7 Jaw-Dropping Bucket List Hikes in Oahu

Oahu is within the Hawaiian Island chain. It was formed from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Oahu is known for mesmerizing natural beauty — complete with white sands, tropical flora, dense jungle and waterfalls.

Oahu is also a culturally rich and historically significant place. It’s known for important landmarks like Pearl Harbor and the Iolani Palace. Visitors can enjoy extravagant luaus, sip Mai Tais, and learn about the island’s early Polynesian inhabitants. 

Tackling these incredible hikes in Oahu, you’ll also experience the island’s captivating allure. See its beauty first hand. Visit historically significant locations, and connect with locals. 

These Oahu hikes are perfect for backpackers, tourists, and adventurers. These hikes span a variety of skill levels, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy!

7 Best Hikes in Oahu

All of these hikes are impressive in their own way. You’ll be guaranteed to enjoy stunning views and natural features. Some of these hikes are very low key, and others are quite challenging. 

This guide includes all the information you’ll need to pick the hike that’s right for you… or enjoy them all!

Diamond Head

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Diamond Head is one of the top attractions on the island of Oahu. It is a massive volcanic tuff cone located on the island’s southern shore. This crater is over 300,000 years old! Also, the topography you see was all made from one single eruption!

Diamond Head is a short 30-minute bike ride from Waikiki. Waikiki Beach is one of the popular places to stay in Oahu among tourists. Waikiki is where you’ll find all the best shopping, dining and entertainment on the island.

Besides insane geological history, Diamond head also has a unique military history. The US Government purchased this land in 1905 and built Hawaii’s first military reservation here. The slopes of the crater were used to store guns and ammo. Some of these tunnels created by the military still remain, and you’ll be able to walk through one of them!

You’ll also be able to lay eyes on a WWII bunker & the famous Diamond Head Lighthouse.

At Diamond Head, visitors can hike to the edge of this prehistoric volcano. Views from the top are amazing! Enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the Pacific Ocean and spot the city of Honolulu in the distance. 

This out and back trail span 1.8 miles. Along the way, you’ll climb some stairs and gain nearly 500 ft in elevation. This trail is rated moderate in difficulty. It’s best to arrive early in the morning because the sun can be unrelenting. There is no tree cover along this path. 

Waimea Falls

Waimea Falls is a very short and scenic hike. It’s perfect for families. This 1 mile out and back path takes you through lush botanical gardens, ending at a waterfall. 

Waimea Falls is located on Oahu’s North Shore. This place has an interesting history as well. In the past, it was an community entertainment venue where locals would come to watch cliff jumpers and hula dancers.

Today, Waimea Falls is still a cultural hub. Make sure to check their schedule for workshops, activities and classes offered. It’s a great place to learn more about Hawaiian culture and history.

Once you hike to the waterfall, you will be provided with life jackets. This is one of the few waterfalls in Oahu that you are able to swim up to! Jump in and enjoy the surrounding jungle views.

Manoa Falls

Manoa Falls is one of the most captivating waterfalls in Oahu! The water falls over 150ft over the edge of the mountainside. It’s a popular hike among tourists and locals alike.

It’s a 1.7 mile out and back trail that’s rated moderate. You gain over 600 ft in elevation. 

The trail can be a bit slippery and muddy, so be sure to wear appropriate attire and shoes. Along this hike, you can spot guava, bamboo and eucalyptus plants! It takes most people about 30 minutes to reach the falls.

Disclaimer: This is not a waterfall you can swim in! There are some big slippery rocks in the pool and some microbes that can cause disease. 

When visiting Manoa Falls, be sure to check out the nearby Lyon Arboretum. 

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is one of the most scenic hikes in Hawaii. It’s a 2 mile round-trip trek that offers panoramic views of Oahu’s southeastern shoreline. Along your hike, you’ll be able to catch glimpses of the Koko Crater and Koko Ridge. 

The trail’s namesake is the Makapu‘u Lighthouse. This historic lighthouse was built in 1909 and displays an iconic red roof. It has the largest lens of any lighthouse in the United States, and it’s been listed as one of America’s Historic Places. 

 Makapu‘u Point is the southeasternmost point on Oahu. Before the lighthouse was built, this area was vital to maritime commerce. When the lens for this lighthouse was created, it was an engineering and technological marvel. It was displayed proudly at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

During your hike, you’ll be able to see beautiful views of this distinct lighthouse, and postcard perfect pictures! On a clear day, you may even be able to see to Moloka‘i and Lana‘i.

Just offshore of the hiking trail, there are many nature sanctuaries including a bird refuge. You can also spot migrating whales! This is a place where you’ll want to bring your binoculars. 

