HIKE: Mānoa Falls, O‘ahu
WHEN: February 2016
LENGTH: 1.6 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Easy; great for novices, kids, families and leashed dogs
FEATURES: Well-worn trail, valley scenery, often wet and muddy, mosquitos (so use repellent), restrooms at the trailhead, fee parking, dog-friendly, small waterfall and swimming hole at the end, links to another trail. Be careful of landslides, falling rocks and ongoing pig control in the area on Wednesdays and Sundays.
I honestly can’t remember the first time I hiked to Mānoa Falls in the back of this lush valley. I know I was pretty young because the waterfall, in my memory, was huge.
And it’s really not. Mānoa Falls is only about 150 feet tall and not much more than a trickle every time I’ve seen it since. It’s really not that impressive.
But then again, that’s not the main draw of this hike.
The Mānoa Falls Trail is an easy, pleasant stroll though verdant Mānoa Valley.
The trailhead is located at the end of Mānoa Road, right at Paradise Park, a one-time exotic bird and plant attraction that closed in 1994. The parking lot is to the right. You park, walk into the Rainbow’s End Snack Shop — where, by the way, you can pick up whatever hiking essentials you’ve forgotten at home — and pay $5. Then you put the ticket on your dashboard and walk to the trailhead.
The walk to the trailhead might be the most dangerous part of the entire hike. You have to follow the narrow, winding road past the Lyon Arboretum to the start of the trail.
This is more of a walk than a hike, as the trail is well-worn and the incline very minimal. You’ll walk through Eucalyptus trees and a forest of bamboo, completely surrounded by trees and ferns. Despite the crowd — we probably encountered around 50 people by 9 a.m. — it seems quiet here.
As we started the hike, we noticed the trail is undergoing renovation, which calls for the installation of informational signs along the trail. The areas have been cleared and the structures for the signs are there, but they’re littered with stickers and vandalism. No idea when this project will be done, but it’s a great idea since this trail is one of the most popular on O‘ahu.
Right before you reach the waterfall, there’s a signed junction to the left in a grove of mountain apple trees. This leads to another trail, the 8-mile-long ʻAihualama Trail. The path here is rocky and narrow at first but opens up later and finishes with 360-degree views of Diamond Head, Waikīkī, Pearl Harbor and even Waiʻanae. This hike climbs to the top of Tantalus and is rarely crowded. If you’re up for the challenge, consider taking this route.
And if you’re not, you’re very, very close to the falls.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to the falls, which spills into a small swimming pool below. I was surprised to see people actually lounging in the small pool. First of all, a landslide in January 2002 closed access to the pool and waterfall. And second, it’s not especially inviting. It wasn’t like a difficult hike where you need to cool off. And the pool is small, very small, too small to share with 15 other people.
But I digress.
VERDICT: New to hiking? Then this is the trail for you. It’s easy and well-worn with hardly any incline, yet you’re surrounded by thick, lush greenery. While there’s no summit view like you’d get on a ridge hike, the entire walk is peaceful and gorgeous. But it’s a popular hike, so expect crowds, especially after 9 a.m. on weekends.
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