Oahu is only the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, but it is also home to nearly two thirds of the entire population of the archipelago. The nature on the island is stunning, with mesmerizing views wherever you look. But the best views are the ones you get to enjoy at the top of a crater, after a strenuous hike.
With craters, numerous lookout points and more stairs than you expect, Oahu, Hawaii has some of the most rewarding hiking trails you will ever experience. From easy coastal hikes to vertical climbs suitable only for the bravest – here are the top ten hikes on Oahu Hawaii!
*Note: At the time of publishing this guide, most state parks in Hawaii remain closed due to the pandemic. Visit the website of the Department of Land and Natural Resources for real time updates about the working hours of the parks.
Don’t forget your sunscreen. A lot of these trails have little shade, so you will need to do as much as you can to protect yourself from the sun. I would also recommend that you wear long pants for the most part, especially when hiking on overgrown trails. And of course, always bring lots of water, particularly when doing any longer hikes.
Be prepared for rapid weather changes. The weather while hiking on Oahu can be unpredictable, especially on higher altitudes. Fog and clouds are not an uncommon occurrence when you’re high up in the mountains, and if you don’t know what you’re doing it is easy to get lost.
Because of that, I highly recommend downloading offline maps and enabling GPS on your phone – this will help you make sure you’re always staying on the right path, and in case of a sudden weather change it will be easier for you to track where you’re going.
Rent a car, it’s the best option for any Oahu hiking. Buses are the only type of public transport on the island, and they are not too reliable. There’s only one operator – TheBus – and they cover all the main roads and towns. But, if you want to be able to do most of the hikes listed here, you will need to get to places where the buses won’t take you.
And if you plan to do a lot of hiking, renting a car is ultimately cheaper than relying on Ubers or Lyfts. We also recommend that you avoid taxis as they are heavily dependent on the traffic and there are better and cheaper alternatives.
Image courtesy of Kristina D.C. Hoeppner
The Makapu’u Point trail is an easy hike everyone can do. The trail is even wheelchair friendly, stroller friendly and dogs on leashes are more than welcome. It starts from a parking lot just off the Kalaniana’ole Highway and it takes you to the Makapu’u Lighthouse for some spectacular views.
The entire trail is paved and the ascent is gradual so you will barely even get tired. Honestly, it’s more of a casual walk than a proper hike, but it’s nonetheless a great way to kick of your exploration of the island.
On your way to the lighthouse you can see the Koko Crater in the distance as well as lots of cacti near the trail. If you are visiting during whale migration season (November-May), you might even see humpback whales in the distance. If you are fascinated by these magnificent mammals, it might be worth it to purposefully visit Oahu during the migration season, just for the sights.
The lighthouse awaits at the end of the trail, but unfortunately it is not open for visitors. You can still snap some photos of the lighthouse though – it looks stunning against the blue backdrop of the ocean. And if you want to make this trail a bit more challenging, follow the dirt path west to the bunker for spectacular views of the Koko Crater. If not, just follow the trail back to the parking lot.
Diamond Head is Oahu’s most popular volcanic peak, and this hiking trail is easily the most popular one in all of Oahu. It is a steep hike that takes you to Diamond Head lookout for some of the best hikes on Oahu in terms of views.
The trail starts off easy, following a paved path. But it gets a bit steeper when you reach the switchbacks, and then the first set of stairs. From there, you climb through a tunnel, then there’s another set of stairs and after that you are nearly at the top. It’s a short hike of moderate difficulty, and I think even eager beginners shouldn’t have any problems on the trail.
It’s worth noting that you should be extra cautious if it rained recently because the trail will become muddy and slippery. Also, there is very little shade on the trail, so don’t forget your hat and sunscreen!
Image courtesy of Kevin McCarthy
The Olomana Trail is a difficult hike that rewards adventurers with spectacular views. The trailhead is just off the Kalaniana’ole Highway, but it’s important to note that there’s no parking nearby. It is best to park on the side of the road where it is allowed – if you park illegally, there’s a good chance that your car will be towed.
This hike takes you to three different peaks of Mount Olemana, all of which offer amazing views from the top. The first peak is only about 90 minutes away from the official trailhead, but reaching it is no easy task. Once you’ve passed the Olemana Ridge, the ridge trail becomes very steep with drop offs on both sides. There are ropes on the steepest segments of the trail, and they are immensely helpful.
The ascent to the first peak ends with a vertical wall climb, but it’s nothing to fear. There are several ropes that will help you reach the top, where you can enjoy gorgeous 360 views.
You can end the hike there if you want, or you can continue hiking to the other two peaks. They are lower than the first peak, so they don’t offer better views, and the trail to reach them is narrow and steep. But if you’re looking for a proper challenge, you will probably enjoy this.
Image courtesy of Eric Tessmer
Koko Crater is one of Hawaii’s extinct tuff cones, and it looks spectacular. The Koko Crater trail takes you to the top of Koko Head Crater, offering magnificent views of Honolulu’s east shoreline.
The trail follows an abandoned railway that the military used in WWII, so it is rather unique. But, even though the terrain is not that demanding, the incline is so steep that only people with great physical fitness will be able to handle it. The trail is steep and narrow, so it is not suitable for children or animals.
Additionally, it is recommended you wear long pants because the trail is overgrown and muddy. There’s no shade, so if you are doing the hike during the day put on sunscreen and wear a hat. You can see beautiful wildflowers along the way, and there are also some great opportunities for bird watching.
Image courtesy of keppet
The Kealia Trail is in Kuaokala Forest Reserve near Waialua. It is popular for beautiful sights, lots od wildflowers and great bird watching opportunities. However, it is not well marked – having an offline map on your phone is highly recommended.
This is one of the longer trails on the island and it’s great for people who are looking to spend half a day hiking. It takes about five hours to cover the out and back route, and that’s without breaks. The trailhead is across the parking lot off Farrington Highway on the far North-West of the island.
The trail starts off easy following a paved road, but soon after it becomes switchback after switchback until you reach the picnic table. A lot of people will turn back here, since the rest of the trail is not that rewarding. But if you want a proper challenge, then we recommend you continue hiking all the way to the summit. Follow the dirt road and make sure to check your offline map every so often, just to make sure you’re staying on the right trail.
When you reach the very end of the trail you can see the valley on the other side of the island. This section also has much more shade than the rest of the trail, so it’s easier to enjoy the views.
Image courtesy of LaniElderts
Ka’ena Point trail is an easy hike near Waialua that follows an old railroad bed. The trail is along a dirt road, which is surrounded by dramatic ocean and cliff views on one side, and tall peaks on the other.
It’s worth noting that it is possible to drive on this road, but you need a special permit. From time to time the road completely closes off to vehicles, due to habitat destruction caused by the off road driving.
The trail is quite easy – the elevation gain is practically non-existent and you’re just walking straight and following the road for the most part. It is perfectly suitable for beginners, since the only real challenge is dealing with the heat and the sun. The trail is completely exposed, so I would highly recommend wearing and hat, applying lots of sunscreen and bringing about twice as much water as you think you need.
The dirt road takes you to a lookout point at the far north-western edge of the island. You can admire some stunning views of the endless horizon, and if you climb down to the beach you might get to see some seals.
Image courtesy of Samuel Apuna
With an elevation gain of well over 1,500 meters, this is one of the most demanding hiking trails on the Oahu island. It is only suitable for people in great shape with significant hiking experience, and you really need to be motivated to make it all the way to the end. The Mount Kaala Trail takes you to the highest point of this Hawaiian island, which is enough motivation for most hikers!
We highly recommend you wear long pants and bring gloves, even if it is hot outside. Pants will protect you from the overgrown bushes and gloves will make it much easier to deal with all the ropes. It’s important to mention that not all ropes are in great condition, so be careful when climbing.
However, it is without a doubt worth it to push yourself to the summit. The views along the way are spectacular, but they’re nothing compared to the views from the top. The panoramic vista is breath-taking and it (almost) makes you forget about all the hardships you had to endure on the way to the top. You can see the Waianae Valley and coastline, and on a clear day you can even see all the way to the North Shore.
Image courtesy of jongela19
The Ka’au Crater trail is a difficult hike near Honolulu that features wildflowers, waterfalls and stunning views. The terrain is rocky and muddy, so sturdy hiking shoes are highly recommended. Also, it’s best to wear long pants when hiking this trail – some segments are overgrown and there are a lot of bugs on the trail.
It’s not a well-marked trail, so an offline map is highly recommended. Also, some segments are very slippery and quite frankly dangerous – if you are not an experienced hiker, you should look for some easier trails. Or just do the first segment – it’s a much simpler trail until you reach that third waterfall.
The third waterfall is where it gets muddy and dangerous. You are supposed to climb to the top of the waterfall, in order to get to the ridge part of the trail. The views from the top are amazing, but if you’re not entirely certain you can do this trail, then they’re not worth the risk.
It is important to note that the hike is much easier when it hasn’t rained for a while. The ground dries up and it’s nowhere near as slippery as it is when there’s fresh mud.
Image courtesy of Leonard S Jacobs
The Wiliwilinui Ridge trail is a moderately difficult hike that features beautiful views and is suitable for leashed dogs. The terrain is muddy and there are a lot of bugs on the trail, so we recommend sturdy hiking shoes and long pants for the most comfortable experience. You should also bring gloves as there are quite a few ropes along the way.
The trailhead is in a gated community, so you will have to be on your best behavior. A guard will write down your license when you arrive and you will get a parking pass. It’s worth noting that there is a limited number of passes available, so it’s best to head there early in the morning.
The incline is steep at times, but you’re mostly either following a dirt path or climbing stairs. It’s not very rocky and there is some shade, so it is quite an enjoyable hike. However, rain makes the trail much more difficult, since all the dirt turns into mud and becomes slippery, so be prepared.
The views at the end of the trail are wonderful. They are sometimes spoiled by clouds, but don’t fret – clouds come and go quickly here, so just give it some 20 minutes or so. There’s a very clear sign that marks the end of the trail, and you can follow the same path on your way back.
Image courtesy of Leonard S Jacobs
The Kuliouou Ridge trail near Honolulu is a moderately difficult hike through a forest. The trail is shaded for the most part, so it’s one of the best hikes you can do if you’re trying to stay out of the sun as much as possible. The trailhead is near the northernmost houses in the Kalaau Place neighbourhood and it’s easy to find.
The first 1.5 kilometers of the trail are switchbacks, but from there it mostly continues straight forward. It is a steep trail, so you should wear shoes with great traction. Plus, I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike on a rainy day – most of the trail gets muddy and slippery, which pretty much just increases the difficulty of the hike. Especially the stairs that you must climb near the 3km marker.
The trail takes you all the way to the Kuliouou Summit, which offers some gorgeous views from the top. You can easily see the coastline from the top, and on a clear day you can even see the Koko Crater!
Here are some of the other best hikes in Oahu, Hawaii: