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With its sweeping, emerald-green mountain ranges and sapphire stretches of coastline, there’s nothing quite like the natural beauty of Hawai'i. Our advice? Get out there and experience it!
One of the best ways to do that is by lacing up those hiking boots and trekking through any one of Oahu’s gorgeous mauka (mountain) or makai (ocean) trails. You’ll spy babbling brooks, natural craters, and towering waterfalls — all while getting that heart rate up.
It would take you years to seek out every rainforest nook and coastal cave cranny the island has to offer, so here are a few go-to and can’t-miss hikes to get you started.
Prepare to be breathless. No matter how many times you make it to the top of the first Olomana peak, the magnificent view is still a stunner. This workout of a hike (spoiler: there’s a climbing rope involved) is known for its towering three peaks that jut up over the lush, windward side of the island. Staying perched on the first peak is reward enough, but for the very brave, a narrow, teetering trail connects it to the next two peaks, which are, notoriously, much more precarious and nerve-wracking.
There’s a reason tourists make a beeline for the falls in Manoa Valley. Not only is it conveniently situated in the back of verdant Manoa Valley just 10 minutes from the center of the city, it boasts some serious return for your effort. The trail, though uphill, is safe and mild enough for people of all ages and is surrounded by stunning foliage and flora. (The route’s entrance is right next to the Lyon Arboretum, after all). Plus, the waterfall at the end is the perfect punctuation to your quintessential rainforest experience.
Expect fewer crowds—like, way fewer crowds—on this trail, which is all the way on the northernmost point of Oahu along the Leeward coast. It’s practically flat the entire way, but it can be a real scorcher: there’s no shade in this rocky, dry area. Once you reach the end of the trail, you’ll find a seabird sanctuary and a small promontory where you can see currents colliding and sometimes spot a Hawaiian monk seal bathing on a cluster of rocks.
A longtime local favorite, Koko Head is just as famous for its views of Hawai'i Kai Marina and coast as it is for its challenging, steep terrain. You’ll feel the burn as you set out on this straight line of steps (and old railway tracks) that leads directly up the walls of Koko Head Crater. Don’t forget to bring water — you’ll need it after tackling this dry, strenuous trail.
If you’re looking to get the most reward for your effort, the Lanikai Pillbox (aka Kaiwa Ridge Trail) is tough to beat. The mini-trek will take you up a smallish hill (compared to some of our other mountains!) on the Windward side of the island, at the back of the upscale Lanikai neighborhood. The view, however, is sweeping and grandiose, overlooking one of Lanikai’s famous white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, and the picturesque, offshore Mokulua islands. It’s so stunning that it’s even worth braving the tricky parking situation (it starts in a residential neighborhood, so space is scarce) and the occasional crowds.
The Moanalua/Kamananui Valley Trail is a mostly-flat, wide path that dives deep into the back of the mountains at a meandering, easy slope. Towering trees draped in foliage (reminiscent of Jurassic Park) make this valley hike just a bit more magical than your typical trail. And the ruinous bridges covered in moss are like something out of an old fairy tale.
Just a quick drive out of town is the Nu‘uanu Valley and Judd Trail. This super-easy and accessible forest hike is packed with lush, green vibes and is a comfortable, generally low-grade trek. But it also holds a few special touches: a stream crossing before a bamboo forest and a charming, mini swimming hole fed by a small waterfall — so bring your swimsuits. Fitt Tip: parking can be limited, but you generally won’t find huge crowds here.
Just up into Makiki Valley, the trailhead for Makiki Valley Loop Trail starts at the Hawai'i Nature Center, making it one of the easiest hikes to get to from urban Honolulu. It’s the perfect quick-hit hike, with a steep, uphill portion that’s just long enough to make you feel accomplished. On the way out, you’ll pass by a valley stream, make your way over a bridge, and take a quick stroll through some of the Nature Center’s collection of native plants and taro fields.
Over a dozen switchbacks make Kealia Trail a great stand-in StairMaster — but this workout comes with a seriously stunning view. Situated on the less-traveled side of the North Shore, you’ll find the entrance at Dillingham Airfield (which means: parking!). Once you hit the trail, it’ll take you right up the face of the ridge, with incredible views of the coastline almost the entire time. This definitely beats leg day at the gym.
More experienced hikers will definitely want to try out Ka‘au Crater, one of the most impressive trails on the island. But this journey is not for the faint of heart — not only is this trek a considerable commitment (it’s about five-ish hours), but depending on how far you go in, there are climbing ropes to tackle and some treacherously muddy areas to navigate. The payoff, though, is huge: stunning, swimmable waterfalls in the far back reaches behind Palolo and an unbelievable view of a tucked-away crater at the end.