On Oahu, we don’t have the pull-up-and-take-a-picture waterfalls that many of the other Hawaiian Islands do. No, you have to go on a bit of a hike to reach any of our waterfalls on the island. That said, the Oahu waterfall hikes are definitely worth a little bit of extra exercise.
What Should I Bring to These Oahu Waterfall Hikes?
Before you get to any of the hikes, there are some items that you should bring with you (for waterfall hikes specifically).
Bug repellent is highly recommended. The still water in the rainforest-like environments around the Oahu waterfalls attracts a lot of bugs – especially mosquitos. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t use bug repellent and I end up with bites on my arms and legs that don’t go away for a month. There are both traditional and natural options to help you ward off the little critters.
Preferably a pair that you can get VERY muddy. Your shoes will never fully recover from these hikes. Sometimes they will not make it out. (I once was on one of these waterfall hikes and the literal soles of both of my shoes came off!) However, intense, professional hiking boots are not at all necessary. Recently, I’ve been putting my Fila Women’s Day Hiker Shoes to good use, and they’ve held up quite well. And there’s also a men’s version.
A Plastic Bag
After you’re done hiking, you’ll want a place to put your muddy athletic shoes. You don’t want to get that mud all over your car. If you’re trying to be more eco-friendly, try this reusable plastic bag and give it a good wash when you get back to where you’re staying.
A Pair of Flip-Flops
A.k.a. slippers – here’s a post with more local lingo. You’ll need these to wear after you shove your muddy athletic shoes into that plastic bag.
If possible, you want to swim at these waterfalls, don’t you?
You’ll need them to avoid sharp rocks (especially for the kiddos!)
To use to dry off after your swim! Although, in all honesty, you can leave this in the car instead of adding the extra weight.
You have to stay hydrated! Maybe put it in a nice reusable bottle to help the environment out just a tad.
A Waterproof Camera
For a more comprehensive Hawaii packing list, click here.
A Bit of Warning
When you start these hikes on Oahu, you will probably come across a sign that’ll tell you that you’ll get infected by a strain of bacteria called “leptospirosis” if you so much as touch the water. After further research, this is not exactly the case.
Leptospirosis can only be harmful if it enters the body through an open cut (so if it’s scabbed over, you’re fine) or by drinking it. While some cases of leptospirosis may have bad flu-like symptoms, others have no symptoms at all. Personally, I have not heard of anyone actually getting leptospirosis on any of these hikes. Once I even got a small cut from a rock in a waterfall pool and did not have any signs of leptospirosis.
If you would like to read a bit more on the bacteria, here’s a page from the CDC.
Ok, I’m All Set! Tell Me About These Oahu Waterfall Hikes!
If you’ve done one of the waterfall hikes on Oahu, odds are you’ve done Manoa Falls. The path is nice and obvious, there is a ton of shade (as with all of Oahu’s waterfall hikes), and the falls themselves are absolutely stunning. It’s not too difficult, so it should take you around 45 minutes to reach the waterfall. The trail is less than a mile one-way, but there will be some pausing to let other hikers pass. Unfortunately, you cannot swim in the pool at the bottom of the Manoa Falls hike.
There is parking available for this hike for $5. If you are military, be sure to ask for a military discount, which will make parking only $3.
P.S. Even though it was a fun experience at the time, I would not recommend hiking to Manoa Falls in the rain, as my friends and I did.
I’ll admit. Waimea Falls isn’t one of my favorite Oahu waterfall hikes, simply because it is not really a hike. So if you are looking for the least physically challenging and least confusing experience to see a waterfall on Oahu, Waimea Falls is the hike for you. As a matter of fact, “hike” is a strong word for the path you take to see Waimea Falls. To put this in perspective, I, along with my entire kindergarten class at the time, did this so-called “hike” to see this waterfall on the North Shore. So not much danger or effort with this choice.
