Are you looking for the best Oahu sunrise hikes? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
Out of the dozens of Oahu hikes, there are only a few that have fantastic sunrises. After all, the angle and the setting need to be just right. Without further ado, here are six of the best Oahu sunrise hikes.
What Should I Bring on Oahu Sunrise Hikes?
It’s always good to have a pair of comfy athletic shoes with good grip for hikes, especially for sunrise hikes when you may not be able to clearly see where you are stepping. 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.
Since these hikes are all fantastic at sunrise, it’ll be dark when you start your journey. While I usually opt to just use my phone flashlight if necessary, I’ve seen other hikers use a handheld flashlight or a headlamp.
A plastic bag to put your dusty athletic shoes in after you’re done hiking. You don’t want to get that dirt all over your car. 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.
Maybe in a nice reusable bottle to help the environment out just a tad.
To document your Oahu sunrise hikes! I’m not a fan of carrying full-size cameras on hikes, because the journey is already hard enough without the extra weight! So if you have the same mindset that I do, the GoPro HERO9 is a great option! However, if that’s a little too much money, the AKASO EK7000 is a pretty good alternative.
Of course, you’ll need something to carry all your gear. I highly recommend a High Sierra backpack. I’ve been using my mini High Sierra backpack for my adventures for over a decade – and it is still in great condition!
For a more comprehensive Hawaii packing list, click here.
How Early Should I Wake Up for Oahu Sunrise Hikes?
One of the most important things to figure out with a sunrise hike is what time to wake up! Here’s how I calculate what time I want to wake up:
Step 1: Figure out what time the sun will rise. This link should help you. For the sake of this example, let’s say sunrise is at a solid 6:30 a.m.
Step 2: Subtract an extra 15-20 minutes from the official sunrise time. While the sun itself my rise at 6:30 a.m., the stunning colors that come before it are the best part! So let’s aim to make it to the end of the hike at 6:10 a.m.
Step 3: Subtract the time needed to actually do the hike. This will vary based off of the hike chosen – from 25 minutes to 3-4 hours, so refer to the information below when planning your schedule.
Step 4: Subtract time for driving (Google Maps can help with that), grabbing a quick bite or cup of coffee, and waking up (slowly, because you’ll be tired).
How Can I Get to the Oahu Sunrise Hikes?
The best way to get to the Oahu sunrise hikes is by car. Odds are, you don’t want to wake up earlier than you have to, and a car is the most direct form of transportation.
That said, some of the public buses on Oahu began service between three and four a.m., which should give you plenty of time get to and complete your hike before the sunrise. However, this start time HEAVILY depends on where you are staying. Other bus routes don’t start until 8 a.m. So, if you’re using Google Maps to plan your bus route (as I would recommend doing), make sure you set your desired arrival time to make sure that buses are actually running in your area in the wee hours of the morning.
Oahu Sunrise Hike Safety
Take It Slow
Many hikers who decide to tackle a sunrise hike try to go as fast as they can. After all, they have a deadline! You can’t stop the sun from rising! But this can be unwise. There are many loose rocks or even loose steps (looking at you Koko Head hike) that can make a quick ascent dangerous. Instead, give yourself a bit of buffer time, and take a it a little slower.
Use a Flashlight
Many hikers who are unfamiliar with sunrise hikes tend to forget one crucial item: a flashlight. Obviously, the hiking path isn’t going to be lit before the sun comes up, so you’ll need to find a way to light your path on your own. That’s where a flashlight comes in. But do know that if you have a flashlight in your hand, you won’t have your hands free, which presents its own set of challenges.
Worst case, your phone has a flashlight. AND if you want to have both of your hands free, it’s pretty easy to tuck your phone into the waistband of your pants and not have to worry about it too much.
Ok, I’m Ready! What Are the Best Oahu Sunrise Hikes?
The first Oahu sunrise hike on this list is easily the most famous as well: Lanikai Pillbox. And, I’m not going to lie, it’s probably still my favorite sunrise hike on Oahu.
While the first hundred feet of the hike are quite steep, don’t let that stop you! (I promise, that’s the worst it gets.) After that, take a quick break, and power on through. You can make it to the first pillbox in 25 minutes (roundtrip, the journey is about 45 minutes). There are other pillboxes further down the path, but honestly, the view stays pretty similar to the one you see at the first pillbox.
The sun will rise just behind two little islands called the mokes, painting the clouds in the sky with beautiful yellow, purple, and pink. At the same time, the blue of the Pacific Ocean and the green of the mokes slowly light up. It’s truly magical.
The parking for this hike can be rather difficult, as you have to park in a residential area. Please pay attention to the “no parking” signs and do not block people’s driveways!
