Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

A Short Guide To Backpacking Around Oahu


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Gwennie Kendrick



Welcome to the beautiful island of Oahu, the ultimate destination for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Located in the Hawaiian archipelago, Oahu offers a wealth of incredible experiences, from breathtaking hiking trails to stunning beaches and thrilling water activities. Backpacking around Oahu is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty and experience its unique culture.


Oahu is known for its diverse landscapes, which range from lush rainforests and rugged mountains to picturesque coastline and turquoise waters. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the adventure, Oahu has something to offer for everyone.


One of the best things about backpacking around Oahu is the flexibility and freedom it provides. Unlike traditional vacations, backpacking allows you to explore the island at your own pace, uncovering hidden gems and taking in the local culture along the way. With an abundance of hiking trails, beautiful beaches, and exciting water activities, Oahu is a paradise waiting to be discovered.


Throughout this guide, we’ll provide you with valuable information to help you plan your backpacking adventure in Oahu. From the best time to go and how to get there, to where to stay and the must-visit places on the island, we’ve got you covered.


So, get ready to pack your backpack, put on your hiking boots, and let’s embark on an unforgettable journey through the stunning landscapes and vibrant culture of Oahu!


Keep in mind that Oahu is just one of the gorgeous islands in Hawaii, each with its own unique charm. However, Oahu offers a perfect balance of adventure and relaxation, making it an ideal choice for backpackers looking to make the most of their time in paradise.


Best Time to Go

When planning your backpacking trip to Oahu, it’s important to consider the weather and the best time to visit the island. Oahu enjoys a tropical climate, which means that it experiences warm temperatures and high humidity throughout the year. However, there are certain times that are more favorable for backpacking to make the most of your adventure.


The peak tourist season in Oahu typically falls between December and April, when the island welcomes a large number of travelers seeking an escape from the cold winter months. While this is a popular time to visit, it also means higher accommodation prices and crowded attractions. If you prefer a quieter and more budget-friendly experience, it is advisable to avoid the peak season.


The shoulder season in Oahu, which is from May to August and November, can be an excellent time to plan your backpacking adventure. During these months, the weather is still warm and pleasant, and the island is less crowded compared to the peak season. You will have more availability when it comes to accommodation options and can enjoy a more relaxed experience exploring the island’s natural wonders.


It’s worth noting that the weather in Oahu can be unpredictable, with occasional rain showers and tropical storms. However, these weather conditions are usually brief and do not hinder outdoor activities for long periods. It’s always a good idea to pack a lightweight rain jacket or poncho in case of sudden showers.


Ultimately, the best time to go backpacking in Oahu depends on your personal preferences and priorities. Whether you choose to visit during the peak season or opt for a quieter time, you will undoubtedly be captivated by the island’s stunning landscapes and warm Aloha spirit.


Next, let’s explore the various options for getting to Oahu, so you can start planning your journey accordingly.


Getting There

Oahu is easily accessible by air, with the Honolulu International Airport (HNL) serving as the main gateway to the island. Numerous airlines offer direct flights to Honolulu from major cities around the world, making it convenient for backpackers to reach their destination. Once you arrive at the airport, you can easily rent a car, take a shuttle, or use public transportation to get to your accommodation.


If you’re already in Hawaii or planning to island-hop, you can also consider taking a domestic flight from one of the neighboring islands to Oahu. Several airlines provide short flights between the islands, allowing you to explore different parts of Hawaii before or after your backpacking adventure on Oahu.


Another option for getting to Oahu is by sea. Cruise ships often include Oahu as a port of call, allowing travelers to experience a taste of the island life. However, keep in mind that this may only provide a limited amount of time to explore Oahu, so if you’re planning a backpacking trip, air travel is generally the preferred option.


Once you’re on the island, getting around Oahu is relatively easy. The island has an extensive public transportation system, including buses and trolleys, that can take you to popular attractions and towns. If you prefer more flexibility and autonomy, renting a car is a great option as it allows you to explore the island at your own pace and venture into more remote areas.


For those who embrace eco-friendly transportation, Oahu has a bike-sharing program and numerous bike rental shops, making it possible to navigate around the island on two wheels. There are also plenty of walking paths and scenic routes that are ideal for exploring on foot.


Now that you know how to get to Oahu, let’s explore the different accommodation options available for backpackers on the island.


Accommodation Options

Oahu offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and travel style. Whether you prefer the convenience and amenities of hotels or the social atmosphere of hostels, there is something for everyone on the island.


