The best waterfall hikes in Oahu presented me with a little bit of a problem. There were so many to choose from that I had difficulty narrowing it down to just twelve.
However, I have made my selection and I do believe that each has something very unique to offer.
Oahu is the third-largest island of Hawaii and it houses the state capital, Honolulu. I would definitely recommend this island as a destination to anyone wanting to visit tropical Hawaii.
It is one of the biggest islands in the US and boasts almost 230 miles of coastline. The island is also home to two volcanic mountain ranges, so you’re sure to be in for a treat!
Hiking on its own can be an exciting and fulfilling activity, but adding a goal makes it more exciting. If you’re hiking towards something, the end goal can make the hike seem easier or even shorter! It also adds a sense of achievement once you reach your goal.
That is why the hikes on this list include waterfalls at the end or along the way. If you’re hiking these, then you’ll have something to look forward to while you’re trekking.
12 Best Waterfall Hikes in Oahu Hawaii
Hiking is a great way to bond with the family, and that is why I included family-friendly hikes as well. An active hike in nature is actually very good for your health and can even boost your mood!
Hiking allows you to breathe fresh air, gets your heart rate up, and takes you to new and exciting places. It is one of the best ways to recharge your batteries and re-energize yourself again.
I have sorted the waterfalls on this list by the length of the hike, from shortest to longest. There’re only a few of the hikes that I consider to be fairly difficult, but I do mention each individually.
Therefore, especially for families with kids, choose your favorite hike based on the length. Most of them are suitable for children of all ages and skill levels, so go with your gut!
1. Kapena Falls
Kapena Falls is located in a sacred area, so it is best to be very respectful when you visit. It is also a magical place that is fairly close to Honolulu but feels like another world.
In order to get to the falls, you have to hike a very short way in a beautiful forest. The forest is woody and enchanting and I think children will love it.
The waterfall isn’t the tallest one on this list by a long shot, at only 15 feet high, but it is beautiful. It also has a wonderfully deep pool at the base, so you can have a swim if you’d like.
I always suggest this as one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu for families with small children. This is mostly because the hike is short and shaded and the waterfall is lovely with a big swimming pool.
This area is so secluded, woody, and enchanting that it’s been used as a set for movies and TV series. This is the perfect place for aspiring photographers to get beautiful nature shots.
The entire area is covered in car-sized boulders and there are hanging vines and towering trees. It truly feels like something from another world.
Length of Hike: 0.5-mile round trip
Good for: Children, photos and swimming
2. Jackass Ginger Pool Falls
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The Jackass Ginger Pool Falls may have a slightly humorous name, but it’s stunning nonetheless. These falls offer a wonderful day trip for families with children, although the trail can be worn.
Just keep your eyes open for roots and rocks and slippery spots, and you’ll be fine. Of course, as the name suggests, this waterfall does have a pool where you can take a dip.
The best thing about it is that there are natural, rocky water slides that lead right down to it. This is great fun for children and adults alike, and I highly recommend trying your hand at it!
Just remember to keep an eye on the little ones because there are no lifeguards on duty. The waterfall itself is one of the smaller ones on the list at only 10 feet high, but it is beautiful.
It is also very serene and easily accessible from the Pali Highway. This means that it is easy to get to and perfect for a day trip for families visiting Oahu.
Length of Hike: 1-mile round trip
Good for: Children, playing in the water, and swimming
3. The Upside-Down Waterfall
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The Upside-Down Waterfall may sound very intriguing, but it has another name as well. This waterfall is also known as the Waipuhia Falls, but locals call it the upside-down waterfall.
This waterfall got its interesting name due to the way the water flows when it’s raining or windy. Even though it is a waterfall, the interesting thing is that the water never really hits the bottom.
Due to strong winds, the water in the falls is forced back up on its way down. And that is where the name, the Upside-Down Waterfall, comes from.
I highly recommend going to see these falls after heavy rain as that is when they’re at their most impressive. Although the hike is short, which is why it’s third on the list, it’s a bit difficult to get to.
And that is why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this hike to families with small children. The hike is best attempted by experienced hikers because the trail isn’t marked very well. This means that it is easy to get lost along the way because of the overgrown trail.
Length of Hike: 1.2-mile round trip
Good for: Photos and experienced hikers looking for a challenge
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4. Waimea Falls – Best Waterfall Hikes in Oahu
The Waimea Falls has the distinct advantage of being located in the Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens. This is one of the easiest waterfalls on this list to get to because it has a paved trail.
The really great thing about this is that children of all ages can complete the hike to the waterfall. Not only that, but the swimming pool at the waterfall even has a lifeguard and life jackets for rent.
