The Pali Notches Hike on Oahu is known for being one of the most dangerous hikes on the island but also one of the most impressive. However, despite the big drop-offs, this stunning ridge is one of the best spots on the island for both sunset and sunrise, due to its positioning in the center of the island.
HIKING THE PALI NOTCHES
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.
PALI NOTCHES HIKE SAFETY WARNING
*Before I go any further with this blog post I need to tell you the following. This hike is considered quite dangerous and involves some basic bouldering/rock-climbing. No climbing gear is needed but you will need to use some of the installed ropes. There have been a few deaths, many injuries, and multiple rescues from the Pali Notches hike. Attempt this route at your own risk, be extra cautious, and wait for a fair-weather day as the wind really slaps this ridge hard.
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PALI NOTCHES HIKE DETAILS DETAILS
- Distance: 1.1 Kilometers
- Incline: 144m of incline.
- Duration: 1 Hour
- Difficulty: As explained above, this hike is not for beginner hikers and involves big drop-offs and some basic rock-climbing bouldering. The third notch is especially dangerous and should only be attempted by those with climbing experience. If you have a fear of heights this trail is not for you. If you need something less intense check out my list of the best easy hikes on Oahu.
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HOW TO GET TO THE PALI NOTCHES HIKE
The Pali Notches hike trailhead is in the parking lot of the Nuuanu Pali Lookout, which is one of the best scenic views on Oahu. Basically, just take the Pali Highway up towards the mountains from Waikiki or Honolulu and take the turn off on the right to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. Here there is a paid parking lot where you can leave your car. The trailhead is unmarked as this hike is technically closed. As you walk up along the path to the lookout area, the trailhead will be on your right. It’s a dirt track that leads up the hill into the forest. The Pali Puka trail starts on the left-hand side of the same parking lot.
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PALI NOTCHES HIKE HISTORY
Walking along the dangerously steep ridge known as Pali Notches Hike, 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 1700s by King Kamehameha’s warriors to harbor cannons and warriors on the lookout while they kept Nu’uanu Valley secure.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE PALI NOTCHES HIKE
The Pali Notches trailhead for this hike starts by heading straight up an unmarked trailhead to the right side of the Pali Lookout platform, a popular lookout for tourists. You can see the faint trail as soon as you step over the yellow chain fence that encircles the platform. This hike is technically closed but the route is fine with no obstructions. Enter at your own risk and discretion.
You climb your way through a grove of Hau trees in the steepest section of the hike. Lots of tree roots and rocks make for good hand-holds to stabilize yourself on the ascent.
Breathing heavily from the incline, you will enjoy the view as you emerge from the trees. The Pali Highway is down below on one side while the H3 and Kaneohe appear on the other. From this point on, you have no tree cover and are relatively exposed to the sun but also the wind. This is one of the windiest spots on the island as it sits right in the center of the ‘spine’ of Oahu.
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 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 against a steep drop into the forest. The trail itself begins to level out as you come across the first of the Pali Notches.
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Many people come unprepared for hiking on Oahu and that’s why there are so many rescues. Make sure you at least have the basics and you will be prepared for bad weather or any mishaps on the trail. A headlamp, rain jacket, and good hiking boots or shoes are the three main pieces of gear you need. Below are my four Hawaii 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.
The strong gales made the first notch a little intimidating but handholds 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 from the top, which will take your breath away. The stunning blue waters of Kaneohe provide a beautiful contrast to the imposing cliffs. Don’t be afraid to turn back here if you are unsure about climbing the rocks. The views before the first notch are relatively similar to beneath the third notch so follow your instincts.
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 considered dangerous with strong winds common on this part of the island.
The second notch is where most people are a bit unsure. A lot of hikers struggle to climb down this notch due to the lack of sturdy handholds and climbing experience. A rope has been added 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. The Pali Notches Hike is best viewed from the final point at the top of the chimney but it is also the sketchiest.
I’ve climbed up this chimney several times and let’s just say if you have a fear of heights please don’t try this. There are a few moments where you will not have an easy path to the top and need to shuffle and maneuver. There are few steps and a solid understanding and calmness when rock climbing is necessary.
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 and continue further up you’ll eventually reach Konahuanui Ridge and can climb all the way to the second-highest peak on Oahu. This is an advanced hike.
HIKING DOWN TO THE PALI NOTCHES FROM K2
The route I’ve explained above is the regular Pali Notches hike as an out-and-back from the parking lot. However, you can also do a point-to-point hike starting near Tantalus, summiting K2 and then descending down Konahuanui Ridge before descending down the Pali Notches. This is a pretty extreme hike and I would recommend this for pretty die-hard and intense hikers/climbers. If you have one shred of doubt about a route like that, simply don’t go or make sure you are with a local guide. Here are a few photos from my hike up to K2 and down via the Pali Notches.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Pali Notches Hike on Oahu. Stay safe out there.
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
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I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!
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