It should take about 30 minutes to reach the waterfall, as the trail is only around three-fourths of a mile. Depending on the weather, swimming may be allowed at Waimea Falls. If you do wish to swim under the waterfall, you are required to wear a life jacket.
Given that this hike is within the more accessible Waimea Valley area, there are changing areas, showering areas, and lifeguards. This means that the hike to Waimea Falls is one of the busiest waterfalls on Oahu as well.
There is parking available for this hike.
The 2.5-mile roundtrip hike to Maunawili Falls actually requires a couple of stream crossings, so be prepared to get your feet wet! While the waterfall on this hike is not as large as some of the others on this list, Maunawili Falls is also known for being home to a few native plants, as well as the (non-native) beloved lilikoi (passion fruit) plant. If you’re lucky enough to be there while it’s in season, feel free to snag a couple of the bright yellow or purple spheres to munch on later.
Limited street parking is available for this hike. Be courteous to those who live in the area and do not block the driveways.
*Local Secret: if you scramble your way up over Maunawili Falls and hike a bit further, you’ll actually make your way to an abandoned wooden bridge, if that sort of adventure is up your alley.
Likeke Falls – ILLEGAL
Likeke Falls is one of my favorite Oahu waterfall hikes. It does not take much effort to get a great reward, which makes it perfect for small children. Plus, it’s one of the rather secret waterfalls on Oahu – that’s just an amazing added bonus. Within twenty minutes, you can reach a relatively small, yet stunning waterfall. Please be careful while doing this hike though, because the path veers off from where you expect it to be at a couple crucial points. I previously wrote a post with a bit more detail on the directions. While the pool at the end is much too shallow for swimming, I’ve seen kids enjoy splashing around.
Parking for this hike is available at the Koolau Ballrooms.
The Waimano Falls hike is the most physically difficult hike that I’ve put on this list. (Granted, it’s not actually that difficult. I’m just not necessarily the best at hiking.) I did this nearly three-mile trail in about three hours, round trip. In contrast to the rest of the hikes on this list, you go downhill first and uphill on the way back. While this doesn’t seem like much, this was a real mental block for me. I mean, I already saw the waterfall (my reward), so why did I have to work so hard to get back to my car?
Nevertheless, Waimano Falls is still one of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu. First of all, the waterfall itself is stunning. Second of all, there are two rope swings! While both of them are fun, I’ll admit that the jump from the higher of the two rope swings can be a little painful. You can also jump without the rope, making it possible for you to have both an Oahu waterfall hike and cliff jumping experience at the same location! Just as a note, the pools at these falls are quite shallow (with the exception of the rope swing area), so they aren’t ideal for swimming around.
DO NOT FORGET: GO LEFT, not right. There will be a point in the trail with a clear fork in the road. (Not the one that says, “Manana Falls to the left, and Waimano Falls to the right.” It’s quite a bit after that.) Both paths will seem well-trodden. You MUST go to the left, not the right. The first time I did this hike, I went to the right and got very lost. So I don’t care how you remember this. Come up with some sort of acronym. Make up a song. Take a screenshot of this page. But be sure to go left. Then, you’ll be able to make it to the lovely waterfall and have a great time. If you end up in a small clearing, turn around, because you’ve gone the wrong way.
Limited street parking is available for this hike. Be courteous to those who live in the area and do not block the driveways.
Lulumahu Falls – ILLEGAL
The hike to Lulumahu Falls is approximately two miles long. It is on the property of the Hawaii Board of Water Supply, so it’s not quite legal (whoops – take your chances). That said, it is still quite a popular hike. But, in my opinion, it is probably the best waterfall on Oahu.
The falls themselves are absolutely stunning, as Lulumahu Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls on Oahu. However, the pool is not quite deep enough to swim in.
This hike does require a few river crossings, which can be difficult if you choose to tackle this adventure after a heavy rainfall. There is also a small section that could be described as “rock climbing,” although it’s more like big steps on large rocks (it doesn’t require any arm strength though). However, if you are deathly afraid of heights, this little obstacle might deter you right before you reach the falls.
