O‘ahu's Hardest Hikes: 5 Trails That Will Challenge You
Get out of your comfort zone, welcome a new physical challenge, and return to Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel feeling both triumphant and exhausted from these hikes in O‘ahu. Be sure to stay focused, smart, and prepared. Even sure-footed hikers need to be wary of the obstacles along these trails. Are you up for the challenge? Here are five of O‘ahu’s hardest hiking trails.
Due to COVID-19, trails and parks mentioned may be closed. We recommend checking City and County of Honolulu or State of Hawai‘i mandates and individual attractions for operating hours, updates, and social distancing measures before your hike. Please travel responsibly by treating Hawai‘i’s trails, creatures, sacred sites, and areas of ecological restoration with respect. Refer to Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources website for additional hiking etiquette and safety preparedness information.
1. Wa'ahila Ridge Trail
Begin your hike amid ironwood and strawberry guava trees before a gradual uphill trek towards Mt. Olympus. The periodic breaks in the tree canopy along the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail reward hikers with sweeping views of Honolulu, Diamond Head, and the Ka'au Crater. Traverse open ridges and forests until you reach the intersection with Kolowalu Trail. Once you reach the junction, the trail ends and becomes a Restricted Watershed Area. Turn back here or continue your adventure along the Kolowalu Trail into the Manoa Valley.
Find the trailhead (and plenty of parking, bathrooms, and picnic tables) in the Wa'ahila Ridge State Recreation Area. Time: 2 - 3 hours; Distance: 5 miles (roundtrip); Elevation change: 500 feet
2. Hawai‘iloa Ridge Trail
The Hawai‘iloa Ridge Trail passes along a beautiful forest of native trees overlooking the Ko’olau Range before ascending to an open ridge. The trail is well maintained and does get steep at times, but the views of the windward coast make the climb worth it. Part of Hawai‘iloa Ridge Trail’s appeal is the native flora and fauna often spotted along the way. See if you can point out native shrubs like ‘ulei and pukiawe or the kopiko and hala pepe trees. Look for the pu‘ahanui shrub at the summit (a relative of hydrangea). The delicate pink flowers were often used for medicinal purposes by early Hawaiians.
The trailhead is located in a private neighborhood on Pu‘u‘ikena Drive. The local homeowner association allows visitors to use the trail and distributes 10 parking passes at a time. Once you enter the neighborhood, continue on Pu‘u‘ikena Drive for approximately 1.5 miles to the trailhead parking area next to the Board of Water supply tank. Time: 3 - 4 hours; Distance: 7 miles (roundtrip); Elevation change: 1,700 feet
3. Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail
Reach the summit of the Ko‘olau Range via the Kuli‘ou‘ou Ridge Trail and behold spectacular views of the windward side of O‘ahu and Waimanalo. A shelter with picnic tables greets hikers about two-thirds of the way up the ridge. After a rest at the shelter, the walk along the pine-lined ridge becomes steeper and narrower before reaching the Ko‘olau summit. Take notice of the exotic vegetation and listen for the red-billed leiothrix songbird.
Find street parking along Kala‘au Place and proceed on foot to the end of the road and past the cable gate on the access road. Find the trailhead by the hiker check-in station. Time: 2 - 3 hours; Distance: 5 miles (roundtrip); Elevation change: 2,000 feet
4. Ma‘akua Ridge (or Papali Trail)
Located near the small community of Hau'ula, the Ma'akua Ridge Trail (Papali Trail) is a loop through the forest with plenty of shade. The diverse forest has a complex structure, from Formosa koa trees to strawberry guava, kukui, mango, Christmas berry and native papala kepau trees. Cross the Ma'akua Stream before switchbacking up the ridge to a shelter overlooking the ocean.
Park along Hau'ula Homestead Road before the cable gate and continue on foot past the hiker check-in station. The trailhead is on the left side of the access road. Time: 1 - 3 hours; Distance: 5 miles; Elevation change: 800 feet
5. Wiliwilinui Access Road and Ridge Trail
The out-and-back Wiliwilinui Access Road and Ridge Trail begins on a rugged dirt road through Formosa koa and guava forest before climbing the ridge through uluhe ferns to the summit of the Ko‘olau Range. There are stairs in certain sections to help you along. Catch glimpses of Waikiki, Kaneʻohe, Kailua, Waimanalo, and Manana Island from the summit.
The Wiliwilinui Community Association has granted hikers access to the trail. Please respect the community by staying on the trail and abiding by all rules and regulations of the association. Park on Oko'a Street in the designated parking area and proceed on foot along the access road to the trailhead. Time: 3 - 4 hours; Distance: 6 miles (roundtrip); Elevation change: 1,600 feet
While it’s easy to be intimidated by O‘ahu trails, remember that you don’t need to scale mountains to enjoy the beautiful terrain. Visit our Blog to find guides on moderate trails like Diamond Head, NuʻUanu Pali Lookout, and the Lighthouse Trail at Makapu‘u Point.
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