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Three Easy Scenic Hikes in O'ahu, Hawaii

by Gavin Lamb
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay, Hawaii. Stock photo by Amand Phung via Unsplash

When it comes to discovering Hawai‘i, those who make hiking a priority will be able to experience awe-inspiring scenic views unlike anywhere else in the world. The island of O‘ahu holds many spectacular hikes, giving you plenty of options.

While there’s no shortage of fantastic hikes to spend several hours of your day exploring, some of my favorite hikes allow you to reach a gorgeous scenic payoff in an hour or less. Below are three of my favorite easy-to-moderate hikes with awe-inspiring views of O‘ahu.

Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail & Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline

Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail is a fairly easy hike of 2 miles roundtrip. Drive east from Honolulu on Kalaniana‘ole Highway past Sandy Beach, and you will see the parking lot for the Lighthouse trail just before you reach Makapu‘u Beach Park.

The trail is a former access road for the lighthouse and is paved. When you reach the end of the trail, take some time to enjoy the panoramic view of the dramatic Ko‘olau Range stretching along the Windward (east) side of O‘ahu. And if you hike the trail between November and May, you’re in prime whale watching season. So be sure to take some time at the top to spot the over 10,000 humpback whales that migrate to Hawai‘i every year to give birth, nurse their calves and mate. The peak season for watching-whales is January through March.

As you make your way down the trail, keep your eyes peeled to the left. You’ll see an obvious rock-bed trail that veers down towards the ocean. Follow that path to the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline Trail. There, you’ll find a rock formation known as Pele’s Chair and a large natural pool protected from waves by rocks. This is a great place for a refreshing dip in the ocean after your hike to the lighthouse.

Ehukai Pillbox Hike

The ‘Ehukai Pillbox Hike is a short uphill trail under forest cover that leads to a former World War II bunker. This is a popular hike for O‘ahu locals for its quick access to spectacular views of the North Shore overlooking Sunset Beach and the world-famous surf breaks at ‘Ehukai Beach (Pipeline).

Take Kamehameha Highway past the charming former plantation town of Haleiwa, and along the beautiful North Shore. You’ll find the entrance to the hike next to Sunset Beach Elementary School, but be sure to park in the designated space for Sunset Beach Neighborhood Park, or across the street at ‘Ehukai Beach Park. Conveniently located at the entrance to the trail is a public restroom and drinking fountain.

The short hike leads you up a coastal bluff called Pūpūkea-Paumalū, and takes about 30 minutes to reach the top, with several beautiful spots in the forest to stop and catch your breath along the way. Soon you’ll be taking in a stunning view of the entire North Shore from a few hundred feet of elevation. Take some time to explore the old WWII bunker too, now covered in artistic graffiti. Overall the hike is short, but offers a good cardio workout with an incredible payoff at the top.

Koko Crater Stairs

The view atop Koko Crater in Hawaii Kai offers you an impressive scenic view of O‘ahu’s East Side. The trailhead is located in Koko Head District Park with a total round trip of about 1.5 miles. Park at the lot towards the end where you’ll find a dirt road leading for a couple hundred feet to the beginning of the trail.

This is a popular trail for both for the workout and the views. The trail is the remnants of a former supply-train track used during WWII with 1,048 steps leading you up 1,200 ft to an old WWII bunker.

The trail starts with a fairly slow incline, and then gets steeper towards the second half. Towards the middle section of the hike, the ground falls out from beneath the tracks and becomes a short bridge over a crevice about 15ft off the ground. You’ll have the choice to traverse the tracks, but volunteers maintaining the trail have made a convenient trail to bypass the bridge too.

As you make your way to the top of the Koko Crater Stairs, the breathtaking scenery of O‘ahu comes into view, from Waikiki to Hanauma Bay, and around the back of Koko Crater to Sandy Beach and the beginning of the Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail. At the top, the breeze of the tradewinds will make you want to linger for a while to soak in the incredible view. Tip: it can get pretty hot midday on the Koko crater trail, so either a sunrise hike or later afternoon hike are recommended.

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April 9, 2023
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