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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Aiea Loop Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Aiea Loop Trail
  • Where: Aiea, Oahu
  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 971 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • More Information: Division of State Parks website

Topographic Map of the Aiea Loop Trail

Topographic Map of the Aiea Loop Trail

Elevation Map of the Aiea Loop Trail

Elevation Map of the Aiea Loop Trail

Narrative

The weather in Hawaii had recently been very wet due to a hurricane that was moving north of the islands.  Due to the rainy weather I decided to find a moderate hike that still had some views, but did not ascend up the Ko’olau Range where all the clouds were congregating from the storm.  After some searching I found just the hike I was looking for, the Aiea Loop Trail.  The trailhead for this hike is located in the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

This recreation area is not very far from downtown Honolulu, but driving up the roads in Aiea to reach it can be a little confusing.  The key is to get on to Aiea Heights Drive which leads right to the park:

The park opens at 7:00 AM and closes at 6:45 PM and requires that dogs be kept on leashes:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

I arrived at the park at 8:00 AM and found it to not be a very busy place despite being a well maintained park.  I drove on the paved road around the site and parked next to the lower trailhead for the hike.  My plan was to hike to the upper trailhead on the paved road and finish the hike at the lower trailhead near where I parked.  There was plenty of parking at the lower trailhead with only two other vehicles parked there:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

At the parking lot I noticed that the park also had a campground that is open from Friday through Wednesday:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

After locking my car and organizing my backpack I hiked up the paved road to the upper trailhead:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

The upper trailhead was easy to find due to this large sign that describes the particulars for this trail:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

From the sign the trail quickly descends into the thick rainforest:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Unlike other trails in Hawaii I found this trail to be fantastic for the entire loop.  The only annoyances were about ten fallen trees and sections of the trail with large roots growing across it:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

After about a half mile into the hike I came to the first lookout with a bench that was backdropped by a grove of some of the large eucalyptus trees that grow in the park:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Some of the eucalyptus trees in the park grow to an impressive size, but none of them compare to the large eucalyptus trees I saw in Australia. After the park bench various sections of the trail featured huge strands of strawberry-guava plants:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

These strawberry-guavas were quite abundant and tasty to eat:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

About 1.5 miles into the hike I came to another park bench that had some nice views of the nearby Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

I was fortunate to see views of the Ko’olaus that were not covered in clouds like they were earlier in the morning:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Here is the picture of one of the prominent mountains I saw from the trail that I am not sure what the name of the peak is:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

As I continued up the trail I occasionally had views through the trees of the city down below to the south:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Here is a view looking towards Pearl Harbor to the southwest:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Here is a view I had looking to the west where the Waianae Range was covered in clouds:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

About two miles into the hike I then entered a section of the trail that was surrounded by young bamboo trees:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

After the section of bamboo trees the trail began to near its high point:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

The upper section of the trail was very thickly forested with steep drop offs on the right side of the trail:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Some of the trees in the upper section of the trail included these very large native koa trees that produce some of the nicest wood you will see in Hawaii:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

From the upper section of the trail I once again had another view through the trees, this time of the Ewa area of Oahu out in the distance:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

When I wasn’t taking in the views I was contending with the trees that had fallen over the trail:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Being 6’2” with a bad back, scrambling under and over these trees I found to be quite annoying especially when a park worker with a chainsaw could easily get them out of the way:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

At the halfway point of the hike, just before the trail begins its descent back down the mountain, the best views of the entire hike becomes visible.  The view is of the H3 Interstate surrounded by the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

I never would have imagined that a highway could look so scenic, but the H3 looked incredible as it passed through the Halawa Valley down below:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

This 15 mile long highway finished being constructed on December 12, 1997 after much controversy.  The highway travels right through the heart of the Ko’olau Mountains that divide central and eastern Oahu:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

The H3 is able to traverse the rugged Ko’olau Range by passing through the  the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel which I could just barely see in the distance:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

This highway was originally planned to have been constructed in the nearby Moanalua Valley, but due to a stone with ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, activists were able to stop the construction of the highway.  Planners had to instead construct the H-3 through the beautiful Halawa Valley:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

The Aiea Loop Trail follows along a ridgeline adjacent to the Halawa Valley for about a half mile:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Before reaching this section of the trail all I could hear was the sound of birds, now I was hearing the humming of all the vehicles down below.  The views of the H3 running through the valley made up for all the noise:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Here is the final view I had from the trail of the Halawa Valley and Hickam Air Force Base in the distance:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

As soon as the trail descended back into the surrounding forest it was incredible how quickly all I could hear once again was the sounds of birds:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

This section of the trail I found particularly thick with eucalyptus trees.  The trees were so thick that I could actually smell the eucalyptus oil in the air which I had not smelled so strongly since leaving Australia:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

All these trees also meant that I was dealing with fallen logs and huge roots blocking the trail again:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Next the trail came to a section that had a number of Norfolk Island pine trees:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Like the eucalyptus trees in the park, these trees are not native to Hawaii either.  These trees are native to Norfolk Island which is a small island located in a remote section of the south Pacific that is administered by Australia.  Since the British colonization of Norfolk Island the tree spread to other places in the Pacific to include Hawaii:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Some of these pine trees could have easily have been used as Christmas trees:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Here is a close up view of the tree’s distinctive pine needles:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

After passing through the section of Norfolk Island pine trees I could actually see the lower trailhead across the valley from me where a red pickup truck was parked:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

All I needed to do now was descend down into the valley and cross a small creek to ascend back to the lower trailhead.  I had read prior trip reports that the creek was difficult to cross, but I found the creek with hardly any water in it and very easy to cross:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

As I ascended up the side of the valley I saw yet another plant species foreign to Hawaii which I was very surprised to see which was what appeared to be agave plants:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

The plants were huge and obviously growing very well in the moist environment it some how found itself in.  Also as I ascended up the hill I had more downed trees to deal with:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

I then came to the final lookout with two benches for hikers to rest on:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

This lookout provided a bird’s eye view of Aloha Stadium situated right below the park:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

From the lookout it was a short walk back to the lower trailhead campground and my awaiting car:

Picture from the Aiea Loop Trail

Conclusion

Overall the Aiea Loop Trail was just the type of hike I was looking for, its 4.8 mile distance and 971 foot elevation gain made for a good quick workout that also provided some great views.  I finished the hike in 2 hours and 15 minutes at a leisurely pace and taking a lot of pictures.  This means that most people should be able to finish this hike in 2-3 hours.  I can definitely see myself visiting this park again in the future with my 5 year old daughter or trying this as a trail run some time.  The trail may not have the huge sweeping views of other trails on the island, but I still highly recommend it to anyone looking for a moderate level hike with good trail conditions that the whole family can enjoy.

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