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Manoa Cliff and Pu’u Ohia: A Hike Beyond Tantalus Lookout

If you’re looking to do a quick hike in the Honolulu area then set your sights on one of the trails that make up the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. We’ve covered the Makiki Valley Loop Trail in the past when we connected the Maunalaha and Kanealole Trails. More recently, we explored ourbackyard once again by paying a visit to the Manoa Cliff Trail and connecting it with the Pu’u Ohia Trail. The route discussed here is a quick 3.5 mile loop that can be completed in under 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The Trailhead to the Manoa Cliff Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The initial portion of the trail is very wide open. Actually, no part of this trail is dangerously narrow. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Finding this trail is particularly easy. You will simply need to drive up Round Top Drive past Tanatalus Lookout and Pu’u Ualaaka Park. As you drive up you will pass a few hiking trailheads. The Manoa Cliff trailhead will be located on your right just before 4059 Round Top Drive. There is a parking lot on the left side of the road where the trailhead for another hike, Moleka Trail, is located.

As with many of the hikes in this area, Manoa Cliff Trail is very lush and green, and can be very muddy. Fortunately for us, on this hiking trip there was no real mud issues to deal with. Within the first 5 minutes you will cross your first bridge, be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of these bridges as you progress through the trail. A few moments later you will reach a “Connector Trail To Round Top Drive” sign, you will continue past this connector sign and descend for a bit.

The Connector Trail Sign that will lead you up to Round Top Drive. You will pass this sign on your way down Manoa Cliff Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Hedychium gardnerianum (Kahili ginger). Thanks to Sebastian for the identification. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel continuing on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

After about 20 minutes or so we encountered a fallen tree. It looked a bit dangerous since there seemed to be just bamboo holding it up. Don’t let this obstacle deter you, though, the Honolulu Mauka Trail System is very well maintained and safe. If this tree posed a danger then the staff would have removed it by now. Just remember to bend down low as you navigate this tree or else you might konk your head!

Along the way you will encounter identified flora. Here we have Christmas Berry. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A Fallen Tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A cut tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Even on the ridge portions of this trail there’s a ton of space. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Within 30 minutes you’ll reach a beautiful scenic lookout featuring two of the most prominent peaks on the island, Konahuanui and Awaawaloa (Mount Olympus). Here you should also be able to see upper Manoa Falls streaming down. The falls must have been fairly dry on the day that we visited because we could not spot it. One of the great things about this scenic lookout is the installed bench. Sit down, relax, and soak in the views. If you’ve got keiki (Hawaiian word meaning children) with you then this would make for a nice turn around point. However, if it’s more adventure that you’re seeking then continue on the trail to the left of the bench.

As you stroll down Manoa Cliff trail you will pass through a bamboo forest and a few more bridges. Keep your eye out for some of the informatively labeled fauna as well. In no time, you will cross a hard plastic bridge and then a steel one. After the steel bridge will be a metal gate (used to keep out destructive animals). About two minutes from the gate will be the Manoa Cliff Trail and Puu Ohia junction. If you would like to finish the Manoa Cliff Trail then you can turn right and follow the sign down. Eventually, that trail will lead you to the Pauoa Flats Trail. If you continue walking straight then you will officially be continuing on the Puu Ohia Trail, which will eventually lead you back to Round Top Drive. On this day, we continued on the Puu Ohia Trail.

The Bamboo Forest. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel sits on the huge bench and enjoys the view. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

While soaking in the view of the Koolau Range, I forgot to take a proper panorama. I guess that I’ll have to go back. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Coty sits on the huge bench and enjoys the view. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

I believe that this is an Oahu White Hibiscus or koki’o ke’oke’o (Hibiscus arnottianus). Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As you work your way through the short 0.75 mile Puu Ohia Trail, you will once again need to pass through a metal gate. From there, you will walk through a paved road which will eventually fork. To the left of the fork will be a trail leading down into the valley. It’s properly labeled as the Puu Ohia Trail so you can’t miss it. As you go down you will reach yet another junction that allow you to turn left or right. On this day, we turned right and continued on the Puu Ohia Trail. I’m not exactly sure where the left turn will lead you, possibly a nice lookout? From this junction point, it’s a simple 15 minute walk through the valley and back to civilization. Once you’re back on Round Top Drive, you will turn left and walk down Round Top Drive toward 4059 Round Top Drive where your comfortable and air conditioned vehicle awaits you.

A metal gate stands between you and Puu Ohia. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A junction where you can continue down the Manoa Cliff Trail or continue forward on Puu Ohia. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

While on the Puu Ohia Trail, you will pass another metal gate and encounter this concrete building. You will then walk down a road that will fork. The Puu Ohia Trail continues on your left. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

On the Puu Ohia Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Puu Ohia Trail is very short and will quickly lead you back to Round Top Drive. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Manoa Cliff + Puu Ohia Trail is a nice “walk in the part.” It’s simple, it’s short, and it’s enjoyable. If it’s spectacular ocean views that you’re looking for then this is not the hike for you. Instead, take in your surroundings and remember to keep an eye out for the different labeled fauna. This trail is all about the Koolau Mountain Range, a natural Hawaiian wonder.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo

Manoa Cliff Trail + Puu Ohia Trail Tips:

  • Be prepared for muddy trails by wearing the appropriate footwear.
  • This is a nice, short hike to do. Great as a running trail and even bringing children. On this day, there was a young troop of scouts exploring the Manoa Cliff Trail.

Directions: From Waikiki get on Ala Wai Boulevard. Turn right on McCully Street and head mauka (toward the mountains). Cross a bridge over the H1 Lunalilo Freeway. After the bridge you will turn left onto Wilder Avenue and then turn right on Makiki Street, at the 1st set of lights. Follow Makiki Street up until you come to a Y and then take Round Top Drive. As you drive up along Round Top Drive you will pass a few hiking trailheads. The Manoa Cliff trailhead will be located on your right just before 4059 Round Top Drive. There is a parking lot on the left side of the road where the trailhead for another hike, Moleka Trail, is located.

Please visit Studia Mirabilium for more information on Hawaii’s flora. Also, thank you to Sebastian Marquez for help in identifying the plants here.

About Coty

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

8 comments

    • Hi Sebastian, so the fourth photo down is the Clermontia kakeana? I tried looking up some photos of Clermontia kakeana and they don’t seem to look similar. Thoughts?

    • OHHH, gotcha! Thanks! Oh man, if I knew it was a rare plant I’d have taken a better photo! Next time, I guess. The great thing about this trail is that it’s a short one! How often do you work on restoration here?

  1. The gingers are awfully pretty… too bad their so invasive. We go every Sunday now. Let me know if you guys are still interested in hiking this weekend. I have some errands to run in the morning so I won’t be able to do an all-day like I wanted.

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