Nu’uanu Pali Puka Trail: A Short, Intense, and Exhilarating Hike

To kick off the 2011 Labor Day Weekend, Joel, Marvin and I tackled the Pali Puka Trail. It was along this ridge trail that the Battle of Nu’uanu took place and where Kamehameha I defeated King Kalanikupule of Oahu and unified the Hawaiian Islands. This short trail took us about 30 minutes to reach the top, however, don’t let this short hike time fool you because the Pali Puka trail is considered one of the most dangerous trails on the island. The trail begins to the left of the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout and you will be able to find the trailhead in the parking area reserved for tour buses. There is no warm up walk on this hike. The closest thing that you will get to a nice flat terrain warm up will be the walk from your car to the trailhead (this will take all of one minute). The trail will start off immediately with you working your way up the Pali and things will start to get steep very quickly. Within a few minutes, you will reach open ridge area and you will be exposed to exhilarating views of the Windward side of Oahu. The views are spectacular, but be mindful of the intense winds – they are strong enough to blow you right off of the exposed ridge.

Here’s Coty doing his traditional OWLing pose over the Pali Puka. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Just below this rockface is the infamous Pali Puka. The high winds threaten to blow Joel and Coty off the ridge. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The trail to the Pali Puka is fairly well defined, so once you are on the exposed ridge simply follow the trail (it will weave in and out of the ridge) until you reach a large rock face (see below). The Pali Puka is located just below this rock face. Carefully navigate your way down and you will be greeted by the Pali Puka. If you made it to the puka be sure to pat yourself on the back and then soak in the views of the Windward side. Since the hike was so short, we decided to spend a considerable time at the Puka just enjoying the view and taking a ton of photos. Once you’ve had your share of the Puka, you just work your way down the trail by taking the same path that you used to come up.


To get to this hike simply take H1 east bound from Waikiki. Then take the Pali Highway exit. Since the Nuuanu Pali State Park Lookout is a popular tourist attraction, there are ample signs for you to follow that will lead you straight to the Pali Lookout parking lot. If you’re not a local resident then parking will cost you $3. After you’ve parked your car, you will walk to the left of the lookout and toward the parking area designated for tour busses. Look for a trail head leading toward a bamboo opening.

Pali Puka Trail Tips:

  • You are allowed to park in the Pali Lookout parking lot. If you are a local resident with a local ID then parking is free.
  • Set aside at least 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete this hike roundtrip.
  • Watch out for bees. I spotted just one on this trail, but other hikers, notably by veteran Hawaii hiker Kaleo Lancaster has reported the presence of large numbers of bees. If you see a swarm of bees, retreat, retreat, retreat and attempt this hike on another day.
  • This trail can get very muddy and therefore very slippery, especially if it’s been recently raining. I used my Merrell Chameleon 3 Ventilator GORE-TEX hiking shoes on this hike, but Marvin noted that Kahtoola MICROspikes would have worked well on this hike.
  • Again, don’t let the “shortness” of this trail fool you. There are many risks involved in this trail which even led Kaleo and company to turn back before reaching the Puka (though they did go back a few months later to complete the hike).

Explorers: Marvin Chandra, Coty Gonzales, and Joel Sabugo.

Marvin scouting the Puka. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A view through the Puka. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Coty lounging in the Puka. It’s a makeshift wind tunnel so be careful! Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Marvin peaks through the Puka. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel and Coty hanging out at the Puka. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii, Blogger, Hiker, Foodie, Apple Aficionado, T-Shirt Enthusiast, Psychologist, and Rogue Scientist.


  1. Thanks Chasity! Yes, it was an awesome adventure. The best part is that it doesn’t take very long before things get fun! Plus, the views are pretty grand! You planning to do this hike?

  2. This hike looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it out this weekend. I’m hoping it wont be raining. Your pictures are breathtaking! Thanks for all the useful info (:

    • Thanks ieva! Yes, it’s an awesome hike … and the best part is that it is a short one! The views are amazing too. Have fun this weekend and be safe!

  3. Ah yes, did this one early last month (Dec). The scariest one I’ve been on so far with strong winds/gusts, steep slopes, etc, but I’m just glad it didn’t rain while we were on the hike, but trail was still very wet in some areas from rainfall the night before. Very exhilirating experience and views were stunning esp of Nuuanu Valley & Kaneohe. I definitely want to do this again. There is another puka-hike near Makapuu/Sea Life Park that I seen on your website. Is that easier than this one?

    • Awesome, glad you got to check out the Pali Puka, Grace! The best thing about this hike is that it’s very short and the reward is very high – great views.

      The Makapuu Puka might actually be tad easier. The climb is not as steep but it’ll take a bit longer to get to the puka. I would estimate maybe 45 minutes – 1 hour or so?

  4. This was an awesome hike. Thanks for sharing your experience!!! My girlfriend & I just did this hike. If you need more of a challenge you should continue onto the trail on the left past the puka. There is A LOT more climbing!!! The hike does not end at the puka. Keep on going and you will be climbing the other side mountain to get to the other side of the rock. It has lots of ropes to help to reach the top! If you are afraid of heights beware! I suggest you wear gloves too. Try it!!! That was more intense! Thanks again for sharing.

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