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14 Best Hikes on Oahu, Hawaii, According to a Local

Are you searching for a list of the best hikes on Oahu, Hawaii? Well, you’ve found it! This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know about the most amazing hikes on Oahu.

Maili Pillbox Best Hikes on Oahu Opener

Growing up on Oahu, I spent lots of time outdoors. I unintentionally created an ideal day: a morning hikes, a mid-day foodie find, and an afternoon beach day. Sounds pretty perfect, right? No wonder this became my go-to!

After years of this hike-food-beach pattern, it’s safe to say that I know the hikes on Oahu very well. While my favorites are waterfall hikes like Lulumahu Falls, ridge hikes, pillbox hikes, and beach hikes aren’t far behind! After all, Lanikai Pillbox is a crowd-favorite for a reason, and Kuliouou Ridge Trail has long been a local favorite gem.

Simply put, you’ll definitely want to intersperse your beach days with some epic Oahu hikes too! And to help you decide which ones to add to your itinerary, I’ve rounded up a list of the best of the best!

What Are the Best Hikes on Oahu?

Lanikai Pillbox Hike best hikes on Oahu

1. Lanikai Pillbox Trail

Distance: 1.6 miles

Elevation: 613 feet

Time: 1 hour

Price: Free

Permit Required? No

Parking: Anywhere near the Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead. Keep in mind that this is a residential neighborhood, so please be respectful and don’t block any driveways.

Lanikai Pillbox is one of my favorite hikes on Oahu. It’s relatively easy, and you get an amazing view of the Mokulua Islands and the Pacific Ocean as a reward. You can make it to the first World War II military pillbox in 25 minutes! (And honestly you don’t need to go any further.)

The one downside to this hike is the number of people that come on it. The combination of fame, views, and ease cause Lanikai Pillbox to be rather crowded – even at sunrise. That said, I’d still say that this is one of the must-do hikes on Oahu.

The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is one of the easier Oahu hikes. If that sounds like your style, we’ve got a whole list of the best easy hikes on Oahu for you to peruse.

2. Koko Crater Trail

Distance: 1.6 miles

Elevation: 912 feet

Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes (although some of the most skilled hikers can do it in 20 minutes)

Price: Free

Permit Needed? No

Parking: Koko Head District Park

The Koko Crater Trail is one of the most unique Oahu hikes around. First of all, the “trail” is an old railway line that climbs up the side of Koko Head Crater at quite a steep angle. Second, this hike is only about a mile long, which doesn’t sound that difficult, but it is. Imagine hiking up “steps” of an old railroad track at an ever-increasing angle.

While this hike takes a lot of effort (and I mean A LOT), the views from the top of Koko Head Crater are stunning. You can see so much of the island from this one lookout point – from Waikiki and Diamond Head to Hanauma Bay to Hawaii Kai. Add a sunrise to that, and you’ll be blown away.

The parking for the Koko Head Crater Trail is very convenient, as there is a lot right next to the start of the hike.

*Local Tip: For the majority of the Koko Head Crater Trail, the railroad tracks are still on dirt, so if you slip a little bit, you’re fine. However, there is one small section where this isn’t the case. The dirt disappears, and instead there is quite the drop in between each of the wooden railroad beams. If you don’t want to tackle that part, look directly on the side of the hike at that point (right side on the way up, left side on the way down). There should be a hidden trail that allows you to skip that scary portion and plant your feet on solid ground.

Lulumahu Falls

3. Lulumahu Falls Trail

Distance: 1.6 miles

Elevation: 843 feet

Time: 1 hour

Price: Free

Permit Required? Yes, via the Hawaii Division of Forest & Wildlife website

Parking: Technically, there is no legal parking for Lulumahu Falls. The Hawaii Division of Forest & Wildlife recommends that you be dropped off. That said, there is a muddy, makeshift lot near the trailhead just off Pali Hwy.

Lulumahu Falls is one of the easiest and most rewarding waterfall hikes on Oahu, and it’s definitely a treat. For a period of time, Lulumahu Falls was illegal. But now we’re lucky enough that you can legally hike this Oahu trail with a permit!

