What you didn’t know about Hawaii’s Manoa Falls Trail


On the island of Oahu, the Manoa Falls Trail takes visitors on an easy, 1.6-mile round trip hike to a 150-foot waterfall that drops to a small pool.

Situated in the back of Manoa Valley in Honolulu, the hike takes about two hours, and the views of its lush green tropical rainforest are without a doubt dazzling. It’s easy to see why this trail is so popular, but beyond the views, its history is especially interesting. 

Contrary to popular belief, the waterfall’s name is not Manoa Falls — there are seven waterfalls in the back of Manoa Valley and they each have their own name. Manoa Falls’ traditional name is actually Waihii Nui (meaning “lifted water”), according to an 1882 government survey map. I hadn’t even discovered its name until recently, since it’s been practically erased from popular use.

After spraying myself with mosquito repellent, I walk up the hill to the trailhead. The wind is cool and the air is moist — typical of Manoa Valley, which sees frequent rain showers. This is my first time back since it reopened. It had been closed for two years, from 2019 to 2021, as it underwent safety improvements to prevent rockfalls. They also added wider paths, new steps and additional seating areas.

The entrance to Manoa Falls Trail, which takes hikers 1.6 miles round trip.

Diane S.W. Lee

I stop at a welcome sign encouraging me to take part in a Hawaiian protocol, asking the goddess Laka to watch over me as I enter her domain.

“She is a guardian of the woodland and a goddess of fertility, identified with the red lehua blossom,” the sign says. “Before entering the forest, we chant a pule pale (prayer of protection) to Laka, asking for her guardianship.”

Dangers of falling rocks and landslides are always top of mind when I hike to waterfalls, as they do happen on occasion, no matter how many prevention measures are taken. Most famously was Sacred Falls State Parks’ rockfall in 1999; Waihii Nui’s last rockslide was in 2018. I read the words of the chant, then begin my journey. 

Towering trees and a beautiful rainforest landscape greet visitors when hiking this trail.

Towering trees and a beautiful rainforest landscape greet visitors when hiking this trail.

Christine Hitt

Trees draped in foliage tower above me, and big heart-shaped leaves as large as my head dot the landscape. Hikers now enjoy this trail for the scenery, but this forest was used by early Hawaiians to gather wood for shelter, tools and canoes, and plants for food, medicine and clothing.


The hike also takes you through Hawaii’s history. The back of Manoa Valley is known for a battle, and it was once nicknamed “the pen” because it was difficult to escape. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, royalists plotting to return Queen Liliuokalani to the throne hid along different mountain trails and streams around Waihii Nui from the new government which was there to arrest them for treason. Called the 1895 Battle of Manoa, they fired upon each other until a cannon arrived. Eventually all were captured or surrendered.

The beginning of the hike takes me over a small stream through a shipping container. On the other side is a panoramic view of the large, beautiful rainforest surrounding me. Greenery everywhere, it looks so picture-perfect it almost seems manicured, instead of the tangled jungle it is. It’s no wonder the trail has been featured in many movies and TV shows, such as “Jurassic Park,” “Jurassic World,” “Hawaii 5-O,” “Lost” and “Aquaman 2,” per the Hawaii Film Office.

Though overwhelming in beauty, many of the plants are not native to the Islands, as more than 13,000 have been introduced since Western contact. But it’s still possible to find some native koa trees, uluhe and hapuu ferns, and the bright-red ohia lehua blossoms scattered about if you take the time to look, as I do, when I continue my ascent up graveled terraced steps.

The trail gradually climbs to an 800-foot elevation parallel to the Waihi Stream, passing through a banyan arch, a bamboo forest and a large seating area with an Instagrammable tree-arch throne.

The trail takes hikers through an old shipping container.

The trail takes hikers through an old shipping container.

Diane S.W. Lee

What I don’t see on the trail is a ghost. Spooky stories of Hawaiian night marchers (ghosts of warriors and chiefs) lurking around bushes and walking the trail are often told, but these haunted tales are not true, according to Lopaka Kapanui, a Native Hawaiian master storyteller who owns a ghost tour company called Mysteries of Hawaii.

“Night marchers are typically warriors who travel in a procession to guard the most sacred alii (chiefs) as they travel from place to place,” wrote Kapanui to SFGATE in an email. “Hawaiians believed that some alii were so sacred that no commoner could look directly at them. To do so would mean death. … This is why these most sacred alii would often travel at night, so that their shadow would not inadvertently fall upon an unsuspecting commoner.”

Bloggers posted stories about night marchers haunting the Waihii Nui Falls trail online, then Wikipedia and other media outlets picked it up and spread the information, which is not rooted in ancient legends or oral Hawaiian history. 

“The night marchers do not march through the bent trees at the trail. That was something a random hiker made up and the story took off,” Kapanui said. He also says the 3-second video that was taken during the HURT100 trail run was also not a night marcher, but an actual person covered in mud. “Night marchers travel as a procession, not individually. … If it was anything supernatural, it might just be a ghost or spirit.”

Hiking through the rainforest takes you over a bridge and lush landscape.

Hiking through the rainforest takes you over a bridge and lush landscape.

Diane S.W. Lee

As Kapanui suggests, other legendary supernatural creatures can be found in Hawaiian forests, such as the feared moo (a reptilian water spirit), a shapeshifter, who most times takes the form of a beautiful woman. Guardians of the streams and waterfalls, moo will fight to the death to protect the water, a necessity for life.

The trail gets steeper as I walk up the final steps, and I hear the sound of rushing water grow loudly — this tells me I’m close. Then finally, through the trees, my eyes catch the tall Waihii Nui waterfall flowing down the mountain’s side. Its flow is light, but still mesmerizing to watch. 

Where the trail ends, many people line a rock wall, taking photos. Others walk down to get their feet wet or go for a swim, though posted signs warning of falling rocks and the bacterial disease leptospirosis demand otherwise. 

A rock wall marks the end of the trail where visitors can sit and take photos of Waihii Nui Falls.

A rock wall marks the end of the trail where visitors can sit and take photos of Waihii Nui Falls.

Diane S.W. Lee

Maneuvering around the crowd drawn to Waihii Nui Falls, I stand before it and feel the cool breeze floating down around me. Finding a seat, I spend time enjoying the moment, just as people have always done, and will continue to do for generations to come.

Editor’s note: SFGATE recognizes the importance of diacritical marks in the Hawaiian language. We are unable to use them due to the limitations of our publishing platform.



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