Looking for a great way to burn some calories before spending the day at the Polynesian Cultural Center? The North Shore of Oahu provides amazing trails that allow you to see the beautiful island and sneak another delicious açaí bowl or serving of kalua pork.
From breathtaking waterfalls, sprawling forests, and rugged mountain ranges, the island of Oahu is home to breathtaking natural scenery and well-kept hiking trails. Because of its unique geographic location, the famed North Shore of Oahu hosts a diversity of flora and fauna entirely unique to this corner of the world. Many of these magnificent sights can be found on hikes that are accessible to hikers of all skill-levels.
There are a few things to keep in mind when preparing for a hike in Hawai’i. Wearing the proper clothing and bringing the right materials are essential for a great hiking experience. The following is a list of items to be sure to pack before hitting the trails:
- Fully charged cell phone and map: be prepared when hiking unfamiliar trails and always inform someone of your location and exact plans
- Sunscreen and sunglasses: avoid uncomfortable sunburns by choosing a sunscreen with a SPF 50+ or higher
- Trail hiking shoes or sandals: choose footwear that can get wet and provide traction when passing through slippery areas
- Breathable clothing: Oahu’s average daytime temperatures range from 79-83 °F (26-28 °C)
- Bug repellent; ward off mosquitoes and other pests when travelling through densely-forested areas
- Plenty of water and snacks: stay hydrated and energized while observing the beautiful scenery the North Shore has to offer
- Rag: useful for wiping off mud and sweat
- Binoculars: perfect for bird-watching and seeing the beautiful features of the island
The following is a list of the five best hikes to explore while planning a stay on Oahu’s legendary North Shore:
Ma’akua Ridge Trail (Papali Trail)
Found near the Hau’ula Loop Trail, the Ma’akua Ridge Trail is a 2.8 mile (4.5 kilometer) hike. This is a great trail for families and beginner hikers. The terrain is hilly, but there are marked switchbacks throughout the hike to provide the easiest route; however, there are some narrow areas of the trail that have steep slopes. The cover provided by the forest makes the trail great for running and only takes a few hours to complete. This hike is accessible year-round and allows dogs. The views provided by the ridges offer a beautiful perspective of the North Shore. Parking near the trail is very limited, but there is parking available across the street near the beach.
You can access the full map with detailed information of the trail at AllTrails.com: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/hawaii/oahu/maakua-ridge-trail
NOTE: During certain times of year you may notice a distinct smell of fermentation and see some rotting fruit along the trail. Those are our famous Mountain Apples – if you find ripe ones in the wispy trees that line the trail, you should try one!
Hau’ula Loop Trail
This is a moderately difficult hiking trail that is perfect for larger groups and those looking for a trail to share with their dogs. The trail is 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) and offers amazing views of the green canyons and plant diversity of the North Shore. This area features several ecological niches and is home to several unique bird species which can be seen (and heard) throughout the hike. Be sure to hike the trail counterclockwise in order to get the best views of the hike. The trail can become muddy after rainfall, especially in the last section, so be sure to pack proper footwear and a walking stick for this hike! You can access another map of the Hau’ula Loop Trail at: https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7068364/hauula-loop-trail.
NOTE: Keep an eye out as you walk along the coastal section of the hike (heading from Hau’ula towards La’ie) for the left turn. If you miss that turn, you will have a lovely, but rugged hike right into La’ie.
As one of the most popular hikes, La’ie Falls is the perfect excursion for intermediate and skilled hikers. The trail spans roughly 8 miles (13 kilometers) round-trip and is accessible year-round. Because of the length and elevation of this trail, it usually takes a few hours, so be sure to start early and plan accordingly. There are several spots throughout the hike that showcase the beautiful ocean and mountain views of the island. The varied hiking trail displays the unique plant life of Hawai’i on a clear and accessible trail. The trail ends at a small waterfall that offers a great way to cool off after this hike. AllTrails, a great app for finding trails and hiking reviews, provides a map on its website. You can access the link at https://www.alltrails.com/trail/hawaii/oahu/laie-falls-trail.
NOTE: La’ie Falls follows the cliff edge in many places and has a steep drop-off which can be very dangerous. Always exercise utmost caution to avoid falling off on these areas. This hike is on private property, and thus requires a permit from the Hawai’i Reserves office. The Hawai’i Reserves office is located at the La’ie Shopping Center at 55-510 Kamehameha Highway. This permit can be obtained free of charge. You can print the permit off online, fill it out and bring it in to save time. The form can be accessed here: http://www.hawaiireserves.com/pdf/HRI_Hiking_Application.pdf.
Ehukai Pillboxes (Lilikoi Junction)
The Ehukai Pillbox hike, also known as The Sunset Pillbox hike, is a great way to view one of the North Shore’s famous beaches, Ehukai Beach — known for the Banzai Pipeline, the legendary wave surfed by only the best. This trail is sheltered by the forest, and the wide pathways are great for larger hiking groups. Although the hike is only a little over 2 miles (3.4 kilometers), the trail features several steep inclines that can be challenging for beginner hikers. Be sure to bring a camera for this hike, as you will be able to explore the old military bunkers and view the North Shore coastline. We’ve included a map that shows the intricate trail system once you leave the coastline. One of the hidden gems of this hike is a beautiful resting area known as Lilikoi Junction, complete with picnic tables and a rain-water collector. However, there are multiple trails that cross through this junction, so be sure to start your hike early and travel with someone who is very familiar with the area. Having GPS on your phone will be imperative. Dogs are permitted on this hike as long as they are kept on a leash. Rain can make certain portions of this trail very slippery, so always make sure to check the weather and wear footwear that provides enough traction.
You can see more photos of the hike at: https://www.best-of-oahu.com/ehukai-pillbox-hike.html.
Note: Once you enter the established trail from the school parking lot, follow the trail that heads straight up the hill and you should find a small cave.
This trail is accessible for hikers of all levels. The main path is ¾ of a mile long (1.2 kilometers) and is part of a captivating botanical garden, making it a family-friendly excursion (especially those with little ones) and a perfect choice for those looking for a relaxing way to view nature. The paved paths provide clear access, shuttle transportation, and feature several informational markers along the trail. Waimea Valley carries an important religious and cultural significance for people of Hawai’i and is a great opportunity to learn about the island’s first contact with western culture. The trail features a rain-fed waterfall that is open for swimming, and life jackets are provided free of charge for those who are looking to take a swim!
Note: To preserve the beauty and cultural significance of the trail, there is an $18 general admission fee for adults and $12 for children (military and senior discounts available). To learn more about this hike, Waimea Valley’s website can be accessed at https://www.waimeavalley.net/.
Read some of our other helpful blogs as you prepare for your trip to beautiful Oahu:
Lacey Westphal, a biology major at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, is driven by her love of learning and passion for the outdoors. She enjoys surfing, soccer, and writing (when she has the time). As a student at one of the most diverse universities in the nation, she is always eager to meet new people and learn about the unique stories they have to share.