Hawaii is one of the best places to visit when you want to go on a vacation that involves a bit of adventure and a lot of nature. Oahu, in particular, is known for its world-famous beaches and gigantic waves that are great for surfing.
With its stunning landscapes and crystal-clear waters, Oahu is also known for its waterfalls. This is due to the heavy rainfall on the island throughout the year. If you’re planning to do some hiking and nature sightseeing during your trip to Oahu, here are the best Oahu waterfalls to visit:
When you visit Oahu, Manoa Falls is a must-see if you’re looking for a short and easy hiking trail. For those staying in downtown Honolulu or Waikiki, the falls are a 20-minute drive away. Its path is easily accessible, and it is a popular hike for families. On the way to the falls, you’ll witness some breathtaking sceneries that lead up to a 150-foot waterfall cascading into the mountainside.
Take beautiful pictures against the backdrop of the falls and enjoy the lovely views. Remember, though, that Manoa Falls gets a lot of visitors every year, so expect large crowds. As tempting as it can be to swim in crystal clear waters, there is the danger of becoming infected with Leptospirosis.
Waimea / Waihi Falls
Waimea Falls is one of the most accessible falls on Oahu, found in Waimea Valley on the north shore of Oahu. It has a paved walking trail (about 1.5 miles round trip) and a shuttle service option for those unable to walk but still want to see the falls.
Waimea Falls is 45 feet high and empties into a pool at the bottom where you can swim and relax. If you feel more daring, you can even jump from the top. Remember to always check the depth and conditions of the pool before doing so. The falls are a perfect place for families traveling with small children as there are lifeguards who keep an eye on the swimmers. Lifejackets are required and provided for those who will take a dip in the pool.
Nearby, you can check out other gardens and cultural exhibits in Waimea Valley. Across the street is Waimea Bay, one of Oahu’s most iconic beaches on the north shore.
If you still can’t get enough cliff-jumping, try Waimano Falls. It is a three-mile round-trip hike that begins at Manana Trail and will take approximately an hour to get to the end. The trail passes through a thick canopy of forest that provides breathtaking views.
The best thing about Waimano Falls, however, is the small cliff edge from which you can jump. It is about 15-20 feet in height, and the water below will give you a refreshing dip. Before you jump, always check for debris in the landing area.
Lulumahu Falls is a stunning waterfall located near Pali. The trail is easy, mostly flat, and will take about 30 minutes before you reach a multi-tiered waterfall. At the bottom of the 50-foot fall is a small pool where you can swim.
Because Lulumahu Falls is on private property, you’ll need a day permit to hike to the falls. Nevertheless, it is worth it as the view is beautiful, the waters refreshing, and the trail easy to climb.
Li’Keke is one of the lesser-known falls in Oahu, but its two-tiered flow is impressive and provides a stunning backdrop for great photos. Its tallest cascade is over 15 feet. Occasionally, you might see some people climb to the upper pool for a photo. You must be careful as the moss covers the rocks, making them slippery.
Also known as the Old Pali Highway Falls, Li’Keke sits at the end of a rocky trail. The trail is a popular place for hiking, trail running, and bird watching, so expect to meet different kinds of tourists. Another easier way to access this waterfall is through the Ko’olau Golf Club, which requires a 15-minute walk to reach the falls.
The falls are also near the Pali Notches and Pali Puka hikes, known for their stunning sunset views.
Kapena Falls is one of the best waterfall hikes on Oahu because of its amazing hike that makes you feel like you are deep in a jungle in the middle of nowhere. You’ll see swinging vines, gigantic leaves, and enormous boulders throughout the hike. The waterfall at the end of the trail is a small but powerful one, cascading down 15 feet into a big pool for swimming.
You can jump off from several spots into the pool or try the rope swing (though it might no longer be there). The hike starts just off Nuuanu Avenue, so it’s a great way to start your day. Get your blood pumping through the trek, and then plunge into the icy water to cool yourself down afterward.
Unfortunately, due to the number of tourists who come to Kapena Falls, the trail is often littered with trash, and you might find some garbage in the pool, too. Hence, several people recommend not swimming to keep yourself safe. You’ll also need to secure a permit before hiking the trail.
If you want to avoid going where the crowds of tourists go and don’t mind long hikes and immersing yourself in nature, skip places like Manoa Falls and Kapena Falls and go to Laie Falls instead. They are located in Laie, on the north shore of Oahu. Laie Falls is one of the less-visited waterfalls on Oahu because of its 6-mile trek to the waterfalls and back.
At 15 feet, the falls aren’t that large compared to others that cascade several hundred feet, but they are beautiful. Because they sit on private property managed by Hawaii Reserves, Inc., you’ll need to secure a permit before hiking to the falls.
