The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu.
With spectacular ocean views and a good chance of spotting marine life and birds, the out-and-back easy to low moderate trail is a wonderful hike to enjoy as a family and one of the best things to do in Oahu.
We’ve hiked the Makapu’u Point Trail more than once and it’s on our Oahu itinerary each time we visit the island.
The hike is beautiful, short, and not too difficult a climb, so for us it’s a no-brainer.
Spoiler alert: The lighthouse itself is off-limits!
Read on to discover how to hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, along with our tips for the best experience!
Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail: Fast Facts
Length: 2 miles round trip, out and back
Elevation change: 500 feet
Difficulty level: Easy to Moderate (the incline can be steep at times)
Pets: Dogs on leash allowed
Oahu Lighthouse Hike
If you are searching for the Oahu Lighthouse Hike, you are in the right place. Most likely you are looking for this Makapuu Lighthouse Trail hike.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Difficulty
The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail difficulty is easy. It’s one of the best family-friendly hikes in Oahu, because the trail is fully paved and quite wide.
Although there is a steady climb to the top of the ridge, it is gradual enough that it’s comfortable for most visitors.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Length
The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail length is about a mile each way, for a total of 2 miles round trip distance for the out-and-back hike.
There are views along the way, so if you don’t want to complete the entire hike, you can still walk as much of it as you can or can manage with your time constraints.
The walk back is much quicker, since it’s downhill.
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Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Elevation Gain
Most of the trail’s effort quotient is because of the elevation gain.
If you walk all the way to the top of the ride, you will have ascended about 500 feet from the bottom of the trail.
The incline is gradual much of the way, with some steeper sections, so it’s much more doable that some of the other hikes on Oahu.
We aren’t in the best shape, but the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is one we always put on our Oahu itinerary because it’s easy and the views are usually stunning.
What about kids and dogs on the Makapuu Lighthouse hike?
The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is an excellent family-friendly hike on Oahu, so it’s a great choice if you are traveling with young kids that love to hike.
Since the trail is an old road and is fully paved, you can even bring a stroller!
Your leashed dog can accompany you on the scenic Makapuu Lighthouse hike, so bring your furry friend along for this trail!
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Hours
The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail hours are 7:00 am – 7:45 pm in summer (from April 1st) and 7:00 am to 6:45 pm in winter (from the day after Labor Day). This is when the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline Park is open.
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Getting to the Trailhead for the Makapuu Lighthouse Hike
Driving to the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline Park
You will find the Makapu‘u Point Trail inside the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, at the most southeastern point of Oahu.
The park is located off Highway 72 (the Kalanianaole Highway).
If you are traveling from Honolulu, take the H1 east till it becomes Highway 72, and keep driving (past Hanauma Bay and and the Hawaiʻi Kai Golf Course) until you arrive at the gate with the sign saying “Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline.”
From Honolulu, the distance is about 15.8 miles and the drive should take you about 25 minutes. (see Makapuu Lighthouse Trail map)
If you traveling south along the east coast of the island, drive to Kailua and then catch Highway 72 at Maunawili all the way to the park.
From Kailua, the distance is about 10.1 miles and the drive should take you about 20 minutes. (see Makapuu Lighthouse Trail map)
Taking a shuttle from Honolulu (Waikiki area)
If you do not have a car, or do not want to drive or deal with potential hassles finding a parking spot at the trailhead, book a shuttle service!
This shuttle service from Waikiki area hotels is offered Mondays and Tuesdays and has varying pick-up times in the morning, starting at 7 a.m.
The ride includes a stop at the Halona Blowhole for photos, and bottled water.
Spots tend to fill up, so book well ahead of your visit.
This shuttle service, also from the Waikiki area, is a service for the Makapuu Lighthouse SUNRISE hike and is available Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Pickup is one hour and 30 minutes before sunrise time.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Parking + Fee
Once you arrive at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline, follow signs and park at the parking lot.
It’s a fairly large parking area, but the hike is popular, so arrive early to secure a spot.
Note that sunrise and sunset are popular times for the Makapuu Lighthouse hike, so arrive a little earlier than your planned start time to make sure you get a parking spot. This is especially true at sunset.
There is no fee to enter the park or the trail, so this hike is one of the best FREE things to do in Oahu!
Finding the Trailhead
You should be able to see the start of the trail from the parking area!
In fact you can see the trail going up the ridge as well, and there are almost always other hikers to follow.
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Best Time to Hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail
You can hike the Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail year round, but note that this part of Oahu tends to be hot and dry, so you’ll want to do this hike early or late.
The park is open from 7 a.m. to 7.45 p.m.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Sunrise
The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail sunrise is spectacular and colorful!
Not only are the views stunning early in the day, it’s also a pleasant time to hike, and you’ll be well on your way back before the heat of the day starts to make the walk uncomfortable.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Sunset
How long does the Makapu’u Lighthouse hike take?
The Makapuu Lighthouse hike is so stunning that you’ll want to stop often to enjoy the views and take photos.
Plus, the viewpoint is an excellent place to look for marine life.
We suggest allowing about a couple of hours, to take in the views at leisure.
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Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail Information
If you are looking for a picturesque lighthouse hike on Oahu, this is your trail!
From the trailhead, the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail climbs steadily up the western side of the ridge.
The trail, which used to be an access road for the lighthouse, is paved for its entire length, and is fairly wide.
Views Along the Route
There are views of the ocean and the coastline along the route as you climb, and you’ll want to stop to take lots of photos!
Look for Koko Crater, the iconic natural landmark on this section of the Oahu coast.
If you visit after rains, the landscape looks nice and green, a beautiful contrast to the blue Pacific Ocean. But at other times, it may look dry.
Since the trail is a relatively dry and hot part of the island, you won’t see the lush tropical vegetation for which Hawaii is known: instead, look for arid-weather plants like kiawe (a species of mesquite) and panini (prickly pear).
At about the midpoint, the trail changes direction and flattens out a little but still climbs steadily along the eastern section of the ridge to the top.
And as you get close to the top, you can see World War II era pillboxes.
Views from the Top of the Ridge
The views from the viewing areas at the top of the ridge are breathtaking.
The lookouts have guard rails, and offer expansive ocean views, with picturesque offshore islets jutting out of the water.
On a nice day, the colors of the ocean here are several beautiful shades of blue and aqua.
Look for the picturesque shoreline of Makapu’u Beach, Koko Crater, small offshore islands, and waves crashing on the rocks below.
On a bright and clear day, you can even see the islands of Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, which lie off the coast of Maui!
Walk around the viewing areas and enjoy the views in all directions.
The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail and the viewing areas at the top are excellent for whale watching in season.
If you do the hike between November and May, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales. You are especially likely to see whales here between January and March, the peak period.
While you may see whales from the viewing area with your naked eyes, be sure to also scan the ocean through the provided scopes, or, better yet, arrive with binoculars.
From the viewing areas at the top, we’ve twice had the good fortune to see whales cavorting the waters below, once even a mama with a calf.
If you are a birder, come prepared with binoculars.
The offshore islets you see from the top of the ridge are offshore bird sanctuaries.
You may see frigate birds, with their black plumage and hooked bills. Males have bright red pouches on their throats that look like little balloons.
Also look for white tropicbirds, shearwaters, and other species.
Makapu’u Point Lighthouse
From the top of the ridge, you can look down upon the Makapu’u Lighthouse, and its white fence.
Built in 1909, the lighthouse has a bright red roof that makes a striking contrast to the blue waters of the ocean.
Although you get only a distant view of the lighthouse from the top, it’s still worth the walk! Bring a camera with a zoom lens and take stunning photos to capture the sight.
Returning to the Trailhead
After you’ve had your fill of the spectacular panoramas from the top, retrace your steps to return to the parking lot.
The return journey is a steady downhill walk, easy and quick!
What to Bring on Your Makapu’u Lighthouse Hike
Sunscreen: The Makapuu Lighthouse Point Trail is fully exposed for much of the day, so you’ll want to use sun protection.
Bring and use reef-safe sunscreen and an SPF lip balm. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Drinking Water: Bring an adequate supply of drinking water. The trail can get very warm, especially during the day, and no potable water is available along the trail or at the park.
Snacks and Food: There is no food available at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline. Carry a supply of snacks if you want to stay fueled on your hike.
Charged Smartphone: This trail is super scenic and you will want to stop every few feet on the way up to snap photos of the ocean and the coastline.
And of course you’ll want to take photos (and video) from the lookouts at the top.
Camera with Zoom Lens: This is a hike where a zoom lens can come in real handy.
Of course you do not want to lug around a heavy camera and lens unless you are hiking specifically to take photos (and this hike would definitely qualify!) so consider a small digital camera with a powerful lens.
We love our Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70S which fits in a pocket but has 4K video and a 30X lens that allows us to take decent photos of birds and wildlife on hikes.
Binoculars: If you hike the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail during whale watching season, bring along a pair of binoculars!
We like the Bushnell H20 waterproof and fogproof binoculars for hiking trips.
Tips for Hiking the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail in Oahu
Start early for pleasant weather
We cannot emphasize this enough…start early in the day!
It gets hot as the day progresses, and there is zero shade. You’ll have an infinitely more pleasant experience weather-wise if you start early in the day.
Even better, plan to catch sunrise if you visit in the winter months, or at opening time for mellow golden hour light in the spring and fall.
While you’ll see folks on the trail early in the day, it will very likely still be less crowded than at other times of the day or the evening.
