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Inside: Looking for the perfect scenic Oahu hike that’s fun for the whole family? The Makapu’u Lighthouse trail is it! You might even spot a whale.
Located along Oahu’s stunning south shore, the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail is one of my favorite hikes on the island for panoramic scenic views.
It’s also the best place on Oahu to spot humpback whales on a clear day during the whale season months of December to May.
Just a 30-minute drive from your Waikiki hotel, this relaxed hike is a fabulous, free way to soak up some of Oahu’s most gorgeous coastline.
The best part about this trail? Three words: Views. For. Days.
In my opinion, this great hike is the holy grail of easy hikes on Oahu with big rewards. Even better? It’s free. And there’s parking.
It’s an embarrassment of Oahu hiking riches. That’s why the Makapuu hike is one of my favorite hikes on the island of Oahu and one of the first places we take family and friends when they visit.
Tip: It’s also perfect for a romantic sunrise hike!
Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail Quick Facts
|Southeast Oahu (30 minutes from Waikiki)
|Free (but don’t leave anything in your car)
|Elevation & Distance
|2 miles roundtrip, 500-foot elevation gain
|What You’ll See
|Ocean views and possible whale sightings 🐳
When is the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail open?
The trail opens every day (365 days a year) at 7:00am. In the winter months, it closes at 6:45pm. In the summer, you get an extra hour of both daylight and hiking time with the trail closing at 7:45pm.
Note: Summer hours begin on April 1st and winter hours begin the day after Labor Day.
If you plan your hike for later in the day, be sure to get there at least 2 hours before the trail closes, just to give yourself plenty of time for the roundtrip (especially during whale season when it’s easy to get distracted on the way up!).
Parking and Facilities
From a logistics standpoint, this is the easiest free hike on Oahu. Technically, the Lanikai Pillbox hike is also free but I don’t consider that an easy hike. And parking (while free) is impossible to find in the residential area of Lanikai.
But here at the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail, you’re in luck. There’s a small but sufficient parking lot right at the base of the trail and parking is free.
It’s not uncommon for the lot to be full but if you can’t find a marked parking spot, there’s additional parking along the road when you turn off Kalaniana’ole Highway.
Just one word of warning, don’t leave anything in plain sight in your car. The last thing you want is to return from your scenic hike to find your rental broken into and unfortunately, that does happen here. Even in paradise.
The facilities at Makapu’u Point are minimal, so don’t count on any shops to pick up forgotten essentials.
Come prepared with sunscreen and plenty of water. You won’t find any restrooms or concession stands. Once you’re on the trail, it’s just you, the lighthouse, and the vast, deep blue sea.
Don’t Forget to Bring:
- Sunscreen – This one is a must. Wear sunscreen and bring more to reapply. Trust me, that Hawaiian sun is stronger than you think!
- Hat – Burn calories, not the top of your head. Nothing ruins a perfect day out like a sunburned scalp.
- Plenty of water – Dehydration can sneak up on you and there’s no place to buy water up here. So bring enough to sip on the way up and down.
- Comfortable footwear – Flip-flops might sound tempting, but something sturdier like tennis shoes are a good idea. No hiking boots are needed for this one.
- Snacks – Not absolutely necessary but nice to have, especially if you’re bringing the kids. You’ll want to refuel while soaking in those stunning views.
- Camera/smartphone – Because the views are too good not to capture. If you want whale shots, bring something with a zoom lens.
- Binoculars – If it’s whale season. Spotting a humpback whale is incredible and from way up here, they’re generally pretty far away.
Best Times to Hike
My absolute favorite time of year for this coastal classic is during the whale season, which spans from December to May.
During this time of year, as many as 10,000 humpback whales grace the Hawaiian islands to mate, give birth, and nurse their calves. It’s truly something special and an unforgettable experience to spot one.
Clear days offer the best visibility, so keep an eye on the weather forecast when planning your hike. And keep a sharp eye out for whale spouts in the distance during your hike.
Like the Diamond Head hike, there’s no shade on this trail. So I recommend early morning or late afternoon as a great time to go.
Not only is the Hawaiian sun less intense, but you’re also more likely to avoid the peak times and tour groups. Which means more elbow room at the viewing platforms.
How hard is the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail?
This is a completely paved trail, so the only thing hard about the Makapu’u Lighthouse hike is the incline and the sun exposure. Though it’s fully paved the entire way, it’s still a decent incline heading up that hill in a hot and dry environment.
And don’t forget windy, there’s a reason this is called the windward side of the island. Hold on to those hats!
So just keep in mind that this is not a flat trail and will take a little effort, especially if you choose to do it in the middle of the afternoon under full sun. But don’t worry, there are plenty of relaxing lookout points to catch your breath along the way.
If you take it slow and bring water and sunscreen, just about anyone can do this hike.
What to expect on the trail
Because this hike is completely paved, I often see people in flip-flops pushing strollers here. I don’t recommend the flip-flops (tennis shoes are a better choice). And you’ll want to hold on tight to that stroller on the walk back down!
The trail is dog-friendly but, if you do bring a furry friend, be sure to bring shoes for him, the black asphalt gets hot.
Along the hike, there are magnificent views of the windward coast including landmarks like Koko Head, Hanauma Bay, and on a clear day, the distant outline of Molokai.
There are plenty of places to stop along the trail and appreciate the glorious ocean views of the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline.
