Makapu’u Lighthouse, a Breathtaking Hike on East Side Oahu

Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail

The Makapu’u Lighthouse trail on east side Oahu is one of the most amazing views on the entire island.  A paved path takes you from the parking lot up to the overlook at a height of 650 feet above the water!  The path is about 2 miles round trip so doesn’t take any longer than half an hour.  Built in 1909, the actual lighthouse is off limits, but you can look down on it from the overlook.  My favorite time to do this hike is during the early morning.  The trail is pretty steep so it makes for a great great workout to start the day.  Not to mention, the location on the southeast corner of the island makes the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail one of the best sunrise viewing spots on the entire island of Oahu.

Makapu'u Lighthouse Sunrise, Trail, Hike
Beautiful sunrise looking down on the lighthouse. Photo by Jai Mansson. Licensed under Creative Commons.

The southeastern corner of Oahu doesn’t get a whole lot of rain so the surrounding landscape resembles a southwest U.S. desert environment.  Watching the transition from tropical jungle to arid landscape is one of my favorite parts of driving along the coast.  So along the hike you will see cactus and other desert type plant life.  Pack some sunscreen and plenty of water for this hike because there is very little shade along the trail.

Makapu'u Lighthouse Hike, Kaiwi Scenic Shoreline
View from the trail of Kaiwi Scenic Shoreline. Photo by Rob Bertholf, licensed by Creative Commons.

On a clear day, you can see Molokai and Lanai from the summit.  The hike also provides some great views of Koko Head and Koko Crater.  Another great thing you can do while hiking the Makapu’u lighthouse trail is look for humpback whales.  Humpbacks are in Hawaiian waters from November to May.  The height and clear ocean view at Makapu’u make it one of the best places to see humpbacks on Oahu.  Sometimes the state will even hold whale counting volunteer events at Makapu’u.  This helps them gather data about how many humpbacks are migrating to Hawaiian waters.

Makapu'u Lighthouse, Hike, Trail, Oahu, Pacific
Makapu’u lighthouse looking out over the Pacific. Photo by Steve Alexander, licensed under Creative Commons.

Humpback Whale Watching

There is a sign about halfway up the trail with some information on humpback whales.  You can turn off the trail here and head down to the base of the cliff to check out Makapu’u tidepools.  The tidepools are a really cool swimming spot during the summer.  In the winter there will be some big waves down here so you will need to be very careful if you go down to the tidepools.  The trail down is also pretty steep and full of loose rocks.  There is a natural blowhole near the tidepools that is pretty cool to watch during big swells.

Makapu'u Tidepools, Lighthouse, Oahu, Hiking
Looking down at Makapu’u Tidepools from Makapu’u Lighthouse trail. Photo by Eric Tessmer, Licensed by Creative Commons.

World War II Relics

Another cool feature of this hike is that there are pillboxes spread throughout the hillside that are leftover from WWII.  It’s pretty interesting to explore the inside of them and see where the soldiers stood watch.  Unfortunately many of them are covered in graffiti and full of trash now.

Makapu'u pillbox, lighthouse, Oahu
Makapu’u Pillbox leftover from WWII. Photo by squirrel83, licensed by Creative Commons.


Makapu'u lighthouse lookout, hiking trail, Oahu
Looking towards Waimanalo from Makapu’u Lookout. Photo by Ewen Roberts, licensed by Creative Commons.

The two islands you can see from Makapu’u overlook are called Manana (AKA Rabbit Island) and Kāohikaipu.  Rabbit Island is the larger island in the picture.  Both islands are state bird sanctuaries so no one is allowed on them without permission from the Hawaii DLNR.

Makapu'u lighthouse cliff, oahu, gopro
Looking over the edge of the cliff at Makapu’u Lighthouse trail

After you finish the hike, be sure to make a stop at the beach park just below the roadside Makapu’u overlook.  This beach usually has good bodyboarding waves and is a fun place to spend the day.


The parking area for the Makapu’u Lighthouse hike is located right off Kalanianaole Highway.  As with any hike in Hawaii, make sure you don’t leave anything valuable visible in your car.  Sometimes cars will get broken into around here.  Don’t let that discourage you from doing the hike though!  Check out the official Hawaii DLNR page for Makapu’u Lighthouse Here.

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