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Tip: A bird sanctuary island that is 3 miles off Maui's south shore.
Mountains, Valleys & Coastlines
In the mountains and valleys beyond the densely scattered mass of Oahu’s population, a gentle jungle beckons. It is an intoxicating tangle of tropical forests, sparkling waterfalls that tumble into gurgling streams, chattering birds and sweet-scented flowers.
This is a world primarily accessible only to hikers, a world of secrets tracked only by hiking trails. The island’s trail system is varied and many trailheads are easily accessible. Seasoned local hikers will tell you that accessibility and spectacular terrain are two of the reasons they enjoy hiking the island.
You can either set out on your own (some trails, like those in Nu’uanu Valley, can be reached by bus) or book a tour with one of the island’s hiking companies. If you plan to hike without a guide, be aware that due to Hawaii’s unusual climatic and geological conditions, there are special hazards, so do your homework. For more information about maps and trails, check with the Hawaii State Parks and Recreation Department at 587-0285, and never hike alone or without water.
Here’s a quick look at some of Oahu’s most popular hiking trails:
For views of Honolulu and Nu’uanu Valley, the Pu’u Ohia trail and the Ualaka’a Loop are close enough to make a short day of it. The Mt. Tantalus forest and ridgeline trail complex is easily accessible from Waikiki and leads to within 150 feet of the 1,200-foot summit. The nine-mile Maunawili Trail, built by the Sierra Club, is located near Kailua off the Pali Highway.
Other popular hikes include Ka’au Crater, Diamond Head, Aiea Loop, Manoa Falls and Maunawili Falls. Manoa and Maunawili are blessed with waterfalls but not a lot of privacy. Try Laie Falls or Malaekahana Falls for less traffic. Unfortunately, many of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu are inaccessible to the public.
Kahana Valley State Park, past Kaneohe on the island’s Windward Coast, is a 5,000-acre scenic, wild and rain-soaked valley in the Ko’olau Mountains that is archaeologically significant. The valley and the trip are worth the investment of an entire day. Ka’ena Point lies at the western end of the Wai’anae Mountains, where north and west shores meet in a wild and rugged point of lava. From the end of the road on the west, hike about two miles to the deserted point, a place to appreciate the might and majesty of the ocean, but not a place for wading or swimming.
Across the island at Makapu’u Point, there’s a one-mile trail that leads to a lighthouse with an unforgettable view of the southeastern coastline. The Keaiwa heiau State Recreation Area, on the island’s leeward side, is a lovely wooded park with a heiau ho’ola (healer’s temple), an arboretum of medicinal plants, and a 4.8-mile trail known as the Aiea Loop Trail.
Ironically, a liability issue has shut down one of Oahu’s top hikes. The spectacular Haiku Stairs, which has undergone extensive repairs, remains closed stalled in a bureaucratic morass.
Some trails are accessible only with guides.