Travel

The Most Beautiful Waterfalls You Can Hike to in Oahu

Alongside Oahu’s stunning beaches are her equally amazing scenic wonders. Rain makes rainbows and turns all things green -- and that rain also makes wonderful waterfalls. A simple hike on a trail can bring you under a green canopy filled with chirping birds hidden in the treetops. A bit further brings you solace from Honolulu’s fast pace, and if you have it in you, wonderful waterfalls that are in no need of an Instagram filter.

But hiking on Oahu is no joke. It can be very treacherous -- even on the simplest of trails. Wet conditions can lead to nasty falls and flash floods can change that trickle of a stream you just crossed into a gushing river. So make sure you research the hikes and go with a group, wear good shoes, use mosquito repellant, and bring plenty of water. Don’t venture off trails as you might harm the already stressed ecosystem and always carry out your trash. If you follow these simple rules and respect the land of Oahu, it will repay you ten-fold with some of the most amazing waterfall views on the planet.

Waimea Valley park
Waimea Valley Park | MNStudio/Shutterstock

Waimea Falls

Haleiwa
Located in Waimea Valley, this waterfall hike is located in a botanical park, along with visitor attractions and cultural activities. To get to this waterfall, you’ll have to pay park admission, but your ticket garners you access to a paved trail with a 45 feet waterfall, where you can swim in the freshwater pool with a changing room, free life vests, and a lifeguard on duty.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west. Merge onto the H-2 Highway, then merge onto Kamehameha Highway. Turn right on Waimea Valley Rd and park in the center’s parking lot.

Manoa Falls

Manoa
This waterfall hike is one of the most popular since it’s close to Waikiki and a very easy walk. Hikers only need to travail a well-maintained, 1.6-mile trail to reach a glorious 150-foot waterfall pouring down a massive rock wall. But with great, easy-access waterfall glory comes great foot traffic. The beginner-friendly path almost always swells with crowds, so you’ll have to do some advanced selfie gymnastics to crop strangers out of your photos. But crowd-ruining Instagram photos aside, this dramatic waterfall is still totally worth visiting.

How to get there: From Waikiki, going westbound, take H1 to the Wilder exit. Continue to Punahou and Manoa Road Park in the Paradise Park lot for $5 or park for free in the residential area outside the park area. Make sure not to block anyone’s driveway.

As of this publication, the next three hikes might have limited access due to the Pali Highway construction. The highway has been closed for many months in both directions due to a massive rockslide earlier in 2019. Construction is coming to an end, but check the road conditions before venturing out.

Lulumahu Falls

Nuuanu
Lulumahu Falls requires you to obtain a permit to access this hike as it is on government property. Lack of enforcement means many people do this hike sans permission, but follow the rules to be safe. There was also a fence placed near the trail but several “pukas” -- the local word for holes -- have appeared allowing hikers to continue their adventures. You’ll make your way on a gravel path through a dense bamboo forest and up a small hill towards the reservoir.  Make sure to stop for pictures. The trail is further towards the mountain. The path is uneven and muddy, but it’s worth the hassle. Follow the path to the right, go up a set of stairs and follow the stream to reach the 50-foot falls.  

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west and merge onto the Pali Highway. Turn at Nuuanu Pali Drive and park on the dirt path. You can also park along the road off the highway but watch out for patches of deep mud.

Nuuanu Pali Lookout
Nuuanu Pali Lookout | Steve Conger/Flickr

Jackass Ginger Pool

Nuuanu
While it's worth hiking the full five miles of Nuuanu-Judd's grassy trails and scenic ridges, you can enjoy near-instant gratification by hiking the 1-mile loop to the Jackass Ginger pools. Check out a series of 10-foot cascades pouring into a tranquil swimming hole, equipped with a rope swing for the brave. Hawaiian royalty once swam here, but the spot wasn't given its, um, remarkable name until the early 1900s, when local teens named the pool for a nearby donkey and yellow ginger fields. This popular hike can get busy, so arrive early to avoid the hoards.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west and merge onto the Pali Highway. Turn at Nuuanu Pali Drive. Parking is limited, but you can park on the side of the road next to the Judd Trail sign as long as you don’t block the entrance. The road is very isolated so make sure not to leave valuables in your car.

