials post, for our fave head torch!
- Although it feels like hiking in the middle of the night EAT before you hike! As it was so early, I avoided breakfast but nearly fainted during the hike as the temperature (and step count) gradually increased. You can watch me hilariously fail at this hike above.
Hiking The Stairway to Heaven
Location: Koolau mountain range/ Moanalua Valley Trail Start (Kulana’ahane)
Best time to hike: Never
How long does it take? Approx. 4-6 hours
The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku stairs is one of the toughest hikes on Oahu. If you thought Koko Head’s 1050 steps sounded hard – it takes 3,922 steps to reach the Puu Keahiakahoe summit.
As mentioned earlier, the Koolau mountain range is home to this notorious hike – infamous from the numerous YouTube videos and Instagram snaps from those risking their lives for a few likes. The reason is, the stairs themselves are severely storm damaged and so insanely unsafe that the hike itself is now illegal.
After our experience nearly getting arrested in Miami, we didn’t fancy disobeying the “No Trespassing” signs or chancing our luck getting passed the guards who are there 24 hours a day. That and the fact, we didn’t fancy the $1000 fine for the sake of a photo.
However, if you are determined to reach that view above the clouds and experience one of the most famous hikes on Oahu, there is a legal route – although a bit of a grey area so please, do your research. Apparently by taking “the back route” you will reach the same summit, but legally.
Instead you will hike 4km up Kamanaui Valley Road Trail until you’ll reach a sign on the left for the start of the Kaulana’ahane trail. You will still have to endure the intensely narrow ridge and admire the H3 highway scarily low below but if you’re brave enough this will then take you to the Haiku stairs.
Then use the Moanalua Trail to get down. We would like to add, of all the hikes on Oahu we read about and completed we were not brave enough to even attempt this. You’ve hopefully watched our near fail at Koko head above and understand why.
Please bear in mind your own ability before attempting any of these Oahu hikes and before risking your life for an Instagram snap or worse some jail time.
Although these Oahu hikes may not be the first thing on your agenda, we can guarantee they will be the highlight of your Oahu itinerary. For us, to really appreciate this epic island the best way was from above. We hope this guide has shared there are hikes on Oahu for all abilities so everyone can experience these unmissable views.