The Lulumahu Falls Trail only requires about 45 minutes of hiking — granted, with some river crossings — but that’s a pretty short trek to reach a thirty-foot waterfall! Just as a note, the pool at Lulumahu Falls is not quite deep enough to swim in.

mountain and ocean views from the end of the Kuliouou Ridge Trail in Honolulu. This 4.4-mile trail is now without a doubt one of my favorite hikes on Oahu, and I'll be recommending it to everyone who even mildly likes hiking.

4. Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Distance: 4.4 miles

Elevation: 1,666 feet

Time: 3 hours

Price: Free

Permit Needed? No

Parking: The Kuliouou Ridge Trail starts in a residential neighborhood, and there is only street parking available. Please be respectful of the residents and avoid blocking any driveways.

The Kuliouou Ridge Trail is one of my new favorite Oahu hikes of all time. I was a little nervous to take it on, given the amount of elevation, but slow and steady does it!

As you wind your way up this Honolulu hike, you’ll navigate your way through all sorts of terrain, including switchbacks, forests, verdant island greenery, and mountain ridges. And at the end, you’ll be rewarded with views from Hawaii Kai to Kailua. It’s incredible!

In a way, hiking the 4.4-mile Kuliouou Ridge Trail — and it’s tough 359 steps at the end — gives you the reward of seeing the views of a few different Oahu hikes, including the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, the Koko Head Crater Trail, the Tom Tom Trail, and the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. It’s like four-in-one, and it’s a hike I’ll recommend time and time again.

Chinaman's Hat Hike

5. Chinaman’s Hat Trail

Distance: <1 mile

Elevation: 206 feet

Time: 20 minutes

Permit Needed? No

Parking: Kualoa Regional Park or along the side of the road near Kualoa Rock Beach

Chinaman’s Hat, also known as Mokolii, has also made it onto this list of fantastic hikes on Oahu, because this hike is so unique. In order to even get to the start of the hike, you have to do a 30 to 45-minute kayak or paddle board trip over to the island. You get your blood pumping before you even get to the start of the hike!

The short 20-minute hike on Chinaman’s Hat is grueling. If you thought your blood was pumping from kayaking or paddle boarding, trekking your way through the thin dirt paths and miniature rock-climbing sections will make you forget about the paddling you did to get to the island.

I personally thought the kayaking and hiking adventure was a blast. But even if that doesn’t sound like loads of fun to you, reaching the top of Chinaman’s Hat is more than worth the hour or so of effort. The unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean, Oahu’s East Side, and the Koolau Mountain range will quite literally take your breath away (assuming the physical activity didn’t already do that).

two people standing on bright pink Maili Pillbox best hikes on Oahu, Hawaii

6. Maili Pillbox

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation: 613 feet

Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Price: Free

Permit Required? No

Parking: Kaukama Road (ideally near the 10th and 11th light pole, where the trailhead starts).

Maili Pillbox, also known as the pink pillbox hike,  is one of the only hiking trails in West Oahu – and it also happens to be one of my favorite hikes on Oahu.

The trail is clear once you find the start (between the 10th and 11th light poles of Kauakama Road – there’s a clear break in the grass). Other hikers are a rarity. Plus, the pretty awesome view is one that you can’t see from anywhere else. As a matter of fact, this Maili Pillbox hike is the ONLY place I can think of where you can get a bird’s eye view of the West Oahu coastline.

On top of that, this fantastic Oahu hike has four World War II military pillboxes at the top, one of which is bright pink and filled with memories of breast cancer survivors. No wonder it’s one of the best hikes on Oahu, Hawaii!

*Note: The west side of Oahu is very hot. Bring some extra water with you.

The Maili Pillbox hike isn’t all that far away from the tourist hub of Ko Olina. Why not make a day on the West Side of the island if you’re planning on tackling this great hike?

Ehukai Pillbox

7. Ehukai Pillbox

Distance: 2.3 miles

Elevation: 738 feet

Time: 1 hour

Price: Free

Permit Required? No

Parking: Sunset Beach Neighborhood Park

Looking for North Shore hikes? Ehukai Pillbox is a fantastic option. This hour-long hike is not too difficult, and it’s the only hike that gives you a bird’s eye view of the giant waves at Banzai Pipeline. And, as the name implies, you’ll reach a cement pillbox that was once used by the military as a lookout point during World War 2. Ironically — or perhaps, purposefully — the pillbox is now decked out in peace-sign graffiti.

