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Great hikes on Oahu, Hawaii easily accessible from Waikiki

Great hikes on Oahu, Hawaii easily accessible from Waikiki

I have recently returned from a trip to Waikiki on Oahu where I had a chance to explore some parts of the island on foot. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to write a post nudging people to hike these amazing locations. If you are an active individual, enjoy breathtaking views, and love to plan your trip in detail, this post is for you. First-time visitors to the island or travelers with kids will find this post reassuring and encouraging. Information in this post is up to date post COVID19 lockdown in Hawaii.

Diamond Head State Park

This hike is the first one to take because it is closest to Waikiki, the easiest to access and to walk up and down the crater. The view from the top is unforgettable and will create Instagram envy.

Diamond Head was used by the military during World War II for the defense of the island. It contains a number of bunkers and garrison structures. Fun fact, that despite all that fortification, not a single cannon has ever fired. Also, despite its name, no diamonds were found in the crater.

Diamond Head State Park satellite picture of the hike route recorded with Apple watch.

Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 3.2 miles from the bus stop outside the crater to the top and back
Elevation gain: 720 ft
Time to climb: 30 minutes for experienced and determined hikers or 1 hour with an average walking speed.
Kids-friendly: Yes, but no stroller access
Sunset/Sunrise photography: No. Park opens at 6 am and closes the gate after 4 pm.

The easiest way to get to the trailhead is to ride the Blue line of the Waikiki Trolley from a few pick-up locations in the Waikiki. Before the COVID19 trolley dropped passengers off inside the crater at the trailhead. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. The trolley stops at the bus stop outside the crater and makes people walk about a mile to the trailhead. The ticket will cost you $25 and is good for both ways. It is cheaper than Uber but more expensive than public transportation. We’re on vacation right? Splurge a little.

After COVID19 Diamond Head state park charges $5 per hiker so bring your credit card.

Getting to the top is uneventful. The path is unpaved and dusty so bring comfy shoes. Water on any hike, especially in the hot and humid Hawaiian climate is a must.

Note that the trail goes through a narrow and dark tunnel. If you are uncomfortable in tight places – be prepared and bring a flashlight. When you emerge from the tunnel, you will choose to go left or go right up the steep stairs. You want to go left. Going right leads into the bunker with no designated way out, except crawling out of the opening, which most people do.

Once you get to the top you will see this…

Diamond Head Crater view from the top
View from the Diamond Head crater rim

There is a decent amount of space to explore and look towards Waikiki (west), into the crater (north), or Cliffs beach (south). Expect to hang out for about 30 minutes at the top. It is a good time for a snack of Musubi available in all ABC and 7-Eleven stores.

When you hike down you can reward yourself with fresh coconut milk or pineapple smoothie. Refreshments are available at the entrance to the park. There is no food so plan accordingly.

Milk from the freshly cut coconut
Refreshments are available at the trailhead

Makapu’u point lighthouse trail

This hike is a little farther out from Waikiki so I’d take it after the Diamond Head. Traveling with kids takes a bit of logistics getting to and from this location. The hike itself is incredibly easy and comes with vistas you won’t forget.

Difficulty: Very easy
Distance: 3.3 miles from the park entrance to the top and down to the beach
Elevation gain: 550 ft
Time to climb: 30 minutes with an average walking speed
Kids-friendly: Yes, stroller-friendly as well
Sunset/Sunrise photography: Yes, but parking opens at dawn.

The best way to enjoy this location is by car. The convenience of getting there and leaving when you want is hard to beat with public transportation. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can rent a scooter. The road between Waikiki and Makapu’u point is a regular public road, not a freeway. As such, scooters and bicycles are perfectly adequate modes of transportation. The distance from the Waikiki is 13 miles so if you plan on biking, consider the time and effort it would take.

I used the Blue line of the Waikiki Trolley and asked the driver to drop me off by the entrance. They don’t have a designated stop there anymore after the COVID19 but drivers are flexible and will help you. To get back on the bus after the hike you need to walk down the road to SeaLife Park. They do have a pick-up location in the park. Note, if you are hiking on Wednesday, SeaLifepark is closed. The bus stops at the rear entrance into the park so walk further down the road and wait in the TheBus terminus area.

There are no vending machines or food trucks in this park so bring your own food and water. The nearest restroom is at the Makapu’u beach down the road across from SeaLife Park.

Makapu'u point lighthouse trail

The first scenic view opens at the halfway point when the path turns left towards the eastern side of the island. A spectacular view of the Koko head crater and the Alan Davis beach opens before your eyes…

Koko head crater view from the Makapu'u point trail
Koko head crater view from the Makapu’u point trail

Hiking without kids will enable you to access tidal pools on the eastern side of the island. Right about midway to the top after you turn around the hill, there will be a viewing area with binoculars. That’s where you can get off the paved path and walk down the cliff to the tidal pools below. It would be wise to come dressed in the swimsuit and have a towel. Swimming in that pool is a bucket-list item.

When you get to the top you will see the historic lighthouse on the cliff, rabbit island, Makapu’u beach to the left, and even be able to spot iconic islands of Moku Nui and Moku Iki of sandy Lanikai beach.

The Rabbit island on Oahu Hawaii
The Rabbit island
The Makapu'u lighthouse
The Makapu’u lighthouse
Tidal pools view from the top
Tidal pools are seen from the top of the trail

For the complete experience, I recommend hiking down to the park entrance and then proceeding further down on the shoulder of the road to reach Makapu’u beach. That beach is a sight to behold – pristine white sand, lava rocks, turquoise water, and green palm trees. It might be worth making a separate trip just to the beach itself with a bodyboard to enjoy it completely. It is too far for tourists so the beach is mostly packed with locals.

Makapu'u Beach on Oahu Hawaii
Makapu’u beach

Koko Head crater railway

This one is the toughest hike among all in this post. It is recommended for experienced hikers, physically fit individuals, or landscape photographers, searching for a perfect sunrise or a sunset.

During World War II, the military constructed bunkers at the top of the Koko head crater. They also built a railway to haul supplies and ammunition to the bunkers. When the war ended, they decommissioned the bunkers but left the railway for the general public. Now you have a chance to hike that railway.

Koko head trail entrance and view towards the top
Koko head trail entrance and view towards the top
Koko head crater hike

Difficulty: Brutal
Distance: 2.2 miles from the parking lot to the top and back
Elevation gain: 1,077ft
Time to climb: 1 hour with average walking speed and plenty of rest
Kids-friendly: Absolutely No
Sunset/Sunrise photography: Yes, but getting to the top before dawn is dangerous.

There is no easy access to the trailhead. Public transportation takes an hour to get there from Waikiki. You can either drive or get an Uber, which will cost you $40 one way. Since this is not a very popular destination, Uber can take a while to haul.

You will need plenty of water and some high-carb food. During the climb, you will be shielded from the wind by the mountain and exposed to the sun. The refreshing breeze will be your reward once you get to the top but you can easily go through half a gallon of water on your way up.

As you ascend you will get a view of the Hanauma bay towards the south, Maunalua Bay to the south-east, and Diamond Head in the distance to the west. From the top, you can see Koko botanical garden inside the crater, Makapu’u point towards the northeast.

The last 200ft of the hike is at a 45-degree angle. Some folks are holding on to the railway as a railing, which is hot under the sun.

This trail is most appropriate for people looking for a thrilling experience and something to be proud of. Among the few who dare to hike this trail, not everyone makes it to the top. It is a great physical exercise to stay in shape while vacationing on Oahu.

Here’s a short clip with the view from the top…

Vide from the top of the crater

This was not my first trip to the island. Check out my previous post about things to do on a rainy day.