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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Nu’uanu-Judd Trail to the Nu’uanu Valley Lookout

Basic Information

  • Name: Nu’uanu-Judd Trail
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Max Elevation: 1,685 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,109 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Topographic Map

Nuuanu-Judd Trail Topo Map

Google Earth Map

Nuuanu-Judd Trail Google Earth Image

Narrative

The amount of easily accessible trails around the Honolulu area is just incredible.  There has to be few if any major cities in the United States that has such easily accessible and yet spectacular trails so close to the city center.  The latest trail I decided to hike was the Nu’uanu-Judd Trail to access the Nu’uanu Valley Lookout.  The trailhead for the hike is located just a short drive up the Pali Highway from downtown Honolulu.  About halfway up the Pali Highway there is a turnoff for Nuuanu Valley Drive that leads to the trailhead:

The trailhead is not marked from the road, but the best way to spot it is to look for a bridge and then concrete poles lying on the side of the road:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a view of the trailhead from the opposite side of the road:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

There is no designated parking lot for the trailhead which means hikers have to find a place to park along the side of the road.  Fortunately since I began my hike early at 6:30 AM I was the first car parked along the road:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a view of the spillway adjacent to the bridge that makes this small pond:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

After checking out the pond I walked across the street to the clearing that designates the trailhead for the Judd Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The Judd Trail is named after Charles S. Judd the territorial forester in the 1930’s when the Cook pines along the trail were planted.  The trail itself was built later in 1954 by territory of Hawaii workers.  At the trailhead there are a number of signs to include of course one for the Judd Trail which is part of Hawaii’s Na Ala Hele trail system:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

It is unfortunate the state has to do this, but there is another sign that tells people not to dump garbage here which means in the past people must have been dumping garbage here:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

There is another sign that warns against commercial tour activity and for hikers to brush their boots:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I can only imagine what a madhouse this place would be if the tour bus operators were allowed to bring hordes of visitors to the Jackass Ginger Pool that is located along this trail.  Anyway for my hike I planned to start off on the Judd Trail which is a loop hike that accesses the Nuuanu Trail which switchbacks up the adjacent Ko’olau Mountains.  At the end of the Nuuanu Trail it intersects with the Pauoa Trail that leads to a scenic lookout of the Nuuanu Valley.  From there I would backtrack back down the Pauoa and Nuuanu Trails and complete the loop hike of the Judd Trail that ends near the Jackass Ginger Pool which is a popular swimming location on the island:

Nuuanu-Judd Trail Google Earth Image

From the trailhead I immediately walked down to a creek:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

This creek is the Nuuanu Stream which I was able to cross with no issues:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

This is the same creek that at the end of the hike fills the Jackass Ginger Pool:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

After crossing the creek I came to the loop portion of the Judd Trail.  Taking a right at the signs leads to the Jackass Ginger Pool while a left leads to the Nuuanu Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I took the left towards the Nuuanu Trail and proceeded to walk through a thick bamboo forest:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Eventually the trail entered into the largest grove of Cook pines I have seen yet in Hawaii:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The Cook Pines are an introduced species of tree from the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia which is named after the great British explorer James Cook who died in Hawaii in 1779.  These Cook pines were absolutely enormous and made me feel like I was on a mainland hike and no longer in Hawaii:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The trail then began to pass through a grove of leafy deciduous trees that I am unsure the name of:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

It was along this section of the trail that a large number of bushes filled with guava berries could be seen:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The trail then reentered the grove of Cook pines:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

All along this first section of the hike there are social trails going in many directions which could cause people to go off trail if they are not paying attention.  The best way to stay on the correct trail is to always follow the largest trail and then look for the pink ribbons:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Next the Judd Trail passed through a small gulch:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Just passed the small gulch the trail came to the intersection between the Judd and Nuuanu Trails:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the intersection I took a left and followed the Nuuanu Trail up the adjacent mountain:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The Nuuanu Trail is well known for having sixteen switchbacks to ascend the adjacent mountain.  Some people do not like to follow the switchbacks and instead cut through the middle.  This creates unneeded erosion which the State of Hawaii has put up signs to warn hikers about:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Something else that hikers on this trail need to be ready for is mud.  There are various sections of the trail that are total mud holes:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Due to the various mud holes I do not recommend wearing tennis shoes on this trail.  I wore my waterproof hiking boots and just walked right through the mud with no issues.  Most of the straight sections of the switchbacks are quite smooth with no mud:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

