Get into the green at Manoa Falls

Monday, August 22, 2011

By Christine Strobel

Honolulu is flanked by the majestic Koolau mountain range, chock full of lush valleys and impressive peaks. At one moment, you could be in the grand cosmopolitan center of the Pacific, and 15 minutes later be strolling under a dense canopy, and standing streamside on your way up to a tropical waterfall.

Manoa Falls is one of these gems. Oahu isn't as blessed with waterfalls as Kauai, Maui, Molokai or the Big Island, but the 150-foot Manoa Falls and brisk .08-mile trail is nonetheless a lovely green escape from the concrete jungle, a trip under a verdant canopy along a burbling stream. Though popular, Manoa Falls is not nearly as crowded as the Diamond Head hike, and you'll encounter more locals along the way.

Because of its length and minimal elevation gain (800 feet), Manoa isn't much of an "exercise hike." If you want to challenge yourself, take the Aihualama Trail near the falls (pictured, right). Marked to the left of the Manoa Trail, it provides switchbacks that lead to the ridgeline, with views of Manoa Valley and Honolulu — however, it's not recommended for novices.

But the easy trail that ends at the falls has more than enough rewards. When the sun breaks through the valley's cloud bank and giant tree canopy, you won't believe so many varying shades of green exist in the spectrum. The zen-like sounds of the rolling stream and birdsong accompany you as you walk. This is definitely a "stop to smell the roses" kind of activity... or, more accurately, stop to smell the ginger when it's in bloom.

The falls and pool are cordoned off, an action taken by the state after a 2002 rockslide. You'll be close enough to enjoy the sensations of the cascading water, however, and certainly you'll be amazed such a feature is so close to the hustle and bustle of the city.


  • In heavy rains, the trail gets very muddy and slippery. As you'll be walking along the valley floor, there's also a risk of flash floods.
  • You won't need sunscreen, but insect repellent is a good idea if you tend to attract mosquitoes.
  • Hungry after? Stop by for breakfast or lunch at the Waioli Tea Room, set in a lovely historic home in Manoa.

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