Hanauma Bay is most known for being a beautiful snorkeling spot on O’ahu. While snorkeling here is absolutely a bucket list-worthy stop, venturing onto the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike is where the real magic lies.
The Hanauma Bay Ridge hike is a great option for anyone looking to do a good-for-the-whole-family trail that over-delivers on views.
Unlike many Oahu trails, the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike doesn’t require you to get down and dirty and can be as long or as short as you’d like.
The hike offers two trail options: The first trail is a shorter, out-and-back, paved route; while the second option is a loop that begins paved before veering off onto a more adventurous (and strenuous) route.
In this guide, I highlight both trail options, what to expect hiking Hanauma Bay Ridge trail, how to find the trailhead, the best times to complete the hike, and more.
Stick around until the end for some bonus adventures near Hanauma Bay you won’t want to miss.
Table of Contents
Hiking Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail on O’ahu
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Things to Know Before You Go
Is Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail on Private Land?
Both the out-and-back route and the loop route are situated in a nature preserve and, therefore, on private land.
The hike is open to the public but it is important to abide by any signs, remain on the trail at all times, and always pack out what you bring in.
How Do I Get to Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail?
Located on the south shore of O’ahu, Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is a short 25-minute drive from downtown Waikiki.
From Waikiki, head east on I-H-1 for two miles before merging onto HI-72 for the remaining eight miles. The highway leads you directly to Hanauma Bay.
How Long Does It Take To Hike Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail?
The time it takes you to complete the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike will depend on which route you choose to explore.
The out-and-back route is short and allows you to explore as little or as much as you want. This route is paved and can be done quickly, by hikers of all ages and levels or experience. Expect to spend anywhere from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours along this route.
The loop takes longer and is more physically taxing. Keep in mind there aren’t as many options to turn around on this route to make the hike shorter. Once you choose to explore the longer loop option, you’re committed.
Prepare to spend anywhere from 2 to 3.5 hours completing the loop.
Where Do I Park for the Hanauma Bay Ridge Hike?
To access the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike trailhead, look for parking on Nawiliwili Street off of HI-72.
Be aware that the AllTrails app will direct you toward the parking lot for Koko Crater. Unless you want to walk an unnecessary distance just to start the trail, don’t do this.
From Nawiliwili Street, walk to the main road and head uphill until you see a bus stop and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve sign on your right. Behind the bus stop, there’s a gate — this is where you start Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail.
The road leading down into the bay takes you to the iconic snorkeling spot. Parking in the official Hanauma Bay Parking Lot is also an option; however, parking here fills up quickly and costs $3.
Please keep in mind that Nawiliwili Street is a residential area. As always, be respectful to residents and abide by all parking signs.
When is the Best Time To Hike Hanauma Bay Ridge?
Make Hanauma Bay Ridge your go-to spot for sunrise when on O’ahu.
It’s hard to top watching the sunrise in Hawai’i while perched on a ridge overlooking a turquoise bay. By opting to hike the Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail for sunrise you have a greater chance of missing the crowds, snagging a parking spot, and finishing before the trail heats up.
Keep in mind that there is no reprieve from the sun on the trail. If you don’t make it to Hanauma Bay before the sun, make sure to bring sun protection and plenty of water.
Completing the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike at sunset is also a great option and a nightly occurrence for many locals who live in the nearby neighborhoods.
The ridge juts straight out into the ocean, giving you a great view of the sunrise to your left and sunset to your right. Similar to sunrise, sunset hour provides ideal temperatures for the hike.
If you’re hiking the loop route make sure to leave enough time to finish the trail while there’s still light. With the paved route, this isn’t as much of a worry.
Either way, make sure to bring along a headlamp just in case.
The best time of year to hike Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is arguably winter, as whales often migrate past (and sometimes even into) the bay. We’ve seen more whales here than we can count while hiking the ridge.
Do note that winter in Hawai’i brings unpredictable weather at times and can result in heavy rains. Plan accordingly.
Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail (Out-and-Back Route)
The shorter, out-and-back route, is the most popular way to hike Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail. This route is great for the whole family and can be completed quickly.
Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail Stats (Out-and-Back Route)
Distance: 2 miles
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
Time: 45 minutes – 1.5 hours
What to Expect
The out-and-back trail option is a great, safe, option that awards hikers with stunning views without requiring maximum effort.
Since it is one of the more manicured trails on O’ahu, expect the out-and-back hike to be busy — especially at sunset.
With its close proximity to many neighborhoods in Hawai’i Kai, the out-and-back option is a popular evening exercise route for many locals. Luckily, the paved path is wide and easily allows hikers to pass alongside one another without a problem.
While the trail is paved, don’t let this detail fool you into thinking it’s a leisurely walk in the park. From the get-go, the trail steadily ascends and continues to do so for about half a mile before leveling out. Your heart rate will spike and you’ll most likely ask yourself, more than once, if the trail will ever even out.
You’re in luck, it does.
