Compared to the Big Island and Maui, whose size and elevations are much greater, O‘ahu’s waterfall scene may seem limited. While that’s generally the case – you won’t find the same quantity – there are several beautiful, quality waterfalls to visit on O‘ahu, many of them accessible for families. Below, we provide general information as well as descriptions of each waterfall to help you plan your visit.
Important things to know before visiting our waterfalls
No matter the size or shape, waterfalls contain large amounts of beauty, and visitors will no doubt want to get up close and personal. As you’ll see, it’s possible to swim at many waterfalls, and we encourage everyone to enjoy this unique opportunity. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- If you have open cuts, stay out of the water.Bacteria causing the Leptospirosis disease live in many Hawaiian streams and can enter your body through open cuts and wounds. If you have a cut, it’s best to stay on shore and admire.
- Do not drink the water. Bacteria living in the water can make you sick.
- Wear water shoes or secured sandals while in the water, rocks can be slippery and sharp.
- Never jump from a cliff and avoid swing ropes. You’ll no doubt see locals jumping off rocks and/or swinging from ropes at some waterfalls. Locals are experienced and familiar with the pools; you are not. Avoid putting yourself at unnecessary risk.
List of accessible waterfalls
The following 10 waterfalls are your best options if you’d like to get under a waterfall on O‘ahu:
- Aihiulama Falls
- Jackass Ginger Pool
- Kapena Falls
- La’ie Falls
- Likeke Falls
- Lulumahu Falls
- Manoa Falls
- Maunawili Falls
- Waipuhia (upside-down) Falls
- Waimea Falls
Access to the following waterfalls is not possible anymore and you should not attempt to visit them, regardless of what other advice you may find on the internet and social medias.
As you can see on the following map, all waterfalls are located on the Ko’olau mountain range (the one running from the North to the South East), and most are reachable by a (short) hike and close to Honolulu.
Description: Aihiulama Falls is located inside the Lyon Arboretum and accessed via a well-kept, two-mile round trip trail. The falls itself is small and flows best when it rains, but it is a safe, enjoyable hike for people of all experience and fitness levels.
Good to Know: Signs along the way identify Hawai‘i’s plants and biodiversity, turning this waterfall hike into an educational nature trail. You can find a trail map including many points of interest on the Lyon Arboretum website.
Jackass Ginger Pool
Description: The appeal of this small waterfall (10-foot at max) is its swimming hole, which is easily accessible off the Pali Highway.
Good to Know: The Ginger Pool is located along the Judd Trail across the Lulumahu Stream. Take a hike on the nearby Nuuanu Trail and cool off afterwards in the Ginger Pool.
Description: The cool thing about Kapena Falls is that it transports you into another world in a matter of minutes. Located just off the Pali Highway and amongst the development of the South Shore, the short walk to this 15-foot waterfall will have you thinking you’ve left Honolulu entirely.
Good to Know: Access the Kapena Falls Trail via the Nuuanu Memorial Park. The half-mile walk to the falls is often littered with trash. Swimming at the falls is not recommended as a result.
Description: Lāʻie Falls is a solid option for anyone looking for a more remote waterfall. Far away from Honolulu on the windward shore, the waterfall is not that big – about 15 feet – but the combination of trail length (7 miles round trip plus several stream crossings), elevation gain (1000 feet), and permit process (see below) keep it from being over-visited.
Good to Know: A free permit is required to access this trail. You can download an application here. It must be taken to the HRI office in Lāʻie to be signed and processed.
Description: Known as the Old Pali Highway Falls, Likeke Falls sits at the end of a rocky, 0.8-mile trail. Topping out at 15-feet, it half falls/half slides down the rock face, which allows for close inspection.
Good to Know: Access this trailhead from the Ko’olau Golf Course parking lot. You can find directions here. Accessing the waterfall from the top of the Pali Lookout is not recommended, as it requires a steep hike back uphill.
Description: This 50-foot tall falls can be seen from the Pali Highway, enticing the adventurous off the road and into the jungle. Though sometimes overgrown, the trail is moderately-trafficked and about 2.5-miles round trip. As one of the larger approachable waterfalls on O‘ahu, it should be high on your list.