The History of the Makapu’u Lighthouse
Makapu’u Point is the southeasternmost point of the island of Oahu, an area that was once considered vital to maritime commerce.
Standing as a sentinel on the cliff, the historic Makapu’u Lighthouse was built in 1909 to provide navigational aid for this popular shipping route. It has the largest lens of any lighthouse in the United States and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The lighthouse is a beautiful reminder of navigators past who relied on these beacons to travel the Hawaiian islands safely.
Views from the top of the trail
When you reach the top of the trail, the views are outstanding in all directions. Luckily, there are a couple of lookout points to appreciate all those scenic views (and hopefully, a few whales!).
From the top, you’ll actually be looking down on the lighthouse and it’s the ideal spot for photos. The red-roofed lighthouse against the deep blue sea is one of Oahu’s most beautiful images.
Can you visit the Makapuu Tide Pools?
The short answer is no. According to the Hawaii Division of State Parks, these giant tide pools are a CLOSED AREA and considered very dangerous. The ocean is unpredictable and the trail down to the tide pools is known for loose rocks and other hazards.
With that said, during your hike, you will likely see people down there ignoring numerous posted warning signs.
Don’t be these people.
Stay on the main path and respect the rules of the trail. Honestly, this is something that drives me crazy at most of the trails we frequent on Oahu. As a visitor, ignoring posted signs shows not only a lack of respect for the island you’re visiting but also for your own personal safety.
Please, don’t endanger yourself or the island’s rescue workers who would be expected to come save you.
Okay, rant over.
While you’re in the area, there are several other can’t-miss sights along this part of Oahu’s coastline. Just north of the hiking trail, there’s another great place to view the lighthouse from the Makapu’u Lookout and Makapu’u Beach Park.
Other Fun Places to Visit Nearby
For the best snorkeling on Oahu, a day at stunning Hanauma Bay is a must. The online reservation system can be tricky but here’s The Foolproof Guide to Hanauma Bay for Snorkeling. It covers all my best tips for scoring a reservation plus what to know before you go.
South of the Makapuu Lighthouse, don’t miss a quick stop by the Halona Blowhole and the Halona Beach Cove (also known as the “From Here to Eternity Beach“). And Sandy Beach Park is another excellent place to soak up the Hawaiian sun away from the crowded Waikiki area.
If you need a break from the Honolulu crowds, don’t miss a stop by the beautiful Byodo-In Temple and Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden on this side of the island.
If you enjoyed the Makapuu Lighthouse hike but it wasn’t challenging enough for you, head for the nearby Koko Crater where you can take on the grueling Koko Head Railway Trail hike. This borderline sadistic hike consists of nothing but 1,048 steps to the top. The views are amazing but you will definitely feel this one the next day.
FAQs about the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
And finally, here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail:
Should I book a tour to hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail or rent a car?
You can absolutely do this one on your own if you have a rental car (especially with free parking!). Here’s the best way to find a great deal on your Hawaii car:
For rental cars in Hawaii, go to the local experts. They’ll find you the best rate among all the major companies with no booking fees. And their customer support is top-notch.
But if you prefer to let someone else do the driving, these are the 3 best tour options to hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail:
- Sunrise Hike at Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail – Sunrise is a magical time to do this hike.
- Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail and Shuttle Service – This one is just round-trip transportation.
- Half-Day Hiking Tour to Diamond Head and Makapu’u Lighthouse – This tour also includes the Diamond Head hike and is a good way to bypass the need for a reservation there.
What’s the best time of year to hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail?
While this beautiful trail can be enjoyed year-round, the best views and prime whale-watching opportunities are from December to May. I adore the winter months for that extra thrill of spotting humpback whales.
Can you visit the Makapu’u Lighthouse?
No, the lighthouse itself sits on state-owned land and is off-limits to visitors. However, the hike provides great views from several angles. From sea level, you can also view it from the Makapu’u Lookout and Makapu’u Beach Park off Kalaniana’ole Highway.
What time of day is best for Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail?
The best time of day to hike to the lighthouse is early morning (between 7am-9am) and late afternoon after the mid-day heat subsides.
How much does it cost to go to Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail?
Both parking and access to the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail are free. Though at peak times the parking can get crowded. This hike is one of my favorite free things to do on Oahu.
How long does it take to hike up Makapu’u Point?
Plan on 1 hour to an hour and a half for the round-trip hike to the Makapu’u Lighthouse. The steady incline and spectacular views on the way up will make the first half of the hike much slower than the back half. You’ll want to factor in plenty of time to savor all those views. I’ve also been known to get sidetracked for an extra 30 minutes or so if I spot whales.
Is the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail kid-friendly?
Absolutely! In fact, after the Waimea Falls hike, this one is the second-best hike on Oahu for kids. The paved trail is family-friendly and manageable for kids who love a little adventure.
What do you wear to the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail hike?
The number one thing to wear for this hike is a hat. I also recommend comfortable footwear like tennis shoes. Since the trail is paved, hiking shoes are not necessary. Just don’t forget to pack sunscreen and water. Hydration and sun protection are the keys to enjoying this lovely hike!
Are there bathrooms at the Makapu’u Lighthouse trail?
No, there are no restroom facilities or water sources along the trail or at the parking area, so bring what you need. And be sure to leave with everything you brought.