5 Great Kid Friendly Hiking Trails on Oahu

One of the most frequent email questions that I receive from Exploration: Hawaii readers is: “What are some kid friendly hiking trails on Oahu?” This post will help to answer that question. First of all, I will disregard the three hikes that both you and your children probably have already done: Diamond Head, Makapuu Light House, and the Manoa Falls Trail. Of course, these three hikes are definitely good options if you haven’t already completed them. I’d like to focus a bit on the more obscure, or out-of-the-way trails. It’ll add to your child’s sense of adventure, and maybe get them hooked on the outdoors. You’ve been warned.

NOTE: none of the trails listed below are probably appropriate for infants or toddlers. These are NOT the kind of hikes meant for infants or toddlers. I’d probably say kids 10 and older can manage the trails below, but of course, you, the parent, is the best judge of whether or not your child can hike the trails listed below. Try these hikes first: Diamond HeadMakapuu Light House, and the Manoa Falls Trail, before you try the ones listed below. I have no hikes to suggest for those looking to hike with an infant or toddler in a hiking backpack. 

With that said, here are 5 great kid friendly 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. Before you venture out on any of these hikes, please review these tips on hiking safely in Hawaii. Have a suggestion for a great kid friendly hike? Leave it in the comments!

Kealia Trail

The Short: Strenuous, tiring, great views. The trail is well maintained and wide, but still remember to keep an eye on your child.

The adventure for this one begins even before you hit the trail. To access the Kealia trailhead, you’ll have to drive to a remote part of the North Shore, Mokuleia. Here, you will find Dillingham Airfield. Before parking your car, pull on the side of the road and watch tiny planes zip by for landing and parachuters dropping down. When you’ve finally decided that you’re ready to hike, you’ll park in a small lot and then walk to the trailhead about a quarter mile away, passing abandoned, but nonetheless very interesting boats and aircrafts. Once on the trail, you will make your way up 19 switchbacks that overlooks the North Shore. Sounds good? I think so.

Here's a portion of the nicely graded Kealia Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Here’s a portion of the nicely graded Kealia Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: ~5 miles roundtrip.

Total Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes (including a 15 minute break at the lookout overseeing Makua Valley). 1 hour and 10 minutes from trailhead to the picnic table at the end of Kealia Trail. 1 hour from the picnic table to the Makua Valley lookout.

Kealia Trail Tips:

  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
  • This trail is popular amongst dog walkers, trail runners and mountain bikers. Keep an eye out for them.

Directions to the Kealia Trailhead: If you’re coming from downtown Honolulu, you will drive toward Dillingham Airfield on Farrington Highway. After passing Mokuleia, you will make a left at the third gate into Dillingham Airfield. This is the public access gate and you will also see a sign indicating the Kealia Trail. Follow the Kealia Trail hiking signs to the designated parking lot. Directly across the parking lot is the mountain that you will be climbing.

Status: State maintained trail.

Waimano Falls and Pools

The Short: Great for teens, younger kids will probably tire out midway. Definitely not suitable to hike with a toddler or infant in a backpack. Cardia Hill will have you huffing and puffing back up. Physically fit kids might love this trail, not so much for couch potato kids.

If your child loves waterfalls, then this is a hike that should not be missed. The Waimano Falls trail veers directly off of the rugged Manana Trail in Aiea. Kids will have a kick going down Cardiac Hill, and be huffing and puffing on the way. Once at the waterfall, both kids and parents can enjoy multi-tiered waterfalls, complete with a deep swimming hole. There’s usually also a rope that older kids (and adults) use to swing into the deeper pool.

Triple Tiered View. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Triple Tiered View. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Distance: 3 miles roundtrip.

Total Time: ~3 hours roundtrip.

Waimano Falls Tips:

Directions to the Waimano Falls Trailhead: From Honolulu, you will head west bound toward Ewa on the H1. Take exit 10 toward Pearl City. You will then merge onto Moanalua Rd. Turn right onto Waimano Home Rd. Finally, you will turn left onto Komo Mai Dr. and drive to the end of the road. Find street parking.

Status: State maintained trail.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail

The Makiki Loop Trail is a great choice for parents that want to give their kids a taste of hiking, without having to drive miles out of Honolulu to do so. The trailhead to this short 2.4 mile loop trail is located just in the back of the Hawaii Nature Center. It is important to understand that this particular loop trail is actually made up of 3 individual trails: the Kaneolole Trail, the Makiki Valley Trail, and the Maunalaha Trail. As you make your way through the trail, keep an eye out for large boulders, wet gulches, tasty strawberry guava, and old bridges. There’s a lot to see on this trail, you’ve just got to make the little effort necessary to get yourself there.

A Set of Large Boulders. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A Set of Large Boulders. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The bridges will help you cross the various streams. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The bridges will help you cross the various streams. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Time: 1.5 – 2 hours.

Total Distance: 2.4 miles.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail Tips: 

  • This trail is often very wet so bring mosquito repellent.
  • A jacket would also be helpful in the event that there are light showers (very likely).
  • For a nice view of Diamond Head, take the Ualakaa Trail detour.

Directions: On Nehoa Street, you will turn mauka (toward the mountain) on to Makiki Street. The road will then fork, you will take the left fork on to Makiki Heights Drive. You will drive for about 0.5 mile until the road makes a sharp left turn. Keep an eye out for a row of mailboxes on the right side of the road. Drive past the mailboxes and through the green gate. You will see a sign that says Makiki Forest Restoration Area. A few feet from the gate you will notice a gravel parking lot on your left. This is where you will park. From here, you must proceed up the road on foot until you reach the public restroom just past the Hawaii Nature Center. A trail map is located behind the restroom and the trailhead is found to the left of the sign.

Status: State maintained trail.

Lanikai Pillboxes (Kaiwa Ridge)

The Short: It’s a ridge hike with beautiful views. Great for teens and physically fit younger kids. This is not a stroller or backpacking type of hike for infants or toddlers.

Now here’s a ridge hike that the kiddos will never forget. Located in the beautiful and affluent town of Lanikai, the “pillbox” hike, as it is known by the locals, is a short but scenic climb up Kaiwi Ridge. Once you reach the ridge line, in less than 10 minutes, you’ll begin to understand why this is such a popular hike amongst local residents. The views are breathtaking. Directly in front of you is Lanikai Beach, and in the distance are two distinct islands affectionately know as “Moke’s,” which is short for Mokulua Islands.

Overlooking Lanikai. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Overlooking Lanikai. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Total Time: ~2 hours roundtrip.

Total Distance: ~2 miles.

Lanikai Pillboxes Trail Trips:

  • Sunscreen is a must for this hike! You might even want to bring a hat. There is no shade.
  • The second pillbox makes for a nice turnaround point. The adventurous can venture beyond the second pillbox.

Directions: You will take the H1 freeway and then take the Pali Highway (HI-61 N) exit. Continue on HI-61 N until you reach Kailua Road. Continue on Kailua Road and then continue on Kuulei Road. Turn right on Kalaheo Avenue. Continue on Kawailoa Road. You will drive past Kailua Beach Park and eventually you will pass a little statue on the left hand side that looks like a little stone lighthouse. At your first right on Alapapa Road you will turn right onto Kaelepulu Drive. You can park anywhere along that road. You should see the MidPacific Golf Course to your right. The trailhead is located directly across from the entrance to the Mid-Pacific Country Club parking lot. You will see a sign indicating that you are at the Lanikai Pillbox Trail.

Status: State maintained trail.

[Fifth Trail Removed]

Top image of child courtesy of Flickr member kata rokkar.

About Coty

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

2 comments

  1. Hamama Falls was not so bad while baby carrying.. but, Kealia trail was very intense.. I carried my 10 month old and by some miracle my 3 year old walked up the whole thing holding my hand.. With that said there was a lot of me picking my 3 year old up from rock to rock and a lot of her slipping on things on the way down .. So my advice if you go and have more than one young child .. Bring a friend/family member to help.. It was beautiful though!:)

Comments are closed.