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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Pu’u Ohia Trail

Basic Information

  • Pu’u Ohia Trail
  • Where: Honolulu, Oahu
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 736 feet
  • Time: 2-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information: Oahu Trails

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Topographic Map of the Pu’u Ohia Trail:

Puu Ohia Trail Topo Map
The Pu’u Ohia Trail to the Manoa Cliffs Trail lookout my kids and I hiked to is depicted in purple. The remainder of the Manoa Cliffs Trail is depicted in blue.

Google Earth Map of the Puu Ohia Trail

Puu Ohia Trail Map

Narrative

Mt. Tantalus just outside of downtown Honolulu is one of my “go-to” locations for hiking with my two kids aged 3 and 7.  This mountain has many trails to try out which are maintained well enough for my kids to handle and feature great views of the city and the Ko’olau Range.  The latest trail we hiked was the Pu’u Ohia Trail that begins near the summit of Mt. Tantalus.  This prominent mountain is an extinct cinder cone volcano that towers 2,014 feet above the city of Honolulu.  Mt. Tantalus is most readily accessed from Round Top Drive:

The Pu’u Ohia Trail can actually be taken all the way to the summit of the highest peak of the Ko’olau Range, the 3,149 foot Pu’u Konahuanui.  However, I was not about to take my two kids on a strenuous hike like that and instead planned to take the Pu’u Ohia Trail to where it intersects with the Manoa Cliff Trail.  From there we would hike the Manoa Cliff Trail to where there is a great lookout of the Ko’olau Range.  The first thing we had to do though was to get to the trailhead.  The trailhead is located near the top of Round Top Drive above Honolulu.  The trailhead is clearly marked with a brown Na Ala Hele sign:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Across the street from the trailhead there is a large parking lot where my kids and I geared up at.  Once ready we locked my truck and then proceeded to carefully walk across the street to the trailhead:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

For anyone wondering mountain bikers are not allowed on the Pu’u Ohia Trail:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From the trailhead the trail immediately begins to gain elevation with the help of various tree roots and wooden stairs:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The trail then levels out a bit as it traverses through a very lush bamboo forest:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

This bamboo forest is the largest I have seen yet in Hawaii.  It just seemed like the bamboo was never going to end:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Though the vast majority of the forest was bamboo there was occasionally a massive pine tree that could be seen growing through the thick bamboo groves:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

We next came to the end of a switchback where a great view of Honolulu unfolded in front of us:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Here is a closer look at the tourism center of Oahu, the world famous Waikiki:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

I could also see the popular Honolulu beach location of Magic Island in the distance:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From the lookout a number of the large homes that have been built near the top of Mt. Tantalus were also easily visible:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

It just seems like driving up the curvy Round Top Drive to get home every day would not be very appealing, but I guess that is the trade off for living in a rainforest with great views of Honolulu.  Speaking of great views, that is exactly what we had of Diamond Head Crater:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Here is a panorama photo I took of this view:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

After taking a few minutes to enjoy the views we then proceeded to continue up the trail and were once again engulfed in the thick bamboo forest:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

There was another clearing that we came to where I could look towards the southeast where I could see the 10,023 foot Mt. Haleakala on the island of Maui rising in the far distance:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

We next came to a trail intersection where it is important to take a left to stay on the Pu’u Ohia Trail.  A right turn at the intersection just leads deeper into the bamboo forest:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

At the top of the stairs the trail intersects with a paved road.  The intersection with the road is marked with a Na Ala Hele and other signs:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Fortunately there is a trail sign that directs hikers to make a right here and walk up the road:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The paved road is used by a local telephone company to access communications towers on Mt. Tantalus.  For hikers this road made for a very quick way to gain elevation on the mountain:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

At the end of the paved road we came to a telephone relay station:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Above the building soared this large tower:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Adjacent to the fence at the base of the large tower another sign for the Pu’u Ohia Trail could be seen:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The trail went around the telephone relay station and through yet more thick bamboo:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The trail soon became high eroded, but still easily passable.  In one section of the bamboo forest there is a lookout where the rugged peaks of the Ko’olau Range are visible in the distance:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Here is a panorama of the view from this lookout:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From the lookout we continued down the trail and next came to a gate:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The gate and corresponding fence was put in place to protect a native forest restoration project:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

After passing through the gate the trail did get quite muddy which made the hiking slower, but we did enjoy seeing the native plants around the trail:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

I have to say that the organizations involved with restoring the native plant habitat have done a very good job because the difference in plant life was like night and day.  We exited a non-native bamboo forest and passed through the gate into an entirely different eco-system of native Hawaiian plants:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

We also had some good views of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

There was one viewpoint where we could see all the way through the Ko’olau Range and see the city of Kaneohe in the distance:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The gap in the mountains we were seeing through is known as the Pali Lookout and was the scene of the last stand of the Oahu forces during the 1795 Battle of Nuuanu.  The notches above the Pali Lookout that were likely used for spotting enemy forces can still be seen today:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The trail traveled around the backside of Mt. Tantalus until it intersected with the Manoa Cliff Trail:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From here the Pu’u Ohia Trail continues on to Pauoa Flats where there is prominent viewpoint of the Nuuanu Valley.  Our plan was to instead hike over to a lookout on the Manoa Cliff Trail and hike up to Pauoa Flats via the Nuuanu Trail on another day.  My kids and I have actually hiked over to the Manoa Cliffs Trail lookout from the opposite direction via the Moleka Trail a few months ago.  Now we would hike the rest of the Manoa Cliffs Trail to the lookout, but from the opposite direction.  After a short distance of hiking up the trail we once again came to a gate where we exited the restored habitat area:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From the gate the Manoa Cliffs Trail lives up to its name as it traverses the side of Mt. Tantalus with often steep drop offs on one side of the trail:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

The trail was also covered in a very thick forest of trees that obscured any views:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

There were also a couple of small bridges we had to walk across which my kids had fun looking under to see if any trolls lived underneath them:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Something else my kids had fun doing along the trail was trying to identify all the different plants.  A plant we could identify were the various guava berries growing along the trail:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Another plant we saw was what is known as a Kahili ginger.  This flower is not the type of ginger that humans eat, but instead is considered a destructive weed on Hawaii since it chokes out and kills native plants:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

One plant we could not identify was what type of fruit is pictured below; if anyone knows please leave a comment:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Likewise with this plant that had a long banana shaped seeds growing out of it:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

After about 30 minutes of hiking from the trail intersection my kids and I arrived at the lookout where this bench is located:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

From here we took in some great views of the Ko’olau Rnage to include the highest peak of the range, the 3,149 foot Pu’u Konahuanui:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

We could also see the beautiful Manoa Falls flowing down the side of the mountains across from us:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

In total we spent about 30 minutes at the lookout eating lunch before heading back to the trailhead.  Here is one final panorama picture I took before we turned around to head back to the trailhead:

Picture from the Puu Ohia Trail

Conclusion

In total it took us 3 hours and 9 minutes to hike 2.8 miles with 736 feet of elevation gain.  My kids once again did a great job completing this hike, however I do not recommend this trail for families with young kids like I have to hike for the first time.  My three and seven year old kids have a lot of hiking experience and were able to handle the tree roots, steps and mud quite well which may not be the case for other kids.  Please use your best discretion in regards to bringing young children to hike this trail  For adults though this is a great hike through an amazing bamboo forest as well as having the chance to experience what a native Hawaiian forest might have looked like before the introduction of all the foreign plants to the island.  However, the various views of the Ko’olau Range and Honolulu are what really make this trail great and why I recommend hiking it on a clear day if possible.

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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