Even though the initial uphill can seem endless, and your calves will be burning, the 360-degree views make it worthwhile. The trail does scurry along the ridge of Koko Head (not to be mistaken with Koko Crater, the popular, old railway track turned stair hike); however, at no point in the hike do you feel unsafe, as is custom with many ridge hikes on Oahu.
While the ridge poses no risk to hikers of any skill level, heavy gusts of winds are not uncommon and can rock you off balance.
The out-and-back route is straightforward. The trail leads to the tip of the ridge and dead ends at a small red building. At the building, turn around and walk back the way you came.
The only point in the trail that could cause some slight confusion is the Y intersection. At the Y, keep left. The split happens around the one-mile mark. If you accidentally go right, no worries, you will quickly realize your mistake. If you find yourself beginning to walk on grass instead of pavement, turn around.
Another great thing about hiking the out-and-back Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is the 360 views from the get-go — meaning if at any point you want to turn around you can.
The hike will be beautiful regardless of how far you explore.
Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail (Loop Route)
The loop route is my favorite way to hike Hanauma Bay Ridge and the lesser-known route of the two. The loop is longer, more strenuous, and a little bit trickier to navigate — albeit, very worth the adventure.
Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail Stats (Out-and-Back Route)
Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,500 feet
Time: 2 – 3.5 hours
What to Expect
For hikers looking for a more adventurous, off-the-beaten-path option, the loop trail is for you.
The loop route begins on the same paved path as the out-and-back option. However, right before you come to hit one mile, you’ll start to notice dirt paths veering off the paved road toward the bay.
While most of these dirt paths meet up eventually, we always rely on the AllTrails app to help us find the exact one.
At the one-mile mark, you have the option to take the dirt path and begin the loop clockwise. However, I suggest hiking the loop counter-clockwise by completing the paved route before veering left onto the dirt trail. This veer happens around 1.5 miles.
Once you step off the paved path the terrain changes immediately. Regardless of which way you hike the loop, you’ll pretty much either be hiking directly down or directly up for 50% of the hike. While the loop is a real cardio kicker, the views make it worth every step.
The closer you get to the water the more the trail begins to feel less like Hawai’i and more like Mars.
Right at the water’s edge, look for a beautiful natural bridge. Use caution when approaching the bridge and always be aware of the tide. As a general rule of thumb, do not walk on rocks that are wet.
While this route will most likely have you struggling to breathe, don’t forget to look up and take in the once-in-a-lifetime views.
Other Adventures Near Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is a gem in itself but it is also surrounded by other incredible stops you can’t miss. Consider staying in the area after your hike to explore some of these other locations and island adventures.
Snorkel Hanauma Bay
Snorkeling is a must-do adventure when visiting Hanauma Bay.
Before visiting, make sure to check the park’s latest updates here, as there are many new protocols. Currently, the park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. and closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Admission is $25 for adult visitors and free for locals, active military, and kids under 12. Reservations must be made in advance and can be reserved here.
Hike Koko Crater Tramway Trail
Just across the street from Hanauma Bay Ridge Trail is the iconic Koko Crater Tramway Trail.
Koko Crater Trail (often referred to as Koko Head) is an intense, short, hike consisting solely of wooden stairs. The stairs climb the entire way up the crater, all 1,048 of them, and lead hikers to an incredible 360° view.
While Koko Crater is a short hike, do not misinterpret its length for ease. We have seen many hikers become ill, experience heat exhaustion, heat stroke — and most recently, being airlifted from the stairs.
You should only attempt this trail if you are physically fit and mentally prepared to climb 1,048 stairs, straight up.
Relax (or Body Board) at Sandy’s Beach
If relaxing on the beach is your prerogative, head to nearby Sandy’s Beach.
Sandy’s beach is home to the famous shore break and a great place to lay out a towel, sunbathe, and watch bodysurfers.
Do not attempt to swim here unless you are extremely experienced. The shore break is very shallow and powerful, and rip currents are common.
Watch the Sunset at China Walls
Lastly, head to China Walls to post up on the rocks and snag an unobstructed view of the sunset. This is one of our favorite spots to go during the week and a favorite of many locals.
If you go on the weekend, expect crowds and possibly some rowdy teens.
China Walls is also a great place to jump in the water if the tide is right. Be careful of large waves and remember, if the rock is wet don’t stand on it. You should only jump here if you are an experienced and confident swimmer.
Final Thoughts & Reminders for Visiting Hawai’i
Including, but not limited to, packing out your trash and staying on the designated trail.
If you are hiking with snacks or liquids, do not dispose of these on the trail. There are no designated trashcans in the area — these items will need to be taken back to your car to be disposed of properly.
Additionally, please stay on the designated trail to help minimize trail erosion and keep yourself and other hikers safe.
Be Considerate of Other Hikers
In all cases, be aware of those hiking around you. When descending, yield to hikers coming up, and always be willing to step aside if a hiker is walking faster than you.
Also, if you want to listen to music, please do so with headphones.
Respect the ‘Āina (Land)
We all need to do our part in keeping Hawai’i beautiful. Do not take or disturb what you find. It is a privilege that we get to play in these mountains.
If you have any more questions about completing the Hanauma Bay Ridge hike or which route to choose, leave me a comment in the section below.