As the third largest—and most populous—of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is best seen on foot…wandering emerald green valleys, catching a spectacular sunrise or sunset along the coast, and walking the ridges along the Waianae and Koolau mountain ranges. The best Oahu hikes offer opportunities for each of these epic experiences.
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Best Hiking in Oahu
1. Diamond Head (Le’ahi) Summit Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles out and back. Elevation gain: 452 feet
Difficulty: Easy (kind of)
Description: This is perhaps the most popular trail for casual hikers on the island of Oahu as it leads to one of Hawaii’s best known landmarks. And it’s truly stunning. This trail to the summit was built in 1908 as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system.
The key is to arrive when the park (Diamond Head State Monument) opens if you hope to park in one of the 300 spots or so at the trailhead and miss the crowds of tourists who head here. Otherwise, plan to park in a lot far below that will add another mile (uphill) to the trailhead.
The beginning of the trail is partially paved and leads through a lush valley until you continue your ascent via narrower switchbacks. You’ll pass the huge saucer-shaped crater here that was formed during a single massive volcanic eruption 300,000 years ago!
You’ll be walking the steep slope of the interior of the crater to eventually go through a tunnel with a final very steep set of stairs as you arrive to the summit.
While this trail is designated as “easy” by All Trails, I personally found it short but more strenuous than expected. Those who are less physically fit should expect to take it slow, just moving aside for faster hikers.
The incredible view of Honolulu at the top has graced postcards around the world for decades. It’s a bucket list experience to see it for yourself as the pay-off at the summit.
2. Lanikai Pillbox (Kaiwa Ridge) Hike
Distance: Two miles out and back. Elevation gain: 600 feet
Description: The Lanikai pillbox hike in Kailua gets its name from a series of old World War II pillboxes (bunkers) that sit on a ridge overlooking Lanikai beach, with views of the Mokulua islands and the whole windward side of Oahu island.
This is a relatively easy hike of about 2 miles (roundtrip) and 600 feet of elevation gain.
Most people do the Lanikai pillboxes as an out and back hike that ends at the second or third pillbox, but you could also do it as a loop hike that continues down the other side of the ridge and ends at Lanikai beach, which is also worth visiting.
One of the great things about this hike is that it’s fairly short but you still get amazing panoramic views at the top of the pillboxes, so that gives it a lot of repeat value.
It’s known for being one of the best spots for sunrise and sunset on the island! The initial climb is a bit steep and can be muddy after rain, so it’s still a good idea to come prepared with solid hiking shoes.
On a dry day, it’s possible to reach the good viewpoints in only 30 minutes or less.
David | The World Travel Guy
3. Waimea Falls
Distance: 1.9 miles round trip. Elevation: 270 Feet.
Difficulty: Easy, suitable for all abilities
Description: One of the best hikes on Oahu that is a must-see area is Waimea Falls. Bonus: It’s perfectly located for a stop at a North Shore food truck near either Haleiwa or Shark’s Cover.
Located as part of the Waimea Valley, this is an easy hike on a paved road, with just 270 feet elevation gain, and 1.9 miles round trip.
In addition to offering a breathtaking view of the 45 foot Waimea Falls, the highlight is that you can actually swim in the pool below the falls. Bring a day bag with a swimsuit or a change of clothes, and good water shoes.
Swimming at Waimea Falls is one of the highlights of a visit to Oahu. There is a fee for entering Waimea Valley, currently $20 per adult and $12 for children.
In addition the hike to Waimea Falls, you can also visit all of the Waimea Valley, which includes a botanical garden and some historical sites along the way.
It’s an easy hike suitable for all levels and is accessible all year round. Add the bonus of a waterfall swim, and Waimea Falls is one of the best hikes on Oahu and, in particular, one of the best things to do in Oahu with kids.
Keri | Bon Voyage with Kids
Best Day Tours on Oahu
1. See Pearl Harbor. Touring the USS Arizona Memorial is a powerful experience no one should miss. You can reserve tickets to visit on your own but it’s really impactful to have a knowledgeable guide narrate the experience too. Check price and availability on a Pearl Harbor tour here.
2. Snorkel Turtle Canyons. This two hour excursion from Waikiki brings you spinner dolphins, green sea turtles and, in winter, humpback whales. Check price and availability on the snorkel tour here.
3. Take a helicopter tour. Fly over Diamond Head, Sacred Falls, and Oahu’s best known landmarks. Check price and availability on a helicopter tour here.
4. Koko Crater Trail
Distance: 1.6 miles out and back. Elevation gain: 885 feet
Description: While the Koko Crater Tramway is just a 1.6 mile hike to the Kokohead Lookout at the top, it’s a workout! You’ll need to earn the panoramic view at the top here.
