Manoa Falls Trail: Waterfalls, Connectors, and Night Marchers

Manoa Falls is probably the most popular waterfall hike on Oahu. Most popular being code for “lots of tourist.” Indeed, you’re almost guaranteed to cross paths with copious amounts of tourists, some of whom will be ill-prepared and wearing slippers (flip-flops for the non-locals). Those on the ecotours will be walking around with awkward and bulky wooden walking sticks (probably a selling point for the tour operators). Don’t let that deter you, though, Manoa Falls is also a popular trail with locals. You’ll often find students from the neighboring University of Hawaii at Manoa exploring this waterfall trail. Manoa Falls has something for everyone. It can be a simple waterfall hike or it can be the starting point to even more exciting exciting trails. Some even believe that Manoa Falls is one of the paths that Night Marchers, the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors, often march.

Cross this gate to start the Manoa Falls Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Found this DANGER sign with a nicely worn out Garbage Pail Kids sticker. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

To the right is a little shed and to the left is the restroom. Yes, a restroom. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Manoa Falls Lua! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Manoa Falls is a short hike. You should be able to complete it within 45 minutes. The trail is well defined and easy to follow. However, Manoa Falls is located within Manoa Valley and therefore this area is often very wet and muddy. If it’s been raining (and when does it not rain in Manoa) then be prepared for slippery rock.

LOST fans might be interested to know that a few scenes from the series was shot at Manoa Falls [2]. In fact, the tropic feel of the Manoa Falls trail keeps Hollywood coming back for more. On the day that I did this trail, there crew from Hawaii Hawaii Five-0 was filming. Unfortunately for me, I did not spot Steve McGarrett, however, I did hear rumors that both Chin Ho Kelly and Danno were on set [3].

Flora. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Flora. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A fallen tree. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Snapped bark. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

If you visit Manoa Falls on the right day then you’ll be treated to a wonderful waterfall. Since this is the most visited waterfall on the island, there is a chain surrounding the perimeter of the falls. If you really want to experience the falls, hop the chain and get close to the falls (at your own discretion of course). You might even want to take a dip in the shallow waterhole beneath the falls [1].

On the day that I visited Manoa Falls, there was a backlog of people around the left perimeter of the falls. In fact, once I got close to the falls, traffic became somewhat unbearable. In any case, I hopped the chain and had the waterfall all to myself. The toursits thought I was crazy. I heard whispers of, “oh my, he’s going in” and “he’s nuts.” In fact, their concerns were not without reason. In 2002 a major landslide occurred Manoa Falls causing 30 tons of material to fall nearly 600 feet. With that said, be nice and stay behind the chain. Of course, the waterfall is 100 times more beautiful when the crowd is out of the picture.

Danger. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

If you’d like to extend this hike then you can jump on the Aihualama trail. The trailhead to the Aihualama trail is located just before the waterfall. You’ll see a sign indicating the start of this trail, you can’t miss it. Once on the Aihualama, you can connect to various trails such as the Pauoa Flats Trail. If connecting to the Pauoa Flats Trail you can then connect to the Manoa Cliff Trail and end up at the top of Tantalus. From the Manoa Cliff Trail you’ll be able to peek into Manoa Valley and see upper Manoa Falls from a distance. This is just one of the connector options. You can even use the Manoa Falls Trail to access the upper Manoa Falls (dangerous) or even use Manoa Falls as an exit route when doing Konahuanui.

I wasn’t kidding when I said that this trail gets very busy. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tourist check out the falls from behind the wired boundary. I got up close and personal. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Manoa Falls trickling down. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Large rocks at the base of Manoa Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Step beyond the perimeter chain and it’s just you and Manoa Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Rock stacks. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The shallow Manoa Falls pool. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

So you’ve made up your mind and you want to visit Manoa Falls, huh. Keep in mind the ancient Hawaiian spirits that is said to linger on this trail. There are many stories and legends associated with Manoa Falls. A banyan tree at the Manoa Falls trailhead is said to be in the direct path of the Night Marchers. It’s also said that you can hear a spectre or banshee screaming while walking along this path.

