Incredibly narrow ridges, sheer cliff drops, and extreme winds – this is 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.
As you continue to gain elevation the wind seems to get stronger but so do the epic views. The path becomes narrower as you continue hiking the dangerous ridge. A sheer drop off to your left and to the right made sure we concentrated on each and every movement. There are a few scatterings of bushes every so often guarding you from a steep drop into the forest. The trail itself begins to level out as you come across the first notch.
The strong gales made the first notch a little intimidating but hand holds proved easy to find. There was also a rope that you could use to assist your climb but I wouldn’t recommend depending on the ropes here too much as you never know how trustworthy they really are. We quickly clambered up the notch and were rewarded with the view on the top, which will take your breath away. The stunning blue waters of Kaneohe provide a beautiful contrast to the imposing cliffs, which are lined by the infamous hike, the Stairway to Heaven.
The floor at the base of each notch is pretty flat and if you sit against the walls you can get out of the wind for a moment while taking in the view on either side of the ridge. After the first notch the ridge trail gets very narrow (about 2 ft wide) and can be considerably dangerous with 50-60 mph winds that are common on this part of the island.
The second notch is where most people come into trouble. A lot of hikers struggle to climb down this notch due to the lack of sturdy hand holds and climbing experience. Someone recently added a rope to this section of the hike though, which definitely helped the climb down the rock face. The wind is still extremely powerful here but as long as you keep your body close to the notch wall and take your time it is definitely possible.
After the second notch you continue on to another vertical climb to the top of a tall rock formation. Upon reaching this, many people stop here and turn back. From the narrow top of this formation you get rewarded with a great view of the infamous chimney.
This is the hardest part of the Pali Notches hike. Up until recently you had to free climb about 20 ft until you could grab onto the rope which was fine but proved to be challenging to get down. When we did the hike though there was a new rope that went down to the bottom of the chimney.
TIP:If you climb over the chimney you’ll eventually reach Konahuanui Ridge.
For this hike you need sturdy shoes, water, and sunscreen. Some people recommend also bringing rope and gloves. Also don’t forget to bring a buddy in case you run into trouble.
This hike is considered extremely dangerous. People have died hiking the Pali Notches so attempt at your own risk.
DISTANCE: 0.8 Miles out and back.
ALTITUDE: 430 ft.