Are you looking for the ultimate guide to the best North Shore, Oahu hikes? This guide from an Oahu, Hawaii local has everything that you need to know to have the best experience hiking Oahu’s North Shore.
Hidden among the surfers and food trucks, there are several North Shore, Oahu hikes that are absolutely amazing. With some lead you to stunning viewpoints, others lead you to hidden waterfalls. Honestly, the North Shore of Oahu is a hidden treasure trove when it comes to hikes. Here are 12 rewarding North Shore, Oahu hikes.
What Should I Bring on These North Shore Hikes?
When hiking on the North Shore of Oahu, you definitely need bug repellent. 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. There are both traditional and natural options to help you ward them off.
Your shoes will never fully recover from the dust, dirt, and mud on some of Oahu’s North Shore hikes. Sometimes they simply will not make it out. (I once was on an Oahu hike and the literal soles of both of my shoes came off in the mud!)
However, intense, professional hiking boots are not at all necessary. 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.
Washable Reusable Bag
Most people forget to bring a washable reusable bag along with them on hikes to put their muddy or dusty athletic shoes in after hiking. If you don’t have a washable reusable bag, a plastic bag will do just fine.
A.K.A. slippers in the local lingo. You’ll need something to wear after you shove your muddy or dusty athletic shoes into that washable reusable bag.
It’s a necessity for hiking. Getting dehydrated can just make you miserable for the rest of the day. Perhaps put your water in a nice reusable bottle to help the environment out.
You want to capture all of your North Shore, Oahu hiking adventures, don’t you?
North Shore, Oahu Hike Safety
While Hawaii has relatively safe hiking conditions, it’s important to stay as safe as possible. So before you head out, here are a couple of Hawaii-specific safety tips to keep in mind.
On most of the North Shore, 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 brightly colored (usually orange, pink, or blue) flags tied around tree branches to guide you.
If the trail has recently changed (which does happen sometimes), the trail markers may instead be carved into trees or marked with spray paint.
These markers are especially important to note on Oahu’s North Shore hikes, as many of them don’t have cell service. This means that you likely won’t be able to use Google Maps or Apple Maps to navigate your way out of a sticky situation.
If you’re planning on doing one of the North Shore waterfall hikes, you should be aware of a bacterium 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.
If you would like to read a bit more on leptospirosis, here’s a page from the CDC.
How Can I Get to the North Shore, Oahu Hikes?
The North Shore, Oahu hikes are quite nice, because most are equally accessible by both car and public bus. (This is very rare for hikes in Hawaii in general.) While a car is always quicker, it can sometimes be a bit difficult to find parking. That said, if you choose to take the bus, parking isn’t an issue!
Now It’s Finally Time for the 12 Best North Shore, Oahu Hikes!
The hike to Kaipapau Falls leads to a beautiful, tall waterfall, yet somehow, this hike has also managed to stay hidden. One potential reason for its covert existence may be because of the path to get there.
While the path takes a relatively reasonable 2.5-hours one-way, the vast majority of these 2.5 hours are spent in a river. There are numerous river crossings required to meet Kaipapau Falls, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled the whole time for the colorful ribbons. Here is a more in-depth guide to Kaipapau Falls.
*Local Tip: be sure to pick some lilikoi (passion fruit) if you see some! After all, fresh lilikoi is in Part 2 of the Hawaii Food Bucket List!
Just a few minutes away from the Polynesian Cultural Center and Turtle Bay Resort lies the start of the Laie Falls hike trailhead. This eight-mile round trip hike is surprisingly popular. At the end of the hike, you’ll reach Laie Falls, a rather small waterfall, but still a beautiful one. Do note that during the drier season (May to September), the falls may not have much water.
In order to hike Laie Falls, you must get a permit from the Hawaii Reserves office at the Laie Shopping Center, because this is one of the hikes on the North Shore of Oahu that is technically on private property. While this permit is free, you will need to fill out this form.
Kaena Point is one of the special North Shore, Oahu hikes. Located all the way on the Western tip of Oahu, this hike is the only way to access the northwestern tip of the island: Kaena Point.
After a 2.5-mile hike from the small town of Mokuleia, you’ll be able to access a remote bird sanctuary on the tip of the island. If you’re lucky, you may spot some monk seals hanging out on the rocks or, during the winter months, you may also see a few whales in the distance.
*Note: There are two trails to Kaena Point: one from the west side of Oahu and one from the North Shore of Oahu. When doing further research, be sure that you are looking at the information for the proper path.
This five-mile loop trail in the Pupukea Paumalu Forest Reserve is quite a treat. If you want to get completely off the beaten path, Kaunala Trail is great option.
Along this trail, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of beautiful plants, such as wild orchids and delicious strawberry guava. That said, it seems that hikers have struggled to stay on the path due to lack of signage. This Yelp review by Steven B. describes the directions of this hike in quite a lot of detail, which should help.
Makua Rim (Three Corners)
This four-mile North Shore loop hike starts at the Peacock Flats Campground above Mokuleia. While the loop itself is just four miles, it takes 3.2 miles of hiking to get to the campground, so be prepared! One option is to camp at Peacock Flats for a night, and then cover the Makua Rim hike the next day. Do note that if you decide to camp out, you will need a camping permit from the Department of Forestry and Wildlife.
The highlight of the Makua Rim trail is the Three Corners. At one point during the hike, you’ll be able to see three different stunning Oahu valleys: Makua Valley, Makaha Valley, and Mokuleia Valley.
