I’m sure it’s no surprise to you when I say Hawai’i is an outdoor lover’s dream. With an endless array of trails showcasing the island’s natural beauty, it was challenging to pick only 6. For this reason, I predict “6 Must-Hikes Oahu…” as only the first installment in a long line of posts centered around hiking Hawai’i.
Today, I wanted to showcase 6 “must-hikes” on Oahu. I chose these trails because each offers a range of scenic wonders unique to the island. These are trails I’ve hiked numerous times, some on a routine basis. Trails I love for reasons all their own and ones I think every visitor should experience. From lush tropical forests, vast views of emerald oceans, and magnificent mountain ridges, you’ll be more than willing to put in the effort for sights like these.
Mālama ʻĀina – always give back to the land. Clean up after yourself and leave the area better than when you came. Help keep our island clean, and pick up trash, whether it’s yours or not. Mother Earth thanks you.
Be prepared. Wear sunscreen, bug spray, and carry plenty of water on all hiking adventures.
Location: 7604 Koko Head Park Rd #7602, Honolulu, HI 96825
When to hike: Sunrise
Distance: 1.5 miles… but really, 1,048 steps
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 2 hours
I won’t sugarcoat it; this hike is an endurance test. Koko Head is a 1,048 railroad track (steps) climb. It is rigorous, but the ascend is worth the reward. Once you reach the top, those burning muscles will be soothed by breathtaking panoramic views overlooking Honolulu and Diamond Head.
Top Tips + Notes for Sunrise Hiking Koko Head
- For sunrise hiking, which is the only way I enjoy this hike, bring a headlamp.
- (Sunrise tip) Don’t shine your light in people’s eyes. Be mindful of your light.
- On the trail, giving way to people coming down is courteous. Since it’s harder for them to stop, move to the side to allow people to pass (plus, you give yourself a little break to catch your breath, you’ll probably need it).
- Because of the heavy endurance, this is a great headphone hike.
- Bring snacks and/or breakfast for the top.
- Post hike: If you still have energy after this epic hike check out Koko Crater Botanical Garden
Location: Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimanalo, HI 96795
Time to hike: Mid Morning
Distance: 2.5 miles
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 1.5 hour
The Makapu’u Lighthouse trail is one of Oahu’s most popular trails, and for a good reason. This moderate, fully-paved hiking trail is a relatively easy, scenic walk (or jog) with refreshing ocean breezes.
Top Tips + Notes for Hiking Makapu’u Lighthouse
- The trail is paved, but keep in mind that there is a slight incline
- The trail has little shade; arriving early morning or later in the day will help with sun exposure.
- Makapu’u Lighthouse is an excellent spot to see Humpback Whales from December through April
- Take breaks: There are several wonderful lookout points along the trail where you can stop and rest, take in the view, and catch your breath.
Location: 51-676 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaaawa, HI 96730
Time to hike: Sunny days
Distance: Approx 1 mile
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 1 hour
Crouching Lion is one of the more challenging and stunning hikes I’ve been on. This hike feels like home, probably because I can see my actual home from here but also because the views encompass so much of what I love about the island – seemingly endless emerald, silky blue waters against dark green landscapes.
Top Tips + Notes for Hiking Crouching Lion
- This trail has a climb, rope, and all.
- I would not advise hiking this trail on a rainy day. In fact, the best time to hike this trail is 2 or more days post heavy rain. I’m positive people hike this in less-than-ideal weather, but it’s slippery to the point of being hazardous.
- If you’re afraid of heights, which I am, just know it can be a little scary, but of course, so worth it.
Location: 265 Kaelepulu Dr. Kailua, HI 96734
Time to hike: Anytime
Distance: 1.7 miles
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 30 min to first pillbox 90 minutes for all 3
Lanikai Pillboxes feels like a tried and true genuine everyone-should-do Oahu hike. The highlight of the hike is definitely reaching the top two pillboxes. From here, you get panoramic views of the stunning ocean, Mokulua Islands, and the surrounding mountains.
Top Tips + Notes for Lanikai Pillboxes
- Since the trailhead is located in a residential area, please park only in designated areas. You will see signs.
- Although the trail is relatively short, tennies are best (which is funny to say now because I’ve done this hike barefoot. crazy!) since it can be muddy and slippery.
- Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, as the trail has no shade.
- This is also a great sunrise hike.
Diamond Head Crater (Lēʻahi)
Location: Kapahulu, Honolulu, HI 96815
Time to hike: Anytime (but always love early morning)
Distance: 1.9 miles
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 1.5 hour
If you’re interested in Hawaiian history, you should take on the Diamond Head Trail. This hike lies inside the remnants of a volcanic explosion that occurred more than 300,000 years ago, and it’s one of Hawai’is most iconic, featuring historical sites and sweeping views of Waikiki and surrounding coastline.
Top Tips + Notes for Diamond Head Crater
- This hike is also popular among travelers because of its location (Waikiki area)
- Stay on the trail: Although this is important for every trail, Diamond Head is a nature reserve, so staying on the designated hiking trail is essential. Off-trail hiking is not only illegal but also damaging to the delicate ecosystem.
- Take breaks: There are several lookout points along the trail where you can stop and rest, take in the view, and catch your breath.
- You’ll be climbing stairs and walking on uneven terrain, so wear shoes that provide good support and are comfortable for an extended period.
- Start this hike early. The park opens at 6:00 AM, and it’s best to start hiking before the sun gets too hot and the crowds get too big.
‘Aiea Loop Trail
Location: 99-1849 Aiea Heights Dr, Aiea, HI 96701
Time to hike: Anytime – The trail is open 6am – 6pm. Last entry onto the trail is at 4.30pm.
Distance: 4.9 miles
Guesstimated duration: Approx. 2.5 hours
Imagine tropics meets lush forest. It is gorgeous, and I’m ashamed I don’t have more photos from this hike. Especially because this is my go-to hike.
As the name indicates, the trail is a loop. Which I don’t know about you, but I adore a solid (aka semi-long) loop trail.
Top Tips + Notes for ‘Aiea Loop Trail
- If you’re a runner, this is a trail I highly recommend. Just be cautious of the bumps along the way; although this trail has little incline (with few exceptions), this is not a smooth trail.
- Where bug spray.
- This trail does get muddy, and because it’s so shaded, it takes longer for the mud to dry. For this reason, I advise you to wear shoes you don’t mind destroying with red soil.
- Post hike: head to Toe Beans & Dreams for lunch and a coffee after your hike.
Oahu is a hiking paradise waiting to be discovered and explored. Every trail offers incredible views and an opportunity to connect with nature’s serenity. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, these hikes will undoubtedly make your island visit unforgettable.
Remember to take care of the environment and preserve the land you admire. Leave no trace and always pack out what you pack in.