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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.