Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

I’ve done a lot of snorkeling, hiking and exploring on Oahu since I moved to Hawaii.  I’ve seen a lot of amazing things.  For the quality of the scenery and the minimum effort it takes to earn it, the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is near the top of my list.  

It’s one of those views.  A view that will last you a lifetime.  You can look at all the images online or in this article that you want and you still won’t experience it the right way.  In order to enjoy the majesty of the ocean and east Oahu views that you can witness while hiking the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail you really just need to go.  

Southeast Oahu is Awesome!

Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is on Hawaiian State land known as the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline.  There is parking at this short hike and the entire path (the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail) is paved and maintained.  There are other off-shoots of trails that are less kept and much harder, such as the Makapu’u TomTom Trail.  However, the “tourist attraction” at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline is the lighthouse and the trail leading to it.

From the moment you park you arrive and park your car you’re going to get some of the best views of southeastern Oahu that are available for such a small effort.  The higher up that you go on the trail then the more majestic the views get.  Once you have at arrived at the Makapu’u Lighthouse things just get better as you go from scenic land to wide open ocean and views of Waimanalo.  On a clear day it is even possible to see the Hawaiian Islands of Lana’i and Moloka’i.  You’ll be able to view Koko Head, Koko Crater and a very sliver of the opening to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve.

The offshore islands that you see from the top of the trail and the lighthouse observation deck are wildlife sanctuaries for Hawaiian seabirds, much like that of Kaena Point. From November to May, humpback whales are in migrating mode and the opportunity to see the humpbacks off shore on the Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike is very real and happens often during those months.

Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

Trail Details:

  • The entire trail is a windy, uphill paved “mini-road” until you get to the very top.  Don’t get worried, though.  The trail is only 1 mile each way and you’re only going up 500 feet. 
  • Allow 1.5 to 2 hours to complete the entire trail, stop take pictures and enjoy the views. Of course, take your time and enjoy all that beautiful Hawaii has to offer if you’re not on a schedule.
  • While the trail is paved and maintained, I’ll never recommend flip-flops or sandals on any kind of hike, even an easy one like this.  Do yourself a favor and wear good walking or hiking shoes so that you’re comfortable.
  • If you go off the path for any reason (which I don’t recommend doing with young children) then you’ll see that while this is an easy, safe trail there is still room for bad accidents.  Just a quarter of a mile into the trail you can look down on beautiful, rock coastal lands with tide pools and gorgeous blue water, however, a fall or slip will lead to a bad accident or fatality.  There is actually an unofficial Makapu’u Tide Pool hike that goes down the steep cliffs by following white arrows that are spray painted directly on the rock and land.  While that hike is dangerous, as well as the tide pools below because of the unpredictability of the ocean, the tide pools are gorgeous and aquarium like.  
Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

Directions to Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail

From Waikiki and Points West:

Take the H1 freeway east until it becomes Highway 72. Follow the road beyond Hawaii Kai, Hanauma Bay and Sandy Beach Park until you reach the park area adjacent to the highway.  Incidentally, Sandy Beach is a great body surfing spot.

From the Windward Side:

Take the Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) southeast beyond Kailua, Waimanalo, and Makapu‘u Beach Park, after which the road climbs up toward Makapu‘u Head. The park will be on the left side of the highway.

From the North Shore:

Choose one of the options above until you link up with either H1 or the Kalanianole.

Recommended Items for Makapu'u Trail

Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

The trail is wide open with zero cover or protection from the sun.  That's why it's good to have  a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen applied and water to keep hydrated.  Also, the views are amazing and you'll want to remember them for life.  Have binoculars or a camera ready for use!  (You may see whales!)

Bushnell Perma Focus 8x 25mm Binoculars
Amazon Price: $69.95 $36.58 Buy Now
(price as of May 30, 2014)
I personally don't use binoculars. I have a pretty awesome Sony Xperia phone and a GoPro, but if you want to "keep it old school" and rely on your memory and look far out into the ocean and nearby beaches then binoculars are the way to go!
GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition
Amazon Price: $399.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 30, 2014)
Maybe a little pricey, but you won't only use it in Hawaii or for hiking or for snorkeling...but it can be used for all of that. It's tiny. It takes high-quality pictures. It's versatile. You can use it for a long, long time. The mobile and wifi capability while pairing with a smart phone is indispensable.
Columbia Bora Bora Booney II Sun Hats, Sage, One Size
Amazon Price: $30.00 $22.50 Buy Now
(price as of May 30, 2014)
I shave my head so I might put a little more importance on hats than guys with full heads of hair. However, a good hiking hat will keep the sun off your face and neck as well while at the same time keeping sweat out of your eyes.
Camelbak Eddy Bottle (0.75-Liter/24-Ounce,Navy)
Amazon Price: $18.00 $13.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 30, 2014)
I personally like to keep my hands free so I opt for the Camelbak hydration systems that carry like a backpack and I can just suck water out of the tube near my mouth. However, this is another viable option.

Map of the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail Head Location

Get Directions
Makapuu Lighthouse Road, Hawaii Kai, HI, USA

My Video of the Top of the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail

Romantic Traditions at Makapu'u

Bonus Information

Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail PhotosCredit: Ken Muise

One of the odd things that you’ll find at the Makapu’u Lighthouse Observation deck at the top of the trail is a bunch of locks secured to the metal eye-lits of the fence.  This is a tradition called the “locks of love” where romantic couples fasten a lock as they look out on the beautiful ocean.

 The view of the sunrise from the Makapu’u Light House Trail is AWESOME.  

Makapu'u SunriseCredit: Ken Muise

Further Reading About What To Do On Oahu: