The 10 best hikes on Oahu that will leave you standing on top of a mountain in amazement.
TEXT BY JACKSON GROVES // IMAGES BY JACKSON GROVES, JESS BLACKMUN & JUST ANDREAS
While there are too many hikes to count on Oahu, these are 10 hikes that I have personally completed. I left some off the list and I am sure there are plenty of other amazing hikes on the island that I never even attempted or knew about. I would love if you could comment at the bottom which hike you think deserves to be on this list and tell me which hike you would replace.
THE 10 BEST HIKES ON OAHU
1. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
The Stairway to Heaven also known as the Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii, is possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island. 3,922 stairs lead up the imposing mountain ridge, often at a vertical incline, with only a hand-rail to catch you from falling into the valley below.
Originally the stairs were built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a top secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships that were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. The stairs were then opened to the public until 1987 when they were deemed unsafe because of disrepair. This is probably the most famous of all the hikes on Oahu and has been covered by most newspaper outlets.
2. KAAU CRATER HIKE
5 hours of waterfalls, rope climbing, a huge crater and panoramic views makes this one of the best hikes on Oahu and one of the hikes I recommend to people looking for a challenge.
This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment it throws you into a world of enchantment. After no more than five steps I felt like I was in the middle of the jungle, fighting for survival, on the swivel looking for wild animals. A glistening creek was lined by majestic trunks, so tall my neck hurt looking for the treetops. Dangling vines were strewn from the canopy as rays of sunlight broke through the dense foliage creating a natural theatre with a magical atmosphere.
3. SEVEN FALLS HIKE
This hike follows a rocky stream through a narrow gorge. You will find yourself wading through water and clambering over rocks for the majority of the trail and at some parts of the trail it becomes very narrow and the water deepens. At these points you actually need to swim through the trail for a short distance before climbing up waterfalls with ropes.
Definitely only a hike for very adventurous hikers and those willing to get wet.
4. PALI NOTCHES
Walking along the dangerously steep ridge hike known as Pali Notches, gusts of wind threaten to knock you off either side of the cliff as you skitter up and down intimidating rock faces. This narrow ridge hike requires you to rock climb over the man made notches, which were supposedly created in the 1700’s by King Kamehameha’s warriors to harbor cannons and warriors on lookout while they kept Nu’uanu Valley secure. Pali Notches is known as being one of the most dangerous hikes on Oahu and many people have fallen or ended up in life threatening trouble while attempting this hike.
The trailhead for this hike starts by heading straight up an unmarked trailhead to the right side of the Pali Lookout platform, a popular spot for tourists. You can see the faint trail as soon as you step over the yellow chain fence that encircles the platform. You climb your way through a grove of Hau trees that quickly opens up into an incredible view of the Pali Highway to your left and Kaneohe to your right.
5. THREE PEAKS/OLOMANA TRAIL
Also known as Olomana Trail, this is one of the more dangerous hikes on the island. The first peak is relatively straight-forward despite being a steep incline. Peak two and three provide a challenge and will bring your fear of heights out even if you didn’t know you had one.
On a dry day you should be fine and once you become comfortable you can truly enjoy this amazing trail. I remember looking at the trail from the top of the first peak and just enjoying how incredible it felt to look out over such a beautiful island.
Looking for a view without the trek. Try this 100m Tantalus Hike that has a surprise viewpoint!
6. TOM TOM TRAIL
Starting off across from the Makapu’u lookout car park, this relatively simple hike has some of the most stunning views on Oahu. I only did this hike in my last couple of weeks on the Island but then did it twice. It is an amazing spot to watch the sunrise and the views are out of this world.
There is also a puka (hole in the rock) about 45 minutes of the way in and you can turn back at any point or continue on the trail that does go quite a ways. We always turned back at the puka after seeing enough but the trail looks quite good if you chose to continue on. This is one of the most underrated hikes on Oahu. Click here to read the full blog post.
7. WILIWILINUI RIDGE
Standing at the summit of Wiliwilinui Ridge I can make out Waikiki, a city of white buildings seemingly a world away from the ridges we are roaming. I spin around to see the turquoise water of the east coast and the panoramic views make me feel like I am at the center of this beautiful island.
The summit provided amazing views reminding us how small we are and how grand nature is, but it wasn’t a hike without mishaps. The morning began slowly when the guard told us the trail wouldn’t open until sunrise. After waiting for over an hour for the sun to come up, he allowed us to enter. However, no mopeds or motorbikes are allowed in the guarded community situated below the hike, which meant we had to walk an extra mile to reach the trailhead.
8. KOKO HEAD STAIRS
There are several hikes we always do when we have visitors to push them out of the comfort zone during their vacation: Diamond Head, Lanikai Pillbox Trail, and Koko Head. Diamond Head is the most touristy as it is very close to Waikiki but it has a great view and is easy for all levels of hikers. Lanikai Pillboxes is a little less crowded and is amazing for sunrise but if you’re looking for a challenge you should definitely attempt the Koko Head stairs.
Hiking up the Koko Head stairs is a great workout that will make your legs feel like jell-o and get you so drenched in your own sweat that you will be able to wring your clothes out at the top. This hike is popular among athletes and locals because it’s such a great workout with gorgeous views to reward you at the top. People who do it regularly even time themselves running up. Jackson’s best time is 12:15 and mine is 13:22. If you choose to push yourself up the hill, you will soon realize why people call it one of the toughest hikes on oahu.
9. PINK PILLBOX HIKE/MAILI PILLBOX HIKE
The Pu’u O Hulu or ‘Pink Pillbox’ Hike is a short ridge hike on the West Side of Oahu that overlooks the surrounding suburbs and beautiful stretches of beaches that Oahu is known for. The hike extends along the ridge between the Nanakuli and Maili suburbs and can be seen clearly from the Farrington Highway below.
The Pu’u O Hulu hike starts on Kaukama Rd after the 9th light pole on the right hand side of the road. One of the cool things about this hike is that it has different route options to take you to the five pill boxes at the top.
There is a steep and challenging route which is much shorter or there is an easier kid friendly option that zigzags up the mountain. We took the more direct route.
10. CROUCHING LION HIKE
Crouching Lion is a short but steep incline hike that offers breathtaking views of Kahana Bay, the quaint town of Kaaawa, and the menacing cliffs of Pu’u Manamana.
Right from the start, this hike takes off at a steep incline. You will definitely work up a sweat as you climb over gnarled tree roots, and duck under stooping branches. As you continue to climb, the trail becomes more and more pronounced. There are parts that are very slippery due to the dry crumbling dirt but for the most part, the thick vegetation helps to stabilize the trail.
Coming across the first pill box of the hike, we decided to climb atop and check out the view of Kahana Bay. On this pillbox someone has painted a giant red, orange, and green ‘Aloha’. Up here we rolled out our mats and did a few acro yoga poses while taking in the bright blue waters of Kahana Bay. After doing flying front birds, double downward dogs, and downward dog pyramids, we decided to roll up the mats and continue on.
Where to stay on Oahu?
Here are a few of the most popular hotels on Oahu:
- Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel (High-end): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach. Luxury rooms overlooking the beach, a private lagoon and a free fireworks and dance performance show. Hilton is easily the most recognizable hotel on the Island.
- Sheraton Waikiki (High-end): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach. The bar and nightclub at the Sheraton is a great place to relax after a long day of island adventures.
- Ramada Plaza Waikiki (Mid Range): The perfect way to enjoy Oahu in a beautiful hotel without blowing the bank. This hotel has a rooftop pool and a restaurant but will only set you back around $100.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location. Walking distance to Waikiki beach and a central location to base yourself for a week of adventures.