Night marchers (huaka’i pō) are ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors. While the characteristics of night marchers in ancient Hawaiian belief vary depending on the sources describing these spirit processions which march on specific nights of the month, all sources agree on one major point: don’t get in their path and don’t look at them. According to legend, if someone comes across a procession of the night marchers, it is important that that person crouch low to the ground, resting on their stomachs and to avoid making eye contact. Doing so is said to prevent harm to that person. While some night marchers may prod and poke a person lying on the ground to instigate them to look up, night marchers are known to stick to their destination and not deviate in their aim to haunt humans.”

For the last ninety years or so published and unpublished accounts have surfaced of people encountering the marching apparitions of chiefs, chiefesses, dead relatives, gods, goddesses, and their retinues on roads they had once ceremonially traveled to attend to customary affairs inextricably combining secular and sacred elements. Hawaiians call the phantom parade either huaka‘i po (huaka‘i, procession; po, night) or, less often, ‘oi‘o (derivation unknown).” (Luomala, 1983).

Former University of Hawaii at Manoa student, Katharine Luomala, published an excellent article titled Phantom Night Marchers in the Hawaiian Islands. The paper includes stories obtained by Luomala and by student collectors in her folklore classes (1983) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

There’s indeed something for everyone at Manoa Falls. Novice hikers will enjoy the short and safe trip to the falls. Extreme hikers might use the Manoa Falls trail as the starting point to trails with more action. Ghost hunters will definitely be intrigued by the potential of seeing a Night Marcher or hearing the screams of a banshee. Manoa Falls has something for everyone so don’t let its popularity prevent you from visiting.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales

A metal bridge. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A tree fell on the trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Inside the boundary. The tourists thought I was crazy. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Where are we? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Time: Give yourself about 1.5 hours for the roundtrip.

Manoa Falls Trail Tips:

  • The Manoa Falls trail is often very muddy so be prepared for mud! A nice pair of hiking shoes or boots would be nice. Sneakers will get destroyed by the mud on this hike.
  • As with the other Manoa trails, bring mosquito repellant!
  • To extend the hike, continue on the Aihualama Trail.
  • To avoid the $5 parking charge, park in the residential area before entering Paradise Park.
  • Before jumping into the pool of water, be warned that it may contain leptospirosis. “Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is primarily carried by rats and mice, although dogs, pigs, cattle and horses can also become infected. The disease is generally transmitted to humans by exposure to fresh water that is contaminated with urine from infected animals. Infection can take place when contaminated water enters the body through the mouth, nose, eyes or open wounds.” Fortunately, locals are said to be more resistant to leptospirosis.

Directions to Manoa Falls Trail: If heading east on H1, you will take the Exit 23 (Punahou) or if heading west on H1 you will take the Exit 24 (Wilder). Continue on Wilder to the third light and take a right on Punahou. Continue up Punahou, toward the mountains. Punahou turns in Manoa road by staying left at the fork in the road. You will soon come to a five way intersection. Stay on Manoa road. Manoa Road continues into the back of Manoa Valley and ends at Paradise Park. Follow the road and park in the Manoa Falls parking lot. The parking charge is $5. Follow the road, on foot, uphill and to your right. You’ll reach a fork in the road, to the left will be the entrance to the Lyon Arboretum and straight ahead will be a gate indicating the start of the Manoa Falls Trail.

1. You should always keep in mind that waterfalls can be very dangerous. Rock slides do happen and can be very deadly.

2. A couple of LOST scenes were filmed here including Episode 1×11 “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” Jungle scenes and the banyan tree Charlie was hanging from and Episode 2×15 “Maternity Leave” Jungle scenes with Claire and Ethan.

3. This was confirmed once I saw the actual episode.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.