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5 Great Day Hikes on Oahu

A fan of the Exploration: Hawaii Facebook page recently asked for day hike suggestions for an upcoming trip to Oahu. I gave the question some thought and came up with what I think are five exemplary hikes. Each of the suggested trails offer very unique and differing views of the island. One could easily spend 8 hours or more on each of these hikes (with the exception of Kahekili-Manamana). Each hike also comes with its own set of dangers and can be very taxing for even the most veteran of hikers, especially those who are not familiar with Hawaii’s volcanic and often times crumbly terrain.

With that said, here are 5 great day hikes on Oahu. Below each description, I provide estimates for time and distance, a few tips, and trailhead directions. Each of these hikes were also previously mentioned in depth here and I have provided links to those posts as well. Have a suggestion for a great day hike? Leave it in the comments!

Poamoho Ridge Trail

The Poamoho Ridge Trail is a fine hike and would probably be my first suggestion as a recommended day hike. The trail itself is roughly 7 miles roundtrip. However, a lengthy 6 miles drive down an unpaved access road makes accessing the trailhead long and difficult. And if you’re vehicle isn’t able to make it through the rough drive, then you might be in for a much longer day than expected. A cabin just beyond the summit makes for the perfect turn around point. Some might also decided to stay the night in the Poamoho cabin.

The View from the Poamoho Summit. Looking toward Kahana Valley. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The View from the Poamoho Summit. Looking toward Kahana Valley. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Poamoho Trail is one muddy monster. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The Poamoho Trail is one muddy monster. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

The Poamoho Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Poamoho Cabin. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Type: Ridge, Camping

Total Distance: 12.4 miles roundtrip (we started just over 2 miles on foot before the trailhead).

Total Time: 8 hours and 15 minutes (including a 15 minute summit break and 15 minute cabin break); 5 hours from 4Runner to Poamoho Cabin, and 3 hours and 15 minutes from Poamoho Cabin to 4Runner.

Poamoho Ridge Trail Tips:

  • Expect rain. Poamoho Ridge is notorious for being very wet. You’ll be thankful that you brought a rain jacket with you.
  • I suggest wearing long socks and long pants to keep from have mud-caked legs.
  • If you plan to drive through the access road then be sure that you have a vehicle rugged enough to handle the long, bumpy, and potentially slick and muddy road.
  • Ideally, Poamoho Ridge Trail should be done when it hasn’t been raining for a few days. However, this is difficult to plan since permits must be required 10 days prior to the planned hike.

Directions to Poamoho Ridge Trailhead: Directions to the trailhead are found on the permit. Acquire the permit and you’ll acquire the necessary directions. You can download and fill out the permit here.

Summit Hop on the Eastern Portion of the Koolau Summit Trail

For this day adventure, you’ll start near the Makapuu Lighthouse and work your way along the Koolau Summit Trail, going as far as your legs will take you. It is entirely possible to go from Makapuu to Wiliwilinui, passing the summits of Kamiloiki, Mariner’s Ridge, Kuliouou, Kulepeamoa, and Hawaii Loa Ridge. If do decide to go all the way then be prepared to start in the dark and end in the dark. A plus about starting in the dark is that you will be able to catch an awesome sunrise.

Sunrise over Sea Life Park. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Shot from inside the Tom Tom puka. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Kamiloiki and Tom Tom junction. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Pu’u ‘o Kona and Bear Claw summit. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Type: Ridge

Total Distance: Varies, depends on how far you decide to go.

Total Time: Varies, depends on how far you decide to go.

Eastern KST Tips:

  • Bring enough water for a full day of hiking.
  • Know your bailout points. If Wiliwilinui is your final destination, then be sure to know the junctions that come before it so that you can bail if something goes wrong (not enough water, too tired, etc.).

Directions to Eastern KST Trailhead: The trailhead is located just beyond Ka Iwa State Scenic Shoreline Park. From Waikiki, you will take the H1 toward Hawaii Kai. Eventually, H1 will become Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72). Follow Kalanianaole Highway, eventually passing Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach. Continue down the road until you pass Ka Iwa State Scenic Shoreline Park on your right. Staying on Kalanianaole Highway, drive past the entrance and there will be a lookout point with a small parking lot. Park here. The trailhead is the mountain side just across the street of the parking. Following the fencing up to the ridgeline. There should be a faint trail that you can follow up to the ridge.

