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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Makiki Valley Loop Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Makiki Valley Loop Trail
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 911 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • More Information: Oahu Trails

Makiki Valley Trail Sign

Topographic Map of Makiki Valley Trail

Makiki Valley Trail MapThe Makiki Valley Loop Trail is depicted in red.  The Ualaka’a Trail which my kids and I had previously hiked is depicted in purple. 

Google Earth Image of Makiki Valley Loop Trail

Makiki Valley Google Earth

Makiki Valley Loop Trail Elevation Map

Makiki Valley Elevation Map

Narrative

The next trail I decided to go hiking with my kids on was one I was quite excited to try.  Not because it had exceptional views or a beautiful waterfall, but because of the increased level of difficulty that would push my kids a little bit harder than they have been pushed yet.  The hike we went on was the Makiki Valley Loop Trail on Mt. Tantalus.  My kids and I had previously completed the nearby Ualaka’a Trail which was an easy one-mile loop hike.  The Makiki Valley Loop Trail was going to be a much longer 3.3-mile round trip hike on more challenging terrain.  I was not worried about my 6-year old daughter completing the hike, but this was going to be very challenging for my 3-year old son.

The trailhead for the hike is located at the Hawaii Nature Center just off of Makiki Heights Drive just outside of Honolulu:

The turn off to the Hawaii Nature Center is not sign posted and I actually missed it the first time I drove here.  The best way to spot the turn off is by looking for the access road that intersects with Makiki Heights Drive at a sharp hairpin turn.  As we drove up the narrow access road there were cars parked all along the side of the road.  When I got to the main parking lot I actually found a spot to park:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

After parking my kids and I walked over to this gate that blocks the road that leads to the Hawaii Nature Center:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

There is a code to get in which residents and employees that live up this street use to get in.  All hikers have to park in the lot or along the street.  Near the gate we spotted this sign for the trailhead to the short Makiki Arboretum Trail that leads to the Makiki Valley Loop Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Along the Makiki Arboretum Trail there was a number of different plant species to see:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The trail was also well maintained and easy to follow:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

About a half mile later we walked up on some of the buildings that make up the Hawaii Nature Center:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Once at the Hawaii Nature Center we continued to follow the signs that pointed towards the Kaneealole Trail which is the first segment that composes the Makiki Valley Loop Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The first sign directed us to walk further up the road where we found another sign that directed us to the right:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

On the right side of the road there is a nice restroom facility, water fountains and a faucet to clean off muddy shoes.  Just pass the restroom facility was this bridge that led to the Kanealole Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Here is a picture from the bridge of the Makiki Stream that flowed underneath it:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

On the other side of the bridge there was a signboard with various hiker information and another sign that pointed towards their direction of the Kanealole Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

From the signboard the trail ascended up some steps that was covered in fire ants:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

I actually had to carry my 3-year old over some of the sections covered in fire ants because there was so many of them.  At the top of the steps we came to the intersection of the Kanealole Trail and the Maunalaha Trail.  At the intersection there was a sign that showed how the Kanealole Trail, the Makiki Valley Trail and the Manualaha Trails are all connected to form the Makiki Valley Loop Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The hike can actually be accomplished in either direction, but I decided to take the Kanealole Trail because it has the more gradual ascent up Mt. Tantalus compared to the Mauanlaha Trail which is a steeper ascent:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We next came to a nice footbridge that crossed the Kanealole Stream:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

As we walked up the trail we found the surrounding rainforest to be filled with the sounds of birds we would however rarely ever see during the hike:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We then came to one of the many signboards that have been installed along the trail.  This particular signboard explained the history and archaeology of the Makiki Valley:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

According to the sign a man by the name of J.M. Herring bought large portions of the Makiki Valley between 1864 and 1876 to start a coffee plantation.  The plantation ultimately failed, but coffee trees can still occasionally be seen along the trail.  Herring built rock carriage bridges to access his land and home in the Makiki Valley.  Today the carriage bridges no longer exist, but have been replaced with these wooden footbridges:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

However, the stone walls that were part of the original rock carriage bridge can still be seen today:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Before Mr. Herring arrived in the Makiki Valley, native Hawaiians had lived here dating back to probably the 12th century where the used the lower portion of the valley for taro farming.  What I found interesting is that the same lava rock that Mr. Herring used for his carriage bridges the native Hawaiians quarried from the valley as weights for their octopus lures.  These lures in Hawaiian were called “makiki” which is where the valley got its name from.

