The Pali Notches is known for being one of the most dangerous and stunning hikes in Oahu. The steep and rocky cliffs offer panoramic views of the island and a thrilling climb for those daring enough to attempt it. Although short, this hike is anything but easy and only recommended for advanced hikers and climbers. Keep reading for everything you need to know about hiking the Pali Notches in Oahu, Hawaii.
The Pali Notches hike is conveniently located at a tourist stop, The Pali Lookout, about 20 minutes outside of Honolulu. The best way to get here is to rent a car and pay the $3 fee to use the parking lot. There are always people here to visit the viewpoint, but rarely many adventurers daring enough to hit the trail. Before making your way to the viewpoint, you will see a trail on your right hand side behind the parking meter. This is the best place to start.
The History of The Pali Notches
These notches were cut in the ridge line in the late 1700`s to house cannons during the battle of Nuʻuanu. At this time; Kamehameha, later to become King Kamehameha I, was sequentially conquering the Hawaiian Islands. After succeeding on Kona, Maui, and Molokaʻi; Kamehameha approached Oahu where chief Kalanikūpule was preparing for battle.
Kamehameha quickly overtook the local army, forcing them up the valley to the Nuʻuanu Pali. Rumor has it Kamehameha sent a group of soldiers up to the notches to disable the cannons. It was here that Oahu’s dwindling army made their last efforts. Cornered and outnumbered, hundreds of warriors jumped or were pushed off the massive cliff faces, plummeting hundreds of feet to their deaths.
While the story is not officially documented, 800 human skulls were uncovered at the base of the mountain during a construction project in 1898.
Hiking The Pali Notches
We arrived at the trail head in the early afternoon and the parking lot was busy, but not full. The majority of people were there to take photos and admire the viewpoint. Again, the best way to access this hike is by taking the trail on your right hand side behind the parking meter.
From there, you will make your way up a steep and muddy tree covered slope to a clearing which is also the first viewpoint. From here, the trail become much more exposed and the views get better by the minute. As you scale along the ridge up to the first notch, your footing becomes important and looking down over the edge becomes petrifying.
The notches are carved out areas of the ridge where you will have to put your climbing skills to the test. Remember when I said this hike wasn’t for the faint of heart? This is why. We stopped after the first “notch” because we no longer felt that we could complete the climb safely. Rock climbing with no equipment in 40 km/h winds? Not my preferred method of death.
I have no regrets about our decision to turn around either. You see, the views don’t really improve as you proceed to climb the second notch and the “chimney”, just the risk.
Weather & Safety
Weather plays a crucial role in the safety of this trail and I cannot stress that enough! Are the winds howling? Is it pouring rain? Wait it out. There have been several rescues and even some deaths along this trail for those exact reasons. Hiking rule #1: feel confident in what you are doing and don’t push yourself past that point. It’s just not worth it.