Diamond Head Crater ★★★—This is a moderate but steep walk to the summit of Hawaii’s most famous landmark. Kids love to look out from the top of the 760-foot volcanic cone, where they have 360-degree views of Oahu up the leeward coast from Waikiki. The 1.5-mile round-trip takes about 1 1/2 hours, and the entry fee is $5 per car load; if you walk in, it’s $1 per person.
Diamond Head was created by a volcanic explosion about half a million years ago. The Hawaiians called the crater Leahi (meaning “the brow of the ʻahi,” or tuna, referring to the shape of the crater). Diamond Head was considered a sacred spot; King Kamehameha offered human sacrifices at a heiau (temple) on the western slope. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Mount Leahi got its current name: A group of sailors found what they thought were diamonds in the crater; it turned out they were just worthless calcite crystals, but the name stuck.
Before you begin your journey to the top of the crater, put on some decent shoes (rubber-soled tennies are fine) and don’t forget water (very important), a hat to protect you from the sun, and a camera. You might want to put all your gear in a pack to leave your hands free for the climb.
Go early, preferably just after the 6am opening, before the midday sun starts beating down. The hike to the summit starts at Monsarrat and 18th avenues on the crater’s inland (or mauka) side. To get here, take TheBus no. 58 from the Ala Moana Center or drive to the intersection of Diamond Head Road and 18th Avenue. Follow the road through the tunnel (which is closed 6pm–6am) and park in the lot. From the trailhead in the parking lot, you’ll proceed along a paved walkway (with handrails) as you climb up the slope. You’ll pass old World War I and World War II pillboxes, gun emplacements, and tunnels built as part of the Pacific defense network. Several steps take you up to the top observation post on Point Leahi. The views are incredible.
Manoa Falls Trail ★★—This easy .75-mile (one-way) hike is terrific for families; it takes less than an hour to reach idyllic Manoa Falls. The trailhead, marked by a footbridge, is at the end of Manoa Road, past Lyon Arboretum. The staff at the arboretum prefers that hikers not park in their lot, so the best place to park is in the residential area below Paradise Park; you can also get to the arboretum via TheBus no. 5. The often-muddy trail follows Waihi Stream and meanders through the forest reserve past guavas, mountain apples, and wild ginger. The forest is moist and humid and inhabited by giant bloodthirsty mosquitoes, so bring repellent. If it has rained recently, stay on the trail and step carefully because it can be very slippery (and it’s a long way down if you slide off the side).
East Oahu Hikes
Koko Crater Railway Trail ★★—If you’re looking for quiet, you’ll want to find another trail. This is less a hike than a strenuous workout, and it’s popular among fitness buffs who climb it daily, people trying to stick to New Year’s resolutions to be more active, and triathletes in training. But first-timers and tourists also tackle the 1,048 stairs along the railway track—once part of a World War II–era tram system—for the panoramic views from the Windward Coast to Waikiki. It’s a tough hike, but you'll have lots of friendly company along the way, and the view from the top is worth it. As they say, no pain, no gain. It’s unshaded the whole way, so try to go early in the morning or in the late afternoon to catch the sunset, and bring plenty of water.
To get to the trailhead from Waikiki take Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) to Hawaii Kai, turn left at Lunalilo Home Road, and then follow Anapalau Street to the trailhead parking lot; you can also take TheBus no. 22 or 23.
Kuliouou Ridge Trail ★★—One of Honolulu’s best ridge trails, this moderate 2.5-mile hike (each way) starts in the middle of a residential neighborhood, then ascends through ironwood and pine trees, and drops you in the middle of a native Hawaiian forest. Here, ohia lehua, with its distinctive red pom-pom–like flowers grow. Hawaiian legend has it that Ohia and Lehua were lovers. Pele fell in love with Ohia, but when he rejected her advances, she turned him into a tree. The gods took pity on the heartbroken Lehua and turned her into a flower on the tree. According to the story, if you pick a flower from the ohia lehua, it will rain, representing the separated lovers’ tears. So avoid picking the flowers, if only to assure clear views at the top of the summit—on a good day, you can see all the way to Waimanalo.