Initially as we hiked up the valley the trees were off the trail enough to where we had plenty of sunlight.  However, the higher up the trail we went the denser the jungle became.  We eventually reached what looked like a tree tunnel and my three year old was actually a little scared and wanted to hold my hand before advancing into the darkness.  We walked into the tree tunnel together and he saw there was nothing to fear:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Once inside the dense rainforest it was noticeably darker though:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The trail also became noticeably steeper:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The trail was a muddy and slippery mess in some areas:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

As we ascended up the valley we next passed by a large grove of bamboo trees:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We also passed by one of the few clearings we saw during our hike which looked back across the valley towards the hill the Maunalaha Trail ascends up:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We next walked by a small waterfall that was hard to spot initially through the dense foliage:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We soon spotted another smaller waterfall that was located next to a park bench where my kids and I took a break to drink water and eat snacks:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Next to the park bench there was a signboard that explained how wild pigs were destroying native plants on Oahu:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

During our hike we actually heard the grunting of a pig in the valley that lasted for about a couple of minutes,. but we never saw the pig.  After our short break we then continued to hike steeply up the Kanealole Trail to where we finally reached the intersection with the Makiki Valley Trail that formed the second of the three trail segments that composed the Makiki Valley Loop Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

At this intersection we took a right and descended a little bit and crossed a small bridge to get over the creek:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Once over the bridge we were on the other side of the Makiki Valley and ascending another hill.  This hill had a few rocky points on it that I had to be careful and help my 3-year old son with:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We eventually passed by another clearing where we had a view looking across the valley back at the hill we had previously ascended on the Kanealole Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

On the Makiki Valley Trail we saw another signboard; this one warned about the dangers of wildfires complete with a Smokey Bear logo:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

My kids instantly recognized Smokey Bear from our time living in the mainland.  We actually visited where the legend of Smokey the Bear began at beautiful Capitan, New Mexico and its Smokey Bear Historical Park.  Considering how lush this valley is it was hard to believe that according to the signboard a wildfire struck the valley back in 2003 and damaged a number of homes.

After the signboard the trail descended for a short distance into a small valley where we had to cross the Moleka Stream:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

There is no bridge here so I had to help my 3-year old cross the small stream.  After the stream crossing the trail begins to ascend again.  Shortly after the stream crossing we passed a large orchard of fruit trees:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

I am not sure which fruit this is, but they could be seen every where along this section of the Makiki Valley Trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We next reached some steps that made the final ascent up the hill a bit easier:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

At the top of the stairs we reached a major trail intersection:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

My kids and I had actually been at this intersection before when we hiked the Ualaka’a Trail.  However this time at the intersection we would instead head down the Maunalaha Trail to complete the Makiki Valley Loop Trail hike:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The Maunalaha Trail was a straight descent down the side of the mountain on a mostly good trail with a few slick spots that my kids had little trouble with:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

On the way down the Maunalaha Trail was the only time during the hike that we had a view of Honolulu despite its proximity to the trailhead:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

As I took in the view of Honolulu I did find it pretty amazing how so many beautiful hiking trails are so readily accessible from such a large urban area.  There is probably few cities in the United States the size of Honolulu that have such easy access to so many hiking trails.  We next passed through a large grove of extremely large iron bark trees.  The needles from the trees covered the valley floor which prevented thick foliage from growing:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

The needles also kept the ground from being muddy and thus the trail was not slippery.  Once we had descended back down into the lower Makiki Valley the ironbark trees were replaced with dense foliage and we were again hiking on a muddy and slippery trail:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

We soon arrived back at the intersection with the Kanealole and Maunalaha Trails.  Just passed the intersection was the bridge that led back to the Hawaii Nature Center:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Instead of taking the Makiki Arboretum Trail back to my truck we decided just to walk down the road to the parking lot to complete our hike:

Picture from the Makiki Valley Trail

Conclusion

Including the walk to and from the parking lot, the total mileage for the Makiki Valley Loop Trail came out to 3.3-miles with 911 feet of elevation gain.  I was proud of my daughter for completing the hike with no issues, but I was especially proud of my 3-year old son who really pushed himself to complete this hike.  He was exhausted by the end of it, but he still had fun and was asking me when we were going to go on our next adventure.  For anyone looking to go on their own adventure I recommend this trail.  It does not have the classic Hawaii views or a large beautiful waterfall, but for those looking for a moderate level family hike near Honolulu the Makiki Valley Loop Trail is well worth checking 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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