The trails of Oahu cover a full spectrum of environments: desert walks through cactus, slippery paths through bamboo-filled rain forest, and scrambling rock climbs up ancient volcanic calderas. The only thing you won't find is an overnighter, as even the longest of hikes won't take you more than half a day. In addition to being short in length, many of the prime hikes are within 10 minutes of downtown Waikiki, meaning that you won't have to spend your whole day getting back to nature.
Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources. To obtain a Oahu recreation map that outlines the island's 33 major trails ($3.95), contact this office. You can also obtain camping permits for state parks here. 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 130, Honolulu, HI, 96813. PHONE: 808/587-0307. www.hawaii.gov.
Na Ala Hele Trails and Access. Contact the Na Ala Hele ("Trails To Go On") folks for a free hiking-safety guide. PHONE: 808/973-9782. hawaiitrails.ehawaii.gov.
Diamond Head Crater. Every vacation has requirements that must be fulfilled so that when your neighbors ask, you can say, "Yeah, did it." Climbing Diamond Head is high on that list of things to do on Oahu. It's a moderately easy hike if you're in good physical condition, but be prepared to climb many stairs along the way. Be sure to bring a water bottle because it's hot and dry. Only a mile up, a clearly marked trail with handrails scales the inside of this extinct volcano. At the top, the fabled final 99 steps take you up to the pillbox overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu. It's a breathtaking view and a lot cheaper than taking a helicopter ride for the same photo op. Diamond Head Rd. at 18th Ave., Enter on east side of crater; there's limited parking inside, most park on street and walk in, Honolulu, HI, 96815.
Manoa Falls Trail. Travel up into the valley beyond Honolulu to make the Manoa Falls hike. Though only a mile long, this well-trafficked path passes through so many different ecosystems that you feel as if you're in an arboretum—and you're not far off. (The beautiful Lyon Arboretum is right near the trailhead, if you want to make another stop.) Walk among the elephant ear ape plants, ruddy fir trees, and a bamboo forest straight out of China. At the top is a 150-foot waterfall, which can be an impressive cascade, or, if rain has been sparse, the falls can be little more than a trickle. This hike is more about the journey than the destination; make sure you bring some mosquito repellent because they grow 'em big up here. 3998 Manoa Road, West Manoa Rd. behind Manoa Valley in Paradise Park. Take West Manoa Rd. to end, park on side of road or in the parking lot for a small fee, and follow trail signs in, Honolulu, HI, 96822.
Maunawili Falls. Want to find a waterfall that you can actually swim in? Then Maunawili Falls is your trip. In fact, even if you don't want to get wet, you're going to have to cross Maunawili Stream several times to get to the falls. Along the 1½-mi trek enjoy the ginger, vines, and heliconia before greeting fern-shrouded falls that are made for swimming. The water is not the clearest, but it's cool and refreshing after battling the bugs to get here. 1221 Kelewina St., take Pali Hwy., Rte. 61 from Honolulu through the tunnels, take 3rd right onto Auloa Rd., then take left fork immediately. At dead end, climb over vehicle gate for trailhead, Kailua, HI, 96734.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. For the less adventurous hiker and anyone looking for a great view, this paved trail that runs up the side of Makapuu Point in Southeast Oahu fits the bill. Early on, the trail is surrounded by lava rock but, as you ascend, foliage—the tiny white koa haole flower and the cream-tinged spikes of the kiawe—begins taking over the barren rock. Once atop the point, you begin to understand how alone these Islands are in the Pacific. The easternmost tip of Oahu, this is where the island divides the sea, giving you a spectacular view of the cobalt ocean meeting the land in a cacophony of white caps. To the south are several tide pools and the lighthouse, while the eastern view looks down upon Rabbit and Kaohikaipu Islands, two bird sanctuaries just off the coast. The 2-mile round-trip hike is a great break on a circle-island trip. Makapuu Lighthouse Rd., Take Kalanianaole Hwy. to base of Makapuu Point. Look for asphalt strip snaking up mountain, Honolulu, HI, 96825.
Kaena Point Trail. This hike is a little longer (a 5 mile round-trip) and both hotter and more exposed than the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, but it is right next to the beach, and there are spots where you can get in and cool off. Sea-carved cliffs give way to lava-rock beaches and sea arches. Halfway to the point, there is a double blowhole, which is a good indicator of sea conditions. If it is blowing good, stay out of the water. Though the area is hot and dry, there is still much wildlife here, as it is the only nesting ground for many rare sea birds. Keep a lookout for the Laysan albatrosses; these enormous birds have recently returned to the area. Don't be surprised if they come in for a closer look at you, too. There has been a cave-in of an old lava tube, so be careful when crossing it, but enjoy the view in its enormous mouth. 81-780 Farrington Hwy, Take Farrington Hwy. to its end at Yokohamas. Hike in on the old 4WD trail, Waianae, HI, 96792.
Trails at Turtle Bay Resort. When on the North Shore, check out the Turtle Bay Resort, which has more than 12 mi of trails and oceanside pathways. You can pick up a trail and ocean guide for a self-led tour of the 5 mi of coastline and its exotic plants and trees. 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku, HI, 96731. PHONE: 808/293-8811. www.turtlebayresort.com.
Going With a Guide
Hawaii Nature Center. A good choice for families, the center in upper Makiki Valley conducts a number of programs for both adults and children. There are guided hikes into tropical settings that reveal hidden waterfalls and protected forest reserves. They don't run tours every day so it's a good idea to get advance reservations. 2131 Makiki Heights Dr., Honolulu, HI, 96822. PHONE: 808/955-0100. www.hawaiinaturecenter.org.
Oahu Nature Tours. Guides explain the native flora and fauna that are your companions on glorious sunrise, hidden-waterfall, mountain-forest, rain-forest, and volcanic walking tours. Tours include pick-up at any Waikiki hotel. PHONE: 808/924-2473. www.oahunaturetours.com.