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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Moleka Trail to the Manoa Cliff Lookout

Basic Information

  • Name: Moleka Trail
  • Where: Mt. Tantalus
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,033 feet
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information: Oahu Trails

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Topographic Map of the Moleka Trail

Moleka Trail Map

Google Earth Map of the Moleka Trail

Moleka Trail Google Earth Map

Elevation Map of the Moleka Trail

Moleka Trail Elevation Map

Narrative

With the day off, my wife visiting the doctor and my daughter in school; my three-year old son and I decided to go on our own hiking adventure.  One of our favorite places to go hiking is on Mt. Tantalus which rises directly over downtown Honolulu.  The last hike we did here was a couple of months ago when we completed the Makiki Valley Loop Trail.  This time we decided to complete the Moleka Trail and then hike up to a lookout on the Manoa Cliff Trail.  My son and I made the short drive to the trailhead by exiting off of the H-1 Freeway at the Punahou exit and then heading up the popular Round Top Drive to the Pu’u Ualaka’a State Wayside Park.  Near the entrance of the park there is a small parking area for the start of the Ualaka’a Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Further up the road there are actually other parking areas to begin this hike higher up on the mountain.  However, I wanted to challenge my son a bit a begin lower down the mountain by beginning at the Ualaka’a Trail.  From the Ualaka’a Trailhead the hike is 5 miles long and just over a 1,000 feet of elevation gain.  This would be the furthest and highest hike my son has done yet.  We were both excited to see how far he could go.  From the Ualaka’a Trailhead the path passes through lush vegetation for a short distance before crossing over Round Top Drive:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

On the other side of the road the Ualaka’a Trail enters back into the lush vegetation:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The trail eventually ends at yet another switchback in the road where we had to be very careful to cross over to get to the Makiki Valley Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Here is a picture of the Makiki Valley Trailhead with one of the many signs warning of the danger of falling rocks along the trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

At the start of the Makiki Valley Trail there is a pretty cool tunnel carved through a large banyan tree:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We only walked a short distance on the Makiki Valley Trail before reaching the start of the Moleka Trail.  It was about a half mile of hiking to reach this trailhead from the start of the Ualaka’a Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The Moleka Trail like most trails on Mt. Tantalus was in really good shape:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The trail continued on a steady ascent until reaching a short descent on the Makiki Valley side of the hill:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

From the trail I could see parts of Honolulu out in the distance:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We were soon gaining altitude again as we entered into the largest bamboo forest I have seen yet on Oahu:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The forest was actually a bit spooky since the wind was blowing which was causing the bamboo to clang as they hit each other:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

As we walked through the bamboo forest we took time to enjoy viewing some of the flowers that we saw:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

At the end of the bamboo forest we approached another road crossing:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Across the road we found the trailhead to the Manoa Cliff Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Here is the official Na Ala Hele sign for the Manoa Cliff Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The start of the trail was in really good shape to include even having a section of boardwalk to cross a muddy section of the hike:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

However, as the trail began to cut across the Manoa Cliff it became rougher and muddier in various sections:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

My three-year old son though did a great job scrambling up the rougher sections.  He also was not intimidated by any of the steep drop offs either along this section of the hike.  Something that is nice about this hike is that there are plenty of guava berries to snack on along the way:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Here is a closer look at one of the guava berries that can be found all along both the Moleka and Manoa Cliff Trails:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

About a half mile up the Manoa Cliff Trail we came to the first section where we could see the Ko’olau Range in front of us:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We could also see some of the homes down below in the beautiful Manoa Valley:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Something else I spotted was the small hill my kids and I had previously hiked up on the Pu’u Pia Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

That hike had some great views especially since that day there was hardly a cloud in the sky.  Unfortunately for my son and I on this day we had to deal with the cloudy skies that often enshrouds the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

As we continued up the trail we entered into yet anther bamboo forest:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

At the end of the bamboo forest we came to a clearing where we saw the park bench that designated that we had reached the overlook:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The overlook had a great view of the highest peak of the Ko’olau Range, the 3,150 foot Pu’u Konahuanui even though its summit was obscured by clouds:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Here is a panorama picture I took of the view using my iPhone 5S:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Below Pu’u Konahuanui we could also see the beautiful Manoa Falls:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

The Manoa Falls Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu and from up here it was impossible to tell that the base of the waterfall was likely surrounded by hordes of tourists:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

After spending about 20 minutes at the lookout it started to rain so my son and I began our hike back down the trail.  We made very quick work of the approximate one mile down the Manoa Cliff Trail.  By the time we got back to the Moleka Trail it had stopped raining:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We then walked back through the thick bamboo forest:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We then crossed another hazardous cliff face:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We then hiked through the banyan tree tunnel:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

We then hiked back down the Ualaka’a Trail:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

And finally hiked back to the Ualaka’a Trailhead:

Picture from the Moleka Trail

Conclusion

Overall the hike took us about 4-hours to complete moving at the speed of my 3-year old son who is pretty fit for a kid his age.  On future hikes I plan to take him even higher up into the Ko’olau Range, but for now this hike was pretty much the maximum he is able to do which was 5-miles and 1,033 feet of elevation gain.  However, you don’t have to be a 3-year old to enjoy this hike because it is a fun hike for people of all ages.  The best aspect of the hike is its accessibility since Mt. Tantalus is literally in the backyard of downtown Honolulu.  This is a great family hike I recommend people to check 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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