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Best Hikes On Oahu: Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

Basic Information

  • What: Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
  • Where: Oahu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet
  • More Information: Hawaii State Parks

Makapu'u Trail Map

Narrative

My two year old son is beginning to walk really well so I decided to take him out on a trail to see how far he could hike.  I decided to take him up Makapu’u Point because it is a short paved trail that is also safe for a young toddler to walk up.  Due to its easy accessibility and paved trail, Makapu’u Point is an extremely popular trail with both locals and tourists on Oahu.  What that means is that the parking situation is pretty bad.  However, when I drove up the road to find parking I lucked out and pulled into a parking spot that someone had just pulled out of near the trailhead.  From the parking lot we walked over to the trailhead where they had a sign with a map showing the route ahead:

makapu'u trail map

There was also a sign explaining the natural history of the east coast of Oahu that was formed by a massive landslide that collapsed one side of the Ko’olau Caldera which Makapu’u Point is part of:

koolau caldera pic

There were also signs explaining the history of the lighthouse located on top of the hill:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

According to the sign, the construction of the lighthouse on Makapu’u Point was completed in 1909 to assist navigation through the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.  The lighthouse sits 600 feet above sea level which made its light easily visible to all boats.  Makapu’u Point also became a major military site in defense of Oahu.  The Army began construction on the site in 1932.  The buildings and fortifications they constructed housed opticals and later radar that were used for targeting ships and aircraft by relaying coordinates to gun batteries located at Pearl Harbor, in Diamond Head crater, and at Kaneohe Bay.  After World War II the military abandoned the site and it was eventually handed over to the state of Hawaii in 1987.  Today it is an extremely popular state park with hundreds of hikers every day walking up the paved one-mile path to the summit:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

The path initially steadily gained elevation up the side of the hill.  As we gained elevation we had good views to the west of a relatively flat plain between Makapu’u Point and Koko Head Crater in the distance:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Here is a closer look at Koko Head Crater:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Here is the view looking back towards the trailhead and the parking madness that causes people to park up and down the side of the highway:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

As the trail switchbacks towards the summit of the hill we came to a sign that explains how humpback whales can often be seen from Makapu’u Point:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Unfortunately on this day we did not see any whales, but we did see the neighboring island of Molokai out in the distance:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

We also saw down below us people sitting in the tidal pools:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

After a mile of walking up hill we reached the top of the hill:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

From the lookout we could see the lighthouse down below us:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Here is a closer look at the lighthouse:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Here is a panorama from the top of Makapu’u Point with the lighthouse down below and Rabbit Island visible to the far left:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

From the lighthouse look out we walked over to check out this small memorial to airman killed in a World War II era crash in the area:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Behind the memorial there was a really good view of the windward coast of Oahu:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

From the lookout we then began our descent back to the trailhead and said farewell to the beautiful lighthouse:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Along the way down we took notice of all the cactus along the trail which made me wonder if these were introduced plants to the islands?:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

On the way down we also noticed the bunker on this small hill ahead of us:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

At the turn in the trail heading back to the trailhead we happened to see a lifeguard with binoculars trying to locate a paddleboarder that a witness on the trail said they saw crash in the water and not get back up on their board:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

I have no idea how this turned out, but hopefully the paddleboarder turned out to be fine.  As we descended the last part of the trail we could see that the parking madness below us had not gotten any better, if anything it looked even worse:

Picture from Makapu'u Point

Conclusion

I was glad I had brought my son’s stroller because about halfway up the hill he wanted to sit down in it which was fine with me.  He walked .5 miles up and gained about 250 feet in altitude up the hill which I thought wasn’t too bad for a 2-year old.  He walked about halfway back down as well before he had enough and wanted to get back in the stroller.  Overall the hike was 2-miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 500 feet which was enough for me to work up a sweat.  Once we got back to our car it was like being swarmed by vultures as cars competed to take our parking spot.  I took my time though getting my son strapped into his car seat and getting things put away.  After that pulling out of the parking lot proved to be a challenge due to all the traffic, but fortunately I was able to get back on the highway and head home.  We will definitely come back to Makapu’u Point to further test my 2-year old to see how much strength he has gained, but I think next time we will try to go earlier in the morning to avoid the parking madness.

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