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5 kid-friendly hikes on O‘ahu

Father and Son Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden,  Hawaii Oahu Photo by Ziad/stock.adobe.com

Hiking with kids, especially one’s own, requires healthy doses of preparation and patience—and even more snacks. And while heading out for family hikes is not at all like the long treks I used to take in my single years, it still conjures an atmosphere of adventure and exploration.

This comes after the effort of just getting out of the house, fraught with the usual delays and inane things parents say to kids, like: No, the cats can’t come and Are you sure you went to the bathroom? and What happened to your shoes?!  But once on the road (snacks and waters duly packed) it feels as if we’ve already won just by embarking, and any exercise we parents get in the bargain is icing on the cake.

These 5 kid-friendly hikes on O‘ahu are fun destinations for planned trips as well as impromptu outings (read: we have to get these kids out of the house now!), and some are perfect for bringing the grandparents along as well.

Be aware that not every trail is for every person, and hiking can be risky. Consider your personal fitness, skill level, and the weather. Take precautions and heed “No Trespassing” and warning signs. Never hike alone.

Hike 1: Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, Honolulu

Round-trip: 2.4 miles

Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area

The author’s sons explore a path shaded by Cook pine trees at Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area. | Photo by Christine Thomas

Tucked away atop St. Louis Heights in a cool expanse shaded by towering Cook pine trees, the Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area makes you remember how diverse Hawai‘i’s landscapes can be.

With plenty of parking and accessible, sun-dappled paths, sometimes we wander only at the trailhead, bringing notebooks to sketch trees and enjoying a relaxed picnic lunch in a covered pavilion. But when the weather and timing are right (ahem, we actually left the house early enough), we venture together down the Wa‘ahila Ridge Trail, which alternates between denser forest and open ridge sections with views of the Mānoa and Pālolo valleys.

The upper portions are good for spotting native plants and contain plenty of crevices to stop and snack along the way. Perhaps most important: It’s easy to turn around and head back whenever you like.

Hike 2: Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimānalo

Round-trip: 2 miles

Makapu'u Point Lighthouse

The Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse, while not open to the public, is a picturesque beacon for hikers. | Photo by Sergi Reboredo/Alamy Stock Photo

When headed to the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail, I often deploy reinforcements and have my parents meet us there (especially helpful when solo-parenting). With a large parking lot, a paved path (ideal for strollers), and many scenic spots to catch one’s breath, it’s perfect for a multigenerational outing.

While hiking uphill toward the historic (and closed to the public) red-roofed 1909 lighthouse, the sweeping views of Koko Head, Koko Crater, and windward offshore islands never fail to impress. Sunscreen, hats, and binoculars are a must, the latter absolutely required for premium viewing during humpback whale season (November through May).

Hike 3: Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden, Kāneʻohe

Length: Spend as much time as you like exploring the various trails.

Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden

Depending on where you park your car, it’s a relatively short hike to the lake at Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden. | Photo by Mike Hubert/stock.adobe.com

The broad expanse and different sections of the 400-acre Ho‘omaluhia Botanical Garden evoke the sense of traveling, with separate lots for pulling off to explore vegetation from around the world. And, with ample restrooms and well-marked trails, it’s very easy to explore here.

The hardest part may be just deciding where to begin. On our most recent visit, we chose to veer off some of the more well-trodden paths and explore the garden’s lush 3/8-mile Stream Trail (the unmarked trail is narrow and not maintained) just off an open view of the Ko‘olau mountains, which then connected to a popular path to the lake, an ideal spot to unwrap our bag lunches. Many other trails and swaths of grass await to claim on future day trips.

Hike 4: Kawainui Marsh Trail, Kailua

Round-trip: 3 miles

Kawainui Marsh

An ‘auku‘u (night heron) sits in a palm tree in Kawainui Marsh. | Photo by Kara - stock.adobe.com

Although not a hike through forest or valley, the 3-mile Kawainui Marsh trail is perfect for bird-watching, exercise, and a bit of freedom for kids and adults. Along this wide, paved path through the makai end of the marsh are open views of Mount Olomana and the Ko‘olau mountains, and parents can often walk together at a pace that counts as exercise (with some actual adult conversation on the side!). Kids can cruise in the stroller, toddle around looking for the ‘alae ‘ula waterbird, or pedal their scooters as far ahead as parents deem safe.

It’s always fun to talk about the story of the Hawaiian goddess Hauwahine, said to guard the marsh, and easy to treat yourselves afterward to a swim at nearby Kailua Beach Park.

Hike 5: Pu‘u Pia, Mānoa Valley

Round-trip: 2 miles

Pu‘u Pia

The gradual climb to the top of Pu‘u Pia is studded with roots dampened with wet earth. | Photo by Christine Thomas

Hiding in plain sight in the back of Mānoa Valley, the hike up Pu‘u Pia stared me in the face for years before I realized it was there, rising subtly inside the valley. A well-traveled trail just off a residential street, it’s well populated by mud and tree roots, which can make it slow going in parts but no less fun. You’ll want to bring old towels for afterward—it didn’t take long for my kids to be doused in mud, whether from trail running as if they were flying squirrels or just stepping in a particularly gooey patch.

The forest is thick, but the trail is comfortably wide as it ascends gradually to the top, where native koa trees and lovely views of the back of Mānoa Valley and out to Honolulu await.

Regular contributor Christine Thomas often hikes around O‘ahu with her husband and two boys, which is almost as much fun as past treks through Argentina and Switzerland. Almost.

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