If you're traveling to Oahu with the goal of hiking in mind, you might end up disappointed. Many of the island's popular hiking trails are so crowded with tourists that they can be hard to enjoy. If you're seeking solitude and opportunities to really bond with Hawaii's unique nature, we recommend traveling off the beaten path. Explore some these underrated, lesser-known hiking trails that are more likely to be populated with locals, if anyone at all.
Popular Oahu Hikes
First, let's address some of those popular hiking trails that you might want to avoid if you want to dodge crowds:
Lesser Known Oahu Hiking Trails
Kaena Point Trail
Located along the westernmost point of Oahu, this trail will take you to the Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve. This reserve is home to native plants and seabirds, namely albatross that come here to mate and hatch chicks. Hawaiian monk seals can also be seen here. It's a long-ish hike of about 5 miles roundtrip, but the terrain is very flat and relatively easy to walk on. Those seeking a hardcore hiking experience won't find this one a challenge in terms of terrain. There is no shade or protection from the sun, so sunscreen, hats, and plenty of water should be packed. The path winds along the coast offering beautiful ocean views, but high surf and winds can be treacherous, so mind any weather warnings. Pets are not allowed on this trail to ensure the safety of the seabirds at the nature reserve.
It's also important to note that Kaena Point Trail has two different starting points: the Waianae route and the Mokuleia route. The Waianae route can be accessed from Honolulu by taking the H1 freeway west until it turns into Farrington Highway (Route 93). Keep following the road until it terminates; park here and start your hike. From Mokuleia, drive on H-2 to Kaukonahua Road (Route 903) to Farrington Highway (Route 930). Following the road past Waialua and Camp Erdman; the trailhead begins where the paved road ends.
Makiki Valley Loop Trail
This hiking trail is probably lesser known because it doesn't offer any stunning views or particularly Instagram-worthy material. What it does offer is a chance to get your cardio on and also experience Hawaii nature in the raw. The Makiki Valley Loop starts at the Hawaii Nature Center, which also offers nature excursions and activities. But this loop can be done as a self-guided hike. The loop is comprised of three trails: Makiki Valley Trail, Kanealole Trail, and Maunalaha Trail. All in all, it's a 2.5-mile round trip that is fairly easy to navigate if you pay attention to trail markers. Pets are welcome on this trail.
Start at the Hawaii Nature Center and step onto the clearly marked Makiki Valley Loop Trail. From here, you have a choice. Hiking counterclockwise on the Maunalaha Trail gives you the challenge up front. This steep ascent is littered with lots of tree roots and rocks. It sounds challenging, but even inexperienced hikers can handle the terrain with some extra care and attention. Once you reach the top, there are benches that let you take a breather. From here, head down Kanealole Trail, which is significantly easier with nice sounds of chirping birds and a gently flowing stream.
Aiea Loop Trail
If you're looking for a simple, easy Oahu hike, Aiea Loop Trail is worth exploring. This 4.8-mile hike takes you along the west side of Halawa Valley, offering views of Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor, and the picturesque Ko'olau Mountains. It's also mostly shaded so you can stay relatively cool. Since the path is a loop, directions are easy once you get started, and you get unique views from every stop. This hike starts at the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, a 384-acre park with lots of parking and restrooms for a pit stop.
Want to toughen up the Aiea Loop Trail? Look for an S-shaped curve at the trail junction and head down the Kalauao Trail. It's a 4-mile, mostly downhill trail that leads to many swimming holes and a waterfall. Just prepare for the strenuous uphill hike back.
West Oahu Pillbox Hike (Pu'u O Hulu Kai)
You've probably heard of the popular Lanikai Pillbox hike on Oahu's windward side. If you want a similar, less crowded hike, head to the west side of Oahu and seek out the Pink Pillbox Hike (Pu'u O Hulu Kai). This short 2-mile hike takes you up a ridge between the Nanakuli and Maili suburbs. The trail starts at Kaukama Road after the 9th light pole on the ride side of the road. There are a couple of different route options that lead to the top.
The shortest route is also the most challenging as it is a steep ascent. Only attempt this if you're an experienced hiker up for a challenge. The other route is an easier but longer zigzag path. When you get to the top, be sure to mind the rocky edges.
Wondering what the Lanikai Pillbox hike is like? Check out this first-person hyperlapse video below that takes you through the trail!
Hiking Safety Tips
All of these hikes mentioned above are free without cost or the need for a permit or license. Many also do not have an official opening or closing times, but it's always best to finish your hike before sunset. In many cases, drastic weather such as heavy rains or high surf can affect the hiking trail terrain. Be sure to check local websites for any official closures or warning signs.
More Oahu Hiking Guides
- Best Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/best-oahu-hikes - Underrated Oahu Hikes: http://bit.ly/underrated-oahu-hikes - Lanikai Pillbox Hike: http://bit.ly/lanikai-pillboxes - Koko Crater Trail Hike: http://bit.ly/koko-crater-trail