I think it’s very well known and popular because it’s literally a hop, skip, and a jump from Honolulu or Waikiki. And from what we could tell, this thin 55ft waterfall (though I’ve seen some claim it’s 160ft tall; maybe there are hidden upper tiers?) is one of the island’s more impressive waterfalls.
We experienced this pleasant 1.6-mile round trip hike, which was far enough to keep the casual visitors away while close enough to keep it from becoming an arduous trek amidst mosquitoes and humidity. Who knew that such a pretty natural attraction could be so close to the urban jungle of Honolulu?
During the mostly flat hike, we walked through a lush rainforest with groves of bamboo sprouting up here and there. I thought I overheard another tour guide in the area say they were invasive here due to their rapid ability to grow and spread (and hence elbow out and outcompete native species for real estate). In any case, it seemed like the lushness of the trail helped provide some shade, but with the humidity, I’m not sure it made too much difference.
Apparently, Manoa Falls can go dry in Summer or during unusually dry Winters. We noticed that the plunge pool beneath the falls was once a popular swimming hole, but upon further research, we learned that swimming was banned after a landslide at the base of the falls in 2001/2002 as well as the detection of the dangerous leptospirosis bacteria in the stream.
From the Honolulu/Waikiki area, travel north on University Avenue beyond the campus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. To reach University Avenue from the H-1 Freeway, exit onto University Avenue (exit 24B) or Punahou Avenue (exit 23).
North of the campus, University Avenue bends to the right and becomes O’ahu Avenue. From O’ahu Avenue, turn right onto Manoa Road at the five-way intersection. Continue on Manoa Road for about 1.5 miles to the supervised parking lot ($5 fee per vehicle in 2007 when we were there).
The old parking lot further down Manoa Road at the trailhead is now closed to vehicles. We noticed plenty of ominous signs warning of break-ins here as well as broken glass. So we had to walk up to the old parking lot to access the Manoa Falls trailhead. Just before the old parking lot is the Manoa Road turnoff for the University of Hawaii’s Harold L. Lyon Arboretum, which we didn’t visit so we can’t say more about it.
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