Bowman Trail to Stairway to Heaven

The old saying is that The Bowman Trail doesn’t build character, Bowman reveals it. This long and arduous trail starts off in the playground of an unassuming elementary school where you will start climbing up the side of a mountain which will lead you to the trailhead. The reward after 8+ hours of hiking will be a stunning view of the windward coast. You’ll also be on top of one of the most coveted island hiking spots, Haiku Stairs (Stairway to Heaven).

Hanging out on a cliff just before the deadly rope climb to the summit of the Bowman Trail. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

View from the summit of the Bowman Trail. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Making our way on the ridge (Bowman Terminus Trail). When you click on the larger version you can see Coty, Joel, and Ahnate to the right. Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Getting closer to Stairway To Heaven (Bowman Terminus Trail). Photo by Marvin Chandra.

Type: Ridge

Total Distance: 6 Miles to the Bowman summit.

Total Time: 10+ hours

Bowman Trail Directions: The trailhead is located at Kalihi Elementary. After you park on Naai Street, walk toward the back of the basketball courts. There you will find the trailhead. The initial ascent is tough and quite vertical, no ropes here. Once to the top of the initial accent you will reach Radar Hill Road follow this road until you reach an old concrete building. The official start of the Bowman trail begins to the left of this old concrete building.

Kahekili-Manamana

Stuart Ball calls it one of the most difficult hikes on the island. Many have said that it offers some of the most spectacular hiking views that Oahu has to offer. Yes, both accounts are true. The Kahekili-Manamana trail offers some of the best views that can be had on Oahu, if you’re willing, that is, to put up with the very narrow ridges and steep climbs.

Amazing coastal views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Amazing coastal views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You'll be on edge the entire hike. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You’ll be on edge the entire hike. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Sweeping views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Sweeping views. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You’ll work your way down this narrow ridge. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

You’ll work your way down this narrow ridge. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Success. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Success. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: 3.8 miles

Total Time: 5+ hours

Kahekili-Manamana Trail Tips:

  • Sunscreen is a must. A large portion of this trail is exposed.
  • This trail is not for the faint of heart. There are parts of the trail in which you will be exposed to huge drop off to both your right and left.

Directions to Kaehkili-Manamana Trailhead: The trailhead for this hike is located off of Huamalani Road in Kaaawa. Hikers usually park at Swanzy Beach and then make their way on foot to the trailhead. Coming from Waikiki, you will head west on H1. Continue on H1 and then take exit 20A to merge onto HI-63 N/Kalihi St toward Likelike Hwy. You will drive about 7 miles and then take the exit 20A to merge onto HI-63 N/Kalihi St toward Likelike Hwy Continue to follow HI-63 N. Merge onto HI-83 W (signs for Kahekilli Highway). You will drive for roughly 13 miles until you reach Swanzy Beach Park. Find parking here. Continue on foot to Huamalani Road. The trailhead is located at the end of the road.

The Hidden Waterfalls of Manoa

Spend the day exploring my favorite place on Oahu, Manoa Valley. Tucked away in this tight valley are seven known waterfalls. Aihualama Falls and Manoa Falls are two that are regularly visited by tourists and locals alike. The other five waterfalls, well, are a bit off the beaten path. You’ll do a lot of stream crossings so be prepared to get wet on this all day hike.

The group checking out Waihi Falls, or what we later learned was officially called Kahuwaiiki Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The group checking out Waihi Falls, or what we later learned was officially called Kahuwaiiki Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel and Ahnate checking out lower Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel and Ahnate checking out lower Luaalaea Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate taking a deep in Queen's Bath. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate taking a deep in Queen’s Bath. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate and Joel on the middle tier of Waiakeakua Falls. Ahnate’s climbing up to see upper Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate and Joel on the middle tier of Waiakeakua Falls. Ahnate’s climbing up to see upper Waiakeakua Falls. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: 6.96 miles.

Total Time: 7 hours and 30 minutes.

Directions to the Manoa Falls Trailhead: 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.

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About Coty

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

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