Even adventurers sometimes need a relaxing vacation and for my husband and me there’s nothing more rejuvenating than a Hawaii beach vacation with a couple of day hikes thrown in. O’ahu is our favorite island because the best beaches in the islands are here, there are lots of great restaurants in every price range, entertainment choices are endless from the latest movies at the Ward Center to authentic hula performances, and there are a number of scenic hikes within a bus ride of Waikiki. It’s handy to have a car but two of our favorite hikes are accessible by the city bus, known simply as The Bus.
UPDATED in 2020
Two hikes, the Manoa Falls hike described here and the Judd Trail to Nu’uanu Trail start at completely different areas but can end at the same place. Both are part of the extensive network of 18 trails that comprise the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. Mauka means toward the mountains in Hawaiian (as opposed to makai, toward the ocean), and can be more meaningful than compass points on a small island. The Manoa Falls hike is a short jaunt while the Judd Trail is a vigorous adventure. Download or print a map so you can find your way if you take any of the extensions and carry plenty of water. The junctions are well signed but there are hardly any map boards along the way.
Fans of the TV series Lost and Hawaii Five-O may recognize scenes from both trails. Keep an eye out for McGarrett and Dano from Hawaii Five-O!
Manoa Falls Hike
One would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful hike in such close proximity to an urban area. The Manoa Falls Hike is well-traveled, but if you take some of the extensions you’ll see fewer people.
To get to Manoa Falls, take any one of a number of buses on The Bus from Waikiki to Ala Moana Shopping Center, such as Bus #8, 19, or 20, then transfer to Bus #5 to Manoa (get a transfer from the bus driver). At the end of the line take a 10 minute walk (0.5 mile) to the trail head.
If you have a car, drive past the Lyon Arboretum entrance to a parking lot at the trailhead to Manoa Falls.
The hike is a fairly easy 30-60 minute (1-2 hours round trip), two-mile round trip walk to Manoa Falls. There is a gentle uphill gradient with rocky, uneven surfaces, and can be slippery due to frequent showers. Wear proper hiking footwear.
Dense tropical lush foliage lines the trail, giving way to a thicket of bamboo forest, accompanied by the percussion tones of the hollow bamboo clacking together in the breeze in concert with chirping birds. Along the way you can see ginger, mule’s foot ferns, guava, passion fruit, mosses and the blue marble tree with Avatar-blue fruit. The waterfall is fairly modest but feathery spray drops into a small, pretty pool that is pleasurable to dip toes into. Thickets of hau trees can be seen along the trail, used extensively by early Hawaiians to create canoe outriggers from the wood, sandals from the bark and a medicinal agent from the sap. Expect a few raindrops in the afternoons as clouds often gather around the mountain tops. This area gets 165 inches of rainfall annually, and from sunny Waikiki one can often look back to Manoa in the afternoon to see dark, billowing clouds gathering along the ridges.
You will see a signed junction for the ‘Aihualama Trail on this hike, which ascends steeply to the top of Tantalus, featuring an expansive 360° view and many junctions with other trails. Be sure to carry a map if you take any of the other trails.
Return from Manoa Falls the way you came.
Harold L. Lyon Arboretum
Combine the Manoa Falls hike with a visit to the lovely grounds of the Lyon Arboretum, located adjacent to the trailhead. This 193-acre garden showcases an extensive display of native and introduced flora. Established in 1918 by the Sugar Growers Association to test tree species and identify plants of economic value, it was acquired by the University of Hawaii in 1953. Today, native Hawaiian species are emphasized, including collections of palms, ginger, ti and taro. A stroll around the paths of the arboretum is an agreeable way to conclude a hike to Manoa Falls.
Walk from the arboretum to The Bus stop at Manoa Road and Kumuone St. Take the #5 bus to Ala Moana Shopping Center, then transfer to one of the many Waikiki-bound buses.
The Manoa Falls hike is a good introductory hike to see a tropical forest in the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. If you want to experience a longer, more athletic hike try the Judd/ Nuuanu Trail, a 5-10 mile hike, depending on the route (coming soon!).
Hiking guide book:
Harold L. Lyon Arboretum
3860 Manoa Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96822