One note to make is that Ehukai Pillbox surprisingly muddy for a non-waterfall hike, which means there are also mosquitos in the area. Get yourself some much needed bug spray before heading out!

views of Koolau Mountains, Chinaman's Hat, and Kaneohe Sandbar from Puu Maelieli Trail Best Hikes on Oahu, Hawaii

8. Puu Maelieli Trail

Distance: 1.5 miles

Elevation: 652 feet

Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Price: Free

Permit Needed? No

Parking: Koolau Center Parking Lot

Puu Maelieli Trail is the last of the pillbox hikes on this list of the best Oahu hikes. Located in Kaneohe, this pillbox hike may be the best of them all.

To find the start of the hike, walk away from the Koolau Center parking lot on the right side of Kahekili Highway. There should be a bright yellow-tipped pole to signal the start of the trail. This 1.5-mile hike ends with a stunning view of Kaneohe Bay from the SECOND pillbox. (The first pillbox is right before the second pillbox, but it’s mostly underground, so no cool views there.)

As you take in the sights from the second pillbox at the end of the Puu Maelieli Trail, you’ll be in awe. In addition to the beautiful turquoise waters of Kaneohe Bay, you’ll also get to see the many sunken islands in the bay (the lighter white splotches). Sometimes, these will rise above the surface of the water and create little islands. And if you look to the north (or to your left), you’ll also be able to see the gorgeous Koolau Mountain Range and Chinaman’s Hat.

*Note: I’ll be honest. There’s a little bit of confusion on the legality of this hike. Some say it’s legal, others say it’s private property. So I guess hike at your own risk.

Kaena Point

9. Kaena Point

Distance: 5 miles

Elevation: 225 feet

Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Price: Free

Permit Required? No

Parking: Kaena Point Trailhead

You actually can’t reach Kaena Point — and it’s great ocean views and animal sanctuaries — without hiking. This is actually the only portion of the coast of Oahu that doesn’t have a road. So if you want to see the scenery found on this part of the island, you have to get your legs moving and your blood pumping.

Second, Kaena Point can be done from both the west side of Oahu (Waianae) and the North Shore (Waialua) – and both of those sections of Oahu don’t have a ton of hikes. So if you’re hanging out in Ko Olina or Haleiwa and want to do a hike, Kaena Point is the hike for you. (As a note, the stats above are for the North Shore entrance of the Kaena Point hike. Hiking from the Waianae side takes a little more time and effort.)

Either way that you choose to tackle Kaena Point, you’ll end up at, well, Kaena Point. The point itself is actually a bird sanctuary. It’s pretty common to see monk seals chilling on the rocks in the sun right next to the crashing waves. Please be sure to give the monk seals their space. You wouldn’t like people getting all up in your face to take pictures when you’re sleeping, so the monk seals don’t like it either.

Waimano Falls best hikes on Oahu

10. Waimano Falls

Distance: 2.9 miles

Elevation: 770 feet

Time: 2 hours

Price: Free

Permit Required? No

Parking: Komomai Dr.

I’m not going to lie to you. Despite the fact that the beginning of this Oahu hike is rather flat, the journey to Waimano Falls is pretty difficult, especially if it has rained recently. I mean, there’s even a large section of the hike called “heart attack hill”!

But the reward is awesome. First of all, there is a stunning waterfall that’s about 25 feet tall. Second, there’s a pool deep enough to jump or swing into. I can’t think of another waterfall hike on Oahu with a consistent swinging rope. So if you want to feel like Tarzan, this is the hike to go on.

*Local Tip: If you do the hike to Waimano Falls in the summer, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to snack on some wild strawberry guava as you hike. The little red spheres are only about an inch wide, but they’re full of flavor!

Likeke Falls best hikes on Oahu

11. Likeke Falls – ILLEGAL

Distance: 0.8 miles

Elevation: 216 feet

Time: 45 minutes

Price: Free

Permit Required? No, but the trail is technically on private property, making it illegal.

