If you're looking for an amazing nature-filled experience, look no further than Oahu. This island is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes and outdoor activities in the world. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced outdoorsman, there's something on this list for you. So pack your bags and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
Oahu, the third biggest island in Hawaii, is known for its paradise-like beaches, which make it an ideal location for a beach vacation, but there's a little secret: it's also an excellent spot for adventure lovers!
Despite the fact that most visitors to Hawaii tend to craft an itinerary filled with days spent lounging at the beach, the island of Oahu is also a haven for escapes out in nature. If you’re looking to explore the Aloha State beyond its striking white sands or you’re simply looking for a vacation that mixes the best of both worlds, here’s the ultimate bucket list for nature lovers!
Hawaii Bucket List for Nature Lovers
Diamond Head is undoubtedly the most renowned volcanic formation on Hawaii's Oahu island, soaring high above Waikiki and serving as a magnificent backdrop to Honolulu's skyline (in fact, Diamond Head is the hill that may be seen in most Honolulu postcards, so you'll probably recognize it right away!)
If you’re feeling up for a true adventure but don’t necessarily want to stray too far from the city, the Diamond Head Summit trail is a wonderful way to do just that. This 1.6-mile hike will take all the way up to the summit of the volcano, and while the distance is pretty short, the quick elevation gain makes it a true challenge.
Despite all of that, don't let it stop you if you aren't a seasoned hiker. The entire route is paved, and the most difficult sections have staircases to climb, making this walk extremely safe and ideal for novices! Furthermore, there are benches along the way and several lookout points from which to take in the scenery, giving you plenty of chances to rest and enjoy the incredible views.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike
If you're looking for an unforgettable hike with stunning ocean views, look no further than the Lanikai Pillbox Hike on Oahu's east side. The journey begins at Kailua Beach Park and winds through a residential area before ascending 760 feet up a steep hill and ending at some abandoned military bunkers (also known as pillboxes). From here, hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, Kailua Beach Park, Lanikai Beach and even Coconut Island.
This hike is quite short but very steep so be prepared for it before you start! The good news is that the majority of the hike is shaded by trees, making it a great option for hikers who want to avoid the midday sun.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
If you're looking for an invigorating hike with plenty of stunning views, look no further than Makapuu Lighthouse Trail on Oahu's windward coast – one of the best hikes in Oahu! This trail is a popular spot for both hikers and joggers, but it's also great for families with children or anyone who wants to take their time enjoying nature at its finest.
Despite being short, this hike features an elevation gain of 500 feet (152 meters) so expect some huffing and puffing along the way! But don't worry, there are plenty of lookout points for you to rest. At the end of this trail awaits a lighthouse that was built in 1909 as part of a nationwide effort by President Teddy Roosevelt's administration to improve maritime safety around all United States coasts.
From the lighthouse, you'll enjoy sweeping views of Oahu's windward coast, including Rabbit Island and the Mokulua Islands. If you're lucky enough to visit during whale season (which lasts from November to April), keep an eye out for humpbacks breaching off in the distance!
Koko Crater Trail
For a hike that's more challenging, consider adding Koko Crater Trail to your Oahu bucket list. This steep trail will take you up a total of 1000 feet (304 meters) and is often referred to as “Stairmaster in the Sky” by locals! Be prepared for some seriously sore legs afterwards, but it's absolutely worth it.
The hike begins at the Koko Head District Park and follows what was once a railway used to transport supplies up to the top of this volcanic crater. There are over 1000 steps along this path, which winds through lush vegetation and offers incredible views of Oahu's southern coast as well as nearby Rabbit Island.
Once you've reached the summit, you'll be rewarded with sweeping views of Oahu's southern coast. The Koko Crater Botanical Garden is also easily accessible from here, so if you want to take a break after your hike this would be an excellent place to do so!
Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens
Love nature but don’t necessarily want to go all-in? If you want to get close and personal with Hawaii’s flora, Hoomaluhia Botanical Gardens is a wonderful choice. Home to gorgeous fragrant trees from all over, this 400-acre location is backdropped by the magnificent Koolau mountain range as well as an idyllic lake that branches out into several streams and walking trails, which you can freely explore to your heart’s content.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
Famed for being shaped like a wine glass, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is located on the southeastern side of Oahu, just inside the Koko Head volcanic region of the island. This stunning bay is enveloped by lush green hills, making it a perfect beach + nature combo destination if you want to explore Hawaii’s waters as well as its mountains.
Snorkeling is a dream here, with over 400 species of fish swimming around the bay’s shores as well as different species of endemic marine life. Make sure to watch out for honus, which are green sea turtles who call Hanauma their home!
Hiking is another prime activity on the bay, with tons of lush plants to look at and gorgeous vistas of the bay acting as a backdrop for a splendid experience. If you’re a newbie at hiking, Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail is great for beginners, while the Koko Head Crater trail is ideal for those looking for a bit of a challenge.
Ka’ena Point State Park
Located on Mokuleia, at the westernmost tip of Oahu, Ka’ena Point State Park is yet another incredible location in Hawaii and a must on any nature lover’s itinerary.
Featuring a rocky coastline, this park is home to some of the most fabulous views on the island, with lots of hiking trails available to tackle in order to get more personal with the area and catch vistas galore. The Kaʻena Point Trail is a five-mile-long hike that will take you along the volcanic coast, where you’ll pass tide pools, fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean, and tons of wildlife encounters if you keep your eyes open!
Waimea Falls Park
Ever wondered what it’d be like to walk inside a Jurassic Park setting? While traveling back in time to when dinosaurs were alive isn’t exactly possible, hiking to Waimea Falls will almost have you wondering if velociraptors aren’t about to jump down from the walls!
Located on the North Shore of Oahu, Waimea Falls is considered one of the best hikes on the entire island. The trail is short and super accessible, making it a perfect adventure regardless of your travel style. Featuring lush botanical gardens that lead right to a striking 45-foot waterfall that cascades down into a pool, aside from hiking, a favorite activity here is swimming to cool off after the walk!
Additionally, Waimea Falls Park offers educational presentations and workshops on Hawaiian culture and history, making this a wonderful place to visit if you’re keen to get to learn about the importance of nature to the people of Oahu.
Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout
Overlooking the Oahu coastline from above sea level, this stone terrace is nestled among mountain peaks and shrouded in clouds. The views include landmarks such as Hawaii Pacific University’s Windward campus along with Kaneohe Marine Corps Base or Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden which can be found within Honolulu's botanical gardens-both are part of a larger metropolitan area known for its lush jungles!
Continue along the winding Pali Tunnels to Windward Oahu after taking in the view. You'll face a “difficult” decision at the bottom: go straight to Kailua, which is fast becoming a tourist hotspot, or turn left and follow the lovely Waimea Bay on Oahu's famed North Shore. If time permits do both!
Where Can You Find Wildlife in Oahu?
The island of Oahu is a great place to see wildlife. Some of the best places to spot animals include the Foster Botanical Gardens, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. You can also find wildlife at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and the Dole Plantation.
Another popular activity on Oahu is swimming with turtles. It was pretty fun seeing them pop up early morning while on the beach in Ko Olina.
Finally, if you are looking for a great place to go snorkeling, then head over to Hanauma Bay. This is one of the best places on Oahu to see beautiful tropical fish and other wildlife while enjoying some amazing views from above the water! The only downside here is that there isn't much else around besides this one spot, so we recommend taking part in an excursion that will also take you on a hike around the island as well.
I hope this list of the best destinations for nature lovers in Oahu provided some inspiration for your bucket list! Even though the entire island brims with wonderful places to see, these spots are truly unique and are worth planning into your itinerary, especially if you’re looking to get more personal with Hawaii’s nature beyond its beaches during your visit!
Have you visited Hawaii? If so, did you get to visit any of these nature locations on the island of Oahu? Let me know in the comment section below what your experience was like!