Five Beautiful Hikes on Oahu not Too Far from Honolulu

There are no shortage of amazing hikes on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. While the main tourist routes tend to be teeming with busloads of visitors – if you want to get a real sense of what Oahu is like – you have to get off your butt, leave the road, and get some excercise. The following five hikes will have plenty of visitors on them – but not nearly the same numbers as you’ll find at places like the Dole Plantation, Waikiki Beach, or your favorite commerical luau. I’ve listed these hikes from most busy to least busy – though the last two may flip from time to time.

Hike Diamond Head

Diamond Head

Less than a mile from your Waikiki hotel room you will find yourself inside a volcanic crater. Diamond Head is almost always a bit of a crowded hike, but it’s worth it. Once inside you can wind your way up the trail, through the tunnels, and finally enjoy the absolutely epic views of Honolulu and the South Coast of Oahu. Don’t forget to bring water and make sure your camera batteries are fully charged before you go. The guy selling ‘I climbed Diamond Head’ shirts at the top was one of the first tourists I took up there back in 2001 – when we got up there he said ‘Someone should be selling shirts up here’ – later he took his own advice. The state has been unsuccessfully trying to shut him down ever since.

Makapu'u LighthouseMakapu’u Point

You won’t find nearly as many people at Makapu’u Point as you do at Diamond Head, but it’s still a pretty crowded hike because the state has paved the path and increased parking due to heavy demand. Why do people want to hike around this point? Easy – the views of the lighthouse, the contrast of the dry south coast and the wet windward side, and the epic views of Lanai, the Pineapple Island just twenty-two miles to the Southeast. There is no entry fee and this is an easy stroll.

Koko Head StairsKoko Head Stairs

The Koko Head Stairs are part of a city and county park complex. You shouldn’t attempt this one unless you are in at least decent physical condition. You are climbing a WWII era railway track that goes straight up the side of a volcano. Take plenty of water and make sure that you take breaks along the way. Unless you are a complete fitness master, you will get passed by marathoners, yoga masters, and other type-A athletic types all heading toward the amazing views of Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay, and Maui off in the distance.

Kapena Falls OahuKapena Falls

There are three reasons you won’t find big crowds on the Kapena Falls hike. None of those reasons have anything to do with a lack of beauty or interest. Kapena Falls is a gorgeous rainforest waterfall with a trail that offers ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, tropical flowers, and a very close proximity to Honolulu. That last bit is why there aren’t crowds on the trails. Parking is in a cemetary and commercial vehicles are banned. Also because it is close to town and populated areas it isn’t uncommon to come across homeless encampments on the trail to Kapena Falls. You may find local kids swimming and leaping off the cliffs into the falls – but you will also find health department signs warning that the water may be polluted.

Koko craterKoko Head Crater

Koko Head Crater should be a more crowded hike than it is. Essentially it’s a beautiful dryland botanical garden filled with flowers and interesting plants inside an extinct volcanic crater. There is no entrance fee and no parking fee. I’ve never figured out why the crowds don’t go to Koko Head Crater – but their loss is your gain. Bring water, wear good walking shoes, and take your time. You can learn a lot about Hawaii in this crater.

Koko Head Stairs – Oahu’s #1 Fitness Hike – Climb a Hawaiian Volcano!

Koko Head Stairs

If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking to the top of an extinct Hawaiian volcano – this hike is for you. ┬áSure, you can join the thousands of other tourists climbing up the inside of Diamond Head – but if you want to climb the outside of a volcano, get away from the entrance fees, experience sweeping wild views of the rocky South Shore of Oahu the Pacific Ocean, and even the neighbor islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui – then climbing the Koko Head Stairs is for you.

Koko Head Stairs

It’s a funny name…but there is nothing funny about this hike. 1042 stairs up the vertical face of a volcano on Oahu. Koko Head is 1208 feet tall (368m). That’s the tall part with the stairs. There is a bit of confusion around the name because in fact, the stairs go up Koko Crater – Koko Head is actually the headland on the other side of Hanauama Bay – the peak (where the stairs go) is actually named Kohelepelepe. Confused yet? Don’t be – just do like everyone else and call the hike Koko Head Stairs.

 

Koko Head Stairs

Koko Head last erupted about 35,000 years ago. So you don’t have to worry about that happening while you hike. You just have to worry about finding your way to Koko Head Regional Park. Once there, park past the baseball diamond. The pop pop pop you hear is the Kokohead shooting range. It’s contained and no danger to hikers. You’ll see exhausted hikers strewn all around the parking area.

Koko Head Stairs

Follow the path past the baseball diamond to the base of the stairs. You’ll see hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes thrown onto the power lines as you approach the base of the stairs. I don’t know why people do that. Shoes are expensive.

Koko Head Stairs

The stairs are the remains of a funicular built by the U.S. military during World War II. A small train pulled troops and equipment up to pillboxes and bunkers on the top. You don’t get that option because the train is long gone. The railway ties, howeever, remain. Get ready for over a thousand lunges…big steps. Halfway up you will have to overcome any fear of heights as you cross the crumbling railway bridge and then you will go up the last near vertical section just as you think you can’t go any further.

Koko Head Stairs

Finally, you will reach the top and share smiles and congratulations for your amazing achievement – don’t let the fitness freaks who have run past you four times on your journey up take away from the moment (they went up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down – freaks.) It’s not an easy hike. Many turn back. Many look up the stairs and don’t even try.

Koko Head Stairs

From the top you can find different views. The communities of Hawaii Kai and Portlock with Diamond Head in the distance. Hanauma Bay below you. The neighbor islands. And the interior of the Koko Crater which is filled with a desert botanical garden.

Koko Head Stairs

Hike up to the metal grate and take epic photos. Hydrate. And get ready for the hike down when your legs will turn to jelly.

Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring water, wear breathable clothes, wear good shoes – this is not a flip flop or barefoot hike. Also take breaks if you need to and don’t be afraid to call it quits if it is too much. A hat isn’t a bad idea either.

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