Maunawili Falls: A Classic Waterfall Hike Tucked Behind Mount Olomana

It’s been years since I last did Maunawili Falls Trail. To be exact, it’s been 6 long years. This was one of those of hikes that I never forgot because I did it on a random summer day with a close group of college friends. One of them was even convinced to skip out on lab after being promised that he would be back in time for an important lab meeting. He was assured that the hike would last only 30 minutes. Of course, it didn’t last 30 minutes. And of course, he missed out on his lab meeting. Since then, two of us have completed PhD’s (myself and the friend that assured the other friend that the hike would last just 30 minutes), one of us is on the brink of completing a PhD (the one that got suckered into thinking it was a 30 minute hike), and one will soon be a licensed pharmacist. A lot happened over the last 6 years.

The Maunwili Falls trailhead is located in the Maunawili residential district that is situated mauka of Kalanianaole Highway. It’s found between Castle Junction and Caste Hospital. In fact, it’s just a few minutes drive from Kailua and the splendid Lanikai Beach. Looming before Maunawili is the treacherous├é┬áthree peaks of Olomana. The trailhead is actually tucked to the side of residential homes. My kind of neighborhood.

The first thing that I noticed was that the trail had much more traffic than I remembered. I passed more than a few groups exiting the trail as I made my way toward the falls. The trail was a bit muddy, but that’s to be expected since it had been raining a few days prior. There’s a relatively easy stream crossing that you will need to do. Eventually, you will work your way up and out to the open valley. The signage is missing, but, you will turn left here. Continue on the trail until you reach an intersection with a bench. Here, you can either go straight or descend left. If you go straight you will continue on to the Maunawili Demonstration Trail (a completely separate trail). You want to instead descend left and then down the plastic steps.

The path goes between what looks like a stone wall. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The trail itself is fairly wide and clear. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This looked like an old drainage system to me. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Once at the bottom you will intersect once again with Maunawili stream. Continue right and follow the stream bed toward the falls. Here, you can either rock hop or follow the dirt trail to the left of the stream. I chose the dirt trail and bypassed all of the tourists that were slowly rock hopping. Not long after you will reach the falls. If you’re lucky, you will have it all to yourself. However, it’s more likely that you’ll have to share it with both locals and tourists. Six years ago there were only two other people enjoying the falls. On my most recent visit, there were anywhere between 10-15 people at any given time. Maunawili Falls has always been a popular trail, but it looks like its popularity has grown through the years.

So how did the trail change over the last 6 years? Honestly, I can’t say. The trail itself seemed completely new to me. I guess we had way too much fun when we hiked it those many years ago that I didn’t even pay attention to the little details of the trail. There was also some really old looking stone structures that looked like either foundations or borders. I also noticed a very old looking water drainage system.

Another section of that drainage system. You can see the large stone wall above it. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You’ll need to do a stream crossing. Please be careful if the water level is high. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Another section of the stream. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The stream. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Nice peak of the valley! Photo by Coty Gonzales.

People nearing the falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Maunawili Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The swimming pool at the falls is fairly deep and many people take advantage of this by jumping off the top of the falls. Did I jump in? Of course not, I’m not a fan of leptospirosis. Of course, that doesn’t stop a ton of other people from jumping in. In fact, there was one random dude there that kept jumping in. He would jump from the cliff to the right of the falls, swim out, and then repeat. He did this 5-6 times before leaving. After his last jump he got knee deep in the water, and stared at the tourists for about 5 minutes or so. Then, he went to grab a cigarette and headed back into the water to smoke that cigarette. He left once he took the last puff from his nicotine stick. I later saw him wandering the residential area as I was driving myself home. I guess you’ve got to be just slightly crazy to jump from a high cliff into a deep pool of water that is potentially filled with leptospirosis.

In preparing to write this post, I decided to check out my photos from when I did this hike 6 years ago. Thanks iPhoto for storing my memories of the last 10 years (seriously, iPhoto, you’re awesome). I noticed a few things looking at these old photographs.

  1. We were all so young then! I was a mere 25 years old.
  2. No excessive gear. No CamelBak. No Microspikes. Just a bottle of water. In fact, I think I was the only one that had a backpack that day and I am sure that I brought it only to hold my bottle of water. I’m lazy like that.
  3. I did not take an obscene amount of photos. It’s not unusual for me to take anywhere between 200-500 photos during a single hiking trip. On this hike, I took 7 photos total.
  4. Awesome friends. I’m pretty sure we laughed our way throughout the entire hike. We probably spent 75% of the time teasing Ryan about either 1. missing his lab meeting, or 2. being fat. In his defense, Ryan did lose a lot of weight once he moved to Boston for graduate school. Still, we love to tease him today about how he used to be fat. And I am pretty sure that our close knit group of friends secretly wish that Ryan would gain some chub back. I’ve heard that he’s on track to do just that. [Note: I know it’s politically incorrect to tease people with weight issues. Words do hurt. However, Ryan is a exception, because, well, he’ Ryan. A good friend. Good friends are exempt from politically incorrect teasing. Sosume.]

I hike a lot these days, however, I miss hikes like the one that I did six years ago with such a tight crew of friends. Maunawili Falls is such a simple waterfall hike, and with the hiking experience that I’ve gained over the last year, it would be easy to turn my nose up and disregard it. I won’t do that. Maunawili Falls has a lot to offer and if you do it with a great group friends it’s even better.

Explorers: 2012 – Coty Gonzales; 2006 – Osler Andres, Grant Kauwe, and Ryan Salvador.

Here’s the crazy dude preparing to get ready for another jump. He would climb up the falls, go right, and jump off the cliff to the right of this photo. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Vertical panorama of Maunawili Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This was probably my favorite shot of the falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

An old photo of the crew, circa 2006. Photo by some stranger.

Total Time: 1.5 to 2 hours roundtrip.

Maunawili Falls Tips:

  1. Don’t forget mosquito repellant.
  2. Also consider doing the 10-mile Maunawili Demonstration Trail.

Directions to Maunawili Falls Trailhead: From Honolulu take the Pali Highway toward Kailua. Eventually, you will pass Kamehameha Highway. Continue driving toward Auloa Road. Once you pass Auloa Road, continue to drive straight ahead until you reach Auloa Road a second time, turn right here at Auloa Road. After you turn, the road will immediately fork. At the fork, go left on to Maunawili Road. Continue to drive on Maunawili Road until it ends in a residential area. To your left will be the trailhead. Park alongside the residential area. [Note: On route to the Maunawili trailhead, you will pass the road that leads you to the Olomana trailhead. To your left, immediately after you turn right on Auloa Road will be the road that leads you to Olomana]

1. Hawaii’s fresh water pools are an incubator for leptospirosis. For more information on leptospirosis, please visit this link.

About Coty

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

5 comments

  1. Very nice photos. Glad you managed to get some shots with no one in them.
    When I went, there was always people on the falls and at least 30 people lounging around the pool. Easily the most crowded waterfall I’ve ever visited (more than Manoa Falls even). Maunawili Falls was pretty but I imagine the experience must have been much better before all the popularity. ^^;

    Also, I agree about the leptospirosis. I remember reading that Maunawili and Kapena Falls were the number 1 places to catch it on the island. Hope they’ll be okay…. ^^;

    • Thanks Punynari, glad you enjoyed the photos! Yes, this is one busy waterfall! I think that the more secluded the waterfall the better!

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