To get there from Waikiki, take Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) and turn left on Kuliouou Road. Turn right on Kalaau Place and look for street parking. You’ll find the trailhead at the end of the road. No bus service is available.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail ★★—You’ve seen this famous old lighthouse on episodes of Magnum, P.I. and Hawaii Five-O. No longer staffed by the Coast Guard (it’s fully automated now), the lighthouse sits at the end of a precipitous cliff trail on an airy perch over the Windward Coast, Manana (Rabbit) Island, and the azure Pacific. It’s about a 45-minute, 1-mile hike from Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72), along a paved road that begins across from Hawaii Kai Executive Golf Course and winds around the 646-foot-high sea bluff to the lighthouse lookout.
The view of the ocean all the way to Molokai and Lanai is often so clear that, from November to March, if you’re lucky, you’ll see migrating humpback whales.
To get to the trailhead from Waikiki, take Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) past Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach to Makapuʻu Head, the southeastern tip of the island; you can also take TheBus no. 22 or 23.
Blowhole alert: When the south swell is running, usually in summer, a couple of blowholes on the south side of Makapuu Head put the famous Hālona Blowhole to shame.
Windward Coast Hikes
Pali (Maunawili) Trail ★—For a million-dollar view of the Windward Coast, take this 11-mile (one-way) foothill trail. The trailhead is about 6 miles from downtown Honolulu, on the windward side of the Nuʻunau Pali Tunnel, at the scenic lookout just beyond the hairpin turn of the Pali Highway (Hwy. 61). Just as you begin the turn, look for the scenic overlook sign, slow down, and pull off the highway into the parking lot (sorry, no bus service available).
The mostly flat, well-marked, easy-to-moderate trail goes through the forest on the lower slopes of the 3,000-foot Koolau mountain range and ends up in the backyard of the coastal Hawaiian village of Waimanalo. Go halfway to get the view and then return to your car, or have someone meet you in ’Nalo.
To Land’s End: A Leeward Oahu Hike
Kaena Point ★—At the very western tip of Oahu lie the dry, barren lands of Kaena Point State Park, 853 acres of jagged sea cliffs, deep gulches, sand dunes, endangered plant life, and a remote, wild, wind- and surf-battered coastline. Kaena means “red hot” or “glowing” in Hawaiian; the name refers to the brilliant sunsets visible from the point.
Kaena is steeped in numerous legends. A popular one concerns the demigod Maui: Maui had a famous hook that he used to raise islands from the sea. He decided that he wanted to bring the islands of Oahu and Kauai closer together, so one day he threw his hook across the Kauai Channel and snagged Kauai (which is actually visible from Kaena Point on clear days). Using all his might, Maui was able to pull loose a huge boulder, which fell into the waters very close to the present lighthouse at Kaena. The rock is still called Pohaku o Kauai (the Rock from Kauaʻi). Like Black Rock in Kaanapali on Maui, Kaena is thought of as the point on Oahu from which souls depart.
To hike out to this departing place, take the clearly marked trail from the parking lot of Kaena Point State Park. The moderate 5-mile round-trip hike to the point will take a couple of hours. The trail along the cliff passes tide pools abundant in marine life and rugged protrusions of lava reaching out to the turbulent sea; seabirds circle overhead. Do not go off the trail; you might step on buried birds’ eggs. There are no sandy beaches, and the water is nearly always turbulent here. In winter, when a big north swell is running, the waves at Kaʻena are the biggest in the state, averaging heights of 30 to 40 feet. Even when the water appears calm, offshore currents are powerful, so don’t plan on taking a swim. Go early in the morning to see the schools of porpoises that frequent the area just offshore.
To get to the trailhead from Honolulu or Waikiki, take the H-1 west to its end; continue on Hwy. 93 past Mākaha and follow Hwy. 930 to the end of the road. There is no bus service.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.