Oahu has it all when it comes to family vacations, with sunny beaches, a modern city for all your needs, that wonderful Hawaiian vibe, and plenty of easy treks to take in the stunning scenery. Oahu is a paradise for hikers, and among all the trails are several that are perfect for children of all ages and family members with various physical abilities. From a slow trek to the well-known Kaiwa Ridge to easy strolls through the trees to Waimea or Manoa Falls, here are the best short, kid-friendly hikes on Oahu.
What you need to do before hiking with children in Hawaii
Many water sources in Hawaii have leptospirosis, a sometimes serious bacterial infection that’s carried in animal urine. It’s important that your family knows not to drink any of the water or go swimming with any open cuts and sores. As always, be sun smart, wear bug spray, and carry plenty of water and snacks to keep everyone going on the trail.
1. Lanikai Pillbox hike (aka Ka’iwa Ridge Trail)
Distance: 2 miles round trip
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes on Oahu, with only a moderate incline that is absolutely worth it for the gorgeous views of the windward coast over Kailua and Lanikai beaches. It’s located only a few blocks from Lanikai Beach, which, with its turquoise water and powdery pale sand, is considered one of the most stunning coves on Oahu. Heading here with the kids after your family hike makes for a great day out.
Many people like to begin this trek in the dark to reach the summit at sunrise, but for families, this can be a little tricky as the first 100 yards or so is all hands on deck with a little scrambling and holding onto ropes. If you’re hiking with younger kids, it would be easier, and safer, to wait until sunrise for more light.
The “pillboxes” are the star attractions at the summit of this route, offering breathtaking views of Oahu’s coastline. Although referred to as the Lanikai Pillboxes, in technical military terms they aren’t really pillboxes. A pillbox is a defensive site — but these structures served only as observation stations and weren’t actually equipped with any defensive machinery. Either way, they are pretty awesome and, for kids, they offer an educational component to the hike.
The trailhead has no dedicated parking area, so if you have young children, parking can be an issue unless you start with the morning sun. The trail starts at Kaelepulu Drive and takes around one to two hours, depending on how slow you dawdle or linger to take in the views.
2. Diamond Head Hike
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
The 1.5-mile round-trip Diamond Head Trail is another of the popular kid-friendly hikes on Oahu. Children will particularly enjoy passing through the tunnel on the ascent and exploring the bunkers at the top, while all will likely appreciate the amazing views.
This hike is in no way stroller-friendly, and toddlers will most likely need to be carried at stages. However, it’s certainly achievable, and you’ll pass many other hikers with kids plodding determinedly up the well-maintained path. Views from the summit are iconic, overlooking Waikiki, Honolulu, and all the way to Ewa Beach and the Waianae Mountain Range. During winter, you may even spot passing humpback whales.
The best time to attempt the hike is at 6:00 AM when the trail opens. This will give you room to hike on a crowd-free trail and will ensure a parking spot. The route will take around two hours to complete. There’s an entrance fee of $5 for non-residents to do the hike (children under three are free) and a parking fee of $10 again for non-residents.
3. Waimea Falls
Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Located in Oahu’s North Shore area, Waimea Falls is one of the easiest kid-friendly hikes on the island and features a waterfall that you can swim at. It’s a particularly beautiful place for families to while away an afternoon. Don’t worry — the actual hike doesn’t take hours to complete, but admiring the botanical gardens and swimming at the falls can turn this into a day trip.
For families with younger kids, this is probably one of the better options on Oahu, as it’s mostly flat. You can pitch it to the kids as more of a walk than a hike, and soon enough you’ll have the whole family moving and enjoying the outdoors.
The route passes through world-class botanical gardens and historical sites before reaching the grand attraction, Waimea Falls. Waimea Falls cascades down 30 feet into a deep pond and while swimming is allowed, there are times it may be closed for safety reasons. It’s a requirement that you wear a lifejacket if you swim, which is provided by lifeguards and included in the admission fee to Waimea Valley.
