Hiking the Scenic Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

Panoramic views. Breaching whales. Crisp sunshine. Put on your shoes and fill up your canteen because we’re going on one of Oahu’s most scenic hikes!

makapuu lighthouse closeup aerial view

Are you looking for a hiking adventure on Oahu with mesmerizing panoramic views?

Look no further than the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail.

This scenic trail, located on the southeastern tip of Oahu, offers a relatively easy hike with rewarding views of the Pacific Ocean, the island of Molokai, and the eastern shoreline of Oahu. You can even spot humpback whales here!

In this article, I’ll take you on a virtual hike of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, sharing tips to make the most of your hiking experience. So grab your shoes and binoculars and let’s hit the trail!

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Hike Details

  • Distance: 2.5 miles, out and back
  • Hike time: 1-2 hours roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
  • Terrain: Paved incline
  • Weather: Usually hot and sunny
  • Pets: Dogs allowed – leash required
  • Permits/Fees: None
  • Parking: Park at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline parking lot on Makapuu Lighthouse Road
  • Facilities/Bathrooms: None

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail walkthrough

The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail begins with a gradual incline. You’ll see views of the Kaiwi Shoreline and Koko Crater on your right as you walk up the trail.

View of Koko Crater and Kaiwi Shoreline from Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail has awesome views and informative signs to let you know about the history and wildlife of the area.

You reach the first viewpoint at about ½ mile in. 

  • Whale-watching tip: You can spot humpback whales from the first viewpoint if you’re hiking the trail during the winter!

After leaving the first viewpoint, you’ll go around the bend and behind the ridge. It’s not a long walk until you reach the second viewpoint (which has much better views than the first, in my opinion). It’s also a nice place to relax for a bit and soak in the views.

After leaving the second viewpoint, you’ll walk through a short S-turn in the trail before reaching the third viewpoint. 

The third viewpoint offers sweeping views of the Ka’iwi Channel and Moloka’i. The trail down to the Makapuu Tidepools also starts here (I don’t recommend hiking down to the tidepools on a whim since it’s a whole other hike in itself).

Big waves crashing at Makapuu Tidepools
See those rocks? That’s the Makapuu Tidepools. Big waves crash there unexpectedly. This is a normal day at Makapuu Tidepools!

The trail between the third and fourth viewpoints gets quite steep for a short period. If you’re hiking the trail late in the day, this is the point where you might catch some shade when the sun goes behind the ridge.

Walking up the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The fourth viewpoint offers a similar view to the third one. If you look over the railing at this viewpoint, you’ll see the trail that goes to the lighthouse itself.

Unfortunately, the trail to the actual lighthouse itself is closed to the public – and you’ll see why. It veers along the steep cliffside where one wrong step will send you tumbling down the mountain.

After departing the fourth viewpoint, it’s a short walk to the end of the trail and the final viewpoint.

There’s an upper and lower viewpoint at the end of the trail. The upper viewpoint is much more panoramic and offers views of Makapuu Beach, Rabbit Island, the windward coast of Oahu, and a view of the lighthouse itself.

View from the end of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail overlooking Makapuu Beach, Rabbit Island, and the eastern shoreline of Oahu.
The end of the trail provides breathtaking views of Makapuu Beach, Rabbit Island, and the eastern shoreline of Oahu.

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Parking

Parking lot at Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
The parking lot at Makapuu Lighthouse Trail can get a little busy.

Parking can sometimes be frustrating at the trailhead. You’ll find that the stalls fill up quickly and most people resort to parking alongside the road.

When Hawaii’s tourism season peaks in the summer, it’s common to see parked cars overflow onto Kalanianaole Highway.

However, parking isn’t as bad as it seems – you can sometimes catch someone leaving as you pull up and take their parking spot.

If you do end up parking on the highway, the walk to the trailhead isn’t that far – only a few minutes.

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail difficulty

The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is one of the easiest hiking trails on Oahu. It’s paved nearly the entire way up. You can even bring a stroller or a wheelchair up the trail.

However, don’t let your guard down – the trail is at an incline all the way to the top. So if you’re not used to walking up hills you might need to stop and catch your breath a few times. Fortunately, there are 4 viewpoints on the way up – so you can stop to soak in the views while you catch your breath.

What to wear when hiking the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail has a reputation for being very hot. Many visitors aren’t prepared to be under the constant sun exposure for the entire hike. That’s why I recommend wearing a long-sleeved shirt and hat when hiking the trail. Also, bring a pair of sunglasses if you have them.

The trail is paved the entire way up, so hiking shoes are not required to hike the trail. I recommend wearing comfortable tennis shoes or running shoes instead. 

Makapuu Lighthouse Trail duration

The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail takes 1-2 hours to hike from start to finish.

During the hike, you’ll come across four lookout areas on the side of the trail.

The lookout areas serve as stopping points along the way for you to catch your breath and soak in the views of the ocean.

So even if you don’t have the time (or energy) to make it to the end of the trail, you’ll still be rewarded with majestic views of the Kaiwi Shoreline and the Pacific Ocean.

Aerial view of the lookout at the end of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
Aerial view of the lookout at the end of the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

What is the best time of day to hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail?

The best time of day to hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is early in the morning or late in the day.

If you get to the trail early in the morning, you won’t have to compete for parking and the first ½ mile of the hike will be shaded by the ridgeline.

If you choose to hike late in the day, the trail will be shaded by the ridgeline as you walk near the summit area.

I would avoid hiking the trail in the middle of the day since you won’t find any shade on the trail.

Whenever you decide to go, keep in mind that the hours of the park are 7:00 am to 7:45 pm.

What is the best time of year to hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail?

While the trail is good to hike any time of year, I recommend hiking the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail during the months of November through May.

November-May are the months of humpback whale season in Hawaii, and the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is one of the best places for whale watching on the island of Oahu.

There are multiple lookout points on the trail where you can stop and observe humpback whales breach and spout in the ocean – so bring a pair of binoculars if you want a closer look!

What to pack to hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

  • Shoes (tennis or athletic shoes are fine)
  • Sun protection: Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses
  • Water (at least 1 liter per person)
  • Binoculars (optional – if you want to whale watch)

Spotting wildlife on the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail

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