In comparison to the main island of Hawaii and Maui, which are much higher and larger, O’ahu may seem like it’s got far fewer waterfalls to explore.
That is certainly the case, as there is a far greater quantity on the other island, however, there are some stunning waterfalls that are perfect for exploring on your visit to the island of O’ahu.
The great thing about these waterfalls is that many of them are easily available to visit as a family as well, making them the perfect day out during your travels.
We’ve compiled some handy information about these waterfalls, along with some useful tips to help you in planning your stay.
O’ahu Waterfalls At A Glance
Unless you’re planning a particularly long trip, you’re pretty much guaranteed to not be able to see all of these fantastic waterfalls that we’ve suggested.
So, before we get too into it, we’ve made a handy cheat sheet of FAQs so that you can find the perfect waterfalls to suit your holiday at a glance!
Read on to find out what waterfall is best for a family trip, what’s the best place to take a dip, and where you can go without even taking a hike!
Best Waterfall For Swimming In O’ahu
Waimea falls are a great place to go if you want to swim in a lifeguarded area. It is easily accessible by paid shuttle or by a paved walking area making it great for those who’d rather avoid any treks to their destination.
Best Waterfall For Visiting With Families
Again, the stunning Waimea Falls are perfect for visiting with families (see first image). Not only do they have easy-to-navigate paved paths that would easily suit a stroller, but there are also lifeguarded pool areas by the falls and stunning botanical gardens to explore as well.
Best Waterfall For Convenience
If you’re looking for a waterfall that’s easily visited from Honolulu and Waikiki, Manoa Falls is a perfect choice (See above image). Bear in mind however that you are not allowed to swim at these waterfalls.
Best Waterfall If You Don’t Want A Hike
All waterfalls on O‘ahu do require a hike, though Waimea Falls and Manoa Falls are the easiest ones to get to. There is also a shuttle bus available to Waimea Falls if you can’t manage the short hike, though bear in mind you have to pay for it.
Best Waterfall For The Dry Season
There are a few waterfalls that of course do not produce their display when it has been particularly dry for a long time.
If it’s during a dry spell, it’s best to avoid Manoa waterfalls and rather head up to the Maunawili Falls which has a dependable flow, even when others tend to dry up.
Where Are The Waterfalls Located?
All of the waterfalls on O’ahu are formed off of the Koʻolau mountain range which runs from the North to the South East of the island with most of them reachable via a short hike (some a little bit more of a trek) and they are all within a close distance to Honolulu.
List Of Readily Accessible Waterfalls On O’ahu
- Aihualama Falls
- Jackass Ginger Pool
- Kapena Falls
- La’ie Falls
- Likeke Falls
- Lulumahu Falls
- Manoa Falls
- Maunawili Falls
- Waipuhia (upside-down) Falls
- Waimea Falls
2 Waterfalls To Avoid
- Hamama Falls
- Sacred Falls
There are two waterfalls that are no longer accessible and should not be visited, regardless of what you see on other social media sites or tourism pages. This is because Hamama Falls support the local water table.
They are closely monitored as government property and provide clean, safe water to the island. You will be fined if you visit as they are not open to the public.
Sacred Fall park has been closed since 1999 due to a catastrophic rock fall that killed eight people and is off-limits to the public, those who enter not only put their own lives at risk but for anyone who has to go looking for them.
Let’s get into more detail about the amazing waterfalls that are available to you on O’ahu!
1. Aihualama Falls
These small yet stunning falls can be found inside of the Lyon Arboretum. These are easily accessible via a well-maintained circular trail. The falls are not the largest, but are beautiful and flow best after a bout of rain.
The falls are an easy hike for those of all levels of fitness and can be enjoyed by all ages.
Top Tips: You can find a really informative trail map that points out all of the local wildlife and biodiversity in the area in the arboretum, and there are marked signs throughout the hike that showcase unique species, making this hike a great educational experience for all ages.
2. Jackass Ginger Pool
This small 10-foot waterfall’s main appeal is not only its gorgeous location but its beautiful deep pool beneath that is perfect for swimming in.
As the name suggests, the Jackass Ginger Pool is more of a picturesque place to bathe than a waterfall attraction and can be found by following the stream just off from the Judd Trail hike.
Top Tips: Parking can be a bit of a pain, but you can easily park a little down the road and walk for a while. The Ginger Pool is very close to lots of local trails and streams. It’s the perfect place to take a refreshing dip after a hike around the area!
3. Kapena Falls
Just a short walk from the Pali Highway, the Kapena Falls are a must-see if you want to experience another world without going far at all. It’s a really easy stroll to get down to the falls, and you’ll be beset with a grotto-like experience.
Despite its easy access, the falls are perfect for exploring, testing your mettle at jumping, or hiking the 5km trip around to the top of the falls. This small 15 ft waterfall is a great place to explore if you don’t want to travel far off the beaten path.
Top Tips: As it is easily accessible, you’ll find a lot of litter around the place most likely. It’s not the cleanest water as a result of all of the tourists and hikers that frequent it, so if you’re looking for something a little more untouched, you may be best off looking elsewhere.
4. Lāʻie Falls
If the much less rural and kind of grotty-looking Kapena Falls isn’t your cup of tea and you’re up for an adventure, Lāʻie Falls is the one to go for.
It’s far more rural and is going to take a trek to get to, but you’ll be rewarded with a sanctuary-like experience that’s inaccessible nature to all helps it from being over visited.