There’s also a preserved Hawaiian village to explore, allowing you to sneak in some education. The admission fee is rather hefty but this kind of place doesn’t maintain itself and it’s stunning. The fee will make your wallet lighter by $20 per adult and $12 per child aged 4-12. There’s a discount for the military and residents of Hawaii.
4. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Distance: 2.5 miles round trip
Any hiking route on Oahu that both includes a lighthouse and is stroller-friendly is a winner in any family’s book. The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a gentle hike with spectacular views of Oahu’s southeast coastline, including Koko Crater and Koko Head. Once you do the hard yards and reach Makapu’u Head, the lighthouse comes into view. It was built in 1909 and features an Insta-worthy red roof. There are one-of-a-kind views across the Windward side of the island here, too. And, if you’re lucky enough to be hiking between November and May, don’t forget to pack binoculars, as it’s an excellent trail to spot migrating humpback whales.
Although the path is smooth and paved, it’s virtually entirely uphill and has an incline that will allow you to eat a cupcake guilt-free afterward. If you’ve been blessed with a wild child, you may need to hold their hand at various points because the trail drops off on the side at points and there are cacti in the low growing vegetation.
The car park and trailhead can be found off the Kalanianaole Highway at the south-easternmost point of Oahu and if you’re driving from the windward side of the island, the park will be on the left side of the highway.
5. Manoa Falls hike
Distance: 1.8 miles round trip
The highlight of this kid-friendly hike on Oahu is reaching the 150-foot-high waterfall to watch mother nature in all her cascading glory. The Manoa Falls hike is under two miles for a round trip through the rainforest to the waterfalls, but the falls aren’t the only great thing about it. The walk itself is stunning, featuring native Hawaiian plants and bamboo forests.
Although the trail is really easy to follow and is well-maintained, it’s not in the slightest bit stroller-friendly so be prepared for some baby- or toddler-wearing if you have little ones. This hike is nearly always muddy, but the last quarter can take it to extremes if there has been prior rainfall. Recent rain will make the waterfall even more memorable but it also brings out the mosquitoes, creates extra mud, and makes for slippery rocks. If it’s been raining, a smart move would be to leave a plastic bag in the car to dump muddy shoes into after the hike.
Parking is $5 if you park in the dedicated parking lot along Manoa Road, but some folks choose to find free residential parking just after Waakaua Street before reaching this parking lot.
6. Likeke Falls
Distance: 1 miles round trip
There is nothing like a waterfall to keep kids interested when hiking in Oahu. In fact, any first-time visit to Hawaii should include chasing waterfalls. This one only takes around half a mile to reach the water, making for a quick, easily managed morning out during vacation. Likeke Falls is a beautiful hike that is fun for the whole family, but particularly for kids who like to get dirty as it’s muddy.
There are actually two ways to get to Likeke Falls: one is short and easier and the other is not as family-friendly. The easier route starts from the bottom of the Ko’olau Golf Club and takes around 15 minutes. The trailhead can be spotted from the parking lot and you will quickly come across a large tank covered in graffiti from which the trail leads off to the left.
7. Judd Trail
Distance: 1 mile loop
The Judd Trail is a popular kid-friendly hike on Oahu for younger children who love the outdoors — as this 1.5-mile loop can often turn into a complete mud bath. The payoff is Jackass Ginger Pool, a fun and safe swimming hole. Just note the depth can vary depending on recent rainfall. If it’s deep enough, visitors jump off the rocks but parents might want to encourage the kids to slide on the mossy rocks and into the water instead.
This hike actually begins with a shallow creek crossing, instantly putting a stop to any whining before it starts by beginning with a touch of soft adventure. Rock hop over as best you can and follow the loop through some fascinating greenery that, despite the short length of the trail, changes quite a bit.
To hike the Judd Trail, you’re going to need bug spray against the critter armies. It’s totally worth it though; just don’t forget it or you’ll spend the rest of the day scratching your arms and legs.
There’s no official parking lot for the Judd Trail, but hikers can drive onto Nuuanu Pali Drive and park along the street near two horizontal pillars that mark the trail’s entrance.
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