The word “hiking” means something entirely different in Hawaii. In my home state of Virginia, I was used to well-defined trails with minimal difficulty and gradual elevation increases. Most hikes provide a scenic, mildly strenuous experience. My first hike on Oahu showed me that what I thought was “hiking” was actually “walking”. I was climbing up sketchy ropes, across waterfalls, onto ridges that had maybe 3 ft. of walking space with 1,000+ ft. drops on either side. Mentally, I was not prepared. It scared the living shit out of me, yet I wanted more.
After 4 years on the island, I’ve become less of a bitch and embraced how strenuous, dangerous, and fun hiking can be in Hawaii. Grab your hydroflask, bring a snack, leave the fear at home and enjoy some of the best views Oahu has to offer with these 5 trails. These are the best hikes on Oahu.
In my opinion, this is the best hike on Oahu. Ka’au Crater starts at the top of Palolo Valley and leads you along a creek where you trek through a forest, climb up some waterfalls, and then make a loop around the crater ridge. It has a little bit of everything. This is a long hike (4-6 hours depending on how fast you go) and it gets really hot so remember to bring a lot of water and snacks.
It starts off in the woods along the creek before climbing up some waterfalls.
Then you get above the treeline and you realize all of the uphill hiking was worth it.
This was the first hike I did on Oahu (as explained above) and it kicked my ass. When I finished, I went to Marukame Udon in Waikiki and ate two massive bowls of udon ramen. I then fell asleep and farted uncontrollably for 3 hours because ramen makes me fart. Not only that but I was cramping up worse than I ever have in my life. I guess what I’m saying is stay hydrated and choose your post-hike meal wisely.
How to get there
Turn on to 10th street off Waialae Avenue in Kaimuki and take it all the way up Palolo Valley until you get to the trailhead. There’s minimal parking right next to the trail so you may have to walk up the hill a little bit. Look for the spraypainted sign and climb down the rocks to get started.
- Bring AT LEAST 2 liters of water and food. You’ll need it
- Wear breathable hiking pants so your legs don’t get cut up from brambles
- Wear shoes with good tread or spikes – the ridge part has a lot of loose gravel
Stairway to Heaven
This is what most people would call the best hike on Oahu. This is the most popular hike on Instagram and also the most illegal. There are two ways to get up there:
- Straight up the stairs – don’t do this. There’s a security guard at the bottom and you can get hit with a tresspassing charge if he sees you go up and down the stairs. He usually doesn’t call the cops, but why take the chance?
- Moanalua Valley Trail – Climb up the other side of the ridge and go down the stairs. This is the LEGAL and best way to get to the stairs. Take this way.
I went with a few friends and got there at 3 AM to try and avoid the security guard. He was there, and screamed “I’M CALLING THE COPS” as we started our climb. We decided to deal with it when we got back down, hoping he would confuse us with some other haoles (white people). He didn’t, and called the cops. Luckily, the Honolulu Police Department is beyond lazy so they ignored him and we avoided a fine.
I would recommend getting there for sunrise because it is GORGEOUS and worth getting up early.
The night view ain’t too bad either
How to get there
Follow the map below and park on Ala Aolani street. It’s best if you go with a friend and park a car on the opposite side of the ridge (bottom of the stairs).
- Hit up my buddy Mike Karas on Instagram for a guided tour of the hike that will guarantee you don’t die or get arrested for trespassing.
- Make sure it’s clear otherwise here is the view you can expect:
Kuli’ou’ou West Valley Trail
Kuli’ou’ou ridge is one of the best hikes on Oahu when there aren’t clouds obstructing your view (which is most of the time). The state trail is an endless series of switchbacks and takes you the scenic way up the ridge, it’s about 1.5-2 hours up and provides minimal photo opportunities. You only get the ridge views when you get to the end.
If you take the west valley trail, you hike straight up then along the ridge. Both hikes end up at the same place but the views on the west side hike are miles better. Even on a cloudy day, you get 360 degree views from Diamond Head to Kaneohe
The state trail is usually packed with people but the west side route is empty every time I go. Granted, it’s much more difficult as you go up the ridge immediately, climbing 1,700 ft. very quickly. And the ridge rope climbing sections can be grueling especially if you’re out of shape. Ultimately it’s worth it because once you’re up, its smooth sailing the rest of the way. But if you’re looking for a fun, low difficulty hike stay the hell away from this one.
How to get there
Go to the regular state trail but instead of turning right walk to the back of the road. Once you get to the weird electrical building at the end look to your right and you’ll see the trailhead.
- Follow the orange ribbons if you think you’re lost
- Go on a clear day. A REALLY clear day. Clouds loiter at the top all the time.
Pali Notches/Pali Puka
This is technically cheating on the “5 best hikes on Oahu” but these are both so short that you can do them in one day. Puka has the puka (see above) you can take photos in, notches has much better views but is also much more dangerous.
Pali Puka is the more tourist-friendly hike that’s about a 45-minutes up and 30 minutes down. The trail is well defined, there are two rope sections that aren’t too perilous since you’re surrounded by Earth on both sides. The only part that will make you sweat is walking along a very narrow path with the cliff face on your right side. It’s only about 100 ft. but if you’re not used to hiking here it will pucker your butthole.
Both peaks have some awesome photo opportunities and you’ll still have energy to go surf or hang out at the beach afterward.
How to get there
You can’t right now because of landslides on the Pali Highway, but when they finally clean those up, drive down the Pali Highway and take the exit for the Pali Lookout. Once you’ve parked, the Pali Puka trail entrance is right behind the busses on the left side of the parking lot.
For Pali Notches, walk up towards the lookout and look to the right, you’ll see a sign that says “Don’t hike here” or somethin to that effect and a muddy trail going up into the woods.
- Don’t be a bitch – It’s GONS’T to get sketchy on both hikes, but only for a minute. Forge ahead.
- Go to the Pali Notches for sunrise – trust me
- Take a photo in front of the “puka” otherwise did you even go?
Olomana Trail (Three Peaks)
This is the only one on this list that still scares me. I didn’t even get to peaks 2 and 3 the first time, I got scared, took my ball and went home. This hike (obviously) consists of climbing up and down three steep mini mountains.
The first one has a trail, but peaks 2 and 3 are more like rock climbing than hiking. If you want a semi-safe hike, go to the top of the first peak and be done with it. The view is pretty much the same without the riskier parts.
Be real careful going from peak 2 to 3. This is the worst part because you have to climb down and it’s hard to see where you’re going.
How to get there
Drive over to Kaneohe, look for Loop Road, and park where all of the other cars are near the golf course then walk to the trail. Don’t worry about being towed or any of that, parking is allowed on that street.
- Don’t go when it rains. It’s treacherous when it’s wet (that’s what she said).
- Wear shoes that have good grip or hiking spikes