best waterfall hikes in oahu
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The Best Waterfall Hikes in Oahu

When you travel to Hawaii, immersing yourself in the tropical landscapes is a must. One of the best ways to do so is to take to the trails and go for a hike. If you plan it just right, you’ll even get to see a waterfall or two! Wondering where should you go hiking on Oahu? Follow my advice and check out the best waterfall hikes in Oahu. From cool cascades to plunging pools, the sights you see along the way will astound you and be the highlight of your Oahu vacation.

Manoa Falls in Oahu, Hawaii
Manoa Falls in Oahu, Hawaii

Manoa Falls

Tucked away in the back of Manoa Valley not too far from Waikiki lies Manoa Falls. This lush valley is often graced with morning drizzles keeping the valley pristine and glowing, the trail muddy and the falls flowing. These falls, like many on the island, rely entirely on the amount of rainfall during any given month.

The hike to the falls in shorter than many on the island. It’ll only take you about 20-30 minutes or so to reach the falls. This also depends on how many times you stop to snap photos (it’s tempting!) or how quickly you can maneuver through the mud, as it’s approximately .8 miles slightly uphill.

You’ll walk through bamboo thickets, gaze upon gentle rooted giants and gawk at the colors of the pua (flower in Hawaiian) along the way before you reach a 150-foot waterfall. At the falls, you’ll find a rock wall and cable with a sign instructing hikers to not go beyond that point. Here, unpack your water and maybe a quick snack as you gaze upon the beauty that is Hawaii. It’s best to re-apply bug spray here, too. Use caution around this area as the rocks will most likely be slippery.

Parking at the falls is $5, but there’s plenty of it.

A couple takes a selfie at a waterfall in Oahu
Be sure to bring a camera!

Waimano Falls

This hike is easily one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu. In fact, it is probably my favorite hike on the island. The trail has grown in popularity over the years, leading to more and more crowds.

You’ll access Waimano Falls from the Manana Trail, which is located in Aiea on Koma Mai Drive at the end of a residential area. This hike will take about 1-2 hours or so to the falls. Along the way, you’ll hobble over tree roots and ogle at the differences in forest life as you descend deeper into the valley.

It’s downhill on the way there so obviously on the way back it’s going to be a bit of a trek. One part of the hike is notoriously known as “cardiac hill” because of it. You’ll know you’re getting close as you can often hear screams from people swinging from the rope into the pool and the sound of rushing water.

The falls are unreal and the bottom pool is usually deep enough to jump into, though use caution and give yourself some time to adjust to the water temperature. It’s usually pretty cold, making it more difficult to swim than you’d expect.

There are multiple pools of water, as well. The topmost falls being the largest with moss covering the rock walls that frame the pool magnificently. Again, you’re going to want to use your judgment as the threat of leptospirosis lingers here as well. Check the clarity of the water and try to go after a rainfall to ensure that the falls will be flowing with all their gusto and might.

Waimea Falls on Oahu

Waimea Falls

Also known as Waihi Waterfall, Waimea Falls lies in Waimea Valley, known to the Hawaiians as “The Valley of the Priests”, has been sacred to the Hawaiian people for over 700 years. The site is a cultural one with 79 sites of archeological interest on the premises and is a central establishment dedicated to the pervasion of Hawaiian culture.

The hike is only 3/4 of a mile from the ticket booth on a paved path, where yes, you must buy tickets to enter the valley. Ticket prices are approximately:

  • Adults: $16.95
  • Senior (62+): $12.95
  • Child (4-12): $8.95
  • Student (with valid ID): $12.95

At the falls, you must wear a lifejacket if you go in and can store your belongings in a locker. There’s also a changing room, so  bring some extra clothes.

The falls itself is unparalleled with 45 feet of flowing water cascading downwards into a pool surrounded by lush flora and fauna. You’ll find the moss covered stairs charming and the friendly lifeguards on duty might even snap a few photos for you. The water is more than refreshing and it’s often very cold so bring a towel to dry off.

Man stands next to a stream in Oahu
Hiking through Oahu jungles leads to several waterfalls!

Maunawili Falls

What used to be an uncrowded journey into the jungle has transformed into a top Oahu destination. In Kailua, Maunawili Falls is the spot for hikers searching for an adrenaline rush as they jump into a pool of cool water.

To access the falls, you’ll need to park in a residential area. When doing so, please do not block driveways, be respectful, and take trash with you. It is recommended that you bring bug spray, water, hiking shoes, and a towel.

This trail is super muddy, so be prepared! You’ll cross through streams, sometimes in the mud. It is also not well-marked, so pay attention along the way. Yet, at the end, you’ll find another flowing waterfall standing at about 20 feet tall with a perfectly proportioned swimming hole.

Please note that signs are posted stating the possibility that the water might be contaminated with leptospirosis. Use your judgment before wading in. If it has been raining for a good amount of time before you attempt the hike and the stream is flowing, you should be okay.

Maunawili Falls, which is regarded as one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu, is about 2-3 hours round trip. This also depends on how much time you spend in the water and taking in the natural beauty.

Experiencing the Best Waterfall Hikes in Oahu

Remember when you’re at the falls, whichever one that may be, that everyone is here to enjoy them. Please don’t hog the swimming hole, leave your trash behind or be disrespectful to anyone, tourist or local. Do your part to share the spirit of aloha and take care of the land as you journey across it.

Which of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu will you embark on?

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