Some folks always get a little worried when someone proposes going on a "hike" — some are just much more comfortable with the idea of going for a "walk."
If you're like me and don't find most forms of physical exertion to be particularly fun, you'll be relieved to know that the Manoa Falls Trail definitely falls on the "walk" end of the walk-hike spectrum, with a roundtrip distance of just 1.6 miles and an uphill grade that isn't too demanding. The trail is located just a 15-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of urban Honolulu, but once you're on its path, surrounded by the lush, verdant views of Manoa Valley, you'll feel like you're in a completely different world.
A nice thing about this trail is you're shaded by trees for pretty much the entire journey. At the start of the trail, you'll see and smell eucalyptus trees, and then further up you'll encounter gnarly, old-growth banyan trees, tropical flowers, and eventually a bamboo grove. What remains constant is the breath-taking, panoramic view of the misty green valley as you hike uphill. It's easy to see why producers of the TV show "Lost" and the movie "Jurassic Park" filmed certain scenes right here — the mystical quality of the location easily transports your mind to another time and place.
Hawaii is full of microclimates, and Manoa Valley is a good example — it's considered a rainforest. So even if it's bone-dry and sunny just a few miles away in Waikiki, you can expect Manoa Valley to be drizzly or downright rainy, and chances are you'll spot at least one or two rainbows while you're there. As you would expect in a rainforest, the trail's unpaved path is usually damp and muddy. Closed shoes with tread are highly recommended, unless you don't mind squishing mud between your toes with each step you take and slipping around inside your sandals. Expect to get wet from rain, and at least a little muddy. Midway up the trail, there's a detour that takes you on a parallel path through the bamboo grove, and then it eventually rejoins the main trail. This detour tends to be less muddy and slippery, so I advise you take it. Plus walking through the bamboo grove will make you feel like you're in a ninja movie!
At the end of the trail, you are rewarded with a view of the 100-foot-high Manoa Falls, which flows straight down a large rock face. Depending on the amount of recent rainfall, the waterfall could be an impressive gush or a disappointing trickle (as it was when I went). If you don't want to feel let down at this point, just remember this old Taoist saying: "The journey is the reward." This is especially true of the Manoa Falls Trail. Also, don't expect to take a shower in the waterfall or a dip in the fall's pool — there is low barrier discouraging visitors from doing just that, due to the risk of landslide and bacteria in the water.
The whole hike — er, walk — takes 1-2 hours roundtrip, depending on how muddy the trail is, how fit you are, and how long you linger at the waterfall. Once you get back to the trailhead, there are some hoses you can use to rinse off the mud from your shoes and legs — and if you're clumsy like me, from your backside as well!
How to get there: From the H-1 freeway eastbound, take the Punahou Street exit (#23). [From the H-1 freeway westbound, take the Wilder Avenue exit (#24), continue on Wilder Avenue, and make a right at Punahou Street.] Continue on Punahou Street and bear left at the fork in the road, where Punahou Street turns into Manoa Road. When you get to the five-way intersection, stay on Manoa Road. To take TheBus: Take the #5 bus to the Manoa Road/Kumuone Street stop. Walk further up Manoa Road (about 0.8 miles) to the trailhead.
Parking: Free if you park in the residential neighborhood and walk 1/4 mile to the trailhead; OR $5 per car ($3 for military members and kama'aina) if you park in the Paradise Park parking lot at the trailhead.
What to wear: Mosquito repellent (otherwise those suckers will definitely sniff you out here!), and shoes and clothes that you don't mind getting wet and muddy.
What to bring: Water to drink, a camera, a towel (for the car/bus ride home, since you may be wet and muddy), and a change of shoes and clothes if you plan to go somewhere else afterward and want to be dry and clean. If you tend to be unsteady on your feet, you may want to bring a walking stick, or find a branch that you can use when you get to the trail. I wouldn't bother fussing with an umbrella — just embrace the fact that you're going to get rained on to some extent, and relish its refreshment!