You did it! You finally saved up enough money for your dream vacation to the beautiful paradise of Hawaii! You’ve seen pictures of the epic Stairway to Heaven, the famous Jurassic Park waterfall, and the infamous Koko Head Stairs. You’ve also seen beautiful snorkeling photos from Hanauma Bay and of course plan on catching some waves at the North Shore! However, other visitors will have the same idea as you. If you don’t start your day at sunrise your epic selfie will be photo bombed by a bunch of like-minded tourists! Why not see things from a local’s point of view and conquer the more serene trails with less foot traffic? So I bring to you five beautiful spots that only a handful of people know about!
Hike time: 30 minutes to an hour
Directions: The Koko Crater Arch is a lesser-known trail in back of the Koko Head Stairway. From the Eternity Beach parking lot, you can cross the street and climb up the rocks to a short, but exhilarating hike to a naturally formed rock arch.
Details: Total time for the hike is less than 30 minutes. You can also continue up past the arch to the rim of the crater and head East towards the stairs. Add on another hour or so if you plan on completing the whole trail and down the stairs. The rim is narrow on both sides and you get wonderful views of Makapu’u and Hawaii Kai. Some avid hikers also hike from the West rim of the crater to the East rim to complete the full rim of Kohelepelepe (a.k.a Koko Head Crater). You can also explore the botanical gardens inside the crater to add more to your Koko Head experience.
Hike time: 1 to 2 hours
Directions: Way out at the Western-most point of the island is the Kaena Point hike.Some tourists are intimidated by the idea of visiting the West side of the island. This is a major misconception, as the West side has some of the most beautiful views on the island. Don’t be afraid to explore the beauty of the Waianae Range. To get here, just drive West on Farrington Highway until you reach the end of the road. There will be a dirt parking lot and a sign marking the start of the trail.
Details: This one-hour hike is a flat dirt road that leads to a gated bird sanctuary. You get to see native birds and Hawaiian Monk seals here. You can also go off-roading, although you need a permit if you wish to do so. There are many tide-pools along the coastal path and at the end of the trail. If you are looking for a more strenuous hike, head up to the World War II bunkers on the ridge. You can get an even better view of both sides of the island and settle down to watch the sunset over the water. One of the bunkers has a ladder that leads you 20 feet down into the center of the mountain. Go explore if you dare!
Total Time: 5 to 6 hours
Directions: Ka’au Crater is located in Palolo and starts in the neighborhood. The trail begins at the end of the road past some mailboxes, and leads you down to the stream.
Details: This is one of my favorite day hikes, because it has everything all packed into one hike. You will encounter a forest, three waterfalls, stream crossings, and a breathtaking view at the summit. You can expect this hike to take you about 5 to 6 hours, so plan for a full day out in the wilderness. Bring a lot of water to stay hydrated because the water here is brackish water and undrinkable even with a filter. The water comes directly out of the crater, not from a fresh-water stream. The waterfall pools aren’t that deep, but definitely bring extra clothes because you will get wet.
Hike time: 2 to 3 hours
Directions: The hike is located in Kaaawa next to the famous Crouching Lion hike.
Details: If you want a waterfall that will give you that shocking “awe” moment when you see it, then Makaua Falls is the hike for you. The water usually flows after some heavy rain, but this 200+ foot waterfall will amaze you nonetheless! You can expect this hike to take you about 3 hours round trip. There will be a lot of rock hopping and stream crossing. The valley also narrows, so there are risks of rocks falling onto your head. However, if you stay alert and vigilant, you won’t be disappointed at the end of the trail. Even a dry waterfall chute that high is worthy enough for this epic adventure.
Hike time: 7 to 8 hours
Directions: The hike starts from the Crouching Lion hike and continues up the ridgeline.
Details: This hike is one of my favorite trails on the island. However, it is also one of the most dangerous. The views of Kahana Bay are just unbelievable. As you get up to the ridge, you will see the lush Kahana Valley. The reason why this hike is so dangerous is because the ridgeline is super narrow. You can literally sit with both legs dangling on either side of the ridge. Keep your balance by staying low to the ground, thus having a greater center of gravity while trekking on the ridge. Some of my friends even crawled along the way! The climb up to the ridge is also narrow and steep. Always be sure to go slow and plant your feet firmly with each step, to not slip and fall. A lot of people will stop after the first notch to get that epic ridge picture. However, the full hike is a loop that will take you 7 to 8 hours to complete. The ridge going back down is called Graveyard Ridge and you can guess why by the name. The ridge going down is narrow and steep and you rely on the tree branches to slowly get down the crumbly ridge. There is no other experience like it! I would recommend being an experienced hiker if you are planning to head down this ridge. The dangers are very real. Otherwise, it would be best to head back down the way you came.
So there you have it! Five trails on Oahu that few people know about. Which one interests you the most? Or will you attempt to complete all five? Hopefully this guide will inspire you to take the lesser-known path. Shy away from the mainstream trails. Would you rather tell your pals back home that you completed the Stairway to Heaven hike that everyone talks about, or tell them that you conquered Pu’u Manamana’s death-defying drops? You must escape the ordinary in order to feel most alive!
-Steven Karr is a resident on O'ahu. You can find more of his hiking adventures by following him on instagram here
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