Good to Know: Lulumahu Falls is on private property and the Hawai‘i Division of Forestry & Wildlife requires that hikers obtain a day permit.
Description: The most popular waterfall hike on O‘ahu, Manoa Falls is an easy 20-minute drive from downtown Honolulu and Waikīkī, and at more than 150-feet tall (conditions vary season-to-season), it’s the best bang-for-buck waterfall on O‘ahu. Accessible via a well-kept, less-than-two-mile round trip trail, families will enjoy this easy stroll through Manoa Valley’s lush jungles and the towering payoff at the end.
Good to Know: The falls itself provides an excellent backdrop for photos, but bring your patience – many visitors will have the same idea. Swimming is not permitted at Manoa Falls. Please respect this policy, regardless of what others do.
Description: Maunawili Falls is accessible via a 3-mile round trip hike through the beautiful, lush jungles of O‘ahu’s windwardside. The waterfall itself is not that big – a rambling 20 to 30 feet – but its deep, large pools provide the opportunity to swim, and the hike is filled with dense, tropical plant life and scenery. The trailhead begins beside a residential neighborhood; please respect residents at all times.
Good to Know: No matter what time of the year, prepare to get dirty! This trail is notorious for its muddy conditions, which, depending on your perspective, can either add to or detract from the fun. Many locals and visitors cliff jump into the pools below Maunawili Falls. We don’t recommend trying it due to changing water level conditions and the potential for unseen, submerged objects like rocks and logs.
The Maunawili Falls trail is also #3 on this list of amazing hiking trails on Oʻahu. Make sure to give Sean a follow on his Instagram for more Oʻahu-related content.
Waipuhia Falls (the “Upside-Down Falls”)
Description: Known as the “upside-down falls” due to the way it flows in rain and wind, Waipuhia Falls is located off the Pali Highway at the end of a short (0.6-mile) trail.
Good to Know: Due to overgrown trails and a lack of maintenance, this waterfall can be hard to find and it’s easy to get lost on the way. It should not be attempted by inexperienced hikers. Adventurous and experienced hikers can follow directions from previous visitors:
Description: Located inside Waimea Valley Botanical Gardens on the North Shore, the 40-foot Waimea Falls is the safest, most reliable and accessible waterfall for swimming thanks to its paved walking trail (1.5 miles round trip), shuttle service option ($8 round trip from visitor center to falls), and lifeguarded swimming area (lifejackets are required and provided). It’s the perfect waterfall for families with small children.
Good to Know: To access the waterfall, the entry fee for the botanical gardens must be paid ($20 adults/$12 kids). Consider extending your stay to check out the gardens and cultural exhibits within the valley. Across the street is Waimea Bay, one of the North Shore’s most iconic beaches.
Closed Waterfall Trails
Despite being (very) popular on social media some of our waterfalls are not accessible. These are at the moment:
Hamama Falls (not accessible)
Hamama Falls in Kaneohe crosses private property and is closed. Cops often sit at the trailhead to ticket violators. Do not attempt to hike to this falls.
Sacred Falls (not accessible)
Sacred Falls has been closed since a horrible accident occurred on Mother’s Day in 1999 (a rock slide killed eight people). Entering is illegal and you risk fines, as well as injury and death, due to unstable conditions. Do not hike this trail, regardless of what you see other people doing online. Hiking this trail shows disrespect for locals and the destination and will most likely land you in trouble.
FAQ: What are the best waterfalls to visit for…
You probably couldn’t visit all of our waterfalls even if you wanted to, so we have listed some of our favorites below. The following falls are best for swimming, good to take your family (kids), and there is even a waterfall that doesn’t require hiking (though you certainly can if you want).
Manoa Falls is the biggest, closest waterfall to Honolulu and Waikīkī. Keep in mind though that swimming at the falls is not permitted.
All waterfalls on O‘ahu require a hike. See our list of 10 waterfalls for details.
None. But Waimea Valley Falls can be reached by shuttle for people not up for a short hike.