If you happened to complete the hike to Lulumahu Falls in the past (2017 or earlier), the path has changed since then. Because it’s on the Hawaii Board of Water Supply property, they have implemented measures to deter hikers (a.k.a metal fences). While it is clear that some hikers have simply chosen to hop the fences, there is an alternative path that does not require fence-hopping. Instead of immediately turning left according to the old path, continue to go straight for a bit. Once the path naturally veers to the right, keep your eye out for a path on the left. Take that path and you’ll be on your way!
Similarly to Waimea Falls, Kapena Falls should not even be classified as a “hike.” The very, very short walk to Kapena Falls takes a grand total of three minutes (and three minutes back, so I suppose six minutes). Granted, the trail is muddy, so there is that aspect that makes this secret Oahu waterfall hike a little more hike-like. This is, however, easily the smallest waterfall on this list as well. Kapena Falls does have the added bonus of a nice-sized swimming hole to enjoy though.
To get to Kapena Falls, Google Maps is actually quite unhelpful. Instead of putting “Kapena Falls” as the search term, you’ll want to navigate yourself to “Nuuana Memorial Park and Mortuary.” (Yeah, it’s a cemetery – if that weirds you out, this hike isn’t for you.) Drive to the very end of the parking lot and park there. At the farthest point of the parking lot, you’ll see a small muddy path. That’s your start to this three-minute hike!
*Bonus: Kapena Falls is actually one of two places on Oahu where you can see petroglyphs – the writings/drawings of the ancient Native Hawaiian people. (The second place comes and goes depending on the tide. So this is really the only consistent place to see petroglyphs on Oahu). The little drawings are very close to the start of the hike, and they are barred off for their preservation.
Hamama Falls – ILLEGAL
Hamama Falls is another secret waterfall on Oahu, because it is once again on private property. This hike is a little over three miles long, but it is not too strenuous. There is one short section that is rather steep, but the rest is very doable.
Keep your eye out throughout this Oahu waterfall hike for little swimming holes along the way, as the pool at Hamama Falls is not quite deep enough to swim in.
Hamama Falls itself is about 30 feet and you likely won’t encounter anyone else on your hike, making it one of the best waterfalls on Oahu.
*Bonus: if you’re up for a little bit more adventure, there is another waterfall just a bit off of the path to Hamama Falls: Waihee Falls. Do your research before you head off to find this secret Oahu waterfall!
BONUS: H-3 Drive!
Out of all of these Oahu waterfalls I’ve listed, easily the most breathtaking are actually the ones that can be viewed from H-3, one of Oahu’s highways. I know what you’re probably thinking. The best waterfalls on Oahu can be seen from a highway?! And the answer is still unquestionably yes.
Let me paint a picture for you. H-3 is a highway that winds through the luscious, plant-laden Koolau Mountain Range. Even when it’s a drier time of year, the mountains are still bright green. Then, imagine during rainy season, when the water is pouring out of the sky and into each and every crevice of the Koolau Mountain Range. This creates dozens, if not hundreds, of Oahu waterfalls. Can you imagine a more spectacular Oahu waterfall experience than that?
To get the full experience H-3, you’ll want to set you GPS from Kailua to Aiea (or vice versa). Try to time your drive on the rainiest day of your trip. Check the weather for Kaneohe before you head out. If its supposed to rain there most of the day, you may be in luck!
While I try my best to update this list whenever I become aware of a change, please check to see if these trails are still legally open before you do them. The statuses of trails in Oahu do change. Any of these trails could become illegal, either temporarily or permanently, at any time.
Interested in some other Oahu hikes? Here is a list of 15 of the best!
What are your favorite Oahu waterfall hikes? Tell me about your experiences in the comments! (I promise I’ll respond!)
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