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A Muddy Hawaiian Adventure: Hiking to Manoa Falls

Updated on June 13, 2014
A stunning view from the very first part of Manoa Trail.
A stunning view from the very first part of Manoa Trail. | Source
A markerManoa Falls -
Manoa Falls, Manoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
get directions

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.

A view from above.
A view from above. | Source
The mud that's all over this warning sign is proof that this is one muddy hike!  (Bring a walking stick and a good pair of hiking shoes, though, and you'll be fine.)
The mud that's all over this warning sign is proof that this is one muddy hike! (Bring a walking stick and a good pair of hiking shoes, though, and you'll be fine.) | Source

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.

The easy-to-navigate initial leg of the Manoa Falls hike.
The easy-to-navigate initial leg of the Manoa Falls hike. | Source
An odd-looking curled up plant on the side of the trail.
An odd-looking curled up plant on the side of the trail. | Source

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.

This is a good hike to try on a hot day, due to the fact that there is plenty of natural shade.
This is a good hike to try on a hot day, due to the fact that there is plenty of natural shade. | Source
Some fellow hikers navigating the muddy trail.  Notice that they've taken off their sandals and are going at it with bare feet.
Some fellow hikers navigating the muddy trail. Notice that they've taken off their sandals and are going at it with bare feet. | Source
Another image taken from the first leg of the hike.
Another image taken from the first leg of the hike. | Source

Amenities

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.

Looking up...
Looking up... | Source

The Waterfall

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.

Here's the jewel at the end of your journey: a view of Manoa Falls.
Here's the jewel at the end of your journey: a view of Manoa Falls. | Source
Rulebreakers!
Rulebreakers! | Source

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.

It goes up... way up.
It goes up... way up. | Source
A spooky grove of bamboo trees.
A spooky grove of bamboo trees. | Source

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.

When I visited it, Manoa Falls was in the process of being rebuilt.  As you can see in this picture, a large part of the path leading to the falls has been washed away by landslides.
When I visited it, Manoa Falls was in the process of being rebuilt. As you can see in this picture, a large part of the path leading to the falls has been washed away by landslides. | Source

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.

A tree smartly positioned itself directly on top of a creek.  These are its roots, dipping directly into the creek to get a sip of it.
A tree smartly positioned itself directly on top of a creek. These are its roots, dipping directly into the creek to get a sip of it. | Source

Banyan Trees

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.

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    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

      This is great, that water falls pic is amazing.

    • Vacation Trip profile image

      Susan 4 years ago from India

      Interesting hub with excellent pics. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 4 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Aloha, Mercury Services!

      This was an outstanding hub, providing us readers with firsthand information about the pros and cons of this hike. You didn't sugarcoat anything, and that in itself was refreshing. I hiked the Hanakapiai Trail at the north end of Kaua'i as a teenager, but was content to fish and play along the coastline. Now that I'm in my sixties, I'm game for hiking. Was wondering if you've been to Kaua'i, and, if so, whether or not you hiked the Sleeping Giant. I can see you doing a fantastic article about that trek. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub, and I'm putting my actions where my mouth is. Voted up and across, tweeted like one mynah bird, and shared because, definitely, more people deserve to see and enjoy your writing. Aloha, bruddah!

      Joe

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Some friends of mine made this hike a few months ago and ended up total mud monsters! My man insists that we're doing it this summer, after he gets home from deployment. Eeek! I'm a little nervous about all the mud!

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Great hub and pictures! I would probably love this hike, mud and all! I love the way you gave the pros and cons of this trip. This hub would be very useful to someone who is preparing for this hike. Voted up, interesting and useful! :)

    • Gcrhoads64 profile image

      Gable Rhoads 4 years ago from North Dakota

      Beautiful article and pictures. It looks like a fun place to hike. ++

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Joe-- thanks for the props brah! I do plan to check out the other islands while I'm here and Kaua'i is at the top of the list. Heard they got da kine hiking there.

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for the comment!

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      The mud is okay, just bring a walking stick and you'll be golden. It's really worth it for the sights.

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Thanks!

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Definitely is, thanks!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting and I'm smitten by the pictures of the trail.

      Voted up and beautiful.

    • Kalmiya profile image

      Kalmiya 4 years ago from North America

      Thanks for your interesting hub. I especially like the part of ghosts and the bamboo forest. And that wonderful photo of the waterfalls! I would definitely not do that trek unless it's been dry for about two weeks. Voted up.

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      The pictures are true to life how this amazing place looks. Thanks again for the feedback everyone!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting and entertaining hub, mercuryservices! I enjoyed exploring Manoa Falls by reading your article. Hawaii is a beautiful place. I love learning about it.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for telling us about your experiences in hiking the muddy trail to Manoa Falls in Oahu. Sounds like quite the adventure! My hubby and I have only visited the Big Island of Hawaii. Enjoyed your photos that you took along the way. I have seen Banyon trees in Florida as well as Hawaii. That tidbit about Nightmarchers was interesting! All kinds of up votes on this hub and will be sharing with my followers.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Amazing hub and pictures! And what an adventure! Felt like follow at your feet with this excellent hiking journey.

    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Thanks, all, for the encouragement. I'm glad that I'm getting good feedback on my hiking hubs. I'll definitely do some more of those in the future.

      -Alex

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Thanks for a very informative and interesting Hub.

      I have only visited Hawaii once and, except for changing planes in Honolulu, that entire trip was spent on the Big Island of Hawaii, which had plenty of beautiful and exotic things to see. However, the next time we visit, I will definitely make a point of hiking to Manoa Falls. Before embarking on such a hike I will take your advice and wear hiking shoes and carry a walking stick.

      Thanks again for a great Hub.

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      Aloha! If you're curious about Jurassic Park, Lost, Hawai'i 5-0 or any other movie/TV show that was filmed up there, ask for Warren or Napua to give you more info. They're the owners of Rainbow's End Snack Shop and they have a wealth of knowledge about the area!

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