Accessibility is not a problem at this waterfall because of the paved trail. The trail does make it easy for anyone to get there, but even wheelchair-bound or disabled people can enjoy it.
This is because the Botanical Gardens offers a shuttle service to and from the waterfall. It is a flat trail and although it is a bit lengthy, it really doesn’t seem that way.
The waterfall itself is an impressive 45 feet high and there are lockers and lifeguards for security. You can take a dip in the cool, refreshing water after a leisurely stroll to the waterfall along the path.
This is one of my all-time favorites when it comes to the best waterfall hikes in Oahu. It is safe, reliable, accessible, and the waterfall itself is beautiful and perfect for swimming!
Length of Hike: 1.5-mile round trip
Good for: Accessibility, an easy hike, swimming, and families with small children
5. Likeke Falls
The Likeke Falls are also known as the Old Pali Highway Falls, and it’s a favorite waterfall hike among locals. It is a popular trail and although there are two routes to take to the falls, the shorter is preferred.
The shorter trail starts at the bottom of the Ko’olau Golf Club course. The longer trail involves a steep climb at the end, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you have small children.
Additionally, the footing at Likeke Falls is mostly comprised of red earth and it’s not ideal in wet weather. The soil gets a clay-like consistency and becomes very slippery during rain, so just be careful.
Although the falls are only 15 feet tall and mostly slide over rock, it is worth the hike to see. You can expect to see a two-tiered waterfall and just bask in the serenity of this hidden gem.
It is one of the easiest waterfalls to get to and that is why it is so popular. Just remember to pack the bug spray as the mosquitoes can get quite bothersome at certain times!
Length of Hike: 1.6-mile round trip
Good for: Accessibility, and an up-close-and-personal experience with a waterfall
6. Manoa Falls
The Manoa Falls may very well be the most popular of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu. The falls themselves are very impressive and the hike is fairly easy, you just have to wear proper hiking boots.
The Manoa Falls is a towering natural wonder at 150 feet high and the sound is amazing. I can sit for hours at the bottom of the falls just mesmerized by the water and the greenery.
Unfortunately, although the waterfall itself is big, swimming is not allowed and there isn’t a pool. So, you’d best bring a picnic and a camera to make the most of the experience.
It can get very crowded and when it rains, the footing can be slippery, so be aware of your surroundings. One of the best parts of Manoa Falls is the hike to get there.
The path winds through a beautiful, lush forest full of bamboo and banyan trees. It really feels like a tropical paradise with the thundering water and beautiful plants.
If you don’t have time to explore many waterfalls, then I suggest putting this at the top of your list. It is the easiest waterfall of its size to get to and you’re guaranteed a magical experience.
Length of Hike: 2-mile round trip
Good for: Accessibility, photos, picnics, and a nice hike
7. Lulumahu Falls – Best Waterfall Hikes In Oahu
The Lulumahu Falls can best be described as “off the beaten track”. The reason for this is because it is on government land and therefore, you will need permission to go.
You do need a permit from the Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife, but it’s worth the trouble. Permit in hand, you can find the trailhead on the Old Pali Road and the trail itself is well-marked.
The Lulumahu Falls can be seen from the road and therefore lure visitors into the brush and wilderness. However, if you plan ahead, you can easily get permission to do this hike.
Because it is fairly remote and on sanctioned land, it is not as busy as some of the other waterfalls. This means that it is ideal if you just want some quiet time spent by a waterfall.
You can’t swim here, but you will see an old reservoir, climb some stone steps, and go through a forest. The falls themselves are 50 feet high and beautiful in their serenity. I highly suggest setting aside some time to just sit and marvel at the cascading water.
Length of Hike: 2.5-mile round trip
Good for: Photos and a quieter hike with fewer tourists
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8. Maunawili Falls
Whereas the Lulumahu Falls is usually quiet, the Maunawili Falls is popular and therefore crowded. If you’re interested in attempting this hike, I would suggest going during the week.
That way, you’ll miss most of the noisy weekend crowds that like to spend time here. These falls are beautiful in their own right although not very high at about 20 to 30 feet.
However, what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in opportunities for swimming. The pools are fairly deep, lovely and cool, and ideal for swimming.
Although locals and tourists may jump from the rock ledges into the pools, use caution if you’d like to try. Hidden logs and rocks can cause injury.
The hike is fairly short and easy, but the conditions on this trail are always muddy. But, if you’re aware of it and don’t mind getting dirty, you can rinse off the mud in the falls! Just be careful where you step on the trail as the mud can make the going a little bit tricky.
Length of Hike: 3-mile round trip
Good for: Swimming, playing in the water, and photos
9. Ka’au Crater Hike
The Ka’au Crater Hike is without a doubt one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu. This is where we seriously get into the hiking spirit and the hike is longer and more strenuous than others.
