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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Pu’u Pia Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Pu’u Pia Trail
  • Where: Manoa Valley
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 633 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • More Information: Hawaii Trails

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Topographic Map of the Pu’u Pia Trail

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Elevation Map

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Google Earth Map

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Narrative

I recently purchased “The Hikers Guide to O’ahu” written by Stuart Ball Jr., which has become an invaluable resource for me to locate hikes that I can do with my six year old daughter and my three year old son.  One of the hikes we recently decided to try was the Pu’u Pia Trail.  This is a well defined trail that leads to the top of a small hill located at the back of the beautiful Manoa Valley on Oahu.  Pu’u Pia is Hawaiian for “arrowroot hill”.  Arrowroot is an herb introduced to Hawaii by the early Polynesian voyagers that originally populated the islands.  The root is used to make coconut pudding.  I had previously hiked up to the nearby Manoa Falls with my kids so I figured they would have no issues with this trail as well.  The trailhead is located at the end of Alani Drive on the eastern side of the Manoa Valley:

The trailhead actually does not have parking which requires people to park in the neighborhood. I am not a big fan of this because parking is so limited in the neighborhood I did not want to rob a space for the people that live there. So I instead went and parked at the Chinese cemetery located just down the road from the trailhead which had plenty of parking:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a closer look at the cemetery which is easy to spot from the road:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

From the Chinese cemetery my kids and I began our walk up through the neighborhood to the trailhead at around 8:00 AM:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

The homes in the Manoa Valley are in a remarkably scenic location that fortunately on the day we went hiking we had clear skies to take in the views.  Here is the view looking across the Manoa Valley towards ridgeline where one of the best drives on Oahu, the Tantalus to Roundtop Drive Loop is located:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a panorama of the Manoa Valley that I took from this drive:

Picture from Tantalus Drive, Oahu

The incredible views of the homes in the Manoa Valley have comes at a cost though because just about every house in the Manoa is worth over $1 million:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

As we walked up the hill through the neighborhood I spotted our destination ahead of us which was the small hill with the power line on top of it:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We spotted the trailhead for the Pu’u Pia Trail when we reached this big white house:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

This house is at the corner of Alani and Woodlawn:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Across the street from the house is a small sign that points the way to the Pu’u Pia Trail:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a closer look at the sign:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

At this sign we continued to follow the now very narrow Alani Drive through a small enclave of well to do homes surrounded by a thick rainforest:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We then reached the trailhead which of course had “No Parking” signs with cars parked right in front of it:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

From the trailhead there were plenty of signs pointing us in the right direction:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We then came to this chain gate put across the trail to likely keep ATVs from accessing it:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

At the chain there was another sign designating the Pu’u Pia Trail as part of the larger Na Ala Hele trail network on Oahu:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

After passing the chain gate the trail was then surrounded by an extremely lush rainforest:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

This area is also an active hunting site on Wednesdays and Sundays and thus we saw a number of social trails heading off into the forest.  However, the main trail had plenty of signs to keep us on track:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We then came to an intersection with the Kolowalu Trail which ultimately leads to the summit of the Ko’olau Range for those fit enough to complete the hike:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

I will definitely try this hike some day, but not with my kids who are still too small to take on such a hike.  However, my kids were having a great time on the Pu’u Pia Trail:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

The steepness of the trail was manageable for my two kids though, there were a few sections with some very large tree roots and erosion that I had to help my three year old get over:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Along the trail I saw a lot of these red berries growing which I am not sure what they are:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

I think they are the non-edible bush honeysuckle, but I am not entirely sure.  If anyone knows what they are please leave a comment.  What we noticed more than anything along the trail were the huge trees:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

As we ascended deeper into the rainforest the trees got bigger and bigger:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

They were very impressive to look at and made me wonder how old these trees are?:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We then came to a small plank bridge that crossed over a stream which my kids had fun checking to see if a troll lived underneath it:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Fortunately there was no troll under the bridge to charge us a toll.  So we crossed the bridge and then ascended up a steep tree rooted trail that was actually quite slippery in a few spots:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We then came to the intersection of an unnamed trail marked with red tape:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

The only people we saw on the way up was a group of what appeared to be trail workers that passed us.  We never saw them the rest of the day, but I could hear voices and weedeaters working below us down the unnamed trail.  The trail down into the valley was very steep and was not one I would take my kids on, so we continued on the Pu’u Pia Trail.  We then came to the final stretch of the hike which was a walk through a tunnel of small trees and bushes along the upper ridgeline of the hill:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

On top of the summit ridgeline the vegetation opened up and we had some incredible views of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We could even hear Manoa Falls in the distance across from us:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is the view of the homes in the upper Manoa Valley where people have to drive to access the trail to Manoa Falls:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a closer look at the neighborhood:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We could also see the neighborhood where we started the hike from down below us as well:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a panorama picture I took of this incredible view:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We actually were not on the true summit of the hill yet when we hit the first viewpoint.  So we continued up the trail passed a highly eroded section before reaching the top.  The top of the hill is marked by this broken park bench:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

From the top of the hill here is view looking over towards the Manoa Falls Trail again:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is a closer look at the area where the Manoa Falls Trail begins at down below us:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

The Manoa Falls themselves could be heard, but were actually difficult to see since it was located in a shadow caused by the surrounding mountains:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

My guidebook actually said we could continue down the trail over to this power line to take in additional views:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

The trail was overgrown with vegetation and I did not want to take my kids through that and risk scratching them up for pretty much the same views we had already:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is the view looking back towards downtown Honolulu:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

We spent about 20 minutes hanging out on top of the hill eating snacks, drinking water and taking in the incredible views of the Ko’olau Range before heading back down the trail:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Here is one final panorama picture of the incredible views of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Pu'u Pia Trail

Conclusion

Starting from the Chinese Cemetery, in total we hiked 2.8 miles roundtrip with 633 feet of elevation gain which my three year old had no problems with completing.  It did however take us 2 hours and 45 minutes to finish the hike going at his speed.  Most people should be able to finish the hike faster than that.  Something I was surprised about though is how few people we found hiking up this trail on a weekend no less.  Besides the group of trail workers, we saw only a handful of other people on the trail the whole morning we were there.  I am not complaining about the lack of crowds, but I am surprised considering how easy the trail is and how beautiful the views from the top of the hill are.  For anyone on Oahu looking for a kid friendly hike with great views of the Ko’olau Range, the Pu’u Pia Trail is definitely one worth checking out.

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

Note: More Oahu trail information can be read in the below book:

 

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