Another beautiful waterfall located on private property is the Koloa Gulch. It is open to visitors, but you need to fill out a waiver or secure an invitation before visiting. Koloa Gulch has multiple waterfalls that flow into a pool. To get to Koloa Gulch, you’ll cross several small streams and small falls and be able to spot a few fruit trees and native plants before you get to the 100-foot waterfall.
The best time to visit is in September when the bushes are flowering. The hike takes approximately four hours. Be careful when you hike, especially if you visit in rainy weather, as the path can get very slippery. At the end of the trail, you will see a set of stunning waterfalls and a clear basin—the perfect place to dive in and cool off after the long hike.
Waipuhia Falls is a fascinating waterfall to see because of how the strong winds blow over the falls, giving them the appearance of flowing upward instead of falling downward. It is also known as “Upside-Down Falls” and is one of the lesser-hiked waterfalls but a must-see, especially on a windy, stormy day.
Hiking to Waipuhia Falls can be challenging due to the overgrown trails and lack of maintenance. If you aren’t an experienced hiker, you might want to stick to easier trails first as this fall can be hard to find, and you might get lost.
Located inside the Lyon Arboretum, Aihualama Falls is easily accessible through a well-kept, two-mile round-trip trail. While the falls are small and not as impressive as the other, more powerful waterfalls, it is a safe, enjoyable hike for people of all ages.
On the way to the falls, you’ll also see various plants from Hawaii and signs that point out interesting spots. It’s a good trail to hike with your family, and you can turn it into an educational tour for your kids.
Maunawili Falls cascades 20 to 30 feet off a mountainside full of dense tropical plants. It empties into a deep, large pool where you can go for a swim after the 1.5-mile hike. Nevertheless, prepare to get dirty as the trail is notorious for being extremely muddy. Several locals and visitors like jumping from the cliffs into the pool below, although you need to be careful as the water level conditions change, and there are often unseen, submerged objects like rocks and logs.
As of the moment, the easiest way to get to the falls, Maunawili Falls Trail is closed until 2023 for maintenance and several improvements. Fortunately, there is another way through the old Pali Road and Maunawili Trail (not the same as the Maunawili Fall Trail). Please note that this path is only for experienced hikers as it is a more strenuous hike that takes approximately four hours to the falls and back.
If you enjoy long hikes and already have some experience hiking, don’t miss out on Kaipapau Falls. It’s an eight-mile round trip and requires crossing streams over 40 times. If you don’t have much experience hiking or are traveling with younger kids, skip this one for now, as the trail is very rocky and slippery in some areas. It’s best not to try this trail after heavy rains due to flash flood conditions.
The trail to Kaipapau Falls takes you through a beautiful, lush forest. You might be able to spot some bunkers along the way that have long since then been abandoned. At the end of the trail is a 90-foot waterfall with stunning views.
Jackass Ginger Pool
Despite its funny name, Jackass Ginger Pool is a small, charming pool in Nu’uanu, a neighborhood in Honolulu. It has a 10-foot waterfall and a swimming hole about eight feet in depth. It’s a great place to swim in, and a rope tied to the tree above the falls makes jumping in more fun.
The waterfall is easily accessible through the Judd Memorial Trail. The hike, traveling along Nu’uanu Stream, is about only half a mile from the trailhead to the falls. You’ll get to see bamboo, mahogany trees, guava, Cook pines, eucalyptus, and other plants along the way. As the trail can be muddy, remember to wear proper footwear. You might also want to bring insect repellent as it could come in handy during your trek.
If you like the small, beautiful pools more than the big ones, Waikahalulu is another one. Like the Jackass Ginger Pool, the falls cascade around 10 feet into a beautiful pool. Located within the urban center of Honolulu and allegedly the favorite vacation spot of Queen Lili’uokalan, they are a breath of fresh air and escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s a great place to visit if you want to go on a picnic or spend some time relaxing and immersing yourself in nature.
Although it is currently closed to hikers, Sacred Falls used to be one of the most famous falls in Oahu. Located in the Sacred Fall State Park, it is surrounded by rocky cliffs and green valleys. It drops 80 feet down into a pool.
On Mother’s Day in 1999, eight people died when boulders and rocks collapsed onto the narrow valley, and the visitors were unable to escape from the falling debris. Since then, the hiking trail has been closed. If you still want to see Sacred Falls, you can take a helicopter tour.
Kalihi Ice Ponds
The Kalihi Ice Ponds are a great option for those looking to explore nature spots without hiking too much. A small waterfall flows into a large pool, but when you climb to the top of the falls, you will be able to discover several other pools beyond the first. Unfortunately, like Sacred Falls, the trail is closed, and hiking to the Kalihi Ice Ponds is illegal.
See Oahu’s Best Falls
There is a lot to see and discover when you take a trip to Oahu. If you love nature and the outdoors, why not hike to one waterfall or two or more? Admire nature scenes, lush forests, and crystal-clear pools when you visit some of Oahu’s best falls.