Hanauma Bay is undoubtedly the top snorkel location for tourists on the island. It boasts crystal clear water and a shallow reef, all within a protected bay, it is truly beautiful. The best way to see Hanauma Bay is actually not with a snorkel in your mouth, but to throw on your hiking shoes and get up on the ridge. The Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike is a short and easy trail giving you the best views of Hanauma Bay with Koko Head Crater as the backdrop.
In this blog post, I will share with you all of the details you need in order to enjoy this hike such as distance, incline, best viewpoints along the way, where to park, the best time of day, photo opportunities, and other attractions nearby. I took all of the photos on my phone for this blog post, so the beautiful view had to do all the work for me.
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HIKING THE HANAUMA BAY RIDGE TRAIL
If you are ever up for a short hike on Oahu but don’t want the grueling incline of Koko Head, the Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is my favorite on the southeast coast due to the spectacular view over the crystal waters of Hanauma Bay.
HANAUMA BAY RIDGE HIKE DETAILS
- Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 3.5 miles or 5km if you reach the top towers although you can explore further or turn back earlier to meet your needs.
- Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 1-1.5 hours up and down
- Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 500ft or 150 meters when starting all the way from the Koko Head parking lot.
HOW TO GET TO THE HANAUMA BAY RIDGE TRAIL
The Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is a 25-30 minute drive from Waikiki on the southeast coast of Oahu. The parking is normally quite controlled and restricted when it comes to Hanauma Bay due to the marine reserve and the hoards of snorkelers. Therefore, the best place to park is in the Koko Head parking lot. From here, you simply walk right out of the top of the parking lot instead of left towards Koko Head. This paved maintenance road will lead you up to the pedestrian crossing before the Hanauma Bay parking lot entrance. The trail begins on your right after you pass through the gate, which is in place to stop vehicles. The trail then follows a paved path all the way up to the phone towers atop the ridge.
IS THE HANAUMA BAY RIDGE HIKE ILLEGAL
While the gate is locked, this is just to stop people driving up to the towers. The two attendants from Hanauma Bay didn’t bat an eyelid as myself and many others made the peaceful walk up the ridge and back down. I would say, given that the gate is locked it probably isn’t 100% legal but there’s a fair chance that the gate is locked just for cars. The morning I hiked, there were at least 30 others I met on the way up or down and it was a peaceful atmosphere with every enjoying the hike, respecting the path, and leaving no trash.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING THE HANAUMA BAY RIDGE TRAIL
After parking in the Koko Head Parking lot and looking up at the mighty incline, I headed up the maintenance road in the direction of my much friendlier-looking ridge hike. Cars fly by so do take care on the crossing when getting to the start of the trailhead. Once through the service gates, the paved trail becomes quite peaceful as you leave the popularity of Koko Head behind and the noise of the traffic fades.
Turn around one last time to take in the corrugated ridges of Koko Head as your rise in elevation starts to give you a great view of the 1048 stairs of pain. The Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail has a gentle incline that never puts you into a full climb, more of just a soft ascent. It’s enough to get your calves firing but great for young kids, older hikers, and all types of dogs.
While hiking in January, I was treated to a sea of green on either side of the trail. However, in the summer months, the foliage can be quite dry and the sea of green starts to look more like a desert.
After just a kilometer or so on the trail, you will find beautiful views of Hanauma Bay. It’s a great angle as you can appreciate the horseshoe shape of the bay while also having a great backdrop of Koko Head.
I suggest either doing this hike for sunrise or at around 9:30 am to have the best lighting on the bay. However, there’s no bad time for this trail, which is one of the great short hikes on Oahu.
As I mention below, the trail can deviate down to the left for a hike extension-loop, exploring the Hanauma Bay Rock Bridge. However, most hikers will continue up to the last radio tower and then head back down the same way they came in. There’s not too much of a view at the summit as it plateaus with high foliage blocking much of the views. You will have nice looks into Hawaii Kai and down the east coast throughout the hike so it’s definitely not a trail with a shortage of great viewpoints.
WHAT ABOUT THE HANAUMA BAY LOOKOUT
As you enter the parking lot at Hanauma Bay, there is the Hanauma Bay lookout on that near side (Koko Head side) of the bay. This is the official Hanauma Bay Lookout and while it is nice, I prefer the view from the Hanauma Bay Ridge viewpoint as you have the mighty Koko Head looming in the background. Also, in the morning, the sun rises on the left side of the bay so you need to factor in the lighting as to which direction will be the best view. By 10 am the sun is relatively overhead and the water becomes stunningly, crystal clear from most directions.
HANAUMA BAY ROCK BRIDGE & HIKE EXTENSION
About three-quarters of the way through the Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail, there is an option to deviate down the rocky terrain on the left. This trail is no longer paved and can be quite slippery. There is the option to do a loop around the rocky outcrop and if you are adventurous enough, you may even be able to find the Hanauma Bay Rock Bridge. It’s a natural formation that creates an arched bridge over the ocean on the cliffside. Be careful as the waves often sweep over the rock bridge and there have been some tragic, fatal incidents at the rock bridge over the years. Ths hike extension will add at least an hour of duration and probably double your distance for the entire hike so bargain for 2-3 hours and 10km if you add this loop into your route.
SNORKELING AT HANAUMA BAY
The perfect way to cool off after your ridge hike is to head down for a snorkel. These days, you do need to book in advance or join a tour such as this one, Hanauma Bay Snorkel Tour.
Hanauma Bay is the most popular spot for tourists to spot a turtle or explore the underwater world of the Pacific Ocean. The coral here is amazing and it is a protected bay so it is perfect for a half-day snorkel adventure. If you are lucky you will even spot a turtle but you can be guaranteed to find hundreds of amazing fish and marine species. It is about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki.
What are my favorite pieces of hiking gear?
There are four pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a hike. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my hiking essentials.
- Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
- Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
- Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.