A natural escape just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Honolulu, Nuuanu Valley is a lush jungle tucked into the folds of the Koolau Mountains. Beyond a series of houses on Nuuanu Pali Drive, the jungle seems to close in on the road with tall flowering vine-drenched trees towering overhead. Near the stream and water reservoir about a mile in, a series of trails tempt visitors off the road and into the jungle. On one, a bamboo thicket winds to a clearing housing the jumbled lava rock ruins of a mid-19th century Hawaiian summer palace. Others lead down muddy slopes, past wild ginger and forest fruit trees to tucked away waterfalls that spill into swimmable pools.
Nuuanu Pali Drive reconnects with the Pali Highway after a little less than two miles, but don’t miss the historic Nuuanu Pali Lookout a few miles further at the windy crest 1,000 feet atop the valley. Here a bloody battle in 1795 united Oahu under a single ruler, and panoramic views stretch beyond the Windward towns of Kailua and Kaneohe all the way to the offshore Island called Mokolii —also known as Chinaman’s hat—jutting above the tropical sea.
To reach the rain forest from Honolulu, you’ll need a car. A tour guide is recommended if you are not familiar with the hikes in this area, as some trailheads are locally-guarded secrets. Head north on the Pali (Hwy 61) and turn off at Nuuanu Pali Drive. Follow it through a residential neighborhood in the Nuuanu/Punchbowl area to a tree-lined section of road. Pull off the road to park near the trailhead of your choice. Mosquito repellent and lightweight rain gear are recommended for jungle hikes.