Okay, so funny story on how Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail became one of our go-to favorite trails.
Shortly after we moved (back) to Hawaii, we were looking for something to do besides eating our way across the island or going to a beach.
We wanted to go hiking but had no idea what was a “good hike” for kids, so we did what any parent would do, we Googled it. LOL. In our search, we came across several recommended hikes, including Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail but, I totally poo-pooed it.
“It’s too far. Plus that’s not a real hike, it’s totally paved!” I said scornfully. “It’s like going for a walk in our neighborhood but with an incline! Let’s go on a real hike, with grass and trees and stuff. Hawaii’s awesome because we don’t have to worry about poison ivy or coyotes or bears!”
So, we found one that was close by, with grass and trees, that was not too long, and had great reviews as a “kid-friendly” hike. We grabbed the kids, slathering on sunscreen and bug spray, grabbed bottles of water, our trusty Ergo carrier, and off we went.
“Do you know the area?” Lym asked.
“Kinda.” I said, “There’s a theatre or something up there that we had a band concert at in high school. I didn’t know there was a hike there, though.” (Waimano Trail, btw.)
We had fun and everything worked out but I realized a few things:
- It was waaaaay longer than we expected – we forgot to add in “kid-time” which seems to tack on at least an extra 30 minutes for most hikes.
- “Kid-Friendly” is such a broad, vague term. Are steep drop-offs okay on “kid-friendly” hikes? Does “kid-friendly” include under-elementary-aged kids?!
- A 2+ hour hike up and down a mountain is too long for our two-year-old to go on without a bathroom.
- My new best friends for all family hikes became: a baby carrier, water, and SNACKS! Could have used more bug spray, though…
Anyway, after that experience, I was highly receptive to a clean-cut, paved, stroller-friendly hike like the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.
And that’s exactly what we did; for the next family hike, we drove straight to Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. Thankfully, even with all my doubts, the kids actually really enjoyed that first hike and were looking forward to the next one. I was excited that they were excited ????
Here are the stats on the hike for your reference:
- Distance: 3.2 km / 2.0 miles roundtrip
- Time: 1.5 hours – I would give a family with elementary-aged kids or younger between 2 – 2.5 hours (our kids stopped a lot because they were hot)
- Elevation Gain: 154 m / 505 ft
- Conditions: Hot and dry slopes
- Other: Hike and parking are free. There are no bathrooms or water fountains on-site, the closest bathrooms are at Makapu’u Beach via car.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail would quickly become of our favorite hikes. For one, it’s paved and stroller-friendly – we didn’t need it then, but it was really useful when we had our fourth child a year later. Also, there’s basically a pretty view of something – land or sea – the entire time, and, it’s easy enough that you can go with small children, seniors, and/or big groups. We’ve been there multiple times on our own but also with visiting family, our friends and their families (a lot of us had similar-aged kids), and at least 3-4 times with our kids’ Cub Scout troops.
The main downside is not having bathrooms within walking distance, you’ll need to drive to the next beach over to use those, but for our family, we just took them to the beach bathroom first, then headed on over to the hike parking lot.
Parking is free and although it always looks crowded, we’ve never had a problem finding a spot: in the lot, alongside the driveway, or along the road.
Before you go, it’ll make sense to keep these things in mind:
- There are no bathrooms near the trailhead. I’m only emphasizing this because when you need one, it’s a pain to try and find one, but this really has never been a problem for us.
- You’ll be exposed to the sun practically the entire way. Put on sunscreen before you go, and bring it with you because you’ll probably need to reapply when you’re at the top.
- Wear comfortable shoes. With the incline and the hot pavement, you’ll feel it if your shoes are ill-fitted or the soles are too thin and not supportive.
- With the glare from the sun, this is a good hike to wear sunglasses and a hat. Lym tends to keep his hair pretty short so he often got sunburned on his scalp if he didn’t wear a hat – even with SPF 50+ sunscreen.
- Be ready to take lots of pictures. As I mentioned above, this hike has so many things to photograph – from the views of the islands to the views of the ocean, as well as the plants along the way. Not to mention there are some great places for family photos as well.
One of the most awesome things about this trail is that the scenery continuously changes as you go up in elevation. The hike starts from the opposite side of the ocean and about ⅓ of the way, you enter the ocean side. You can admire the beautiful ocean scenery all along the way, and if you are lucky in the winter and early spring months, you might even spot a whale breaching in the water. Once you get to the top you will see the stunning mountain ranges of the east side of Oahu, with the Makapu’u Lighthouse a little below eye level, and often you’ll spot quite a few people paragliding from a nearby mountain ridge.
When you’re up at the top, if you have time, there’s an unpaved additional hike off to the side of the stairs and a scenic viewing area. If you’re coming off the stairs, it will be on your left. The paved path off on the side is an area people will often rest at (there are a few trees there), but beyond that is an unpaved trail that goes up the mountain a little bit. It’s probably an extra 10-15 minutes and it leads to a couple of concrete structures and a different vantage point from the regular trail. I didn’t even know it existed until the Cub Scout troop led us there. It’s pretty, but definitely not necessary to enjoy your time on the trail – it’s fun because it’s not as crowded or well known as the regular trail.
After your hike, here are a few of the things we do and recommend to others:
Visit Alan David Beach. You don’t even have to move your car. From the trailhead, the pathway splits between a paved trail (toward the lighthouse) and a rocky, unpaved path going downward. If you follow the rocky path, it will lead toward a secluded beach — Alan Davis Beach — through the Kaiwi Shoreline Trail.
When you go up the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, you’ll see the path to Alan Davis Beach from your vantage point on the trail. Please note: Kaiwi Shoreline Trail is not stroller friendly and there are no bathrooms there either.
**There is another beach close by – Makapu’u Beach – but we never took the kids there. It has the highest lifeguard rescues needed among all of Oahu’s beaches and is ranked one of the most dangerous beaches on Oahu. So, for our family, it wasn’t the right beach to visit. (It does have a bathroom though!)
Visit Sea Life Park. If you continue to your right after you get out of the parking lot, you’ll have a quick scenic drive before you hit Makapu’u Beach and Sea Life Park. Sea Life Park is a beautiful marine park with dolphin and sea lion shows, beautiful aquariums, education programs, tidal pools where you can touch a sea cucumber, and more. You can also swim with dolphins but you’ll need to make a reservation. There is also a luau, but unfortunately, we’ve never attended this. The views from this park are really pretty. We had the opportunity to do an overnight camp at Sea Life Park for our boys’ Cub Scouts troops; it was one of the best ones we did! This is a paid park and the fee is $39.99 per person ages 3+.
Eat at Koko Marina Center. This is probably the most common thing we do after hiking Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail. It’s a local strip mall right alongside a marina shortly after you pass Hanauma Bay heading back toward Waikiki. We usually end up going to Kokonuts Shave Ice & Snacks for some shave ice but if you want something more substantial, this shopping center has a great selection of quick and easy snacks and food and sit-in restaurants. We like going to Zippy’s here because if you sit towards the back (I think) it has a great view of the marina.