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A Muddy Hawaiian Adventure: Hiking to Manoa Falls
You can do this hike for free. There's a $5 parking lot, but residential parking is available for free along Manoa Road.
Manoa Falls vs. Diamond Head
I just started getting into hiking on Oahu. I've only been to two or three different trails so far. The last time I went hiking, I went up Diamond Head. The Manoa Falls hike was a totally different, wilder (but messier) experience in comparison to Diamond Head.
There are warning signs all over the place at Diamond Head, urging hikers to prepare for a grueling experience. (In the initial part of the Diamond Head hike I even saw one of the warning signs convince a couple to head back.)
I'm 31 years old and in reasonable shape, but I don't work out on a regular basis. I found the trek to the top of Diamond Head to be pretty easy, and so should anyone who doesn't have any major health problems.
I came to the Manoa Falls trail expecting a similar, tourist-friendly experience as what you get when you go up Diamond Head.
A well-paved path. Parents carrying their kids around. Lots of unnecessary warning signs. A little bit of Shave Ice at the end of the hike.
Damn. I was dead wrong about all of that-- well, with the exception of the last thing. I was able to cool down and grab a bowl of delicious Shave Ice at Rainbow's End Snack Shop.
The Mud Is No Joke
Seriously, though: I actually felt like I was in danger during some parts of the hike. You have to climb up some slick, muddy rocks to get to the top where the falls are. If you slide and fall off of those rocks and off the side of the mountain, you could literally die. I probably looked like a moron going down the trail, fumbling around in my flip flops and grabbing onto vines and roots for dear life. Some people took their sandals off. If you do that, though, you risk cutting your foot on the rocks or stepping on something sharp. The best bet is to bring a pair of good hiking shoes with you, or even shoes with cleats on the bottom.
After doing research for this hub, I found out that Manoa Falls was supposed to be the location for some scenes in the movie Jurassic Park. At some points along this hike, I felt kind of like Newman (his actual name in the movie was "Dennis Nedry" but in my mind this actor will always be known to me as Newman) in the scene where he slips in the mud and rain, loses his glasses and gets ambushed by that one chirpy, hissy little dinosaur with the poisonous black spit.
The weird thing is that there are absolutely no warning signs at Manoa Falls. (Yet. There probably will be plenty of them, once the whole thing is rebuilt and there is no longer any need for them.) Older guides for this trail say that it's "a little muddy." No-- it's VERY muddy. And I went on a dry day when it wasn't raining.
With all that being said, if you're careful you'll get to the top without any problem. We saw a tour group of elderly Japanese ladies get to the top just fine-- but they were all carrying walking sticks. (They made it to the falls slightly after we did, and took triumphant pictures while holding their walking sticks in the air. I wish I thought to take a picture of that-- it was pretty cool.)
After Diamond Head, I blew off some warnings that I read about how muddy the trail is and arrived in flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt. If you're going to try this hike, don't make the same mistake I did. A walking stick and shoes with good tread is a must. The sights make it all worth it, but the sludge is no joke at all!
If you're thinking about doing this hike, don't let the mud deter you. Just be prepared for it and you'll be fine.
Video Footage of What the Manoa Falls Hike Is Like In the Rain
What It's Like
Manoa Falls is seductive and beautiful, but also a little bit creepy and dangerous. Personally I'm glad I got to see the trail as it is now, in a somewhat rundown state. I'm sure there will be more development on the trail in the future that will make it safer and easier to navigate.
Unlike other hiking paths that are filled with tourists, you'll be able to enjoy a little bit of solitude as you make your way to the falls. There are even some side paths that you can take, if you have some time to kill and if you're feeling adventurous. (Some of the side paths are clearly marked as maintenance paths, and you're not supposed to go down those.)
Unlike easier trails where you'll encounter a lot of families, your fellow travelers on the Manoa Falls trail are more likely to be "pro" hikers or part of a tour group. People are likely going to be bunched up along specific areas on the trail. On the way back, we encountered some girls in bikinis who looked like they were doing some type of modeling work.
There were signs everywhere about the restoration-in-progress when I went, and a couple signs telling pedestrians to get out of the way and yield to approaching vehicles. So stay to the right when there's pavement or risk getting run over... I guess. I didn't notice many vehicles rolling around while I was there, but there was a small crew of construction workers that looked like they were repairing something.
The other thing about Manoa Falls is that the temperature is very cool, due to there being lots and lots of vegetation and interesting looking trees everywhere. However, the area immediately around the waterfall was humid and muggy. The waterfall area was also crowded with various tour groups who lingered there to get pictures.
There are a couple of places to eat and get equipment around the entry point of the trail. The guy at Rainbow's End hooked us up with a delicious Kalua sandwich and a Shave Ice. There are comfortable chairs there to sit on while you eat, and useful magazines about things to do in Hawaii that you can look at while you wait for your grub. There was also a place called Treetops Restaurant that looked like more of an upscale kind of place. The trail is also situated near an arboretum.
As far as bathrooms go, there is one toilet right at the start of the trail. However, it's kind of rugged. Your best bet would be to stop at Rainbow's End first and use the restroom there if you have a problem with squatting over compost.
Everyone comes to see the waterfall. The falls mark the end of the trail. Once you get there, you'll arrive at a small area where tourists gather to take pictures and pose for Facebook.