Parking: Since the trail to Likeke Falls is illegal, there’s technically no legal parking. That said, those who do choose to hike this path tend to park at the back corner of the Koolau Ballrooms parking lot.

Looking for one of the easiest waterfall hikes on Oahu? Likeke Falls is the hike for you! It’s so easy that on quite a few of my times hiking this trail, I’ve seen mommy and me groups also doing it! Another cool fun fact about the Likeke Falls trail is the fact that the part that looks like a lava rock pathway was actually used by Hawaiian royalty in the past! So you’ll literally be walking where royals used to walk!

There are a couple of unexpected turns on this hike, so, if you’re thinking about doing it, refer to this more detailed most on Likeke Falls!

12. Crouching Lion Hike – ILLEGAL

Distance: 0.4 miles

Elevation: 216 feet

Time: 20 minutes

Price: Free

Permit Required? No, but that’s because the Crouching Lion Hike is illegal.

Parking: As the hike is illegal, there is technically no legal parking for it. Hikers often park along Trout Farm Road, as your car could get towed. Instead, your best bet is to park at Swanzy Beach Park.

Recently, Instagram has been responsible for the increasing number of people attempting the Crouching Lion Hike on Oahu. This short trail is rather steep at times, but it ends in an amazing view of Kahana Bay and the Koolau Mountain range. As a matter of fact, the Crouching Lion Hike trail is so steep that it is one of the only hikes on Oahu where a pair of real hiking boots (rather than athletic shoes) might be a good idea.

*Pro Tip: Do not hike on or after a rainy day. That’ll just make the journey much more difficult than it needs to be.

13. Tom Tom Trail – ILLEGAL

Distance: 1.9 miles (loop)

Elevation: 1,364 feet

Time: 3 hours

Price: Free

Permit Required? No, but that’s because the Tom Tom Trail is illegal.

Parking: Since this hike is illegal, there’s technically no legal parking for it. That said, most hikers park at the Makapuu Lighthouse Trailhead Parking Lot.

Right next to the famed Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is the Tom Tom Trail. As a matter of fact, you use the same parking lot! The entire Tom Tom Trail is six miles long, but most people stop within the first couple of miles of the hike anyways (that’s where the stunning views are).

This also means that the time necessary to complete the hike varies a lot – from only an hour to 4.5 hours. Just a heads up, the first small chunk of the hike is rather difficult, but don’t let that stop you! It will get easier as you go on!

*Note: People have reported getting hefty fines just before starting the Tom Tom Trail hike, since the hike is illegal.

14. Stairway to Heaven – ILLEGAL

Distance: 2 miles

Elevation: 2,630 feet

Time: 4 hours

Undoubtedly the most famous Hawaii hike is the Stairway to Heaven, also known as Haiku Stairs. This 4,000-step hike up the Koolau Mountain Range and into the clouds is one of the most popular Oahu bucket list items. However, it is also the most illegal. With a guard posted in front of the entrance and the threat of a hefty $1,500 fine, the Stairway to Heaven has only become slightly less popular.

*Pro Tip: If you just want a glimpse of the Stairway to Heaven, you can actually see it as you’re driving on H-3! To get on H-3, set you GPS from Kailua to Aiea (or vice versa). Then, as you’re driving on the side further from the ocean (we call that “mauka”), keep your eyes glued to the mountains on your side (unless you’re driving of course! Stay safe!). Between the two tunnels (right before the second tunnel), you’ll see a little silver sliver climbing up the Koolau Mountains. That’s the Stairway to Heaven.

For more information on how to navigate the steps, guard, and fine, this guide should help you out.

As of April 2024, the Hawaii State government has announced that they will be removing the stairs in the near future.

While I try my best to update this list whenever I become aware of a change, please check to see if these trails are still legally open before you do them. The statuses of hikes on Oahu do change, so any of these trails could become illegal, either temporarily or permanently, at any time.

Lanikai Pillbox

Hiking Safety for the Best Hikes on Oahu, Hawaii

While Oahu hikes are relatively safe, it’s always a good idea to prioritize safety. This section isn’t to scare you. It’s just to make sure that you’re prepared!

