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Best Hikes On Oahu: Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail (Makapu’u Point Variation)

Basic Information

  • Name: Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail (Makapu’u Point Variation)
  • Where: Oahu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 986 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2-3 hours


Aerial picture of Makapu’u Point with lighthouse visible on the far right.

Topographic Map

Makapuu Light Trail Topo Map

Google Earth Map of the Trail

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Map

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Map

Narrative

I have hiked the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail more times than I can remember and each time I have enjoyed it.  I recently decided to take my kids up this trail to go and spot the whales that come to Hawaii each winter before returning to Alaska in the spring.  Besides looking for whales we decided to add a little difficulty to the hike by going to the very top of Makapu’u Point instead of just the lookout of the lighthouse.  As always the most difficult part of this trail is not the hike itself, but instead trying to find parking:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The popularity of this trail makes it one of the most hiked on all of Oahu which means a parking war to try and find a place to park.  It took me about 15 minutes, but eventually I was able to pull into a spot that someone had just pulled out of.  From our parking spot my two kids and I began our walk up the paved road to the top of Makapu’u Point which towered above us:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

At the trailhead there are a number of signs that describe the history of the trail to include one that promoted the major renovations completed along the trail:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

This is the first time I had hiked the trail since the completion of the renovations and I found them to be quite nice.  The trail was completely repaved and the various lookouts were rebuilt as well:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Now if only the city could do something about the parking madness like build a parking garage because look how crazy the parking situation is with cars even parked up and down the highway:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Anyway as my kids and I walked up the hill we did as usual enjoy the views of Koko Crater in the distance and the adjacent Kaiwi Shoreline:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

You can read more about the Kaiwi Shoreline and Koko Crater at the below links:

We also spotted the rock formation known as Pele’s Chair below us:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Pele is the Hawaiian God of Fire and over time this unusual lava rock formation took on her name. Here is a closer look at Pele’s Chair:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Right below Makapu’u Point is a nice secluded beach with calm waters created by a small inlet:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

As we continued up the trail we came to a lookout that had signs explaining this history of the Kaiwi Channel and the humpback whales that migrate here:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

From the first lookout the trail turns towards the top of Makapu’u Point:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

On the right side of the trail we spotted the turn off where some hikers descended down the steep cliffs to a rocky shoreline with tidal pools that can be quite dangerous during high surf periods:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

For example in 2016 a father and daughter visiting from California were killed at these tidal pools.  As we continued up the trail the cliff became steeper and steeper:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Eventually the Makapu’u Lighthouse came into view at another lookout:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The lookout had some great signboards that explained the history of the lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The construction of the lighthouse on Makapu’u Point was completed in 1909 to assist navigation through the Kaiwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu.  The lighthouse sits 600 feet above sea level which made its light easily visible to all boats.  Makapu’u Point also became a major military site in defense of Oahu.  The Army began construction on the site in 1932.  The buildings and fortifications they constructed housed opticals and later radar that were used for targeting ships and aircraft by relaying coordinates to gun batteries located at Pearl Harbor, in Diamond Head crater, and at Kaneohe Bay.  After World War II the military abandoned the site and it was eventually handed over to the state of Hawaii in 1987.  Today it is an extremely popular state park with hundreds of hikers every day walking up the paved one-mile path to the lookout:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

A short distance later we reached the newly constructed lookout above the lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The renovation of the lookout was quite well done and added more space for visitors to take in the views compared to before.  Here is the view looking down on the Makapu’u Lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is a closer look at this 100+ year old lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is view from the lookout of Oahu’s Windward Coast:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

One of the most popular attractions on Oahu’s Windward Coast is the Sealife Park that was visible below us:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is a closer look at the Sealife Park that my kids absolutely love to visit:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is a view of the two small islands that are located below Makapu’u Point with the larger one known as Rabbit Island:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Farther out in the distance I could see the Mokulua Islands that sit off the coast from Kailua:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view that shows the summit of Makapu’u Point in the distance that we would later hike up:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

This next panorama picture shows the steep rocky coast of Makapu’u Point with its famous lighthouse visible below us on the far left:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

After taking in the views from the lookout we next paid our respects at a memorial to nine US military airmen killed in crash along Makapu’u Point during World War II:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

From the lookout we next looked for the loop trail that leads to the summit of Makapu’u Point:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The trail was rocky in a few areas, but my four year old son was able to get up it with a little assistance from myself.  Along the way we could see the remains of the US military base that was once located on the mountain:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

On the top of the mountain we found a number of World War II era bunkers:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is a close up look at two of the bunkers:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

On top of one of the bunkers somebody felt compelled to add some colorful graffiti:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

These old bunkers are slowly crumbling away due to age and the elements and thus are not safe for people to go inside of:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

However, I was able to look into the bunkers and take a few photos of their interior:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

It is pretty clear the bunkers are deteriorating, but is has not stopped people from going inside and leaving graffiti:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Maybe I am just too old and uncool, but I just don’t understand what fun people see in leaving graffiti everywhere, especially on a historical site like this?  Anyway from the top of Makapu’u Point the views of Windward Oahu were outstanding:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is the view looking towards Rabbit Island with the last bunker on the mountain visible in the foreground:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is the view looking back across the ridgeline that forms Makapu’u Point:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Here is the view looking towards Koko Crater:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

This next picture is a panorama photo looking towards the Windward Coast from the summit of Makapu’u Point:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Finally here is a panorama picture of the view with the lighthouse lookout visible in the center of the photo:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The day my kids and I visited Makapu’u Point, the Windward Coast was living up to its name because we were getting battered by high winds and thus did not spend too much time on the summit.  We completed the loop hike to the top of Makapu’u Point by carefully scrambling down a rocky trail back to the lookout:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The trail was rocky and slippery in a few spots, but my 4-year old son and 7-year old daughter were able to handle it with no issues:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

In about 15 minutes we found ourselves back at the lookout for the lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

From the lookout we next spotted this old path leading to the cliff line:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

From the cliff we tried to spot whales.  We in fact did spot two whales, but I was not able to get photos of them because of how quickly they appeared and submerged themselves in the water again.  I was able to spot a guy rowing an ocean kayak in some very rough waters that I took a picture of:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

From the cliff line we noticed that the gate that is normally locked to walk over to the lighthouse was open.  Of course someone had to put graffiti on the “Falling Rocks” sign:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The trail is quite scenic to walk on as it hugs the cliff line:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The right side of the trail is extremely steep where any fall would be fatal:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

At the end of the trail there is a gate that prevents access to the lighthouse:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

However, from the gate the view of the lighthouse is fantastic:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

After walking to the lighthouse we turned around and retraced out steps back down Makapu’u Point to the trailhead.  At the trailhead the parking madness continued as we had multiple vehicles begin to follow us like vultures as they looked for a place to park.  Unfortunately for the parking vultures we were parked far from the trailhead near the entrance of the park which did not seem to satisfy them as they turned around and went in search of another park place:

Picture from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Conclusion

Overall, despite the windy weather my kids and I had another great day hiking the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.  With my son being 4-years old now he was strong enough to hike up rocky trail to the summit of Makapu’u Point to add I nice variation to an already fun hike.  Being able to walk over to the lighthouse was an added bonus.  This variation of the trail did make it extra challenging as we hiked a total of 3.5 miles and nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain.  For anyone looking for an extra challenge with this classic Oahu hike, the variation to the summit of Makapu’u Point is well worth checking out.

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