This hike is a very steep climb with more than 1,000 steps up a very long set of abandoned railroad ties that run along the side of the crater. They’re left over from when the U.S. military used them for supply transport during WWII.
Be aware this is a very exposed hike. For most enjoyment—and to beat the heat and crowds at this popular spot—arrive early.
Otherwise, head here in the evening after crowds have dispersed. You might also benefit from bringing a backpack for water and snacks in case you need to use both hands for maneuvering.
From the top, you’ll enjoy views of Hanauma Bay, Moloka’i, and the eastern Honolulu shoreline.
Read more on Oahu travel:
• The ultimate Hawaii packing list
• 24 bucket list experiences in Hawaii
5. Hau’ula Loop Trail
Distance: 2.7 miles loop
Difficulty: Moderate. Elevation gain 879 feet
Description: The Hau’ula Loop Trail was my favorite hike on the North Shore. You’ll find it near Hauula, just south of Kahuku at the northern tip of the island.
The shady trail makes it a great trek any time of day. It’s a climb though and took us about 90 minutes round-trip to and from the parking lot. (AllTrails says 60 minutes though so maybe we’re slow!)
The most interesting thing about this trail is the changing trees and forest you’ll climb through on switchback after switchback as you cross a small stream.
It’s a jungle like experience so just know that even though the trail is mostly easy to find, it’s covered in exposed roots and can be a bit technical in spots.
Be sure to park at the beach as there is no public parking at the trail head in this residential area. You don’t want to get towed! The beach parking adds an additional .3 miles up the road to the trailhead.
If it’s rained recently, you may want to wait for a dryer day. Otherwise, be prepared for lots of mud and mosquitos here.
Bring bug spray! (On the morning we hiked the trail, we saw a very few people and experienced no mud or mosquitos.)
Eventually, you’ll arrive at a stunning ocean overlook, making this cardio workout well worth it!
6. Banyan Tree Route
Distance: 2.4 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain: 209 feet
Description: The Banyan Tree Route is a scenic, flat hike that begins next to the Turtle Bay Resort (so park there and walk in).
You’ll follow the wide trail along the beautiful Kawela Bay along an edge of a forest for a bit. (Stop at the Turtle Bay stables and pet a pony.)
Then the trail cuts into the forest on a narrower path until at last you come to the famed banyan tree. This particular tree has started in plenty of Hollywood films. Think “Lost” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Like its famous cousin—which was the first banyan tree planted in Hawaii in Lahaina on Maui—the banyan tree is native to India. You can see others on Oahu at Iolani Palace, near the Honolulu Zoo, and at the Moana Surfrider hotel on Waikiki Beach.
These incredible trees live for hundreds of years. It’s really something to see the way their roots expand along the ground, seeming to take on a life of their own.
While we were hiking this route, there was a Hawaiian film company on location here shooting an episode of a popular Hawaiian crime series.
We squeezed past a whole camera crew on a narrow part of the trail at the beach to arrive at the banyan tree. An extra adventure!
7. Wilhelmina Rise Mau’umae (Pu’u Lanipo) Trail
Distance: Up to 7 miles out and back. Elevation gain: 2800 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Description: Wilhelmina Rise, Mau’umae Trail, and Lanipo are all names for this scenic ridge hike on the east side of Honolulu. This trail has great views almost the entire way.
The first part of the trail is an ideal hike for visitors because you get beautiful views of Oahu’s neighborhoods, mountains, and the ocean in the distance.
You can hike as much as 3.5 miles one way, up and down three peaks, for spectacular views by Ka’au Crater. However, there are also plenty of other nice viewpoints along the way, if you prefer to turn around earlier.
To get to the trail, just head straight up Wilhelmina Rise Road and enter by the chain-link fence. While not an advanced hike, you do need to be agile and able to climb steep, rocky steps. Wear decent shoes, and watch your footing.
Bring water and sunscreen, as you’ll be exposed to the elements on this trail. Even better, head out at sunrise for a peaceful, scenic moment above Oahu.
Michelle | Intentional Travelers
8. Ka’ena Point Trail
Distance: 5 miles round trip. Elevation: 220 feet
Description: Ka’ena Point State Park is another spot for an excellent hike on Oahu’s north shore.
There are six hikes to choose from but the one that is considered “easy” and most family-friendly is located near Waialua. The trailhead begins at the end of a paved road in the Keawula section of Ka’ena Point State Park.
This hike is easier in terms of terrain and elevation at around 220 feet but it is a five-mile hike round trip which can make it moderate for some ability levels. So while it is family-friendly as it is suitable for all skill levels, it is a long hike and will take a few hours.