There’s not much shade along this trail, so make sure to bring a hat and sunscreen!

Koko Stairs

The Koko Stairs are also called the ‘Koko Crater Trail.’ It’s a challenging hike that involves climbing up 1,000 stairs! Seriously. This trail is rated difficult and it’s 1.8 miles total out and back. Hikers will gain nearly 1,000 ft in elevation during this climb! 

The Koko Crater is another volcanic tuff cone.

The “stairs” aren’t really stairs. It’s actually an old railroad line that’s been attached to a hillside. One could easily twist an ankle here! So, please bring appropriate footwear. 

These stairs also have ties to military endeavors during WWII. They were built to lead up to one of the famous Pillbox bunkers. At that time, a railway was used to carry essentials up to the bunker. 

It’s usually easy to find parking at the base of this hike. It starts off pretty easy, but gets progressively more challenging as you climb. There is also one scary area where you will have to pass over a questionable bridge. Although, alternative route options are available for hikers wanting to skip that part.

Although, you’ll be graciously rewarded at the top. Soak in the mesmerizing views of Hanauma Bay and the Port Lock Peninsula! Make sure to take plenty of breaks and to pace yourself on the way to the top. There is limited shade on this hike.

Warning: The next 2 hikes are illegal. 

They are included because they are some of the most famous hikes in America, and, arguably the world. These hikes are located on private land. Choosing to attempt these hikes involves trespassing on federally owned and privately owned lands.

This is no way a recommendation that you should choose to hike here. Instead, this is a personal narrative and informational guide.

If you decide to attempt any of these hikes, you must assume all the risks associated. Including warnings, fines and, maybe even, jail time. 

Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven)

This has been called one of the most legendary hikes in America, but it’s riddled with controversy. The Haiku Stairs or the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ are in the  Ko’olau Mountain Range in Oahu.

These stairs have a really cool history. They were built by the U.S. Government in the 1940s during the time of WWII. At that time, the stairs lead to the top secret Haʻikū Radio Station. This station was used to communicate with American Navel ships stationed in the Pacific.

The location of the transmitter in this valley is purposeful because the topography acted as a natural amphitheatre. 

The original wooden stairs were eventually replaced by metal steps and ramps in the 1950s. There are thought to be nearly 4,000 of these! 

These stairs are still on private land (private land owned by the Federal Government). So, accessing them means trespassing and breaking laws. You could encounter law enforcement and receive up to a $1,000 fine.

This is a grueling hike! It can take 4-6 hours to reach the site of the radio tower and get back. Almost during the entire hike, you’ll be climbing upwards. It’s a stairmaster workout unlike any other!

Those with health conditions should seriously reconsider. A celebrity died during this hike a couple of years back from a heart attack… 

Despite the risks, many choose to attempt this hike. There’s a lot of information out there and a few different ways to approach it (that goes beyond the scope of this article). If you choose to hike, you’ll probably find yourself in the company of several other hikers. It’s still quite popular!

It’s important to do this hike as early as possible. Along the way, you need to be very careful. There are steep drop offs and parts of the stairs that have been washed away by rain and mud. 

While it is risky and controversial, it’s a beautiful Oahu hike. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s thrilling and adventurous. So, no article about Oahu hikes would be complete without discussing this one, whether you think it’s worth the risk or not.

Deadman’s Catwalk 

This is another illegal Oahu hike that’s quite popular. This one is much easier to access and much less risky. It’s not common for people to encounter police or get fines in this case. Although, the views are no less impressive!

The Deadman’s Catwalk was named for a catwalk (concrete slab) that extended into nothingness. Kids and hikers visited this slab often, so the community decided to remove it. So, you’ll no longer see the ‘Deadman’s Catwalk’ on this hike.

However, it’s still worth visiting because it’s a relatively easy and short hike that leads to unparalleled panoramic views. On a clear day, you may even be able to spot Na Mokulua  and Lanikai. 

There is a metal fence that blocks the path to the hike. However, it’s pretty easy to jump over. You can even park your car by the fence. If you visit very early, you surely won’t be disturbed.

The whole hike there and back will take about an hour. You will likely encounter other hikers along your way.

You do have to pass behind a second fence to access the most scenic viewpoint. You can pass along the side of it. This is the most dangerous part, so be careful. You’ll soon be rewarded with sweeping, 360-degree views!

Author Bio

Valentina’s Destinations was born from my obsession with meticulously researching, organizing, and planning my travel itineraries. I’m originally from Serbia, but I grew up in Chicago. I love hunting down local restaurants, unique experiences, and hidden gems.

You can follow my adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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