Easily the most popular “hike” on the North Shore of Oahu is Waimea Falls. I put “hike” in quotes, because it’s a bit of a stretch to call the walk to Waimea Falls a hike.
The trail from the parking lot to the waterfall is only about three-fourths of a mile and takes about 30 minutes at a leisurely pace. Depending on the weather, swimming may be allowed at Waimea Falls. If you do wish to swim under the waterfall, you are required to wear a life jacket.
Given that this hike is within accessible area of Waimea Valley, there are changing areas, showering areas, and lifeguards. This means that the hike to Waimea Falls is one of the busiest waterfalls on Oahu as well.
If you’re a waterfall lover, here are seven more Oahu waterfall hikes.
While most people have heard of the Lanikai Pillbox hike in Kailua, the Ehukai Pillbox hike tends to fly under the radar. Tucked behind Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline, the Ehukai Pillbox offers a short but sweet adventure.
This hour-long hike is filled with greenery, views of North Shore beaches including Ehukai Beach, a picnic table covered with multicolored children’s handprints (called Lilikoi Junction), and a historic, graffiti-covered pillbox. To start this hike, you’ll want to find the entrance point just outside of Sunset Elementary School.
Here’s a post that goes into a bit more depth on the Ehukai Pillbox hike.
Hauula Loop Trail
The Hauula Loop Trail is a 2.5-mile that is perfect for hikers who aren’t looking for anything too strenuous. You do end up covering a bit of an incline, however, the path has a lot of switchbacks, so you won’t have to tackle a steep incline. While the highlight of this hike is the continuous beautiful greenery, there are also occasional views of the Pacific Ocean and potentially even a small waterfall.
If you thought Ehukai Pillbox flew under the radar, then you definitely have never heard of Hauula Pillbox. Also known as Kaipapau Bunker, this Oahu North Shore hike is only about 2.5 miles roundtrip.
To get to this historical landmark, you’ll start off by taking the trail to Kaipapau Falls, but, not long after, you’ll have to take a couple of turns onto paths that are less clearly marked. If you’re interested, this is the clearest guide to the Kaipapau Bunkers that I could find. Please be sure to read it (and do some additional research) before heading out because there are several hiking trails in the area.
As you can tell, there are quite a few pillbox hikes on the North Shore of Oahu. I haven’t found an official name for this easy hike on the North Shore of Oahu, so I’ve decided to call it Kahuku Pillbox. (Plus, it fits quite nicely with the names of the other pillbox hikes on this list.) The Kahuku Pillbox is located on a small peninsula about a mile west of Turtle Bay Resort. There are actually two routes to reach the Kahuku Pillbox: one from the resort and one from the road. No matter what path you take, the hike to Kahuku pillbox is one of the easiest hikes on Oahu.
The one-mile path from the Turtle Bay Resort winds through the ocean front cottages, onto the Kawela Main Trail, and then onto the Hidden Beach Loop along the North Shore coastline. The path from the road, which is only half a mile, starts from Kahuku Land Farm (NOT Kahuku Farms) starts on the last loop, transfers to the Kawela Loop, and then finally to the Hidden Beach Loop.
The obvious question now is which loop should you take. While the path from the road may seem like the obvious choice, I would actually recommend the path from the resort. Why, you may ask? First of all, there is easy, safe parking at the resort. And along the hike, you’ll see a couple of hidden beaches, some horses, and an ancient Hawaiian ahu (sort of like a boundary line between ahupua’a or ancient Hawaiian “states”).
But the path to Kahuku Pillbox from the road has its own set of perks, especially if you’re a fan of the TV show, LOST. In LOST, there is a special banyan tree that repeatedly makes an appearance. That very same banyan tree can be seen on the route from the road to the Kahuku Pillbox. Plus, you’ll end up pretty darn close to both of the secret beaches from the first hike route.
Unfortunately, the stretch of road where you would park to do this version of the hike is prone to petty theft. If you MUST do this version of the Kahuku Pillbox hike for some reason, hide all of your belongings or anything that could hide or hold your belongings (for example, a bag or a towel).
Also, keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal! These sleepy creatures are very rare (there are only a few thousand left in the world), so, if you see them, be sure to keep your distance. We want to keep them as safe as possible.
Koloa Gulch Trail
If you’re looking for one of the North Shore, Oahu hikes that’ll last the whole day and result in a great reward, the Koloa Gulch Trail is a fantastic option. While this hike typically takes about eight hours, you’ll have the opportunity to spot two secret 100-foot waterfalls. (They’re actually so secret that they don’t seem to have names!)
Follow the colorful ribbons to stay on the Koloa Gulch Trail path. If you do happen to lose the ribbons, just continue going upstream on the river until you catch a glimpse of the ribbons again. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the Koloa Gulch Trail.
Just like Laie Falls, in order to hike the Koloa Gulch Trail, you must get a permit from the Hawaii Reserves office at the Laie Shopping Center, because the hike is technically on private property. While this permit is free, you will need to fill out this form.
Located in the Mokuleia Forest Preserve, Kealia Trail is one of the North Shore, Oahu hikes with the most elevation gain at over 2,000 feet – so be prepared for a workout! That said, this elevation increase on this seven-mile hike also allows for amazing view of the western side of the North Shore.
Many people cut the hike short at 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet in elevation. The ending point is a single picnic table, which is a great place to eat a snack and rehydrate. Refer to this guide for more information on the exact turns for the Kealia Trail.
Are you on the hunt for more Oahu hikes? Here’s a list of our favorite hikes on Oahu.
Are there any other hikes on Oahu’s North Shore that you think should have made it onto this list? Let me know in the comments!
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