One of my New Year's Resolutions was to hike Oahu every other week. It's been one of the best resolutions I've made to date. Here are photos and a few words about some of the beautiful trails of the island.
I follow each description with a post-hike lunch recommendation--these have nothing to do with my NYR... I just love to eat :)
I don't have to go very far to get away from the bustling city of Honolulu--obviously; Oahu is an island, after all. In fact, even the heart of Honolulu hosts scenic escapes from the sounds of traffic, fresh, breathtaking eyefuls of lush vegetation, and amusing, playful aerial views of the high rises of town (Waikiki) and beachfront villas.
Manoa Falls is a quick, 1.6-mile hike (roundtrip) to a trickling waterfall. This highly-developed trail snakes through forests of bamboo, jurassic-park-sized fern, leaves, and vines, and fallen moss-covered timbre. This trail is little more than a walk in the park (literally) with a gentle incline and makeshift stair steps for scattered, steeper areas. The hike is shaded and can get muddy depending on recent weather. I did the hike in water shoes; this turned out to be a good decision because I (along with many other waterfall visitors) decided to climb past the "Do Not God Beyond this Sign" post to take a dip in the modest, freshwater pool. Parking is $5 in the park or free if you park in the residential area just below the park (be weary of No Parking zones, though). Wear bug spray! Finally, after the hike, head over to Rainbow Drive In and try their mixed plate, loco moco, and/or slush float. (Directions)
Diamond Head was a sight that I waited years to see because all my friends and family either had already done it and didn't care to revisit the crater site or had never gone and never intended on going because it was "too easy" and ridden of tourists. I finally visited it in January 2012. Its East-facing view would make for a great sunrise destination if it weren't for the 6 A.M. opening time (too late for a Hawaiian sunrise). This trail is mostly rocky and has a long staircase from about halfway up all the way to the top. I like it best for its proximity to town and for its short distance (1 mile roundtrip); it's perfect for a quickie workout when you tire of the flatlands of town area. Entry is $5 per car or $1 per person for walk-in visitors ($2.50 bus fare if you choose to bus it to Diamond Head. After the trail, be sure to grab some Acai bowls at the Health Bar or Japanese(-ish) food from Pioneer Saloon if you worked up a mighty appetite. (Directions)
Wiliwilinui Trail is just Northeast of Diamond Head, located more inland and up into the boonies. It's about 6 miles round trip, can take about 3.5-4 hours to complete, and is guaranteed to get your muddy, dirty, and dusty. The last half mile is the most difficult leg, with lengths of rope nailed into the ground to help you hoist yourself up the steep, step-less climb. I was pretty sore the next day. To get to this trail, drive past the guard and park in the designated parking lote (free). After hiking, drive towards town in Kaimuki and reward yourself with a healthy plate of poke from Ono Seafood and dessert (dobash or custard-filled malasadas) at Leonard's Bakery. (Directions)
Makapu'u Lighthouse Continue East on H1 until it becomes Kalanianaole Hwy and take in the true blue of the waters of Oahu as you drive along a windy cliff-top, narrow road. Pull over along the scenic points to look for whales out at sea or to watch the water rush through the Halona blowhole. Afterwards, hike the "Maks" trail (hopefully it'll still be early by this time--this trail is merciless as it offers no shade and only dry plants and cacti as scenery) for the best photo op spot of the area. It's a 2-mile walk with an elevation gain of about 500 feet and not much to see along the way. Bring plenty of water on this trail. It's a different kind of 'hot' on this side of the island: hot and dry. Parking fills up quickly, so you may have to walk aways if you end up getting one of the farther parking spots, but it is free. Come midday, have a spicy, fresh, or savory burger at Teddy's Bigger Burgers; have it with a side of cajun fries. To clear your palate, order a few mochi ice cream balls from Bubbies (I recommend mint chocolate chip and chocolate espresso). (Directions)
