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Taking On Oahu’s Top Trails

Trail leading to Kaena Point at Sunset. Photo provided by David Chatsuthiphan of www.UnrealHawaii.com

Take a hike. No, we don’t mean get lost – or in the traditional sense anyway. For avid outdoorsmen (and women) a visit to Oahu’s shores means being able to take a climb on the island’s wild side.

Here in Hawaii, the islands offer a range of trails for a variety of ability levels – and most (if not all) with views that show visitors (and remind kamaaina of) the islands’ breathtaking land and seascapes.

When planning your next trek to Oahu, take a tour of some of these lofty local trails:

Diamond Head

View of Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

One of the island’s – if not the state’s – most famous and well-recognized landmarks, Diamond Head (or Leahi in Hawaiian), is also one of its most popular hiking trails. Today, hikers can take on the same slopes which have decorated postcards for decades.

The moderately challenging trail takes visitors up two flights of stairs, through dark tunnels and old military bunkers stretches a little over three quarters of a mile and is a good one for families. Diamond Head’s well-beaten paths are easy on keiki and the elderly, though towards the summit, the steep flight of stairs takes a strenuous turn. For those who make it to the top, the island opens up, offering the priceless prize of panoramic views stretching from Aina Haina to Waianae.

Diamond Head’s trail was constructed in 1908 as part of Oahu’s defense system. The claustrophobic-inducing 225-foot tunnel etched into the mountain is part of a fire control station built in 1911. At the top, hikers are greeted by bunkers and a historic navigational lighthouse.

Diamond Head Lighthouse and the infamous south shore surf spot aptly named ‘Lighthouse’ Photo by Salty Glass

Insider Info: Plan ahead and allot at least one and a half to two hours for your hike – especially towards the end of the day, since gates to the park close promptly at 6 p.m. In fact, regulars recommend getting there early to avoid the sun and crowds.
Location: Diamond Head Road
Hours: Open daily 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., including holidays. Last entrance to the trail is at 4:30 p.m.
Entrance Fee: $5 per car or $1 per person for pedestrians. Cash only.

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Located within the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline, the Makapuu Trail offers an unforgettable window into Oahu’s southeastern coastline. With views pulled straight from a travel guide (where this trail is likely a frequent feature) the location is a perfect setting for catching a glimpse of Manana Island and Kaohikaipu Island, a romantic rendezvous or unforgettable family photo.

Parking is scarce for this trail, and is available along the street (no cars are allowed on the trail). A two mile trek roundtrip, the trail climbs up the western side of Makapuu Ridge then doubles back to the north, where it levels out as you make the final ascent to the summit.

In season, hikers can also steal a glimpse of the state¹s most loyal visitors spouting and playing off shore as they return for the winter – the behemoth humpback whale. Signs and a viewing scope placed along the trail help guests spot the whales during their annual visits between November and May.

Insider Info: This side of Oahu is typically hot and dry. Visitors should bring a hat, and plenty of sunscreen and water. Plan a bathroom break before arriving, there are no restroom facilities along this trail.
Location: Off Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy 72) from either Waimanalo or Hawaii Kai.
Hours: April 1 through Labor Day: 7 a.m. – 7:45 p.m.; Labor Day through March 31: 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Free.

Kaena Point

A very unique view of the North Shore and Westside of Oahu. Photo provided by David Chatsuthiphan of www.UnrealHawaii.com

The 3.5 mile Kaena Point trail on Oahu’s west side takes visitors on a rustic tour along one of Hawaii’s old railroad beds. For those unfamiliar with the area, Kaena regulars caution visitors to stay away from the wave-exposed coastline. Hazardous ocean conditions can wash onto the area with little to no notice and can cause injury.

Depending on the pace, and which route you take, this trail can take one to three hours to complete. And Kaena’s dirt path offers adventure seekers with two options. From the Waianae side, the trail travels 2.4 miles taking visitors on a tour of the coastline where they will enjoy the odd tide pool and small blowholes.

The western most point of Oahu. Photo provided by David Chatsuthiphan of www.UnrealHawaii.com

Following the Mokuleia route, the dirt trail travels 2.5 miles along the largely flat coastline. Both trails end at Kaena’s “point” which is home to the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve. Guests are warned not to damage or upset any of the native flora or fauna which call this area home – specifically nesting seabirds.

Insider Info: Wind whips through Kaena (even on the sunniest days) so leave the hats, umbrellas and other loose accessories at home.
Location: Farrington Highway ends at Kaena State Park. If you¹re coming from Mokuleia, the park is one mile past Camp Erdman.
Hours: Open daily during daylight hours.
Entrance Fee: Free.

If you’re planning a hike on Oahu, don’t forget to:

  • Wear good hiking shoes with tread
  • Opt to wear light, cool clothing that will breath and allow full range of motion
  • Bring a light sweater or jacket
  • Bring extra mosquito repellent and sunscreen
  • Backpack with ample water, snacks and food (it never hurts to pack a little extra)
  • Pack a cell phone with a full battery
  • Carry a first aid kit
  • Inform a friend of your route and expected return time
  • Never hike alone or go beyond your capability

Disclaimer: For safety reasons, always avoid hiking alone. Safety experts recommend sticking to marked trails and following trail head markers to avoid getting lost.

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