The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, also known as the Kaiwi Scenic Shoreline Trail, is an easy to moderate, paved summit trail offering stunning views throughout the 30-minute uphill hike. The Makapu’u Tide Pools are also located along the shoreline here.
Hiking Safety Disclaimer: Hiking in Hawaii can be extremely dangerous. Please keep your personal fitness and skill levels in mind as certain hikes may require a certain level of ability. Always take proper safety precautions and remember to check weather forecasts, currents and tides!
Highlights: Views overlooking Oahu’s Windward Coast, including Makapuu Beach, Koko Head Crater, and neighboring Hawaiian islands, Molokai & Lanai. The deep blue sea is unbelievable in this area!
During winter months, you may even catch a glimpse of humpback whales playing in the ocean. Makapu’u Point is also an excellent option for a sunrise hike. It is the second most popular hike next to nearby Diamond Head in Honolulu. In my opinion, Makapu’u is easier. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see how it compares to Diamond Head.
If you are interested in hiking down to the Makapu’u Tide Pools, you will still have to begin on the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. About halfway up the paved path, you will have to find another trailhead that will bring you down the side of the mountain to the tide pools.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The winding path to the top of the trail (where the lighthouse is located) is steep but paved. There are a few places along the way to rest and take in the scenic views. I have seen people of all ages do this trail – seniors, families with small kids on this trail, parents pushing strollers.
Hike Type: Out and Back (You’ll return the same way you came)
Length: 2 miles round trip (up and down) with an elevation gain of 505 ft. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top.
It is free to park and hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.
There are no bathrooms at the trail location, but there are facilities close by at Sandy Beach (bathrooms and outdoor beach showers)
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is legal and maintained by the state of Hawaii.
- There are steep drop-offs on the side of the trail, but the path is far enough away from the edge where it does not feel hazardous. If you are afraid of heights, this still may bother you!
- There is little to no shade on the trail, so it is much hotter from late morning to early afternoon.
Parking & Location
The trail starts at the main parking lot, located right off the Kalaniana’ole Highway on Oahu’s Southeast side in Waimanalo.
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki.
The access road to the paved parking lot is gated and opens at 7:00 am. If you are interested in hiking Makapu’u Trail for sunrise, you will have to park outside of the gate along the side of the road. Just make sure to obey all parking signs. You’ll have to walk an extra quarter mile down the access road, so plan some spare time for this portion of the walk if you aim to reach the top for sunrise.
Once the gate opens, you can drive up a short road to reach the parking lot. Spaces are limited here and fill up very quickly, especially on weekends. It is not uncommon to see cars parallel parked alongside the access road spilling into the street outside the gate.
Some interesting things you may not know:
The name Makapu’u means ‘bulging eye’ in Hawaiian. According to Hawaiian legend, Makapu’u was a Tahitian deity with eight bright eyes that lived in a cave on the southeast tip of Oahu. Ironically, this area is now home to a prominent lighthouse built in the early 1900s. Its rotating beacon of light still shines every night to this day.
When should you go?
Ideal conditions: Sunny days offer the best views of the deep, sapphire-blue water in this area.
Makapu’u offers fantastic hiking year-round, but the ideal conditions are most likely to occur during the summer when there are statistically fewer rainy days on Oahu.
I recommend doing this hike in the late morning before the sun is directly overhead. The trail has little-to-no shade, so don’t forget sunscreen and water.
If you are interested in hiking to the Makapu’u Tidepools on the side of the mountain, the best time to go is during low tide when the current is typically more calm.
I would strongly advise against trying to swim in the pools during high tide. Being in and around the pools can be extremely dangerous and even fatal when ocean swells are large. Multiple people have died here after being swept out to sea. I have also gotten seriously injured at these tidepools, so I cannot stress enough how important it is to check the conditions before going!
What to Wear & What to Bring
- Sunscreen – I love Sun Bum!
- Water – I’ve recently started bringing an insulated bottle with me when I travel because nothing beats having ice cold water when you reach the top of a hike.
- Wear comfy workout clothes for the hike
- Wear a swimsuit underneath if you are planning to go in the tidepools
- Bring a towel too!
- A backpack so your hands are free – My favorite travel backpack is my Fjallraven Kanken Backpack since it is not only cute but also water-resistant!
- Camera – I use a Sony A600
The Hike Up
It will be easy to identify the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail entrance as you make your way through the parking lot. The path is paved and straightforward to follow. It winds up the side of the mountain and offers beautiful views along the way.
Makapu’u is less of a hike and more of a brisk, uphill walk. It is doable for all ages and fitness levels – just take your time and bring plenty of water and sun protection! There are places to stop and rest if you need a moment to catch your breath.
If you go between November and May, keep your eye out for Hawaii’s visiting kohola or humpback whales. You can see them right offshore here, basking out of the ocean or spraying water from their blowholes.
About halfway up the paved path, you’ll get to a rest area with informational signs about the humpback whales. There are also some binocular stands. This is where the trail down to the Makapu’u Tide Pools starts. More on that here.
Even if you do not want to hike down to the tide pools, you may be able to see them from the lookout area. There is also a cool blowhole in the rocky shoreline that sprays water high into the sky.
Once you reach the top of the Lighthouse Trail, you’ll be treated to amazing views of nearby Makapu’u Beach and a few of Oahu’s offshore islets. You might even see neighboring Hawaiin islands Molokai, Lanai, and sometimes Maui on a clear day.
The Hike Down
The hike down is simple – you just head back the way you came!
Comparing Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail to Diamond Head
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is one of Oahu’s most popular hikes, second to Diamond Head. Both are reasonably close to Waikiki and offer stunning ocean views. Both Makapu’u and Diamond Head are considered easy to intermediate and are popular for all ages and skill levels. Here’s how the two compare in case you have to decide between one or the other.
Diamond Head is closer to Waikiki (10 minutes) but can take longer to get to the top (45 mins to an hour). Makapu’u is 30 minutes from Waikiki and takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the top.
Both Makapu’u and Diamond Head are out and back hikes with steep inclines. Makapu’u’s trail is a bit easier, in my opinion, because it is completely paved, whereas Diamond Head is uneven and rocky in areas. Diamond Head also requires you to hike up a set of 100 stairs and walk through a cramped, dark tunnel. There is a small fee to enter Diamond Head ($5 per car or $1 per person if walking through). Makapu’u is free.
Paved parking lots are available at both hikes. Makapu’u parking is first-come, first-served, but Diamond Head has an attendant to help guide cars to open spots. If it’s crowded, they will have you wait in line for the next available space. Diamond Head also has facilities, including a restroom, gift shop, and a food truck on the premises. There are no facilities at Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail.
Makapu’u offers deep blue ocean views overlooking offshore islets, whereas Diamond Head offers turquoise blue views of Waikiki Beach and overlooks the city.
I love both of these hikes. There is no wrong choice if you only have time for one. It just depends on the type of views you want to see!