However there are some rough sections of the trail caused by roots and rocks:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I eventually came upon one section of the trail where there is a lookout of the Nuuanu Valley below and the Cook pine grove that I had just walked through:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I continued my ascent up the trail and neared the top of the ridgeline:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Once on the ridgeline I had a great view of Mt. Tantalus across the valley from me:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Mt. Tantalus is an extinct 2,014 foot cinder cone volcano that rises directly behind downtown Honolulu.  Mt. Tantalus is one of my favorite hiking locations to take my two young kids to due its expansive and well maintained trail network.  The end of the Nuuanu Trail connects to the Mt. Tantalus trail network which where I was heading next.

A short distance after reaching the ridgeline I came to this bench:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

This bench was dedicated to the 60 year old Jay Kent Bien who was a noted trail runner who died during one of his runs:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

 

As I sat down on the bench to drink some water I spotted a native ohia tree in front of me.

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I am not sure but this may have been the species of ohia that only grows on Oahu which is known as an ahihi tree

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I also saw a number of native koa trees:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

It seems that for whatever reason when trails get to about the 1,500 foot level the native vegetation seems to take over from the introduced species of plants that dominate the lower elevations.  From the bench I needed to reach the saddle between the ridgeline I was on and Mt. Tantalus where the Pauoa Flats Trail is located:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The trail was in great shape and I made good time across the ridgeline to the saddle:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Along the way I had a nice view of the beautiful valley below Mt. Tantalus:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

In the distance I could see the various high-rise buildings that compose downtown Honolulu:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I could even see the Sand Island industrial area and the Honolulu International Airport in the distance:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the end of the ridgeline the Nuuanu Trail ended where it intersected with the Pauoa Flats Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the intersection I took a left on to the Pauoa Flats Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The trail was in great shape and mostly flat:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

After walking a short distance down the Pauoa Trail I next came to the intersection with the Aihualama Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Aihualama Trail leads down to the Manoa Falls Trail which is one of the most scenic waterfalls on the island.  However, because of how scenic it is and its easy access from Honolulu the Manoa Falls Trail is one of the most heavily trafficked in the whole state.  At this trail intersection I continued up the Pauoa Flats Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

After the intersection the condition of the trail deteriorated:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Much of the trail became a big mud hole:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Fortunately this section of the trail was quite short and 10 minutes later I reached the Nuuanu Valley Lookout:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the lookout there is another nice bench to sit on:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The bench was dedicated to a 19 year old man named Daniel Cassen Levey who died in 2003 while hiking down the Lanipo Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

In front of the bench were two warning signs:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a closer look at the two signs warning hikers of the dangers of the steep cliff in front of the lookout:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Considering the state put these signs up, that likely means someone must of accidentally fell off of this cliff some how.  The Nuuanu Valley Lookout is over 1,600 feet high so this is definitely not a cliff someone could likely survive a fall off of.  At the bottom of the cliff is the stunning Nuuanu Valley:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The clouded Ko’olau Range across from me gave the scene a Jurassic Park like feel to it.  Down below in the valley I could see the Nuuanu Reservoir:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The reservoir was built in 1910 and used mainly for flood control for the homes that live downstream.  Here is the view looking more towards the south from the lookout where the lush forest below can be seen:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Looking down in the valley I could also see the small pond along Nuuanu Pali Drive where the trailhead for this hike was located at:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I could also see the Pali Highway down below that runs to the famous Pali Lookout on the edge of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a closer look at the gap in the mountains where the Pali Lookout is located:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is an even closer look at the Pali Lookout where Oahu’s Windward Coast could be seen through the gap:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

On the right of the Pali Lookout the Pali Notches could be seen which were man made cut outs in the cliff that some believed were used at one point to emplace canons in:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