Likeke Falls

Nuuanu
Tucked along a busy highway, the hike to this hidden waterfall passes the scenic Nuuanu Pali Lookout, where King Kamehameha and his invading warriors forced the opposing defenders off the 1,000-foot cliffs to their deaths, thus uniting all the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. You’ll descend an old, paved road; traverse under highway tunnels and through a canopy of trees before climbing an old cobblestone path, which leads to a moderate, 20-foot cascade, framed by kukui and hau trees. Don’t stick around after dark as many say the fallen Hawaiian warriors haunt the area.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west and merge onto the Pali Highway to the Nuuanu Pali Lookout and park in the Pali Lookout parking lot. Parking is $3 per car. Alternatively, you can take another trail from the parking lot at the Koʻolau Golf Club. Take the trail towards a graffiti covered water tank and turn left towards the falls. Be prepared for mud and rain.

Maunawili Falls

Kailua
Hugging the Koolau Mountain Range, this three-mile, windward-side loop is a relatively short and easy hike leading to a 20-foot waterfall with a deep swimming hole, where swimmers take turns scaling various-sized boulders to jump into the freshwater pool below. To reach the falls, you’ll have to ford Maunawili Stream a few times, and meander through tropical fruit groves, plus kukui nut, coffee, and monkeypod trees. This path, like many waterfall trails, is especially muddy, so prepare to dirty up your hiking shoes and car floor mats.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west and merge onto the Pali Highway. Turn right onto Auloa Rd and park on the side of the road in the residential neighborhood.

Waimano Falls

Pearl City
Tucked near a residential cul-de-sac, this neighborhood hike has often been called novice, but don’t let the three-mile round trip fool you. After all, there ain’t an incline nicknamed Cardiac Hill for nothing. While you likely won't actually go into cardiac arrest scaling the dusty, root-covered mountain, please be warned. Once you reach the end, your shaking quads will be rewarded with a tiered waterfall spilling into a swimmable pool, its depth depending on rainfall. To access the pools, you’ll have to Spiderman your way down a short, steep rock face with rope, where you’ll be able to spend some well-earned time splashing in the pool.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west towards Pearl City and merge onto Moanalua Road. Turn on Waimano Home Road and turn left onto Komo Mai Drive and park in the residential neighborhood.

Laie Falls

Laie
If you’ve got four hours on your hands and are feeling up for a seven-mile hike, head to the island’s northeastern side and grab a permit from Hawaii Reserves at Laie Shopping Center. This difficult hike will lead you through an uphill terrain of exposed ridges and bamboo, pine, and strawberry guava trees before rewarding you with a quiet countryside trail leading to a two-tiered, 15-foot waterfall, which spills into a swimmable pool. (This is really for advanced trekkers and we recommend going with a group of experienced hikers.) Afterwards, get a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants and food trucks in the area.  Look for Ken’s Fresh Fish shop and get the “ono” ahi katsu plate.

How to get there: From Waikiki, take the H-1 Highway west. From the Polynesian Cultural Center, head north on Kamehameha Highway. Park by the football field on Poohaili St.

Koloa Gulch

Laie
Seriously not for the faint of heart, this eight-mile trail starts in an open ridge along the Koolau Range, and requires hikers to rock hop through the Koloa Stream more than 20 times, passing through native plants, fruit trees, a smaller waterfall, and a pool before reaching a fork. Venture left for a small waterfall and pool, or venture right, where you’ll pass smaller pools before arriving at a split-level, 100-foot waterfall. While it's extremely hard work getting here, the lush falls are totally worth the trip. Of course, you’ll have to make your way back eventually, which means fording back over the stream. The entire trip can last you about eight hours, depending on your pace and the weather. Before you embark on your adventure, pick up a permit at Laie Shopping Center, and some snacks and water for the all-day excursion.

How to get there: Take Likelike Highway to Kahekili Highway, which becomes Kamehameha Highway and drive to Kokololio Beach Park.

Kaipapau Falls

Hauula
Pink ribbons lead the way on this eight-mile, out-and-back trail, but it can be easy to get turned around, given that you need to rock-hop across the stream nearly 40 times. As with all gulch hikes, the trail will be wet after a rainfall, so plan accordingly -- and be aware of possible flash floods. This path will take you past abandoned bunkers and through a lush, narrow forest filled with imposing trees. After you’ve forded the stream almost more than your feet can handle, you'll be greeted by an epic 90-foot waterfall. Bask in nature’s eye candy before fording your way back home. This is another one where experienced hikers should accompany you.

How to get there: Take Kamehameha Highway towards Hauula past the Polynesian Cultural Center to Kokololio Beach Park. Limited parking by the trailhead.

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Marco Garcia is a writer and photographer based in Honolulu.  He loves elevators and escalators.
Summer Nakaishi is a freelance writer for Thrillist, who has tried to resist any reference to TLC’s chasin’ waterfalls until now -- go chase ‘em all!