The abundance of epic hikes is one of my favorite things about Hawaii, and the Pali Puka Trail, although fairly short, is one of my favorites on Oahu. I love ridgeline hikes for both the 360 views and also for the thrill factor of being on top of toothpick thin ridges with sheer drop-offs on either side. The Pali Puka Trail offers plenty of both.
The trail is located at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, which is located just off of the Pali Highway near Kailua and Kaneohe in windward Oahu. The lookout is located just over 1,000 ft high atop the Ko’olau Mountain Range and is famous because it was the site of a legendary (and gruesome) battle in 1795, where King Kamehameha I and his warriors defeated the Oahu armies by driving them up from the valley and over the steep cliffs. This fierce battle united the island under King Kamehameha’s rule.
The hike is incredible, with panoramic views in all directions and steep drop-offs to either side of the ridge…if you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the trail for you!
In certain places, there are trail lines that lead down through the “forested” areas to avoid the ultra-narrow ridgeline. These short paths always re-connect with the ridgeline and make the hike a bit safer. The area around the “puka” is very windy, so use caution. The trail does continue up beyond the puka, but it gets quite dangerous at this point and I would not recommend it.
After you hike the trail, head over to the other side of the lookout to explore the Old Pali Road, a mysterious and enchanting cliff-side road that has been closed to vehicle traffic for years and is overgrown and wild. There are some gates with signs warning of falling rocks posted at the entrance to the road, but the gates are open and the old road is popular with tourists so don’t be concerned to pass through.
The Old Pali Road followed a similar path of the current Pali Highway, connecting Honolulu to the windward side of the island. It followed the dirt path that the ancient Hawaiians used to pass through the mountains and is said to be a very spiritual place. Many local ghost stories trace back to this road. It’s been closed for over 50 years, and in that time nature has made great strides in taking it back. In many places, the jungle creeps over the road covering nearly half of it with plants, flowers, and lush greenery.
There is actually a hike located off this road that leads to a waterfall that is non-strenuous and free of ridgelines where one miss-step (or a gust of wind) could send you plummeting to your death, so if you’re unsure about the Pali Puka Trail, hike the Old Pali Road trail instead 😉
Hike the Pali Puka Trail
Cost: If you’re not an Oahu resident, there is a $3 parking fee
Address: Nu’uanu Pali State Wayside, Nuuanu Pali Dr, Honolulu, HI 96817
Directions: From Kailua, take the Pali Highway (Highway 61) toward Honolulu. Shortly after passing through the tunnel, you’ll see an exit to the right onto Nuuanu Pali Dr, with signs pointing toward the lookout. Follow the signs; the lookout will be on your left.