In 1795 this valley was the scene of the final battle between King Kamehameha and Chief Kalanikupule who ruled Oahu.  King Kamehameha had already conquered all the other Hawaiian islands except for Oahu and Kauai.  King Kamehameha’s forces landed at Waikiki and Kahala and initiated battle against Kalanikupule’s forces that had garrisoned the Punchbowl Crater.  After losing the battle at the Punchbowl Crater the Oahu forces retreated into the Nuuanu Valley.  It was here that the final battle for control of the island was waged that saw many of the Oahu forces pushed off the cliff at the Pali Lookout thus giving control of Oahu to King Kamehameha:

On the left side of the Pali Lookout I could see the small hole in the rock face known as the Pali Puka:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

From the lookout there is a short side trail that I decided to walk up:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The side trail leads to a power line pole:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the power line pole I had a partial view looking back towards Honolulu:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a closer look at the view where the Honolulu International Airport and southwestern Oahu all the way to the resorts at Ko’olina could be seen:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is view looking towards the 3,149 foot Pu’u Konahuanui, the highest peak in the Ko’olau Range which was obscured with thick clouds:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

From the lookout there is actually a steep trail that can be used to hike up to this mountain that is usually covered in clouds just like much of the other mountains in the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is one final panorama view of the Nuuanu Valley that I took from the lookout before I started hiking back down the trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

From the lookout I retraced my route back down the Puaoa Flats Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

During my walk back I noticed this gigantic tree growing along the side of the trail which I thought was pretty cool:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I soon found myself back at the trail intersection with the Nuuanu Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I took a right here off of the Puaoa Flats Trail and followed the Nuuanu Trail back down the ridge line.  Along an open section on the ridgeline I saw this nice looking farm below in the Nuuanu Valley:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Then looking to the south I could see downtown Honolulu:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a closer look at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Punchbowl Crater that I could see from the trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

From the trail I could even see the state capital building located below Punchbowl Crater:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Something else I noticed from the ridgeline was how this peak across the Nuuanu Valley from me was triangular shaped which I had never noticed before:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

After I passed by the bench I began my descent down the sixteen switchbacks.  During the descent I was engulfed in the thick forest again:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I quickly walked down the sixteen switchbacks and only stopped a few times to talk to fellow hikers who were asking me how much further it was to the top.  I told one lady it was about 45 minutes and I thought she was going to cry.  She kept going up the trail though.  Anyway I soon found myself back at the intersection between the Nuuanu Trail and the Judd Trail:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

At the intersection I made a left to complete the Judd Trail loop.  This section of the trail passed through the grove of Cook pines:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

As I dropped in elevation I exited the pine grove and was surrounded by other species of trees:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I then could hear ahead of me a lot of people yelling and laughing which meant I must have been nearing the Jackass Ginger Pool.  The descended to the pool where I could see a number of teenagers jumping into the pool.  I carefully crossed over the Nuuanu Stream in order to take some pictures of the pool:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Here is a picture of the small waterfall that cascades into the pool:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The water appeared to be very deep considering how the teenagers were jumping off the rock face into the water.  Due to the leptospirosis risk I don’t like to swim in the freshwater ponds in Hawaii.  The Jackass Ginger Pool is a very popular location on Oahu which has caused it to become a place littered with trash.  I just don’t understand why someone would come to a beautiful place like this and not pick up their trash?:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I guess I should be thankful that vandals have not spray painted all over the rocks here yet.  After spending about 15 minutes at the Jackass Ginger Pool I then hiked up the remaining portion of the Judd Trail :

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

The trail exited at Nuuanu Pail Road:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

I proceeded to walk the short distance up the road back to the trailhead:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Just up ahead of me I could see the cars parked in front of the trailhead:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Before I knew it I was back at the trailhead:

Picture from the Nuuanu-Judd Trail

Conclusion

The Nuuanu-Judd Trail is a nice hike with big views that is easily accessible from Honolulu.  The hike is a challenging 5.7 miles in distance with over 1,100 feet in elevation gain that took me exactly 4 hours to complete.  I do not recommend this hike for families with young kids under age 10 due to the sometimes rocky and muddy trail conditions.  What I do recommend though is wearing hiking boots because of the mud and lots of insect repellant due to the mosquitoes.  Getting up the sixteen long switchbacks on the Nuuanu Trail can be a bit of a grind, but the view from the Nuuanu Lookout makes it worth the effort.

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

Get The Hikers Guide to Oahu for more trail information:

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