Or start late (but note park closing time!)
Later in the day is also more pleasant from a weather perspective than in the middle of the day.
If you can catch sunset, or the spectacular colors in the sky post sunset, all the better.
But plan to arrive early enough that you can enjoy the hike at leisure and be able to exit the park before it closes, to avoid being cited or towed.
As of the time of writing, the park closes at 7.45 p.m., but we recommend checking the official park website or looking for signage at the park for the correct closing time for the date of your visit.
Also note that typically, the trail will be more crowded around sunset, and if you plan to drive, you need to allow for time to find a parking spot.
We’ve seen people parked along the road outside the park to avoid being locked out or cited after closing time.
Hike on a weekday
For lower crowds on the popular Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail, hike it on a weekday rather than on the weekend.
On weekends in season, you will likely have to wait for a parking spot unless you arrive really early in the day.
Allow plenty of time
The scenery is spectacular so allow enough time to take in the views at leisure.
If you hike the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail during the winter, you have an excellent chance of spotting whales.
Trust us, once you see whales in the waters, you’ll want to stay as long as you can see them, in the hopes of seeing one breach!
Dress for the weather
Wear long-sleeved, light-colored clothing for the warm and sunny conditions you are likely to encounter.
We wore sneakers for this hike, but any comfortable walking shoes or secured walking sandals with good grip will work, as long as you stay on the paved trail.
Secure your hat!
It’s likely to be windy at the top of the ridge, and the breeze is very welcome on most days.
But you’ll want to wear a hat that you can secure firmly under your chin!
Go to the restroom before you arrive
There are no restrooms in or near the park.
You’ll find public bathrooms at the Makapu’u Beach Park.
Do not leave valuables in your car!
Unfortunately, thieves have been known to smash a window in order to steal things you leave visible in your car.
Be sure to take all valuables with you, and remove visible items before you arrive.
This is especially the case if you have to park on the side of the street because the official parking area is full.
Pack out what you pack in
Remember there are no amenities in the park.
Please pack out everything you pack in, to keep the park and the trail looking great for visitors that come after you!
Note the incline if you plan to bring a stroller or mobility device
Although the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is fully paved, it has a fairly steep grade — 5 percent in most places, and even steeper in some sections.
You’ll want to be sure you can manage a stroller up and down the trail if you plan to bring one.
Travelers with mobility issues may want to arrive with motorized mobility scooters that can traverse the incline comfortably.
Makapuu Lighthouse Trail Tide Pools: Do not venture down
The Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail tide pools are in an area closed to the public. They are subject to rogue waves that can wash you out into the ocean.
The steep trail leading down to the tidepool area is hazardous, with loose rocks.
The park recommends that you NOT try to access the Makapu’u Tidepools.
Visit Makapu’u Beach (Waimanalo)
Makapu’u Beach Park is located just a 3-minute drive from the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline and makes a great addition to your lighthouse hiking trip!
The beach is gorgeous, with a backdrop of dramatic cliffs and pristine golden sands.
If conditions are optimal, you can swim or snorkel at Makapu’u Beach, making it the perfect spot to cool off after your hike. There is usually a lifeguard on duty.
If you brought a cooler with food, there are picnic tables where you can enjoy a picnic meal.
There’s a lot for parking, and showers and restrooms.
Book the shuttle if you do not want to drive
Book a shuttle if you want to hike the Makapu’u Point Trail but do not want to drive to the trailhead.
There is also a combination half-day shuttle tour that allows you to hike two iconic Oahu hikes in one day: Diamond Head and the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.
Book a Guided Oahu Hiking Adventure!
Excited about hiking in Oahu but haven’t hiked in Hawaii before? This guided hiking adventure is a great way to get started.
It’s customizable to your interests and abilities and a local guide that’s familiar with the terrain will accompany you. Plus, round-trip transport is included.
You can pick two short hikes or a longer hike, and your guide can suggest specific hikes if you don’t know which ones you want to try.
Best Oahu Tours
Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?
Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!
The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.
Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!
Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.
A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu advennture for your bucket list.
We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.
Renting a Car in Oahu
If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.
Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).
While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.
We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle
If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!
This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!
Where to Stay in Oahu
Honolulu (Waikiki in particular) offers a large number of hotels and resorts, along with shopping and dining options. Most visitors to Oahu choose to base in Honolulu at least for a part of their stay.
While many of the large chains have a presence if you are looking to use your memberships, Honolulu also has several unique boutiques to consider.
Want more room to spread out or looking to stay elsewhere on Oahu? You will find VRBO listings all over the island!
On previous trips to Oahu, we have stayed in VRBO rentals in Waikiki as well as on the North Shore and the east coast and we’ve found the choice and quality great.
More Oahu Travel Inspiration
Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!
Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.
Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!
More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.
Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.
We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!
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