hawaii beach view

The Best Moderate Hikes in Oahu, Hawaii

hawaii beach view
Start your hike at Hau’ula Beach Park.

Our best hike in Hawaii on the uncrowded Hau’lua Loop Trail finished a week of fabulous hiking in Hawaii. The map of our hike on Hau’lua Loop Trail is at the bottom of this post.

Getting to Hawaii in the time of Covid wasn’t easy. Six reschedules later and two Covid tests, we finally arrived on Oahu to hike our 49th state in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. We did more than hike, and we did more than just one hike. A glorious week of vacation celebrated the end of our comfortable life, Steve’s retirement, our major life transitions, and the beginning of our nomad adventure.

Hawaii’s Safe Travels

Hawaii’s Safe Travels program tracked us into Oahu and kept us from leaving for other islands. We didn’t want to spend $150 for Covid tests to go to other islands, so we stayed in Waikiki for three days and then in Kailua for three days. It was the perfect, balanced vacation of touristy things and local things. Fortunately, the Safe Travels program has been suspended for now; but keep your eye on it as it could come back at any time.

mountain views in hawaii
The jagged and sharp mountains of Oahu.

In Waikiki, we donned our tourists hats and did the touristy things: the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Memorial (a must-see), a walk through China town to see the ladies making leis, an urban hike through downtown Honolulu, an early morning jaunt to the super interesting Honolulu Fish Auction (no admission with Covid, just go around the back and watch), a disappointing visit to the Dole Plantation (don’t go–tourist trap), sunsets on Waikiki with the requisite pina coladas, hula dancing to traditional Hawaiian music, and tons of poke bowls and a musubi rolls.

Waikiki’s hikes give up great views

The hikes just kept coming. Of course we climbed Diamond Head (hike one). It’s actually a bit harder than you’d expect–especially since we left from our hotel and walked 9 miles round trip. Friends dared me to do Koko Crater (hike 2, but not moderate)–lots of steps up an old rail to another amazing ocean view–which reminded me of an easier Manitou Incline. And our favorite hike from Waikiki was the climb up to the lighthouse at Makapu‘u Point (hike three). But none of these were our selected Hawaii hike.

Finding a Moderate Hike in Hawaii

Recall our criteria for our selected hikes in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. We try to stick to:

  • 3-5 mile loop
  • Moderate challenge
  • Quintessentially unique to that state
  • Off the beaten path

Although the beautiful hikes we accomplished in Waikiki had amazing Pacific views that rocked Hawaii and are unique to Hawaii, Pacific views aren’t unique to our project. We’ve seen lots of gorgeous amazing views. See the California hike where we overlooked Torrey Pines, the Oregon hike from Canon City, or the Washington hike in Olympia National Park. We wanted tropical Hawaii, foliage, flora and fauna!

Leaving Touristy Areas, Arriving Paradise

We scooted over to Kailua on the eastern coast to a quaint Airbnb on the ocean with an adorable host. She advised us against Meaka Hike, one that many of my friends had recommended. Although beautiful with its views, it didn’t fit our criteria, and she was very concerned about break-ins at the trailhead. We scoured AllTrails and some other bloggers’ posts to find a trail on the eastern shore, preferably on the way to the North Shore that would check all of our boxes.

hawaii fauna
The pattern on this leaf!

We found the Hau’lua Loop Trail. (hike four)

It was perfect. About 4 miles with moderate elevation gain, it promised local and tropical plants, a waterfall, and a Pacific view. Bonanza!

A Locals’ Trail Hike in Oahu

It did not disappoint. Hiking up through the lush landscape, we stumbled upon what I later determined was Hawaiian pear (not apple, as I mention in the video), native Hawaiian hibiscus, and white, pink and purple flowered beauties. Although I’m sure Australian pine and melaleuca are probably not native to Hawaii, the Australian Pine forest provided a soft bed of needles to hike through. It was a nice change of pace from the very rooted path most of the way.

pacific views
Pacific views between Australian Pines

At the apex, where we thought we’d find views, the trail skirted the viewshed and headed downhill for a bit. Disappointed that we not only missed a waterfall, but didn’t see the coveted view, I started to wonder if this is the trail that would pay off.

Then boom.

Australian pine forest
Australian pine forest

Around the corner we went, discovered the mud that we thought we had avoided, and found our waterfalls. They weren’t spectacular–the trail was a bit dry–but I could certainly see how these falling waters would gush after a short burst of moisture.

“The” waterfall.

Then around another corner we saw the Pacific view we knew had to be awed over. But the coolest thing?

Right after the view, we rounded yet another corner to fall into an amazing Star Pine, or Norfolk Pine forest. Lush and green, I felt like we had left Hawaii and transported ourselves to Washington for a minute. Native to an island off of New Zealand, I certainly was not expecting a Christmas tree forest of Norfolk pines on Oahu!

norfolk pine
Star Pine, also known as Norfolk Pine

About four miles later, we returned to our car. Rather than parking in the neighborhood right at the trailhead, we had parked a few blocks away at Hau’ula Beach. We rinsed off our mudded boots, used the restrooms, and pointed our GPS to the North Shore. Friends had suggested the ONE place to get an amazing vegan poke bowl, and I wasn’t going to miss it!

The Best Acai in Oahu

Giant waves propelled brave surfers all up the North Shore as we made our way to Farm to Barn Cafe in Haleiwa. The Humble Bowl, loaded with baby broccoli, an assortment of nuts and a sauce the flavored up the bowl, Hawaiian style, filled every taste bud. We also dived into the North Shore’s best acai bowl that included a spiral of almond butter. Content, we passed up some shaved ice and headed for Shark’s Cove to snorkel.

buddha bowl
The Humble Bowl

Sharks Don’t Scare Us!

Although Shark’s Cove had its share of snorkelers, we found our own little corner in the cove to see butterfly fish, parrot fish, damsel fish, surgeon fish, tang, wrasse, big eye, perch, chub, trigger fish, goat fish, jacks, mullet, cornet fish, and needle fish. After a day of hiking, acai-ing, and snorkeling, we took our tired selves back to the car to head back to Kailua.

And then I slammed on the breaks.

shark cove
Shark’s Cove

What I saw out of the corner of my eye was a line and the word “pie.”

Ted’s Bakery, a local institution, caused automatic engine failure of our rental. Miraculously, we pulled into the parking lot safely and discovered the one piece of pie we had to order.

Macadamia Nut Cheese Cream Pie

The guy in front of us got the last piece. Instead, I ordered the *even better* Chocolate Haupia. This dreamy cloud of yumminess had a chocolate cream bottom, a coconut cream middle, and a whipped cream top. I’m sure it wasn’t vegan. But sometimes, ya know, pie. Pie!

chocolate haupia pie
Chocolate Haupia Pie

And then the car started again with no problem.

A Special Garden in Oahu

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

By the way, do not miss the free local, government-run botanic gardens, Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden. This might have been the best botanical garden I’ve ever visited. And it was free. Be sure to walk down to the lake, hike the Stream Path, and loop back to the parking lot. It’s muddy but worth it (hike five.)

Where to Next?

handsome hiking couple
Just us.

We have one more hike to go in our 50 Hikes 50 States Project. Alaska is up next. We fly into Anchorage on Memorial Day weekend. Where should we hike?

What You Need to Know about This Hike (click for interactive map)

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