Trail Markers

On most of the Oahu hikes listed below, the trails are pretty clear. However, there are a couple with slightly confusing paths, which is not ideal. So keep your eyes out for trail markers!

Trail markers on Oahu, Hawaii are typically brightly colored (usually orange, pink, or blue) flags tied around tree branches. If the trail has recently changed (which happens on occasion), the trail markers may instead be carved into trees or marked with little splashes of spray paint.

Leptospirosis

If you’re planning on doing one of Oahu’s waterfall hikes, you should be aware of a bacteria called leptospirosis that is present in the water. Leptospirosis can only be harmful if it enters the body through an open cut (so if it’s scabbed over, you’re fine) or by drinking it.

While some cases of leptospirosis may have bad flu-like symptoms, others have no symptoms at all. Personally, I have not heard of anyone actually getting leptospirosis on these hikes. Once I even got a small cut from a rock in a waterfall pool and did not have any signs of leptospirosis.

If you would like to read a bit more on the bacteria, here’s a page from the CDC.

What Should I Bring to Do the Best Hikes on Oahu?

It’s important to be prepared for the hikes on Oahu. While they are varying levels of difficulty, being prepared is always important for both enjoyment and safety!

Bug Repellent

Bug repellent is highly recommended for hikes on Oahu. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t use bug repellent and I end up with bites on my arms and legs that don’t go away for a month!

Bug repellent is especially relevant for waterfall hikes, because the mosquitos are drawn to the little patches of still water. There are both traditional and natural options to help you ward off the little critters.

Athletic Shoes

Your shoes will never fully recover from the dust, dirt, and mud on some of these hikes. Sometimes they simply will not make it out. (I once was on an Oahu waterfall hike and the literal soles of both of my shoes came off in the mud!)

That said, intense, professional hiking boots are not necessary for the vast majority of hikes on Oahu. Recently, I’ve been putting my Fila Women’s Day Hiker Shoes to good use, and they’ve held up quite well. And there’s also a men’s version.

Plastic Bag (Or Washable, Reusable Bag)

Most people forget to bring a plastic bag along with them on hikes to put their muddy or dusty athletic shoes in after hiking. If you’re trying to be more eco-friendly, try this reusable plastic bag and give it a good wash when you get back to where you’re staying.

Flip-Flops (A.K.A. Slippers in Hawaii)

You’ll need something to wear after you shove your muddy or dusty athletic shoes into that plastic bag or reusable bag.

If you want to support a fabulous local Hawaii business, you can buy a pair of Olukai slippers (available for both men and women) for your adventure.

Water

It’s a necessity for hiking. Bring a little more water than you think you’ll need for your Oahu hike. Perhaps in a nice reusable bottle to help the environment out.

Snack

Maybe something from either Part 1 or Part 2 of the Hawaii food bucket list. After all, you need to keep your energy levels up!

Camera

You want to capture all of your adventures, don’t you? I’ve been looking to purchase the Nikon D3500 to do the job.

How Can I Get to the Best Hikes on Oahu?

To get to the vast majority of the hikes on Oahu, you’ll need a car. While there are a few exceptions of hikes that can be reached by public bus, like Ehukai Pillbox and Koko Head Crater trail, these are the minority. Basically, if you plan on doing a lot of hiking during your trip to Oahu, it would be a good idea to rent a car.

Are you a hiker? Or do you want to become one? Or maybe you’re planning a trip to Hawaii? Do you want to plan one? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should pin this post for later!

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35 Comments

  1. Goodness, these all sound awesome, but so many of them are now illegal! Does that mean they go through private property and the owners no longer allow hikers to use the area? It must have changed so much in the last few years. 🙁

    Anyway, I LOVE the look all of those waterfalls, and i really love your way of rating the hikes. I think my ideal hike would be 4-5-1. I don’t mind putting in the effort for an amazing view pay off without too many people!!

    1. Yeah, they’re all pretty much illegal, because they cross onto private property. But even if the owners are cool with it, it’s still technically illegal, and I thought I should specify that in my post. But you are right. More and more hikes are becoming “illegal” – Crouching Lion used to be a legal hike, and now it’s not.

      And thank you so much for your comments on the ranking system! That’s how I’ve ranked them in my head for so long, but I wasn’t sure if anyone else would understand it lol.

  2. This brings back such happy memories – this time last year we were in Oahu and managed to tick a few of these off our bucket list but there are still so many we hadn’t heard of…just an excuse to return 😉

  3. Such a useful post! I went to Maui and Kauai two years ago and those islands have so many great hiking opportunities but I love how you’ve put all these different options for Oahu in one post! Also – great tips at the beginning. I went totally underprepared with my Nike shoes and after rainfall they were useless. I should have brought my hiking boots! Lesson learned.

  4. So much info here, Oahu definitely looks like the ideal place for a hiker – the views are insane from all of them. Didn’t realise how difficult it is to get to the staircase to heaven now. Saving this for our visit.

    1. Oahu is definitely a great place for hiking! I hope you get to make use of these tips on your next visit!

  5. There are some pretty great hikes on this list – but it’s really too bad that so many of them are illegal. I don’t think my conscience could handle doing those at all, especially if they go through private property.

  6. Wow lots of great options. I love your ranking system. Seems like a lot of these hikes are illegal? So you are not supposed to do them? Do they fine you if they catch you?

    1. You’re legally not supposed to do most of them, because they are on private property. The only two that give out fines are the Tom Tom Trail hike and the Stairway to Heaven hike – and that’s because they are illegal for safety reasons, rather than private property reasons (many inexperienced hikers get overconfident and try to do these hikes, so the fines are meant to ward them off).

  7. These all look like amazing hikes! Great photos. Especially like your tips for things to bring, very helpful! Love Hawaii 🙂

  8. Wow, this is such a great guide. Stairway to Heaven has been on my list and mind for a while and it’s sad to see it’s illegal! However, I can understand why, as it can be quite a challenging and dangerous hike.
    I thoroughly loved hiking the Koko Head Trail with the views of Hanauma Bay below. It was a great workout as well 🙂 Saving your suggestions for my next O’ahu visit!

  9. I would love to go back to Oahu and just hike all around the island– although the to-do list would obviously be much shorter without the hikes that are on private property! (Stairway to Heaven, though– that one’s definitely a bucket list kind of hike.)

  10. Just wow for those views and another wow for the amazing waterfall shots.
    Oahu looks like an incredible place to hike. I would deffo leave the more dangerous hike to the more experienced hikers though, even if the views are incredible haha.

  11. After visiting Maui last year I’ve been looking for another Hawaiian island to go to. It looks like Oahu is full of natural beauty….this just might be next!

  12. I’ve only ever done the Lanikai pillbox trail and didn’t even make it to the top. I’m such a lousy hiker! It did start raining and a lot of us ended up skiing downhill in the red mud. Funny and scary at the same time, but the camaraderie was sweet. We all helped each other down even if we just met as we skidded by.

    I can’t wait to give it another shot! I’ll be trying all the legal spots only, though.

    1. oh my gosh oh no!! I’ve never done Lanikai Pillbox when it was raining! And even when it’s dry, I decide to sit down and slide on the way back down LOL. I can’t imagine how difficult that was!

  13. such a fantastic and super informative post! I loved your packing list and your advices for leptospirosis, it’s something just few bloggers seem to take into account! Great photos too, especially the cover one!

  14. As an avid hiker, this post is so useful. I had never consider Oahu as a hiking destination, but then again Hawaii has so many wonderful hidden finds and you gave such a comprehensive list on this! Thanks a ton Sarah!

    1. You’re so so welcome! Oahu has a TON of hikes, so if you’re looking for a hiking destination, this is definitely a place you should keep in mind!

  15. Wow, so many illegal ones! I don’t think I could ever do Stairway to Heaven, but I know people who have. I’m really gutted I didn’t do Koko Head, so I’m kinda glad you’ve said it’s not really worth it, haha. Great post!

    1. I’m so glad you liked this post and my ranking system, Shannon! I hope you’ll have a ton of fun on these amazing Oahu hikes!

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