Oahu has some of the world’s most beautiful sunrises.
That’s why my boyfriend and I took advantage of this paradise island on this year’s vacation to Oahu and did some breathtaking sunrise hikes.
We enjoyed the fun, scenic trails winding to the perfect summit, tropical jungle-like surroundings, and breathtaking 360 panoramic views of beaches, ocean islands, and cities.
There is nothing like having a bird’s eye view of the skyscrapers, boat port, ocean, and sunrise simultaneously. And that’s what we found on this trip!
This list is tried and tested by me, so believe me, it’s the best of the best.
Check out my top 5 sunrise hikes based on trail accessibility and difficulty, safety, popularity (lack of crowds and tourists), and overall view of the sunrise.
Let’s get started…
#1. The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail – Paved Hike with a Panoramic View
This hike is the right choice if you want a moderate hike the whole family can do at sunrise. And no, you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night. It is my number one pick because I found the panoramic view beautiful and the spot romantic.
The hike is about 2 miles round trip and is not difficult. The trail is paved, and there are plenty of rest opportunities or picture-taking stops. You can even do some whale watching off this trail in the winter months. The overall elevation is about 300 ft., so nothing extreme. At the end of the trail, two lighthouses are closed but impressive.
We brought a blanket, some water, and snacks. It was not crowded, and beautiful silence was before the sun came out. The area is well-maintained and clean.
The sunrise was incredible and fiery. We had a gorgeous view of the east side of Oahu, including Rabbit Island and Makapuu Beach.
This is my number one pick for the best sunrise hike because:
- The trail is easy, paved, and well-maintained for all skill levels.
- It’s relatively short, with less than 2 miles round trip.
- There are few people and plenty of space to spread out and find your privacy.
- There is a beautiful panoramic view of nearby islands and the beach.
- This is a family and pet-friendly hike (keep your pet on a leash).
Address: off of the Kalanianaole Highway (Hwy. 72) at the southeastern-most point of Oahu
#2. Koko Head Crater – Best Challenging Hike to a Sunrise
If you like to hike and challenge yourself, this hike is for you. I loved this hike and the sunrise so much. It was a close second choice. This hike is slightly less than 2 miles round trip and somewhat challenging as you get to the summit. The trail is open all year round. No pups allowed.
It took us a little more than 30 minutes to reach the summit. The second part of the hike is steep, and an abandoned railroad section serves as stairs. You might have to make several small jumps. Also, there is a bridge (but you can bypass it with a slight go-around trail).
This is a unique and incredible sunrise you can’t get on the beach. A perfect combination of the city, the port, and the mountains can be seen. We saw Hanauma Bay and parts of Moloka’i, which are incredible.
The entire trail has exciting photo opportunities. The summit also has fantastic picture opportunities (especially for the brave).
Koko Head Crater has the second-best sunrise hike because:
- The trail is exciting, constantly changing, and challenging for those who like to hike.
- It’s relatively short at less than 2 miles round trip.
- It has a unique view on the list with a beautiful inland and ocean view.
- It’s not so crowded that you can’t find a peaceful spot to enjoy the sunrise.
Address: 7604 Koko Head Park Rd #7602, Honolulu, HI 96825
#3. Leahi- Diamond Head – Best Dormant Volcano Sunrise
This hike is very much worth it for the view. It’s open all year round, so the experience changes if you visit at different times of the year.
The 1.8-mile out-and-back trail took us about 25 minutes to the summit. There are many stairs and rocks, but the hike is short if you don’t mind the inclines. There is a 560-foot elevation gain, so it’s the steepest option on the list. Still, this is considered a short and kid-friendly hike.
A nice switchback on the trail offers a beautiful picture-worthy view and a peaceful place for a break. Prepare for a few short tunnels before reaching the top.
At the top, you will forget all the challenges of the trail. I was amazed by the 360-degree view. Aside from a bird’s eye view of Waikiki and Honolulu, you can see the coastline towards Koko Head and several islands. I enjoyed the old war bunkers positioned along the rim of the crater.
The sunrise was intense and beautiful. There were almost no people, so we enjoyed some alone time. Bring a blanket and relax.
You must do the sunrise hike of Leahi- Diamond Head because:
- The trail is short but challenging enough to get your heart pumping.
- There are nice switchbacks, tunnels, and platforms to keep the trail interesting.
- The 360 view from the top is impressive and unique.
- It’s a place for peace.
Address: 3187 Diamond Head Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815
#4. Lanikai Pillbox (Kaiwa Ridge Trail) – Best Family-Friendly Sunrise
This hike has a beautiful ocean view from the top. It’s family-friendly and less challenging than some other options on the list. It’s also a dog-friendly hike if you keep your pup on a leash. There is no official parking, but there is some roadside space.
The hike is 1.7 miles round trip and takes about 25 minutes one way. We used a flashlight to get onto the trail because the entrance was a bit tricky. Still, the hike is family-friendly, and children can do it with minimal help.
At the top of the trail are two World War II-era box buildings. There is some space inside to take a couple of fun pictures. We placed a blanket outside and enjoyed the sunrise. The location was peaceful but had more visitors than some other hikes. The view is beautiful, and there are boulders to take pictures from (I would skip this for safety reasons!)
You will enjoy this sunrise hike because:
- It is short and family-friendly.
- It’s one of the less challenging hikes, and it’s also pet friendly.
- The pillboxes are fun to visit and take pictures in.
- The view of the sunrise and ocean is stunning.
- You can find street parking and no entrance fees here.
Address: 382 Kaelepulu Dr Aalapapa Drive, Kailua, Oahu, HI 96734-3312
#5. Hanauma Bay Lookout Hike – Best Sunrise Bay and Coral Reef View
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve offers a great hike and sunrise summit. It’s a gorgeous 0.8-mile out-and-back trail suitable for the whole family. But the most impressive part is the view. You can park at Hanauma Bay State Park and be there within 5-10 minutes.
We brought food and drinks and enjoyed an early breakfast after sunrise. We spent about 3 hours here. Unlike some trails, this is a well-kept nature preserve maintained by conservationists. It gets crowded, so bring a blanket and claim your territory.
I loved the view because it also highlights a bird’s eye view of the coral reef. It’s massive, and over 450 species of fish live in it.
It’s very close to the beach, and you can make it a day trip, taking a swim after the hike. It’s a popular snorkeling place. Also, if you prefer a longer hike and a slightly more significant challenge, a Hanauma Bay ridge hike leads to the same place.
Hike to Hanauma Bay Lookout for the sunrise because:
- There is a beautiful view of the beach and ocean from an interesting angle.
- The hike is incredibly easy and short (or you can take the ridge hike and make it longer).
- There is a view of the beautiful and massive coral reef.
- You can spend the day at the beach and do some snorkeling.
- The park has parking (if you get there early).
Address: 7381 Kalanianaʻole Hwy, Honolulu, HI 96825
Our sunrise hike adventure on Oahu was terrific. I regret not having more time since many of our hikes deserve to be re-visited.
Each place on the list is unique and offers a memorable hiking experience with an incredible view.
I recommend visiting every spot, but if you are in a time pinch or prefer to sleep in, there are excellent options for everyone’s taste.
Check out the family-friendly, intermediate, and challenging options on this list.
These are all great ideas to get you moving or get your children off their phones!
Last Updated on January 16, 2023 by Brigitte