Jun 13, 2017
Honolulu: A Haven For Hikers
It's no secret that Honolulu is highly regarded for its beautiful beaches, urban art scene, and a plethora of award-winning chefs who serve up the best of regional cuisine.
Yet, the southern-facing flank of the Ko'olau Mountains, which provide the city's verdant backdrop, are often overlooked. And there's only one real way to see these amazing vistas: by foot.
Just minutes from the hustle and bustle of the city, these dramatic rises and valleys offer some great hikes for any nature lover. Waterfalls, forest birds, and tropical foliage offer a world far-removed from Honolulu's skyscrapers. So keep your slippers on and take it easy or lace-up your hiking boots and go hard, because we're exploring three hikes to get you exploring Honolulu's backcountry.
Mānoa Falls is a great introductory hike into Honolulu's wilderness. This 1.6-mile round trip hike is well traveled and well maintained, and boasts a small waterfall at the back of the valley. The path follows the Waihi stream to the waterfall, which can fluctuate from a trickle down the slick rock face to a rushing fall during times of heavy rain. There are benches at the fall to enjoy the surroundings.
To get to the trailhead, park in the designated, paid-parking lot just past Treetops Restaurant (which is closed) in the very back of Mānoa Valley. Walk along the paved road a bit further to the designated trailhead. If you prefer free parking, you'll need to park in the neighborhood before the road narrows, about a quarter mile back. Bug spray is a good idea if mosquitoes get on your nerves.
This moderate hike follows a narrow ridge that separates Mānoa and Palolo Valleys with amazing views from both sides of the ridge. The 2.8-mile round trip hike is not for those afraid of heights, as the trail skirts the ridge with drops on both sides. If you can handle the adventure, the payoff is well worth it. The trailhead area features a Cook pine, offering that pine forest scent you don't expect in Hawai'i. Along the trail, keep your eyes peeled for silver oak trees, strawberry guava, ironwood trees and the Hawaiian native tree 'ōhi'a 'ai. Also, look for a grassy spot with great views of Honolulu, Diamond Head and Manoa Valley. Once you reach the Kolowalu Trail sign, turn around and head back.
If you're traveling with children, the Wa'ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, where the trailhead is located, is a great place for a picnic. Set in a dense grove of old growth Cook pines, there is a free parking lot, picnic benches and clean restrooms. Let the kids chase the chickens and explore the surrounding forest. There are also excellent lookouts for Mānoa and Palolo Valleys.
The only dryland species botanical garden in the state, the Koko Crater Botanical Garden is a must-see. Set inside an extinct volcano cinder cone on the southeast tip of the island, about 20 minutes east of Honolulu on the Ka Iwi Coast, the two-mile loop trail circles the volcano floor and features cacti, succulents and dry-land plants and trees from the Americas, Madagascar, Africa, and Hawai'i. The trail begins at the parking lot and begins with an amazing spectacle, a stand of mature plumeria trees planted in the 1960s. Visitors from May to September, when the plumeria trees are in full bloom, will be blown away by the sheer volume of colorful inflorescence, from bright white with touches of yellow to rich, crimson red. The different cultivars show off different petal shapes and different scents to match the visual beauty.
Follow the trail through different geographical plantings and explore a world of thorns, odd shapes, prehistoric plants and inviting flowers. At about the halfway point along the trail, in the Native Hawaiian section, is a stand of native Wiliwili trees. There are no services at the botanical garden, save for a dusty porta-potty. Come prepared with plenty of water. The garden is hot and dry, so try to avoid a midday hike if possible.
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