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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Manoa Falls Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Manoa Falls Trail
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 786 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • More Information: Oahu Trail & Access System

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Topographic Map of the Manoa Falls Trail

Manoa Falls Trail Map

Narrative

I had a couple of hours on a recent morning to go hiking and decided to check out the popular Manoa Falls.  I decided to do this hike because of its short distance and wanted to see if the trail conditions were conducive for young children to hike on it.  The trail to the falls is located at the back end of the beautiful Manoa Valley which is near both Waikiki and downtown Honolulu:

The easiest way to reach the falls is to exit the H1 at the University Exit.  From the exit follow Oahu Avenue until it turns into Manoa Road.  Manoa Road passes through a nice neighborhood where even the smallest home will cost over a million dollars.  Eventually the road enters into the rainforest and ends at the parking lot for Paradise Park.  Once I arrived at the parking lot it was made very clear that this was private property and parking would cost $5 with signs posted everywhere:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Since I arrived at the lot at 8:15 AM the parking attendant had not arrived yet.  The attendant doesn’t arrive until 9:00 AM.  The sign directed me to pay my parking fee at the gift shop inside the adjacent Paradise Valley building:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Besides the gift shop there is a restaurant inside the building too that looked nice.  I will have to check it out sometime.  Paying for the parking was quick and easy at the gift ship plus the clerk also gave me a Honolulu trail map that included the Manoa Falls Trail.  Also of interest is that inside the gift shop they have a number of pictures of the actors from LOST posing with employees while they were filming various scenes from the series along the trail.  After paying my parking fee I walked back to my car and put the pay stub on my dashboard and then walked over to the start of the hike:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

The hike begins from the parking lot by hiking up a road that leads to the Harold L. Lyon Arboretum:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

After a short walk I then walked by the arboretum that is operated by the University of Hawaii at Manoa:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

The arboretum is something else I will have to check out some time in the future.  Across from the arboretum is the trailhead for Manoa Falls:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

From here the hike is about 1 mile in length to the falls.  This is why most sites and books have the trail listed as a 2 mile round-trip hike.  However, when the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead is included the hike is actually 2.3 miles based on my GPS readings.  Either way this is a short hike for most people.

From the trailhead the trail starts off with some open views of the surrounding foliage:

Picture from Manoa Falls Trail

I found that unlike other trails in the area that can be in bad shape, the Manoa Falls Trail is well maintained, but expect to get muddy feet due to all the moisture this area receives:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

I wore a good pair of waterproof hiking boots so my feet were dry the whole way, but most other people I saw were in tennis shoes or sandals.  So just keep this fact in mind when hiking on the trail.  After the open area the trail then enters into the dense rain forest:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Not only were parts of LOST filmed here, but so were scenes from Jurassic Park as well.  Once I entered into the dense foliage I definitely could picture a velociraptor stalking me in the bushes.  Fortunately there were no dinosaurs looking to make me their breakfast, just the occasional mosquito.  Along the way the trail has a number of old markers that some idiots decided to vandalize and thus the city has not maintained them.  These are a real eyesore along the trail and should be removed:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Once the trail enters the dense foliage it follows adjacent to the small Waihi Stream that cascades down the valley from Manoa Falls:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

There is one bridge during the hike that crosses this creek:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Once I passed the bridge that is when I had my first views of bamboo growing along the trail:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

The trail then began to steadily ascend up the valley.  To assist with the elevation gain there was plenty of steps and some clever traction boards to assist hikers:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

The traction boards I thought were a clever idea because the metal steps in the moisture could be slick while the traction boards provided good footing on to ascend up the trail.  I next came to this large pair of trees that hard a natural arch formed in between them:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

On the way back down the trail there was a horde of Japanese tourists taking turns posing for pictures at this arch.  After I passed the arch I next came to the thickest portion of the bamboo forest:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

After the bamboo forest the trail did become a little bit more rockier and muddier, but it was still a good enough that I decided that my five and two year old kids would have no issues hiking this trail:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

After ascending the rockiest portion of the trail, I knew I was approaching the waterfall once I heard a number of voices ahead of me:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

At the end of the trail I found about ten people gawking at the beautiful waterfall.  The viewing area is big enough that it did not feel crowded with the people there.  However, when I later returned to the trailhead a tour bus with a horde of tourists had pulled in.  I can imagine later in the day this viewing area is probably a madhouse.  Due to getting to the waterfall early, I was able to walk around and take plenty of good photos with nobody getting in the way except for the one woman who defied the danger signs and sat on a rock near the waterfall:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Rock falls near waterfalls in Hawaii have killed people before and thus why the viewing area is roped off for everyone’s safety.  However, some people just don’t care.  What was even more disconcerting was that the woman appeared to be pregnant and was exposing herself to a rockfall hazard.  This rockfall hazard is also why no wading in the pool below the waterfall is allowed.

Anyway I spent about 15 minutes enjoying the views of the waterfall:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Manoa Falls ranks right up there as one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen:

Picture of Manoa Falls

It took me just 22 minutes to reach the falls moving at an above average pace.  It should take most people 30-45 minutes to reach the falls.  That is a very short walk to enjoy a view as beautiful as this:

Picture of Manoa Falls

After I finished taking in the views I made the quick descent back down the trail to the parking lot:

Picture from the Manoa Falls Trail

Conclusion

The descent took me about 15 minutes to complete and I saw probably about 30+ people heading up the trail.  I was so glad I hiked this before 9AM which is when it appears the crowds begin to form to hike this trail.  I can’t blame hordes of tourists from hiking this trail though because it is just a stunning waterfall.  In less than an hour round-trip I was able to hike up a beautiful valley and enjoy views of one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen.  Manoa Falls’ reputation as second most popular hike on Oahu behind the Diamond Head Crater Trail is well deserved and I highly recommend checking it out.

Note: Many more great trails on Oahu can be found by checking out my Oahu Regional Trail Finder at the link.

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