With Palolo Valley and the Pacific Ocean in the background, hikers Kevin Fujimoto and Irene Ko walk the Waahila Ridge Trail.
Even without the ‘stairway to heaven,’ many hikes on Oahu
It would be an arduous 2,000-foot climb up more than 3,500 metal steps anchored into a lush green cliff in Oahu's Koolau Mountains.
On the "stairway to heaven," hikers climbed into puffy white clouds over a tropical forest for views of the Haiku Valley and beyond, to the ocean.
But those who try the Haiku Trail risk a trespassing ticket and a towed vehicle. The trail is closed to the public by the owner of the land at the base of the stairs, even though the government spent $875,000 in 2002 to make repairs.
Fortunately, even though this and a few of Oahu's other finest trails are off limits due to access issues or rockslides, there are another 80 trails to choose from.
A system of nearly 20 paths in the Koolau Mountains above Honolulu wind through the thick canopy of the rain forest and lead to high ridges that overlook deep vistas and lush valleys. Other trails take explorers to hidden waterfalls or introduce hikers to the variety of native plants and wildlife.
The trails wend deep into the real beauty of Hawaii, with crooning birds, endless varieties of plants and greenery -- all while offering a sweaty workout.
Hiking in Hawaii has gained popularity in the past few years with the availability of more guidebooks and comprehensive Web sites, said Aaron Johnson Lowe, Oahu trails and access specialist for Na Ala Hele, which maintains and manages the trails for the state.
Lowe said there seems to be a trend of people looking for more healthy activities.
"It seems once they get on one trail, they become hooked," he said.
A brief warning: Watch out for pig hunters, who sometimes use the trails, and check online if permits are required for certain hikes.
Based on hikes of more than 30 trails, here are some of the best:
» One of the most popular hikes on the island takes visitors inside Diamond Head crater, where even relatively unfit travelers can climb 175 stairs and journey through a 225-foot unlit tunnel to an observation deck once used by the military. The paved trail attracts novice hikers and rewards them with a view of Waikiki.
» More intense than Diamond Head is the climb into Koko Crater to the south, where more than 1,000 makeshift "stairs," which are really old railway ties, take climbers to the top for sweeping views of Hawaii Kai homes and marina.
» While on that side of the island, the paved pathway on Makapuu Lighthouse Road offers views of Manana (Rabbit) and Mokuhope islands. A rocky switchback leads to some tide pools and a powerful blowhole located nearly 400 feet below the road.
» Crave waterfalls? Most tourists make their way to the Manoa Falls Trail, which veers through a bamboo forest, over massive boulders and exposed roots before the 0.8-mile-long trail reaches the 150-foot shimmering falls. Don't expect a swim, as a 2002 landslide dropped debris and rocks into the pool at the base of the falls, causing the state to rope off the pool. Most people stop here, but the 1.3-mile Aihualama Trail will take hikers up a winding path to the end of Manoa Valley and a stunning overlook.
» The Judd Trail, known as Jackass Ginger, crosses a shallow, rocky stream and passes bamboo, ironwood and eucalyptus forests before coming to a small waterfall, which trickles into a refreshing pool. A rope swing makes for an adventurous dip, and a slippery rock can be used as a slide. (The trail is where ABC's hit show "Lost" has filmed many scenes.)
» Midway through that hike, the Nuuanu Trail veers off for a rigorous climb and more great lookouts, connecting to the 20 other trails above Honolulu.
» Kaau Crater Trail takes hikers past multiple cascading falls, and the 1.5-mile walk up the Maunawili Trail brings thrill seekers to a deep pool where many jump into brisk water from more than 40 feet above.
» The ridge trails are often the most challenging but offer airplane-window views of the island. The Mauumae Ridge Trail, also known as Lanipo, is often called the "roller coaster workout" for good reasons as it leads visitors along the tip-top of the dense green mountainside, with a close-up view of the Koolau Mountains and the entire southern half of the island from Koko Crater to the Waianae Mountains.
» Another high journey for experienced hikers is the 5.5-mile haul up the Dupont Trail in the Waianae Range, which rises 4,000 feet and eventually reaches Mount Kaala, Oahu's highest peak.
Many of the marked trails in the tropical forests can become tough to navigate, but those looking for help can call on the Hawaiian Trail and Hiking Club, which takes groups to different trails on weekends with members who know the island's most breathtaking landmarks.
The club also works to get permits and permission from landowners to complete some trails not normally open to the public, said member and trail coordinator Steve Brown.
Brown admits many hikers wish they could climb the Haiku Stairs, the challenging ascent to the summit of Puu Keahiakahoe built by the Navy during World War II for access to radio equipment.
"That's a really sore spot for a lot of hikers," Brown said.