5 Reasons to Take Oahu’s Pali Highway

Pali Highway
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Oahu’s Pali Highway is a special road for a variety of reasons. It’s a vital link between the Windward Side and Honolulu. It’s incredibly rich with pre- and post-contact Hawaiian history. And it’s stunningly beautiful. 

More than just a means of getting over (and through) the Koolau Mountains, it’s possible to spend a whole day exploring the Pali Highway, and the hidden wonders of Nuuanu Valley, which the Pali runs through on its way to Kailua.

When it rains, which is often, the walls of Nuuanu Valley can be seen streaked with jagged, white ribbons of temporary waterfalls. When the wind is blowing particularly hard, they become “upside down waterfalls,” the flow of water lifted heavenward by the rushing breeze.

Ready to embark upon this beautiful highway? Read on to discover our favorite spots along the Pali!

What to See Along the Pali Highway

Queen Emma Summer Palace

First up on the way over the hill is the Queen Emma Summer Palace. Its frame was constructed in 1848 (in Boston, actually), and the palace originally served as a cool mountain retreat for Queen Emma and her husband King Kamehameha IV. 

It’s now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is lovingly maintained by the Daughters of Hawaii. 

Its lush gardens are full of native Hawaiian species, and its stately rooms hold some of the most important artifacts and treasures of the Hawaiian monarchy.

The palace is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, except on major holidays.

Jackass Ginger Pool

A little deeper into Nuuanu Valley, just off of the Pali Highway on Nuuanu Pali Drive, you’ll find the short “Judd Trail” to Jackass Ginger. This is a freshwater pool popular with young people and families. 

The trail takes you through a soaring bamboo forest and into a whispering stand of ironwood pines. The water is cool and clear, but the presence of waterborne pathogens means you shouldn’t drink it and shouldn’t enter if you have any open wounds.

Parking can be tight on the weekends. As with all hiking trails in Hawaii, be sure to bring plenty of water. And pack out whatever you bring in.

Lulumahu Falls

At the end of Nuuanu Pali Drive, where it rejoins Pali Highway, is the trailhead to Lulumahu Falls. About 2 hours round trip for novice hikers, the Lulumahu Falls trail takes you past the expansive Nuuanu Reservoir and through a magical bamboo forest on the way to the towering waterfall. 

There are a couple of stream crossings along the way, so be sure to wear sensible shoes.

Pali Lookout on the Pali Highway

This scenic and windswept outlook at the top of the Pali is famous for its panoramic vista overlooking Windward Oahu and Kaneohe Bay. 

It’s among the most dramatic views on Oahu with its sheer cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet straight down. 

This is the site where Kamehameha the Great sealed his victory in consolidating the Hawaiian Islands by driving his rival’s army over the cliffs. Keep in mind that parking at the lookout requires a modest fee.

Maunawili Trail

Maunawili Falls Oahu

Through the tunnels on the way down into Kailua is the popular Maunawili Trail at the end of Maunawili Road. It’s another waterfall hike along the Pali Highway, and it’s just over three miles long. 

Because of the frequent rains, the trail is often muddy, so sensible shoes are a must. There is a small swimming hole at the base of Maunawili Falls. Because of the persistently damp conditions, mosquitos can be pesky.

Your Journey Along the Pali Highway

Most visitors to Oahu who rent vehicles will most likely find themselves traversing the Pali Highway. Most simply drive it in order to reach the Windward Side. The views along the drive alone are worth the trip, but those intrepid travelers who venture off of the highway into the forest and along the trails and streams the Pali has to offer are always rewarded.