Hiking in Paradise: Makapuʻu Lighthouse Trail

I began tackling my New Year’s resolution a few days early. 

Since resolving to make my health and fitness more of a priority in 2017, I found myself jogging more and taking lunchtime strolls, yet still not making enough time for weekend hikes. Though I’m not a big resolutions person, I felt determined to set some personal goals to groom my hiking dexterity and explore new trails in the new year.

I started by taking advantage of the extra-long Near Year weekend and rising early for a tranquil Makapuʻu walk on the Friday before New Year’s Eve. Makapuʻu Lighthouse Trail marks Oʻahu’s eastern-most point and offers stunning views of the Kaiwi coast, Pacific Ocean, and Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi off in the distance. This leisurely, mile-long and paved trail is ideal for novice hikers, families, dog walkers and anyone looking to enjoy spectacular island views.

I arrived a few minutes before the gates opened, parking my car alongside Kalanianaole Highway near the start of Makapuʻu Lighthouse Road. The lot wasn’t even open, yet there were a good 20 or so cars parked along the highway, exactly what I expected of this bustling long weekend and easily accessible hiking trail. Once the gates opened to the public, I descended the road and made my way toward the trailhead.
Makapuu2   Makapuu3
A few of the beautiful sights I enjoyed at the beginning of the hike.

The hike begins along the ridge’s western end, where I was treated to unique views of Koko Head and the Pacific Ocean’s glimmering waters (made even more spectacular by the slowly rising sun). I’m definitely a morning person, and this hike’s breathtaking sunrise views reminded me of why. Sunsets are great too, but there’s nothing like watching the skies turn and evolve at the start of a new day.

The trail continues to climb at a pretty constant incline, which is more than manageable. Along the way I smiled at passersby jogging and cycling up the trail, inspired by their fierce determination to tackle the short yet consistent ascent up the ridge. Makapuʻu Lighthouse Trail underwent full-scale renovations in 2015, and the newly paved path boasts big improvements, like railed lookouts and binoculars to spot seabirds and marine mammals like dolphins and Humpback whales. I stopped a few times during the first part of the trail to indulge in these picturesque views at the various lookouts.

At the top of the ridge I encountered the switchback to the eastern side, where I continued making the climb up to the summit, all while dodging sprinting children and waving to the many leashed dogs along the trail. 

The reward? Some of my favorite views on the island. 
Not even a cloudy day can diminish these views.

A glimpse of Mānana Island and Kāohikaipu off in the distance.

The iconic Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse, constructed in 1909. Note: Makapuʻu Lighthouse is off limits, but easily photographed from the two lookouts.

At the summit, hikers are treated to two railed-off lookout points to soak in the majestic sights of Windward Oʻahu and the distinctive, red-paneled lighthouse below. From here I spotted Mānana Island, commonly known as Rabbit Island, and Kāohikaipu just off of Kaupō Beach. Clouds were rolling in from the north and before I knew it, a rainbow began to form. I stuck around for a good 15 minutes watching the delicate formation of a picture-perfect rainbow settling above Mānana Island.
The best part of the hike?

This spectacular rainbow forming above Mānana and Kāohikaipu islands.

After snapping a few photos and relishing in the beauty around me, I turned back and, even more gradually than I began, made my way down the winding trail. The diverse views from Makapuʻu are like no others on the island, warranting your full attention and not just through the lens of your camera phone. I had to constantly remind myself not to rush, to stop at all the lookout points and appreciate the wealth of natural beauty around me.

Trail Logistics:
-Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
-Length: 2 miles roundtrip
-Climate: Cool in the mornings and early evenings, very hot midday
-Bring: Water bottle, hat, sunscreen, snacks, camera
-Note: No bathrooms, water fountains; as always, donʻt leave valuables in your car!

Know Before You Go:
Getting there is easy but parking can be tough, so arrive early (gates open at 7 a.m.). There’s a free parking lot at the start of the trail but because of the popularity of the hike, stalls (and even street parking along Kalanianaole Highway) fill up quickly. Another reason to start early? The trail is almost entirely exposed, and the direct sunlight can take its toll on you mid day. For those on Oʻahu from December through April, keep your eyes peeled for our favorite underwater visitors—Humpback whales! Many people report sightings of these beloved marine mammals from all points of the trail.

Stay tuned for more challenging hikes ahead. Happy adventuring in 2018!

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