Crouching Lion Hike – ILLEGAL
The Crouching Lion hike has started to become more and more popular over these past couple of years (thanks, Instagram). And this growing popularity is despite the fact that the Crouching Lion Hike has now been made illegal.
While this hike is only 1.5 miles and only takes about 45 minutes, this hike is STEEP. As a matter of fact, it’s so steep that many recommend buying some hiking boots (which are not necessary for the vast majority of the hikes on Oahu). Despite all these struggles, it still made it onto our list of the best hikes on Oahu.
If you’re ready to take on the challenge of the Crouching Lion Hike, the views will make it worth it. You’ll get some amazing views of Kahana Bay Beach Park and the Koolau Mountain range. Just imagine combining that picture-perfect image with the stunning golden light from an Oahu sunrise.
As for parking, do NOT park along Trout Farm Road, as your car could get towed. Instead, park at Swanzy Beach Park.
*Pro Tip: Do not hike on or after a rain day. That’ll just make the journey much more difficult than it needs to be.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
If you wouldn’t consider yourself a hiker but still want to get a stunning view of an Oahu sunrise, the hike to Makapuu Lighthouse is the one for you. This is one of the easiest hikes on Oahu.
The entire path of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is paved, so you won’t have to pay much attention to stepping over rocks or around puddles of mud, like you would on some of Oahu’s other hikes (especially the waterfall ones). This hike is about 1.5 miles roundtrip (approximately 45 minutes), so it’s totally doable.
At the end you’ll get some stunning views! Just like Lanikai Pillbox, the view of the sunrise from this trail will be dotted with a couple of islands, including Rabbit Island and Kaohikaipu Island State Seabird Sanctuary.
Parking for this hike is quite easy, as there is a designated parking lot.
*Local Tip: Looking for an extra adventure? Try to find out how to get to the Makapuu tide pools!
Tom Tom Trail – ILLEGAL
The Tom Tom Trail actually starts quite close to the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. (You park in the same parking lot!). However, this Oahu hike is much more unknown, a bit more dangerous, and now illegal. Instead of having a nice paved path like the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, this trail is filled with dirt and rocks. Plus, people have been ticketed a few hundred dollars for attempting to do this hike.
The entire hike is six miles long, but most people stop within the first couple of miles of the hike anyways (that’s where the awesome 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 gets easier!
If you’re thinking, “why would I do this hike instead of the Makapuu Lighthouse trail if its more dangerous and illegal?”, the answer is simple: the lack of people. Instead of going through the effort of waking up early and hiking up a mountain, only to have your view of a beautiful Oahu sunrise blocked by someone’s head, you can have your sunrise (nearly) all to yourself on the Tom Tom Trail. That way, you’ll get a stunning view of both the rising sun and the two little islands that you can see from the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail as well.
Koko Head Crater Trail
The Koko Head Crater Trail is one of the most unique Oahu sunrise hikes – or honestly, Oahu hikes in general. 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.
Bottom line, if you are clumsy or deathly afraid of hikes, perhaps this isn’t the hike for you – especially as a sunrise hike on Oahu, when the light is bound to be rather limited.
That being said, 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 not the case. 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.
Stairway to Heaven – ILLEGAL
The Stairway to Heaven, also known as Haiku Stairs, is one of the most popular Oahu sunrise hikes – and the most illegal. This nearly 4,000-step hike up the Koolau Mountain Range has a guard standing to block the entrance and a hefty fine of up to $1,500. Needless to say, this hike typically takes three to four hours to complete.
That being said, many, many people still choose to tackle this stunning Oahu hike. Maybe they choose to do so because it’s a one-of-a-kind experience, as you’ll be hiking above the clouds, seeing sunlight streaming in (depending on the weather of course). Maybe it’s a bucket list item. Or maybe tackling the Stairway to Heaven for sunrise is the easiest way to get past the guard.
While I personally can’t give any advice on the details of this particular hike, another local shares his tips in this post.
While I try my best to update this list whenever I become aware of a change, please check to see if these trails are legally open before you do them. The statuses of trails in Oahu do change, so any of these Oahu sunrise hikes could become illegal, either temporarily or permanently, at any time.
Looking for other amazing Oahu hikes? Here is a list of 15 of the best of ’em!
Interested in another stunning Hawaiian Island sunrise? The sunrise from the summit of Haleakala on Maui is pretty amazing.
Have you ever done one of these Oahu sunrise hikes? In your opinion, am I missing one of the best Oahu sunrise hikes? Tell me about your experience in the comments! (I’ll promise I’ll respond!)
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