What makes this hike so special is the incredible view along Oahu’s rugged volcanic coastline. It offers unique views you won’t find elsewhere on the island.
There are also some tide pools, small stone arches, and beautiful wildflowers along the way. From this hike, you can also see Kaneana, a large sea cave, and some hikers have reported spotting dolphins in the water on early morning hikes at this spot.
One sidenote is that this hike is in an area with little to no shade and can be windy. Be sure to bring a hiking pack with plenty of water and food. Wear sunblock and a hat and visit in the morning when it is cooler if possible.
Good hiking shoes are required here as this is a more rugged area.
But for a wonderful day adventure with breathtaking and spectacular views well worth it, Ka’ena Point Trail makes an excellent day out on Oahu, one of the best Hawaiian islands for kids.
Keri | Bon Voyage with Kids
9. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles out and back. Elevation gain: 500 feet
Description: If you’re looking for an Oahu hike that has beautiful scenery (and the potential to see whales), consider the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.
The relatively easy out-and-back trail gains 500 feet of elevation over about 2.5 miles and gives breathtaking views of Oahu’s southeastern coast.
Hiking the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is free, and there is parking available at the trailhead. The hike is easy-to-moderate in difficulty; the entire trail is paved and elevation is gained over a mostly steady incline.
There are plenty of lookout stops along the way where you can catch your breath. If you’re visiting during whale migration season (November to May), you might even catch a glimpse of humpback whales.
Signs along the trail mark the best spot for whale-spotting. Don’t forget your binoculars!
When you make it to the top of Makapu’u Head, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views of Oahu’s windward coast, including the trail’s namesake red-roofed Makapu’u Lighthouse.
The views are some of the best in Oahu, making this hike deserve a spot on everyone’s Oahu bucket list.
There’s no shade along the trail, so make sure to pack sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water. Start your hike right after opening (7 am) for the coolest temperatures and the smallest crowds.
Sydney | A World in Reach
10. Kouli’ou’ou Ridge Trail
Distance: 4.7 to 5 miles, out and back. Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Description: Located near Hawaii Kai in the Kuli’ou’ou Forest Reserve, about 30 minutes from Waikiki, the Kouliouou Ridge Trail is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding Oahu hike.
A local favorite due to its “moderate-hard” rating and dog-friendly trail, Kouli’ou’ou Ridge ascends through tropical rainforest, weaves through dry tree cover, and scales the Ko’olau Mountain Range with a total elevation gain just shy of 1,800 feet.
This out-and-back trail is about 4.7 to 5 miles round-trip, and you can plan to spend anywhere from 2.5 – 4.5 hours here depending on your pace and how often you stop for breaks or photo opportunities. (There will be plenty).
Be sure to try and conserve energy for the last 0.5-mile push to the top… There’s lots of stairs once you near the finish line, and depending on whether it has rained recently, they could be muddy!
While many Oahu hikes will offer you epic coastal views, what makes Kouli’ou’ou Ridge unique is that, because you’re scaling the Ko’olau Mountains, you’ll be straddling the line dividing Oahu’s south and windward coasts.
This offers you sweeping views from Kaneohe to Hawaii Kai. For anyone going to Hawaii for the first time, know that finding a hike like this is hitting the gold mine…an amazing workout and even more amazing views.
Rachel-Jean | Rachel Off Duty
11. Manoa Falls Trail
Distance: 1.7 miles out and back. Elevation gain: 633 feet.
Description: One of the best hikes on Oahu for kids is the Manoa Falls trail, just about 20 to 30 minutes from Waikiki. It’s situated right next to the Lyon Arboretum, so you can pair the two for a great outing exploring some of the prettiest places on Oahu.
This easy Oahu hike is 1.7 miles round trip and has a 633 feett elevation gain. It takes most families about 90 minutes to complete this out-and-back hike.
You’ll want to wear sturdy shoes and check the weather before you go in case the trail is extra muddy. There’s a place to wash the mud off your shoes at the end of the hike.
What’s awesome about the Manoa Falls trail is that it leads to a beautiful waterfall in the rainforest.
It’s also where they filmed scenes from Jurassic Park, Lost, and the new Aquaman sequel. This waterfall is perfect for taking photos, but it’s not safe to swim because of the threat of Leptospirosis.
When you are done hiking, there’s a little restaurant in the parking lot where you can get Dole Whip, shave ice, or even an Acai bowl.
Manoa Falls is one of the easiest hikes on Oahu and it’s perfect for beginner hikers or families.
Marcie | Hawaii Travel with Kids
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