However, the reward at the end is so worth it when you make it to the falls. There are three waterfalls on this trail in total and you will even climb up alongside one of them!
The crater, which is where the hike gets its name, is also mesmerizing once you get there. This hike is more suitable for experienced hikers as it can get muddy and long, but it’s still doable.
However, if you’re doubtful of your own abilities, you can simply hike to the first waterfall and turn around. The hike kicks off with a steep descent into a beautiful valley and then leads you to a river.
The river takes you to the three separate waterfalls and a ridgeline with a view of the island. This is undoubtedly one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu.
Length of Hike: 4.4-mile round trip
Good for: Experienced hikers, multiple waterfalls on one hike, and adventurous people
10. La’ie Falls
The La’ie Falls isn’t all that big, but the real drawcard here is the hike. The hike itself is fairly long and difficult, so it is best for experienced hikers.
It is also not advisable for the elderly or very young as it can be very slippery and rocky. However, if you’re up for the challenge, don’t be shy!A good thing to know about these falls is that you do need a permit to hike there.
Fortunately, the permit is inexpensive and easy to acquire, so you don’t need to worry about that. The good thing about the permit is that it makes this hike a little more remote than others. There are fewer people on the trail and fewer people at the falls. If you’re looking for a quiet hike, this is it.
Although the trail is long and can be difficult, you’ll be rewarded with a swim at the end. The falls may only be 15 feet high but the swimming pools are deep and cool and plentiful. There are also nearby food trucks and restaurants so you can truly relax once you’re there.
Length of Hike: 7-mile round trip
Good for: Experienced hikers, nature lovers, adventurous people, and swimming
11. Koloa Gulch
This is one of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu for experienced hikers. It is very long, one of the longest on this list, and it can be difficult going.
The trail will test your endurance and you will need to preserve your energy along the way. It will have you rock-hopping 20 times along the way, but reward you with a 100-foot waterfall at the end.
The final waterfall isn’t even all there is as the trail passes at least one other waterfall as well. Additionally, you’ll find a few pools along the way where you can rest your weary feet. You can also swim at the end while marveling in the massive, cascading waterfall.
The fruit trees, natural vegetation, pools, and waterfalls make this one of the most exciting hikes. I highly recommend it should you be a fit and experienced hiker, just remember to take it slow.
If you have small children or difficulty walking, this may not be the best choice. However, if your children are older and up for a challenge, I’d definitely say go for it!
Length of Hike: 8-mile round trip
Good for: Experienced hikers, adventurous hikers, swimming, and an all-in-one hike
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12. Kaipapau Falls
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The final entry into my list of the best waterfall hikes in Oahu is the Kaipapau Falls. This waterfall hike is the same length as the Koloa Gulch hike but will be more difficult.
If you’re not that much of an experienced hiker, then I suggest taking an experienced hiker along with you. You will need to rock-hop across streams approximately 40 times on this trail.
Additionally, this trail can be very slippery especially during or after rain, and it can feel very long. However, the waterfall at the end makes it all worth it with water cascading down 100 feet.
The hiking trail also winds its way through a beautiful and magical forest that is the epitome of Hawaii. You will see abandoned bunkers along the way, which only adds to the excitement.
If you have fit children of a reasonable age, there’s no reason to leave this waterfall off your list. The only thing I would do is to prepare them and make sure that they know what to expect.
They must be fit and know that it may be difficult going at first, but that is it. If they’re up for the challenge, the waterfall at the end will make them forget the strain.
Length of Hike: 8-mile round trip
Good for: Experienced hikers, adventurous hikers, swimming, and an all-in-one hike
Easy Hikes Oahu Hawaii
As you may have gathered from this list, many of the waterfall hikes are fairly easy. The only thing that may make the hike difficult is the slippery footing or the length of the hike. If you select one of the first ones on this list or the Waimea Falls, you’re guaranteed an easy hike.
Wrapping Up the Best Waterfall Hikes in Oahu
The best waterfall hikes in Oahu are fortunately plentiful and you can take your pick. I would recommend the Waimea Falls and Manoa Falls for families with children.
My personal favorites were the Koloa Gulch and Maunawili Falls, but they can be a little more difficult to get to. However, if you’re up for the challenge, don’t be shy!
Remember that Hawaii and Oahu in particular have a mild climate but that it does rain a fair amount. When it rains, the trails can become slippery and muddy and you should be careful of your footing.
For this reason, I always recommend wearing proper hiking boots on waterfall hikes. And remember your swimming costume so that you can rinse off the mud at the end!
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