4 Actually Easy Hikes in Oahu: The Perfect Trails for Beginners

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Oahu is known for its spectacular natural beauty and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the landscape than going on a hike. But Hawai’i hikes can be challenging and, at times, even dangerous, given the steep inclines and sharp drop-offs along its mountain ridges.

But great news- Oahu offers several fantastic hikes for beginners that will still allow you to be completely surrounded by its lush scenery, sweeping ocean views, and even towering waterfalls. So fill up that water bottle and let’s try out these four easy hikes on Oahu!

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What you should know about hiking in Oahu

Oahu has hikes for everyone, from the most novice hiker to the most extreme outdoorsman. But given Oahu’s unique environment, there’s some things you should be prepared for (even on the easiest of trails!):

  • The weather in Oahu is, in a word, unpredictable. Without a cloud in sight, it can start raining… HARD. When wet, the trails get slippery, especially any trails with stairs or on asphalt. And the dirt trails can turn epically muddy (like Indiana Jones, suck-your-shoes-off-your-feet muddy).

    So make sure your Hawaii packing list includes a lightweight raincoat (like this one for men and this one for women) and some hiking sandals with traction (to support your burgeoning hiking career!) as opposed to risking it in flip-flops or regular sneakers. My husband, Justin, has a pair of Tevas he loves that are great for exploring the city and hitting the trails (see here for women’s) or Chaco’s are also a popular hiking sandal choice (see women’s here and men’s here).
Woman sitting on Lanikai Pillbox in Oahu
  • The sun on Oahu can be intense. Bring along sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water to keep you hydrated in the heat. To be kind to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international vacations to RV trips around the Pacific Northwest and, yup, even hiking in Hawai’i!
  • Many of the most popular hikes in Oahu that I’ve seen broadly recommended to visitors (like Koko Crater or Lanikai Pillbox Hike) would be pretty challenging for casual hikers, physically, and at times, even technically (some require using ropes to climb up steep hills or include walking across narrow spines of mountains).

    If you’re truly looking for an easy hike on Oahu or don’t have much experience hitting the trails, I’d recommend sticking to the hikes I recommend below (as nothing commemorates your trip to Hawai’i quite like falling off a cliff!).
Woman walking along the Manoa Falls hike in Oahu
  • This isn’t specific to hiking trails but worth mentioning here- car break-ins are rampant around Oahu. You’ll see warning signs about it everywhere and there’s some trailheads we stopped at (looking at you, Lulumahu Falls) where the entire parking lot was literally covered with broken glass.

    Don’t leave any valuables in your car anywhere around Oahu, but especially at trailheads, where opportunistic thieves know you’ll be away from your car for a couple of hours. If the foregoing makes you nervous, you could consider using public transit or a rideshare app, like Uber or Lyft, to get dropped off and picked up at trailheads.
View of Makapu’u Beach on Oahu

Easy hikes in Oahu

With that context in mind, let’s get to it! While I’d classify each of these Oahu hikes as “easy”, I’m listing these trails from the least to most challenging (at least, in my opinion!).

1. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Trail (Kāneʻohe)

Distance: 2.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 534 feet

This trail is more of a nature walk than a hike- but, hey, I said I’d start easy! Located in the largest botanical garden in Oahu, just outside of Honolulu, the grounds here offer fields of tropical flowers from all over the world, sitting in the shadow of the dramatic and jagged Koʻolau Mountains (Jurassic Park, much?). The trail starts behind the visitor’s center and winds past the beautiful Lake Waimaluhia, through reservoirs of flowers from Africa, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. 

Woman walking along the Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Trail in Oahu

The beginning portion of the path is paved, but eventually turns into a gravel and dirt trail (which, as mentioned above, can get super muddy during rainy periods). Word of warning, though- the trail is not, at times, particularly well-marked and can be a bit confusing to follow.

As such, I’d recommend having a map handy, either via the All Trails app or, for a more old school option, with this map. Hikers usually do this trail as an out-and-back path, but, to complete a loop instead, you can continue on past the end of the trail and turn right on to the main road that runs through the botanical garden, following it all the way back to the visitor’s center.

Bird of paradise in Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden Trail on Oahu

Some tips:

  • If you drive into the botanical gardens, the gates have very strict hours, opening at 9 AM and closing promptly at 4 PM. If you’re enjoying the park in the afternoon, be sure to be back in your car and out of the gate before then- they take the hours very seriously around here!
  • On a related note, after social media has caused everyone to lose their damn minds and run in front of moving cars for an Instagram photo opp, the caretakers of the gardens have been forced to put signs- seemingly EVERYWHERE along the main road- about not taking photos in and along the road.

    The garden has tight security (they have cool little carts they zoom around in) and violators can, and have been, fined. So TL;DR: follow the signs, don’t jump in front of moving cars for a Tik Tok, and enjoy the beautiful gardens!
  • Bummers aside, here’s some good news- the botanical gardens here are totally FREE!  And if botanical gardens and easy hikes are your jam, you may also want to consider Waimea Valley Trail if you plan on visiting the North Shore. To access this easy 1.9 mile trail, you sadly need to pay admission to the Waimea botanical gardens, which was too pricey for my taste ($20 per adult), but the gardens look GORGEOUS and you get the opportunity to swim in a beautiful waterfall!
Woman jumping at Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden in Oahu

2. Manoa Falls (Honolulu)

Distance: 1.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 150 feet

This short out-and-back trail winds through a lush rainforest into the Manoa Valley and to the base of Manoa Falls. To access the trailhead, which is located in northern Honolulu, you’ll need to pay $7 to park in the designated lot or, if you’re a real budget traveler, you can instead park about a quarter mile away in the nearby residential neighborhood and walk in.

