Ideas for Hikes and Walks on the East Side

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt,” said John Muir, father of the National Park System and founder of the Sierra Club.

Fortunately, the east side of Oahu is home to many picturesque hikes and walks, so you can take Muir’s advice.

Choose from greenery and waterfalls, sweeping views of the coast, or a leisurely stroll. Please read on for a few favorites along with some information about their historical significance. 


Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Lookout Trail –Waimanalo

Makapu’u is a 2.5-mile roundtrip paved hike. A recently revamped parking area provides access to the trailhead.

The best time to hike the Lighthouse Lookout Trail is very early in the morning. The lack of shade on the trail means daylight hours can yield a sweaty, sweltering hike. But, begin in the before-dawn hours and you’ll enjoy a cool, breezy walk. Bring a flashlight and maybe even a jacket or sweatshirt as it can get very windy as you reach higher elevations.  (Official parking lot hours begin at 7am.)

A view of the sunrise from the top of the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Lookout Trail is bound to be one of the most memorable sights of your life. Time your walk so that you reach the top before the sun peaks over the horizon and you’ll be rewarded with a tiny orange glow that resembles a candle flame before it expands into the sun’s full, fiery glow.

When you reach the top, you will find the Makapu’u Point Light Station. It was established in 1909 as a light for vessels bound from the United States. The tower is built on concrete with an iron lantern with glass storm panes to protect the lens and illuminating apparatus. 

I was fortunate enough to get a tour inside the lighthouse about 10 years ago. The giant window panes are gorgeous and the light bulb room was something from a movie set.

On the way down, the daylight hours provide sweeping views of Oahu’s southeastern coastline and views of the Windward coast. Additionally, if you’re on the trail between December and May, you might be fortunate enough to spot some whales frolicking in the water.

Makapuu Lighthouse

Kaiwa Ridge (Lanikai Pillbox trail) – Kailua

The Kaiwa Ridge Trail or Lanikai Pillbox Trail is a 1.8-mile roundtrip, steep, rocky hike. The trailhead is located on a paved private driveway along Kaelepulu Drive. The driveway is opposite the Mid Pacific Country Club & Golf Course.

There is very little shade on this hike, so to avoid the heat (and crowds) visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Wear shoes with grip, as the scrubby plants and loose rocks can make this hike challenging in some spots. Though this hike is short, it gains 500 feet in elevation.

In recent years, the trail’s popularity caused the first of the two “pillboxes” along the hike to fall into disrepair and become structurally unsound. The Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources closed the trail and its structures for two months starting in March of last year to replace concrete and remove and replace rusted steel roof supports.

According to military historians, the two famed “pillboxes” are not actually pillboxes. In military terms, a pillbox is a concrete or dug-in guard post equipped with holes through which to fire weapons. The Kaiwa Ridge Trail structures were constructed in 1943 and included high-powered telescopes to determine position of enemy ships.

This is where I insert my opinion on two issues.  First, many dogs have become dehydrated and very ill on this trail.  I’d advise against bringing your four-legged best friend, but if you do, go early and bring plenty of water.  Second, be considerate of the neighbors when you park, and do not park illegally.  Your safest and best bet is to park at Kailua Beach Park and walk over.   

Nevertheless, this is a gorgeous scenic hike with views of the Mokulua Islands, Kailua and Lanikai beaches, Waimanalo and the entire Windward coast.

 Lanikai Pillboxes

Byodo-in Temple  - Kaneohe

The Byodo-in Temple is an easy .5 mile stroll in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the foot of the Koolau Mountain Range. There is a modest admission fee of $3 per person and the operating hours are 9 am to 5 pm.

Stroll on the Temple’s abundantly landscaped grounds to view wild peacocks, koi, turtles, frogs and black swans. Charming foot bridges cross the small streams. There is also a reflecting pond, small waterfalls and even use a wooden log to strike the Sacred Bell. The meditation pavilion provides visitors with a spot for quiet contemplation.

The Temple itself is a non-practicing Buddhist temple which welcomes all religions. It is a smaller-scale replica of the over 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan. Established in 1968, the Byodo-in Temple was built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.


Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens – Kaneohe  

Hours are 9 am to 4pm and admission is free.

Hoomaluhia means “peaceful refuge” and this rainforest garden undoubtedly lives up to its name. There are numerous trails to choose for your stroll in this 200-acre wonderland of tropical plants. The greenery and flora is grouped by geographic region; Philippines, Malaysia, Tropical America, India and Sri Lanka, Melanesia, Hawaii, Polynesia, and Africa.

The grounds are also home to a visitor center with a lecture room, an exhibition hall, a workshop and a botanical library.

Flanked by the towering Koolau mountain range, the garden was designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide flood protection for Kaneohe. It was open to the public in 1982.


Maunawili Falls Trail – Kailua

This is a 2.4-mile roundtrip hike. Once again, you may opt to park on the residential streets in the Maunawili Estates subdivision. (Please be courteous of the people who live there.)

As you walk through a canopy of trees to the Maunawili Falls Trail, you are instantly transported to a tropical rain forest with abundant vegetation.

This hike can be quite challenging, as it features many exposed roots that can be trip hazards and several points at which you will be hopping rocks to cross the stream. Depending on how much it has rained recently, you could be wading through calf-high water.  If you’re bothered by hiking with soggy socks and wet feet, include water shoes in your backpack! 

In the winter or after heavy rains, expect LOTS of mud which can make the hike very slippery. Be sure your shoes have enough traction to keep you safe. And don’t forget insect repellent as the wet, humid weather here attracts mosquitoes.

The Maunawili Falls trail will provide you with sweeping views of the Windward side of Oahu, including Olomana, the Koolau range and the Koolaupoko watershed. But the real treasure is the hike’s finale – a spectacular waterfall with a swimming hole below. You’ll know you’ve almost reached the end when you arrive at the small set of stairs. Once at the water, there are signs that advise against jumping in the stream, but many people choose to throw caution to the wind and take the plunge.

The Maunawili Trail’s accessible stream and gradation once made this an ideal place for crop cultivation. Researchers have determined the Hawaiians grew taro in the area as early as 1100 A.D. In the 1800s, farmers began cattle ranching and cultivated coffee, nuts, fruits, rice, and sugar. Some of the coffee plants are still visible along the trail. 


So, grab your hiking shoes, get outside and enjoy the many breathtaking Windward sights.  And, always remember to be considerate of the neighbors and leave the land better than you found it. 


Photo credits:

Photo 1: Sunrise from the top of the Lighthouse Trail

Photo 2: Lanikai Pillbox Trail by Gregory Zammell

Photo 3: Byodo-In Temple

Photo 4:  Ho'omaluhia by Wild & Away via Upstream

Photo 5: Waterfall at the end of the Maunawili Falls Trail