While there are too many hikes to count on Oahu, these are 10 hikes that I have personally completed. I left some off the list and I am sure there are plenty of other amazing hikes on the island that I never even attempted or knew about. I would love if you could comment at the bottom which hike you think deserves to be on this list and tell me which hike you would replace.
1. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
At 3am we slipped past the guard and began to climb the Stairway to Heaven (Haiku Stairs) on Oahu, Hawaii, one of the wonders of the world.
UPDATED 24/10/2017: Fines have been reported as approximately $1000, with people receiving them recently. Security has been upgraded and there are now not only security but also a frequent (but not constant) police presence. Discussions about tearing the stairs down or repairing them continues as it has for years with no major breakthroughs on either side.
I have included a section at the bottom of article about the back way up the Stairway to Heaven. This route is longer, legal and you still get to reach the viewpoint of the Haiku Stairs. You don’t actually use the stairs to reach the viewpoint but you can still walk down the stairs for some photos before returning down the legal route. This would be my advice to those wanting the experience of the Haiku Stairs but also want to avoid any chance of a big fine or running into the police.
My post was originally written in 2016 and the situation may have changed since then regarding security, fines, the condition of the stairs and legality.
The Stairway to Heaven on Oahu, Hawaii, also known as the Haiku Stairs, is possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island. 3,922 stairs lead up the imposing mountain ridge, often at a vertical incline, with only a hand-rail to catch you from falling into the valley below.
Originally the stairs were built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a top-secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships that were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. The stairs were then opened to the public until 1987 when they were deemed unsafe because of disrepair.
The city of Honolulu spent almost a million dollars repairing the stairs and was considering re-opening the stairs in 2002 but resident complaints and safety concerns halted the re-opening and the stairs have been closed ever since. That hasn’t stopped hikers and tourists sneaking past a guard who is posted at the bottom of the stairs to experience the thrilling 4000ft long hike along an 18-inch wide staircase reaching heights of above 2000ft.
2. KAAU CRATER HIKE
Three waterfalls, a desolate crater, and a perilous peak: Ka’au Crater Hike.
This trail doesn’t ease you in. From the very first moment it throws you into a world of enchantment. After no more than five steps I felt like I was in the middle of the jungle, fighting for survival, on the swivel looking for wild animals. A glistening creek was lined by majestic trunks, so tall my neck hurt looking for the treetops. Dangling vines were strewn from the canopy as rays of sunlight broke through the dense foliage creating a natural theatre with a magical atmosphere.
Shortly after being blown away by the surreal amphitheatre, we began our trek along what we suspected would be a round trip journey of five hours. It didn’t take long for my shoes to be engulfed in thick mud and for my first slip of the hike to send me to the ground.
We criss-crossed the creek several times, rock hopping our way along the trail. A pipe maintained by the Board of Water supply was the tour guide for more than an hour. Take my advice, do not try and balance on this pipe despite how muddy the trail. Unless you are a ninja you will slip on this pipe as I managed to do multiple times. Yes, I am a slow learner.
3. SEVEN FALLS HIKE
This hike follows a rocky stream through a narrow gorge. You will find yourself wading through water and clambering over rocks for the majority of the trail and at some parts of the trail it becomes very narrow and the water deepens. At these points you actually need to swim through the trail for a short distance before climbing up waterfalls with ropes.
4. PALI NOTCHES
Walking along the dangerously steep ridge hike known as Pali Notches, gusts of wind threaten to knock you off either side of the cliff as you skitter up and down intimidating rock faces. This narrow ridge hike requires you to rock climb over the man made notches, which were supposedly created in the 1700’s by King Kamehameha’s warriors to harbor cannons and warriors on lookout while they kept Nu’uanu Valley secure. Pali Notches is known as being one of the most dangerous hikes on Oahu and many people have fallen or ended up in life threatening trouble while attempting this hike.
The trailhead for this hike starts by heading straight up an unmarked trailhead to the right side of the Pali Lookout platform, a popular spot for tourists. You can see the faint trail as soon as you step over the yellow chain fence that encircles the platform. You climb your way through a grove of Hau trees that quickly opens up into an incredible view of the Pali Highway to your left and Kaneohe to your right.
5. THREE PEAKS/OLOMANA TRAIL
Also known as Olomana Trail, this is one of the more dangerous hikes on the island. The first peak is relatively straight-forward despite being a steep incline. Peak two and three provide a challenge and will bring your fear of heights out even if you didn’t know you had one.
On a dry day you should be fine and once you become comfortable you can truly enjoy this amazing trail. I remember looking at the trail from the top of the first peak and just enjoying how incredible it felt to look out over such a beautiful island.
6. TOM TOM TRAIL
Starting off across from the Makapu’u lookout car park, this relatively simple hike has some of the most stunning views on Oahu. I only did this hike in my last couple of weeks on the Island but then did it twice. It is an amazing spot to watch the sunrise and the views are out of this world.
There is also a puka (hole in the rock) about 45 minutes of the way in and you can turn back at any point or continue on the trail that does go quite a ways. We always turned back at the puka after seeing enough but the trail looks quite good if you chose to continue on. This is one of the most underrated hikes on Oahu.
7. WILIWILINUI RIDGE
Standing at the summit of Wiliwilinui Ridge I can make out Waikiki, a city of white buildings seemingly a world away from the ridges we are roaming. I spin around to see the turquoise water of the east coast and the panoramic views make me feel like I am at the center of this beautiful island.
The summit provided amazing views reminding us how small we are and how grand nature is, but it wasn’t a hike without mishaps. The morning began slowly when the guard told us the trail wouldn’t open until sunrise. After waiting for over an hour for the sun to come up, he allowed us to enter. However, no mopeds or motorbikes are allowed in the guarded community situated below the hike, which meant we had to walk an extra mile to reach the trailhead.
8. KOKO HEAD STAIRS
There are several hikes we always do when we have visitors to push them out of the comfort zone during their vacation: Diamond Head, Lanikai Pillbox Trail, and Koko Head. Diamond Head is the most touristy as it is very close to Waikiki but it has a great view and is easy for all levels of hikers. Lanikai Pillboxes is a little less crowded and is amazing for sunrise but if you’re looking for a challenge you should definitely attempt the Koko Head stairs.
Hiking up the Koko Head stairs is a great workout that will make your legs feel like jell-o and get you so drenched in your own sweat that you will be able to wring your clothes out at the top. This hike is popular among athletes and locals because it’s such a great workout with gorgeous views to reward you at the top. People who do it regularly even time themselves running up. Jackson’s best time is 12:15 and mine is 13:22. If you choose to push yourself up the hill, you will soon realize why people call it one of the toughest hikes on oahu.
9. PINK PILLBOX HIKE/MAILI PILLBOX HIKE
The Pu’u O Hulu or ‘Pink Pillbox’ Hike is a short ridge hike on the West Side of Oahu that overlooks the surrounding suburbs and beautiful stretches of beaches that Oahu is known for. The hike extends along the ridge between the Nanakuli and Maili suburbs and can be seen clearly from the Farrington Highway below.
The Pu’u O Hulu hike starts on Kaukama Rd after the 9th light pole on the right hand side of the road. One of the cool things about this hike is that it has different route options to take you to the five pill boxes at the top.
There is a steep and challenging route which is much shorter or there is an easier kid friendly option that zigzags up the mountain. We took the more direct route.
10. CROUCHING LION HIKE
Crouching Lion is a short but steep incline hike that offers breathtaking views of Kahana Bay, the quaint town of Kaaawa, and the menacing cliffs of Pu’u Manamana.
Right from the start, this hike takes off at a steep incline. You will definitely work up a sweat as you climb over gnarled tree roots, and duck under stooping branches. As you continue to climb, the trail becomes more and more pronounced. There are parts that are very slippery due to the dry crumbling dirt but for the most part, the thick vegetation helps to stabilize the trail.
Coming across the first pill box of the hike, we decided to climb atop and check out the view of Kahana Bay. On this pillbox someone has painted a giant red, orange, and green ‘Aloha’. Up here we rolled out our mats and did a few acro yoga poses while taking in the bright blue waters of Kahana Bay. After doing flying front birds, double downward dogs, and downward dog pyramids, we decided to roll up the mats and continue on.