My son was only a couple of months old when he embarked on his first hike, snug in an Ergo and napping most of the way to the top of the Makapu‘u Lighthouse Trail. It’s an easy hike, paved the entire way, and one I was already doing at least once a week with my dogs.
Since then my son, now almost 6, has done more than two dozen hikes in Hawai‘i, from the well-shaded 3-mile Kuli‘ou‘ou Valley Trail to the 6-mile trek along the island’s western coastline to Ka‘ena Point. It’s something I love to do—and something we can do together. I have to sacrifice a lot in my life now that I’m a mom—namely surfing and sleeping in—but not hiking!
And we’re lucky: Hawai‘i has dozens of hiking trails, from leisurely coastal strolls to uphill adventures to waterfalls, that are great for kids of all ages.
‘Aiea Loop Trail
Length: 4.8-mile loop
Location: 99-1849 ‘Aiea Heights Drive, ‘Aiea
Amenities: Restrooms, parking, trash cans at the park, campsites
Tips: Bring insect repellent. Trail can get muddy in parts. Dogs on leashes are allowed.
This state-run trail starts and ends at the 384-acre Keaīwa Heiau State Recreational Area at the top of ‘Aiea Heights Drive. The trail is mostly shaded and runs along the ridge on the west side of Hālawa Valley with views of Pearl Harbor, Lē‘ahi (Diamond Head) and the Ko‘olau Range. There are some gradual uphill sections and a small stream crossing, but nothing kids (or parents with babies in carriers) can’t handle.
Look for: Native koa and ‘ōhi‘a trees, fragrant lemon eucalyptus trees, the endemic O‘ahu ‘elepaio (small flycatcher) and remnants of a B-24 bomber that crashed in the area in 1944.
Length: 1.6 miles round trip
Location: 59-530 Kamehameha Highway, Hale‘iwa
Amenities: Restrooms, parking, trash cans at the park
Tips: Bring bug repellent and wear sun protection. Trail can get muddy in parts.
The trailhead—popular with residents and often uncrowded—starts in the parking lot of the Sunset Beach Neighborhood Park. The first section is very steep—and can be muddy if it’s rained recently—but thankfully short. Most hikers reach the top in about half an hour (though expect to take longer with kids). Once at the top, head left along the ridge. This part of the trail is well-worn and wide. You’ll see a picnic table on the makai side of the trail, then a historic World War II bunker with stunning panoramic views of O‘ahu’s North Shore.
Look for: The world-famous Banzai Pipeline.
Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail
Length: 2 miles round trip
Location: On Kalaniana‘ole Highway, eastbound, past Sandy Beach and before Makapu‘u Beach Park
Amenities: Parking, trash cans
Tips: Wear sun protection. Bring a lot of water. The nearest public bathrooms are at Makapu‘u Beach, less than a mile away. Dogs on leashes are allowed.
This short but scenic trail to the top of the windswept cliffs above the easternmost point of O‘ahu is a family favorite—and for a variety of reasons: The entire path is paved, so parents can easily push their little ones in strollers; the uphill sections are gradual and easy for kids; and the views of the rugged coastline and offshore islands are breathtaking. At the top, you can gaze down at the 46-foot-tall Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, built in 1909. Warning: As inviting as they may look, don’t trek down to the tide pools at the base of the cliffs. Large waves can break and sweep over rocks, flooding the pools and pulling people out to sea.
Look for: The Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i (on clear days), Mānana and Kāohikaipu islets, pānini (prickly pear catcus), ‘iliahi (sandawood trees), ‘iwa (great frigate bird), red-tailed tropicbirds, wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, koholā (humpback whales) in the winter months.
Length: 3 miles round trip
Location: End of East Mānoa Road
Amenities: Restrooms, parking, trash cans
Fee: $5 to park in the Paradise Park parking lot
Tips: Bring insect repellent. Trail can get muddy in parts. Go early as this trail tends to get crowded toward the middle of the day.
This popular trail in Mānoa had been closed for two years for repairs—and it reopened in 2021 with improvements that make it even better for kids. Much of the well-graded path has been covered in gravel, which makes it less muddy, and there are informational signs along the way, explaining geological and historical facts about Mānoa Valley. Some sections are a little steep—and slippery!—so pick up a walking stick (if you can find one) that hikers leave along the trail. Kids love walking through a tunnel made from a shipping container at the start of the hike and through a grove of bamboo toward the middle. The end is the 150-foot Mānoa Falls, with a new viewing area that keeps keiki from getting too close to the pool below.
Look for: Hau trees, white-rumped shama.
Ka‘ena Point Trail
Length: 6 miles round trip
Location: End of Farrington Highway, right past Keawa‘ula Beach
Amenities: Restrooms, parking, trash cans
Tips: Wear sun protection and bring plenty of water; there is very little shade on this trail. No dogs allowed, even on leashes.
Situated at the westernmost part of O‘ahu, Ka‘ena Point is a sacred place, known as a leina-a-ka‘uhane, the leaping place of souls, where the spirits of the recently dead could be reunited with their ancestors. The trail to the remote area follows an old railroad bed that meanders along the rugged coastline to one of the last intact sand dune ecosystems in the main Hawaiian Islands. Here, you can find native coastal plants like the dwarf naupaka and ‘ilima and seabirds, including wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies and the majestic ‘iwa. The reserve is a haven for endangered Hawaiian monk seals and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles), both of which can often be found resting along the coastline.
Look for: Naupaka, ‘ilima, naio (false sandwood), ‘āwiwi (a small native herb), pu‘uka‘a (a coarse native hedge), ‘iwa, Laysan albatrosses, wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, koholā in the winter months.
Length: 3 miles round trip
Location: Dillingham Airfield, Mokulē‘ia
Tips: Wear sun protection and bring lots of water; there is little shade on this trail.
This uphill climb along a steep pali (cliff) to the summit of the Wai‘anae Range offers sweeping views of Mokulē‘ia, Waialua and Hale‘iwa—while you’re hiking. Kids can count the number of switchbacks to the top—19!—and watch gliders and prop planes take off and land at the airfield as you make your way to the top. Along the way you’ll see an old quarry once used to mine rock for the airstrip; it’s now filled in with fresh groundwater and used as an aquaculture farm. At the top you’ll come to a picnic table and shelter; stop here for lunch. You can turn around and go back—or, if you have older or more experienced kids, keep going until you reach Kuaokalā Trail, which ends at an overlook of Mākua Valley.
Look for: Native wiliwili (Hawaiian leguminous trees), native ‘a‘ali‘i shrubs