Though the waterfall itself isn’t too big, the 11km hike and stream crossings lead you to a beautifully secluded area that’s well worth the visit.
Top Tip: Bear in mind that you MUST get a tourist pass to visit this trail and waterfall. You can easily download it from the Lāʻie Falls site, and it’s free to get.
5. Likeke Falls
Likeke Falls is a great place to visit, though the short climb is pretty challenging as they are accessible from a short km rocky hike.
The hike itself may not be long but it’s not recommended for those who can’t carry themselves well and is considered a slightly more moderately challenging route to get to.
The falls themselves are half-buried in the rock face, sliding and falling in equal measure. And you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful glimpse of the Oahu jungle for your troubles!
Top Tips: You can access the trail via the golf course center next door, through the car park.
6. Lulumahu Falls
Visible from the nearby Pali Highway, the 50-foot Lulumahu falls require a bit of get-up-and-go to navigate the jungles to get to your destination.
This waterfall is definitely worth the effort however as it’s one of the more spectacular falls that are still easily accessible to tourists. Many people say it’s one of the best waterfalls to visit in O’ahu, and we agree!
Top Tips: You can traverse the 4km round-trip through a relatively easy trail, though it can become overgrown.
The falls are also on private property meaning you have to obtain a day permit in order to hike the trails and visit the waterfalls here. However, it’s easy to do, and completely free.
Probably the most popular waterfall to hike to in O’ahu, Manoa waterfalls boasts a stunning 150-foot drop and is a stunning one to take photos of when you visit.
Swimming is not allowed in the pool, and do not be encouraged by what you see others do as there is a high risk of infection from going in the water. Swimming is not permitted in the area, so please be respectful of this policy when you visit.
Top Tips: It’s about a 4 km round trip and is a moderate climb through the trails, but nothing crazy, making it a good bang for your buck if you want to see an impressive fall that’s not too out of the way.
8. Maunawili Falls
PLEASE NOTE: The regular trail route for the falls has been closed for essential maintenance work, to be reopened in the summer of 2023. But, keep your eyes on the regional websites for up-to-date information about progress.
Though the regular trail has been closed for improvements to the local area across the trail, there is still a solid route to get up to the falls, though this one will take you about 4 hours round trip.
So make sure you saddle up some water bottles for your trip. If you do take the climb on, be prepared for some scree, along with some slippery slopes and tough climbs.
This is a great one to do if you’re an experienced hiker, but not for anyone who isn’t.
The falls themselves are not too big, around 20-30 feet, but the main attraction is the beautiful pools below.
Hikers and locals love to swim here, and whilst you’ll probably see a lot of cliff jumping, we don’t recommend it as the water changes easily and debris could be hidden down below.
Top Tips: Be careful when you’re climbing the trails as they are notoriously slippery to cross. They are also some of the muddiest areas around, so all year round you’ll want to pack your boots and water for this trip!
9. Waipuhia Falls
Also known as the Upside Down Falls when the strong northwesterly winds blow, the water looks as if it’s being blown upstream. This waterfall is best viewed from a distance as though it used to be impressive, it is now pretty dry and overgrown.
Top Tips: The hike itself is great, but the waterfalls themselves are not too impressive compared to others of the same caliber. It’s also not private property, so you can request access via the homeowners unless you want to get chased off and potentially fined.
10. Waimea Falls
If you’re looking for a reliable waterfall that’s safe to swim, good for all the family, and surrounded by natural beauty, Waimea falls will never disappoint.
As it is so easily accessible, this is definitely where you’ll also find the crowds, and you’ll have to wear a life jacket if you want to go swimming. This is a great one to go for if you want an easy and safe trip that’s perfect for the little ones.
Not only is the area beautiful, but it’s also filled with information about the local area and the amazing wildflowers that surround the area in Hawaii.
Top Tips: You can’t enter the arboretum and visit the waterfall without paying a $20 entry fee, though it’s well worth it as it is not only very well maintained but the botanical gardens themselves are fantastic for learning about the local environment.
Private Hiking Trails
The main reason why a lot of O’ahu waterfalls are not accessible is mainly that they are on private property. That means that you are unable to legally access them without facing fines or very disgruntled owners, who often keep tabs on those who choose to trespass.
What you can do, however, is view some of these private waterfalls through private guided hiking tours.
This usually involves paying for the tour of course, who then has permission from the various land owners to hike on their land.
It is greatly discouraged to hike on private land, not only is it illegal, but the trails are also not maintained, meaning they are far more dangerous to travel on.
You must pay attention to local safety advice.
Whilst it can be tempting to get up close to the beautiful waterfalls, they don’t come without their fair share of risks.
It’s also worth noting that you shouldn’t swim in any of the water if you have any open cuts or wounds as there is a high risk of getting Leptospirosis, a waterborne disease that has flu-like symptoms and will mess up your holiday if you get it.
So be careful when hiking on those trails!
In the same vein, don’t be tempted to drink the water as it houses a lot of bacteria. You never know what has fallen in upstream either so be extra sure to carry your water bottle with you.
Wear slip-proof shoes or sandals when hiking trails as the routes are often slippery and the rocks sharp.
There are so many wonderful places to visit in O’ahu, and many of them are easily located near Honolulu, making them a great place to visit on a day trip.
Being the third largest island, there is so much to explore and during your breaks from visiting the fantastic Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour, and the Punch Bowl Cemetery, there are some wonderful waterfalls and hikes that are well worth your time.
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