Once you’re on the trail, it definitely feels just as much about the journey as the destination- the rainforest itself is stunning, so beautiful, in fact, it’s been used in several films, like Jurassic Park and the Hunger Games! At the end of the gravel and dirt trail, which gently slopes upward, you’ll reach the base of the 150-foot falls, cascading down a sheer cliff into the pool below. 

Manao Falls in Oahu

Note that there’s a rock wall built around the main lookout area to prevent you from walking directly to the waterfall’s pool, although lots of people ignore the wall (and the posted “Do Not Enter” signs) and walk around the wall to take photos.

PLEASE don’t be that guy- this area is closed to protect the plantlife by the waterfall as well as you (the pool sometimes contains leptospirosis, a pathogenic bacteria). People not following the rules is how beautiful places like this become closed to the public- and that just sucks for everyone.

Some tips:

  • It’s no secret that Manoa Falls is one of the most accessible waterfalls in Oahu and it shows- this place gets CROWDED. I’d recommend going on a weekday and showing up early to have a more tranquil experience (the trail is open from sunrise to sunset each day).
  • When we visited, it was quite buggy. Bring along some bug spray– your legs will thank me later!

For more information on this trail, check out this helpful post about the Manoa Falls hike!

Couple sitting under an arched tree along the Manao Falls trail in Oahu

3. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles

Elevation gain: 505 feet

During this out-and-back hike, you’ll follow a path along the easternmost point of the island up to an observation deck, with breathtaking views of the historic (built in 1909!) Makapu’u Lighthouse perched on a rocky cliffside and the turquoise sea below.

The trail curves along the sea cliffs, with the stunning expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your right and the green rolling hills of the island, including Koko Head and Koko Crater, to your left. The path is well-maintained and paved (and, thus, perfect for those with strollers), but the incline is relatively steep and steady.

If you’re looking for more of a challenge than the paved path, there’s several social trails that branch off to the right of the main path, with more uneven and steep terrain, and an even better view of the ocean below.

Whether you go the traditional route or off one of the boot trails, you just need to keep climbing up the hill until you make your way to the observation deck! From here, on a clear day, you can see straight to Molokai and Lanai, the neighboring islands, and two small islets directly off Oahu that serve as seabird sanctuaries.

View from the summit of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail on Oahu

Some tips:

  • This area of the island is generally hot and dry (there’s even some cacti along the trail if that tells you anything), so it’s easy to get overheated as you make your way up to the top. Be sure to bring along plenty of water on this one!
  • Given the high vantage point, the observation deck is a fantastic spot to, well, observe humpback whales from November to May, when up to 12,000 of these gentle giants return to Hawai’i’s water to breed and nurse their young. For the best chance of spotting one, you might want to bring along a pair of binoculars (and, bonus points, they’ll give you that distinguished sailor look!).

4. Diamond Head (Honolulu)

Distance: 1.6 mile

Elevation gain: 560 feet

Aerial view of Diamond Head on Oahu

Diamond Head is the most iconic geological formation on the island (it’s actually the crater of the Koʻolau Volcano!), soaring above Waikiki Beach and the Honolulu skyline.

To limit the insane amount of people that were hiking this trail every day, the Hawaii Division of State Parks has implemented a requirement that all hikers must book reservations before hitting the trail. If you drive here, you’ll need to pay $10 to park, as well as a $5 admission fee per person to hike (so if you park one car holding three people, it’ll cost you a total of $25)! Parking and admission are free for Hawaiian residents.

Along this hike, you’ll climb your way from the crater floor up to the summit for a birds-eye view of the city and the southern shoreline of Oahu. Similar to the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, the path here is paved and not technically challenging (given there’s no pesky roots or stones to trip over!), but there’s no shade along the trail and the incline is steep- a similar elevation gain to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse, but over a shorter period of time.

But fear not! The steepest sections of the trail have stairs and there’s plenty of benches and lookouts along the way to take a breather. And at the top, a stunning view of Waikiki and Honolulu is waiting to reward you!

Some tips:

  • Thousands of people climb Diamond Head each day, so to level set, you’re probably not going to have the trail to yourself. Aim to get here in the early morning (it opens at 6 AM- trying to catch sunrise here would be amazing!) or later in the afternoon (the trail is closed to new hikers starting at 4 PM and everyone must leave the trail by 6 PM).

    If you arrive any later than 8 AM, you’re likely going to struggle to find parking in the comically teeny lot, so earlier is probably your best bet. 
  • Diamond Head (or Lē‘ahi, the Native Hawaiian name) is an integral piece of Native Hawaiian culture and history. It was both the site of religious ceremonies through the early 1800s and, after the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, a hard-fought battle between royalist rebels and the provincial government.

    To learn more about the fascinating history of Lē‘ahi, pick up an audio tour (a steal at $4!) from the visitor’s center (open from 7 AM-3:30 PM daily) to listen to as you work your way up to the summit.
  • There’s lots of fun food trucks and vendors dishing up tasty treats by the trailhead. Bring some cash and treat yourself once you’ve finished with some fluffy Hawaiian shaved ice to cool.

And there you have it- four easy hikes to try while you’re in Oahu. Did you try any other easy ones while you were there?  Let me know in the comments below!

Hiking trails on Oahu

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