IMAGE VIA @DANIEL_KEATING | INSTAGRAM
Everyone loves a good waterfall and with Hawaii’s legendary rainforests, you’re sure to find a few gems. While rainy, jungle-filled Kaua‘i is known as the supreme waterfall king among the islands, Oahu has its fair share of picturesque falls for hikers and swimmers to discover. So, lace up your hiking boots and grab your backpack — these are the best waterfall hikes on the island.
It wouldn’t be a list of Oahu waterfalls without the famous Manoa Falls. This beautiful, 150-foot waterfall is at the end of a popular, accessible (but also challenging) hike in the Manoa neighborhood of Honolulu, making it one of the easiest to get to. The trailhead is in the far north back corner of Manoa Valley by Treetops restaurant and the Lyon Arboretum. Parking there is $5, but you can also park on the residential street further down, right before the narrow road leading up to the Treetops' lot. Hey, just tell yourself the walk up is part of the hike.
This teeny waterfall (and short hike) up in Nu‘uanu Valley may not register on serious waterfall-seekers' radar, but it has a couple of huge benefits in our book. First, the small pool it feeds into is swimmable, as opposed to a lot of other falls, plus it’s easy to get to and isn't as crowded as some other waterfall trails. You’ll find the trailhead on Nu‘uanu Pali Drive at a small clearing just off the side of the road. Keep your eyes peeled for a bridge opening on the trees, then park (be careful!) on the side of the road in the small shoulder areas near the clearing entrance. The pond is a few minutes down the trail — about a half mile. Note: As with every other freshwater swimming pool in Hawai‘i, proceed with caution of leptospirosis (a bacterial disease). If you have open cuts, skip it.
Prepare to get muddy! The ever-popular Maunawili Falls is a favorite spot for hikers, and for good reason. On the rainy side of the island, the just-big-enough falls create a beautiful swimming lagoon that’s the ideal spot for a dip after the trek in. And since the trail will take you through some of the island’s wet rainforest terrain, you’re likely end up with a good amount of mud that needs to be washed off. Note: You’ll be crossing some streams throughout this hike, so water-resistant shoes are a smart bet!
Situated at the very back of the Waimea Valley park and garden property on the North Shore of the island is the Waimea Valley Falls. You’ll have to pay admission to get into the area but it can be a great choice, especially if you’re bringing along a beginner hiker because isn't an arduous hike. The paved path through the park is easy to traverse and winds through botanical gardens and cultural sites. Plus, the falls and swimming hole are watched over by park lifeguards (who require all swimmers to wear flotation vests), making this the safest spot there is.
There are actually three waterfalls on the Ka‘au Crater hike, but you’ll have to earn ‘em — this hike is not for the faint of heart. You’ll head to the far back, southeast corner of Palolo Valley until you pass the Korean temple and the road runs out. From there, the Ka‘au Crater trailhead dives down into a gulch off the side of the road and deep into the Ko‘olau mountain range. And, be prepared, because this is a long hike (think five hours or so), it can be treacherous (at one point, you scale one of the waterfalls!), and is unmaintained, so only very experienced hikers should attempt this one. But the gorgeous falls and epic views make it all worth it. Fitt Tip: The first waterfall is a great spot for swimming, so if you’re short on time, make that your final destination and go for a dip.
Less crowded than the Maunawili and Manoa Valley Falls and easier to get to than Ka‘au Crater’s falls — Likeke Falls is an often overlooked east side waterfall not far from the iconic Pali Lookout. There are a couple of ways to get here, but we suggest parking at Ko‘olau Golf Club and taking the trail entrance just off the parking lot. The trail will take you through some easy terrain, with a moderate incline. Take a right off the roughly-paved path (be careful of slippery, muddy spots!), and you’ll eventually end up the falls. While there’s no real swimming hole here, it’s a fun place to splash and climb about, and the hike itself is a beauty.
Set aside a good chunk of time for this trail, which is a fairly long one. Set up on the northeast side of the island, it opens up onto a beautifully picturesque swimming pool and a bustling, awe-inspiring waterfall. This place is also a popular spot for running, with a gradual incline that won’t make you feel like you’re on a StairMaster. However, it can be obscured with vegetation, so keep your eyes peeled. The entrance is off the left side of Poohaili Street, but you’ll need a permit from Hawai‘i Reserves office before you head in — it’s just down the road, so stop there first!
It’s easy to breeze along the highway through central Oahu’s industrial Leeward Coast without ever stopping for an outdoor adventure, but head off the main road and up into the mountains, and you’ll discover some worthwhile trails to explore. Waimano Falls is a muddy, steep little trek (especially going back!) in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood with some serious payoff. What will be waiting for you at the end is a lovely waterfall-fed pool that’s just the right size for jumping, wading, swimming, and generally just cooling off after a workout. Take the Manana Trail to get there.
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