This past week, March 7-14th, I spent my spring break from college in Oahu, Hawaii, and I miss it already! I’ve learned a few things about the island that I hope you can take with you on your Hawaiian adventure. The water was actually cooler than I expected so we opted to hike SEVERAL trails along the Southern Coast and North Shore. Luckily, hiking is free (besides $5 parking) so you don’t have to spend tons of money on Oahu to have fun. I would recommend taking on all of these hikes, but will say that my legs were feeling pretty tired by the end. To help with your trip planning, I have included a map with all hiking locations and will give you as much information as I can about the difficulty level, crowds, and landmarks as some trail heads are not easy to find.
On almost the furthest west side of the North Shore hides a wonderful trail right next to an airport that’s popular for skydiving and paragliding. This hike was slightly difficult to find, but Google Maps works just fine right up to the turning point that leads to the parking lot. Once you turn left after the airport runway into a road labeled “Access Gate,” keep going until there’s a parking lot on your left. Once parked, walk to the right and head toward the mountains down a gravel path until the “Kealia Trail” sign steers you in the right direction. This hike is 3.5 miles up, and consists of several switchbacks and rocky, uneven paths. The view is most beautiful during the hike so be sure to stop for some pictures rather than hoofing it up to the top so fast. At the top, after the picnic table, explore the trails that go further. Once you reach the artwork on the water tower, there’s not much more to see as your view is covered by trees. This trail takes about 4 hours from leaving the car to returning back down. On the hike, you might see several skydivers jumping from planes that took off from the airport below as well as gliders coasting over the ocean. March weather is perfect for hiking! However, even in Hawaii’s winter, it gets hotter toward the afternoon. Try to hike no later than 10am to 2pm in January-March, but in the summer, go as early as you can. After a job well-done, hop in the car and enjoy the coastal highway, H3, admiring the beauty of the land and the talent of the surfers. Perhaps spend the evening at the Polynesian Cultural Center buffet dinner and Breath of Life Show, which I will discuss in a future post. Unless you can reserve that for another time earlier in the day, which is what I would recommend.
Koko Crater Trail
This trail is challenging and steep, but the view from the top is incredible. The parking lot most people use for this trail is also used for ballfields, so it’s pretty crowded. Arrive no later than 8-8:30am in March if you want a spot. Koko Crater Trail is not for the faint of heart. It goes straight up for about 1,500 steps. The trail is an old railway with worn down ties and washed out dirt. It is only about 1.5 miles, but it takes about an hour or two to get to the top. You will weave in and out of those going up and will try to get out of the way of those experienced crazies running down! This is why I say you should go earlier than 8:30 if you can. The less people, the better. At the top, you’ll see why you climbed all that way. Hanauma Bay is in front of you and the giant crater is behind. There are plenty of high platforms on the top of the mountain for great pictures, including the old railway car housing. Spend a good 30 minutes to an hour photographing the views, meeting fellow conquerors, and hearing their stories. On the way down, if you are a less-than-avid hiker (I am just that) hike sideways to alleviate pressure on your knees while descending. The descent will be a breeze compared to the climb. This hike is the most difficult that some people will ever experience, but it will also be the most rewarding. Once you make it back down, don’t forget to look back at the impressive feat you just accomplished and remind yourself that it was all while on vacation.
Diamond Head Trail
As one of the most famous hikes on Oahu, Diamond Head is always crowded. However, the parking spaces free up fairly quickly so wait in line until one is available. You will most likely head to the trail with a large group of others unless you get there when gates open at 6am. However, everyone has their own pace so the trail is not unbearably crowded nor is it extremely narrow. No matter, there will be hikers of all ages, so I just accept the fact that this is going to be a slow, leisurely hike. Explore every inch of this hike, and climb every set of stairs. Even if they look intimidating, you won’t regret it. Close to the top, there is a set of yellow stairs to the right, which you will want to ignore, but really should climb because it’s cool! There is a battery with rusted metal doors and a small artillery area that was used in WWII. The top of Diamond Head is so crowded that you might not want to stay long, but at least take in the city views to your right and the coastal waters to your left. Remember, gates open at 6am. So if you’re an early riser, beat the crowd.
If you’re not tired after Diamond Head, eat lunch and drive to Manoa Falls, which is about 20 minutes north. Once again, Google Maps takes you straight to this hike, and parking is about $5. Manoa is a 3 mile hike round trip. As you begin the walk, you’ll see why they chose this location to film Jurassic Park as it’s filled with bamboo shoots and jungle views that seem to go on forever. Although there is very uneven terrain, this hike is fairly easy most of the way, only getting difficult toward the end near the waterfall. You may see a few groups hiking along with you, but the real crowd comes at the waterfall. People wait for good spots to take pictures, but there probably never will be one. The bottom of the fall is just deep enough to reach your ankles, but the water is freezing! On your hike back, you may see a girl finishing up her music video in the bamboo shoots, and it will sound really good! I found her on Instagram, @OLIVIATHAI. She was on American Idol XV and won both Taiwan Idol and Megastar!
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
The last hike of this post is a 1.5 mile steep walk up a paved road. The ground is even, but the climb escalates quickly. After all this hiking, your legs may be giving out at this point, so it may seem more difficult than usual. The scenery is beautiful the entire way, with views of the rocky coast and bright blue crashing waves. It may begin to rain as you reach the top, but don’t turn back after going so far. The rain comes and goes in Hawaii. Now, I’m not going to lie, don’t expect a huge lighthouse, but its surroundings are still breathtaking. The waves will look like they have blue dye in them as they crash against the rocks. After staying at the top for quite a while, make your way back to the car and take a load off. Head to Waikiki and reward your efforts with an acai bowl from Tropical Tribe. Hopefully the sun will make an appearance, and you can spend the rest of your day on the beach where they film Hawaii Five-0.
Here’s just a quick snapshot of how amazing Oahu really is!
I hope this was helpful in planning your next adventure!
I used an Akaso adventure camera for all my videos in Hawaii. It was amazing and way cheaper than a Gopro. The wifi feature doesn’t work, but that’s the only issue, which I think is well worth a $100 savings! Also, if you submit a review on Amazon, they will send you a whole package of accessories for free! It comes with body and head straps, extra batteries, etc.
We rented a home in Alewa Heights while visiting this amazing island. Check out great Hawaiian vacation rentals at VRBO!
Purchasing any items on Amazon through these links, and not only the ones that I mention, help me to share useful tips with you about travel, so thank you!
Very beautiful pictures, Katie! Scott and I went there a few years ago and went to most of the very same places….I even recognize some of the hiking trails and waterfalls…. So glad you had such a beautiful trip!
It was incredible! That’s the best thing about nature. It stays put if you protect it like Hawaii does. Thanks for reading!