Koko Head Trail If you dare, climb the 1,048 "steps" (railroad tracks) up the side of Koko Head for a 360-degree view of this corner of the island. The trail opens at 4A.M. -- I recommend starting by 8 or 9 at the latest. This trail is notorious not only for its steepness and its dangerous, plunge-to-your-death (or at least a broken bone or two) bridge, but also for its dry heat as the sun beats down on high noon and afternoon trekkers. After my first time climb, I swore that I would never set foot on this trail again. I did, and I'll admit that my climb and descent showed a lot of improvement in my physical fitness and tolerance for heights, but still... the first time was terrifying after I reached the top and actually saw the steep walk back down. Many locals traverse these steps daily, making multiple rounds with dogs, babies, and even weights in tow. Park at the baseball diamond and park area (free). After the hike, have lunch at the Shack and an iced latte at Island Brew Coffeehouse. The owners as Island Brew will make you feel like you were sitting in your own living room -- you know, if your living room had a panoramic waterfront view, wraparound porch, and the best coffee on the island. (Directions)
Lanikai Pillboxes, unlike Diamond Head, is a great sunrise hike destination spot. In fact, some people camp out in the old, stinky military bunkers in order to have some night fun followed by a sunrise view over Lanikai Beach. This hike is listed as "easy" on many trail reviews, but beware of the loose gravel. I slipped and procured a massive bruise on my behind on my way back down the trail. The pillboxes hike is only over a half-mile long, but wear hiking shoes or tennis shoes (rather than flip flops or water shoes) for traction. You can also extend the hike into a 3-mi loop by continuing past the pillboxes and following the less-beaten path which loops back to the parking area. Parking is free. Afterwards, reward yourself with a dip at Lanikai Beach and red velvet pancakes at Cinnamon's! (Address: 382-498 Kaelepulu Dr Kailua, HI 96734)
Maunawili Falls While you're on this side of H3, might as well squeeze in a longer hike up to Maunawili Falls in the afternoon. It's about 3.2 miles roundtrip with only one beast of a steep climb three quarters of the way into the hike. The most challenging aspect of this hike is avoiding slipping and sliding on the smooth stones in the creek. This hike follows a small river/large creek, so wear some sort of amphibian shoes. I was fine with my $8 pair of water shoes from Walmart. Definitely wait until the area's had a couple consecutive sunny days before going on this hike; the mud on this trail is a nightmare to trudge through after stormy weather. Park in the residential area (free), then walk over to the gate entry of the trail. Make sure to bring a bathing suit, wear bug spray, and be prepared to leap off of cliff sides into a surprisingly deep (and murky) pool at the base of the waterfall! This trail takes a lot out of you; for eats, head to Kaneohe for prime rib at Haleiwa Joe's. (Address: Kelewina Rd, , )
Ka-ena Point State Park was one of the most fun and worth-the-trip hikes that I've done on the island. It's far on the west side of the island (until this hike, I couldn't figure out any other reason to be on the west side of the island besides pretending to be a tourist at KoOlina lagoons and visiting friends and family in Ewa) and offers a great ocean view as you follow a trail high above the water, along the coast. It's on the long side (6 miles round trip), so get there early so as to avoid the hot afternoon sun. There are a few dangerous-looking parts on the trail, where the ground seems to have fallen and disappeared into the ocean, leaving only a narrow walkway for single-file hikers, but otherwise, the climb is negligible and the terrain is relatively smooth. The state park at the end of the hike is gorgeous and almost pristine as most cars are unable to reach the park and it's closely guarded for the sake of the endangered albatross. My parents and I came naïvely close to a trio of monk seals at the beach here. I don't know if monk seals can smile and laugh, but I'm pretty sure that they were in a happy disposition when we encountered them. Parking is free and much past the residential area, right at the base of the trail. After hiking, you may as well drive into Haleiwa for grinds. Have a hearty sandwich at Kono's--everything on their menu is savory, juicy, and delicious. All of their sandwiches have a unique, only-in-Hawaii twist. (Directions)