The 4 Most Underrated Hikes on Oahu

Whether you want to see waterfalls, explore the coast, or just soak in the beauty of the tropical rainforest, there’s definitely an Oahu hiking trail for you. In fact, the island has over 250 hiking trails across its landscape, all of which are perfect for all your hiking, biking, and backpacking trips. Not all the trails are rated the same, however, and some are just plain overlooked. Thankfully, we’re here to help you find these hidden gems with this guide on the four most underrated hikes on Oahu.

Wahiawa Hills

underrated hike in oahu
Photo Credit by @rinalei808 on Instagram

The Wahiawa Hills Trail is a challenging 4.5-mile loop with an elevation gain of 1,345 feet. You can expect to be on this trail for about three hours total if you keep walking the whole way. Impromptu stops to take pictures, enjoy lunch, or just rest your feet could double your time out.

Since this is often an underrated hike on Oahu, it’s typically overgrown and doesn’t have any trail markers to speak of. You will want to carefully follow your map around the loop to avoid wandering down the off-shoot trails here and there.

As you do that, you’ll cross many streams, climb steep hills, and have to traverse across muddy surfaces more often than not. Plan your visit from May through November if possible to avoid most of the mud. Also, skip the trip if it has been raining heavily before your planned hike.

If you can work your way down the path, conquering the trail is well worth the challenge. So, stick with it if you feel comfortable enough to continue. Once you make it to the end, you can take a dip in the stream and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.   

Pu’u o Hulu

underrated hike, pillbox hike
Photo Credit by @y_travel22 on Instagram

Also known as the West Oahu Pillbox Hike, Pu’u o Hulu is a moderately challenging 1.6-mile trek on an out-and-back trail. The modest elevation gain of 679 feet will leave you with enough energy for more island adventures once you finish the one-hour hike.

One of the best parts of this underrated hike is the spectacular views of the inland landscape and oceanfront on the other side. You will need to watch your step, however, especially as the trail narrows due to the drop-offs along its edges.

As you make your way to the top of the trail, you will see old military bunkers, complete with a pillbox painted bright pink. After taking all that in, give yourself time to soak in the 360-degree views of Kaena Point, Mount Kaala, and Kapolei. This is a great time to pull out your picnic lunch and just admire the island’s beauty for as long as possible.

The hike back is long enough to help you work off your lunch, so you’ll be ready for shave ice after returning to town. The oft-hot and dry conditions will definitely leave you feeling parched, even if you sipped on plenty of water during your trek.

Kaena Point Trail

The Kaena Point Trail is a 6.1-mile, moderately challenging hike with an elevation gain of just 528 feet. This out-and-back trail takes you along the coast in Waialua, treating you to about 2.5 hours of breathtaking views of the ocean and mountainside.

Before you can start down the trail, however, you’ll need to pay to pass the gated access point. If you’d like to park outside that point, expect an eight-mile hike, if not longer. Either way, be sure to bring more than enough water to hike through sunny weather with little shade in your midst.

While hiking down the trail, you’ll get an up-close view of the waterfront practically every step of the way. You will even find areas that let you climb down the rocks and walk along the water. The waves typically break on the rocks when the tide comes in, so watch your footing to avoid slipping into the water.

At the end of this underrated hike, you’ll find ocean pools perfect for dipping your toes into the cool water and even taking a swim. Since there are no lifeguards on duty, swimming is done at your own risk. The trek back is at least an hour, so watch the time to avoid getting stuck on the trail after dark.

Aiea Loop Trail

underrated hikes in oahu
Photo Credit by @bassdiablo on Instagram

The Aiea Loop Trail is a 4.9-mile, moderately challenging loop trail with an elevation gain of around 1,300 feet. This trail takes about three hours to complete, although stops to enjoy the flowers, take pictures, and have a picnic can increase that time considerably.

You’re welcome to hike the underrated trail in either direction, depending on how you’d like to enjoy your trip. Either way will treat you to incredible views of the island’s southern coastline and the stunning Halawa Valley. If you look carefully, you might also spot the B-24J Crash Site, which is a notable piece of U.S. military history.

Expect lots and lots of mud, especially if you plan your hike for the rainy season. If you have good hiking boots, you can usually get enough traction if you take it slow. Watch out for downed trees, too. Although they get removed quite often, adverse weather can bring them down faster than they get chopped up and pushed out of the way.

Hiking Tips for All Your Oahu Trail Explorations

No matter what hiking trails you’d like to explore, it’s wise to get ready for the trek ahead by getting the right shoes, clothing, and other gear. Ideally, you’ll want to bring reef-safe sunblock, a sunhat, locally-sourced bug spray, food and water, trekking poles, a poncho, a whistle, and a GPS tracker.

Then, once you hit the trail, remember to:

  • Bring a detailed trail map and always stay on the path
  • Avoid trampling on the flowers, shrubs, and other plants
  • Never drink from any of the freshwater streams or ponds
  • Watch for adverse weather and turn back if things get dicey
  • Pack out what you pack in to keep the landscape beautiful

If you encounter any waterfalls, keep out from underneath the water cascading down from overhead. The bubbles make it hard to stay afloat, and there’s always the risk of falling rocks.

Gear up right and follow all these tips to make the most of all your Oahu adventures. You can then explore even the most underrated hiking trails for yourself without worrying about encountering any problems along the way.