Some people on Yelp and other review sites have said that they didn't find the waterfall to be that impressive. I disagree. It definitely looked cool to me when I was there. If you've seen lots of really big waterfalls or something, you probably won't be phased by Manoa. It's probably one of the best waterfalls in Oahu, though. (There are some other bigger ones, but apparently they aren't very easy to access.)
According to this book, the Manoa Falls waterfall is about 100 feet tall. It's not the tallest one on the island, but it's definitely impressive.
I'll just leave it at this, for now: Manoa Falls is a fairly badass little waterfall that's worth a muddy hike up an incredibly various and interesting path.
No Swimming by the Falls, Unfortunately
This is the trail to check out if you want to take a walk on the wild side and see some jaw-dropping sights along the way.
If you want to actually climb up inside of a waterfall and let it give you a back massage, that's possible in Hawaii... but not at Manoa Falls. The whole area directly around the waterfall is roped off. Manoa is a look-but-don't-touch situation.
With that being said, the presence of rent-a-cops at this park is scant. Actually I didn't see any official looking people the whole time I was there. So, you could probably duck the rope and get away with it. There were a couple australian guys who did just that and sat on the rocks in front of the falls.
It's kind of unnecessary to do something like that, though, in my opinion. For one thing, the other people on the trail are going to be mean-mugging you the whole time because they're all trying to take pictures of the pool, and they don't necessarily want to take pictures of you fooling around in there. The other thing is that the view is so impressive that it's definitely worth it to just hang out behind the ropes and chill.
If you want to swim near or in a waterfall, I can personally vouch for Waimea Valley. Waimea Valley has an awesome, easy, family-friendly trail that leads to a deep, cold pool that's right next to a waterfall. There's also a lifeguard there as well. When I was there, the lifeguard was fine with people climbing up into the waterfall.
The Ghosts of Manoa Falls
It's current rundown condition and ghostly history give the Manoa Falls a distinctly creepy vibe. The banyan trees along the Manoa Falls trail are said to house the spirits of the Nightmarchers-- the ghosts of ancient Hawaiian warriors.
You can hear the creaking of tress and branches and the chirping of strange birds as you make your way towards the falls. There are thick places in the forest along the path that might make you wonder if something weird is lurking there.
Hiking Manoa Falls at night would be an extremely dangerous thing to do if you walk the whole trail, but the first part of it can probably be navigated safely at night as long as you have a lantern or a strong flashlight.
The park closes at dusk, but the best time to see a Nightmarcher, they say, is right after the sun sets. According to Oahu Trails: Walks Strolls And Treks on the Capital Island if you run into a night marcher, your best bet is to take off all your clothes and lie face down on the ground.
Night marchers don't necessarily mean anyone any harm, but seeing one can result in death. If a night marcher procession encounters a living person, the ghost chief might call out "Strike that one down!" If that happens, you're done for-- unless one of the ghosts is a distant relative. If one of the ghosts is a part of your family tree, the chief might decide to spare your life.
Movie Related Info
The web is full of rumors about how Manoa Falls was the location for Lost and Jurassic Park. Specific information, though, is hard to come by! I'm still doing some research into this, and it will probably take some more digging to get the facts straight.
According to this site, Manoa Falls was the setting for scenes from the first and second seasons of Lost.
- Season 1: "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues" - a few jungle scenes were apparently shot here, and a scene where Charlie is hanging from a banyan tree.
- Season 2: "Maternity Leave" - a couple jungle scenes featuring Claire and Ethan were shot here.
On the other hand, this site says that the banyan trees from the season one scene from Lost were actually shot at turtle bay.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to dig up any specific information whatsoever about Jurassic Park. The IMDB locations page for both Jurassic Park movies doesn't include Manoa Falls... so maybe it's just a rumor that Jurassic Park was filmed there.
If anyone has info about which Jurassic Park scenes were shot at Manoa Falls, drop me a line.
There are plenty of banyan trees to look at along the Manoa Falls trail. Banyan trees have symbolic value, because they are one of the few trees that form multiple trunks. It's fitting that this type of tree exists in Hawaii, because multiple cultures exist here simultaneously: native Hawaiians, Japanese, natives from other polynesian islands and Americans all live together pretty peacefully. Hawaiian culture is its' own totally unique blend, but both Hawaii and America are "melting pots" of various cultures. The word "banyan" is actually derived from a Portuguese word meaning "man of the trading caste."
Banyan trees are said to contain the spirits of Hawaiian ghosts. But banyan trees are not only found in Hawaii, they are actually native to India and banyan trees are also sacred to Buddhists and Hindus. According to the Columbia Encyclopedia, Alexander the Great reportedly slept under a banyan tree that was big enough to provide shade for 7,000 soldiers.
Go Do It!
I've tried to give you a taste of what this hike is like, but the only way to really experience it is first hand. If I had a week to spend in Oahu I'd definitely take a day to explore Manoa Falls just because it's one of those attractions that is still (as of April 2013, at least) a little bit wild and untamed.
I actually feel a little bad for the people who spend all of their time in Hawaii in a resort location. Sure they're nice and family-friendly, but resorts are always a little bit artificial and over-cultivated. The out-of-the-way spots are a little more real, in my opinion, and can give you a better feel for what the island of Oahu is really like. Definitely go check out Manoa Falls if you're in the area and want to get an authentic taste of Hawaii's exotic natural environment.