If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, hostels are a popular choice among backpackers. Oahu has several hostels located in prime locations, such as Waikiki and Honolulu, offering dormitory-style rooms and shared facilities. Staying in a hostel not only helps you save money but also provides an opportunity to connect with fellow travelers and share experiences.


If you prefer more privacy and comfort, you can find a variety of hotels and resorts on the island. From luxury beachfront resorts to boutique hotels, there are plenty of options to choose from. Many of these accommodations offer amenities such as pools, restaurants, and beach access, ensuring a relaxing and enjoyable stay.


For those seeking a unique and immersive experience, consider staying in a vacation rental or Airbnb. Oahu has a wide selection of vacation homes and apartments available for short-term rentals. This option allows you to live like a local, have more space, and even prepare your meals if you choose to do so.


If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and prefer to be closer to nature, Oahu has several campgrounds where you can pitch your tent. Camping is a great way to fully experience the island’s natural beauty and take advantage of its stunning landscapes. Make sure to check the regulations and obtain any necessary permits before setting up camp.


Regardless of your accommodation choice, it’s always a good idea to book in advance, especially during the peak season, to ensure availability and get the best rates. Consider your budget, travel preferences, and desired location when selecting your accommodation. Oahu’s diverse range of options ensures that you’ll find the perfect place to rest and recharge after your adventurous days.


Now that you know where to stay on the island, let’s dive into the must-visit places in Oahu that should be on every backpacker’s itinerary.


Must-Visit Places

Oahu is packed with incredible attractions and must-visit places that will leave any backpacker in awe. From stunning natural wonders to cultural landmarks, there is no shortage of things to see and do on the island.


One of the top attractions on Oahu is the iconic Pearl Harbor. This historic site offers a glimpse into the past and is home to the USS Arizona Memorial, where visitors can pay their respects to those who lost their lives during the infamous attack in 1941. A visit to Pearl Harbor is a powerful experience that provides insight into the island’s role in World War II.


No trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Waikiki Beach. Known for its white sandy shores and crystal-clear waters, Waikiki offers the perfect blend of relaxation and excitement. Take a surf lesson, lounge on the beach, or enjoy the vibrant nightlife in this bustling neighborhood.


For nature lovers, a visit to Diamond Head is a must. This iconic volcanic crater offers panoramic views of the island and is popular among hikers. The trail to the summit is relatively easy and rewards hikers with breathtaking vistas of the coastline and Honolulu.


Another prominent natural wonder on the island is Hanauma Bay. This stunning marine conservation area is a snorkeler’s paradise, boasting an abundance of colorful coral and marine life. Spend a day exploring the underwater world, snorkeling among tropical fish and sea turtles.


One of the most famous stretches of coastline in Oahu is the North Shore. Known for its legendary surf breaks, including Pipeline and Sunset Beach, the North Shore attracts surfers from around the world. Even if you’re not a surfer, the North Shore offers a laid-back atmosphere, charming local shops, and delicious food trucks showcasing the island’s culinary delights.


A visit to Oahu wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the cultural significance of the Polynesian Cultural Center. This immersive cultural attraction offers a glimpse into the diverse Polynesian cultures through traditional performances, hands-on activities, and interactive exhibits.


These are just a few of the must-visit places on Oahu. The island is filled with captivating destinations and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re exploring famous landmarks or venturing off the beaten path, Oahu promises a memorable backpacking experience.


Next, let’s uncover some of the breathtaking hiking trails that Oahu has to offer for adventurous backpackers.


Hiking Trails

Oahu is a paradise for hikers, offering a plethora of breathtaking trails that showcase the island’s diverse landscapes and natural beauty. Lace up your hiking boots, grab your backpack, and get ready to explore some of the most stunning trails in Oahu.


One of the most popular and rewarding hikes on the island is the Diamond Head Summit Trail. This moderate hike takes you to the top of the famous volcanic crater, offering panoramic views of Waikiki and the sparkling ocean below. The trail is well-maintained and provides informational signs along the way, explaining the geological and historical significance of the area.


If you’re up for a more challenging adventure, the Koko Crater Railway Trail is an excellent choice. This trail involves climbing up a set of over 1,000 stairs, which were originally used to transport military supplies during World War II. The reward at the top is breathtaking views of the island’s eastern coastline and the surrounding mountains.


For those seeking a lush rainforest experience, the Manoa Falls Trail is a must-do. This easy hike takes you through a verdant jungle, leading to a stunning 150-foot waterfall. Be sure to pack bug spray, as the rainforest is home to many mosquitoes and other insects.


The Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail is another popular hiking trail with breathtaking coastal views. This moderate trail takes you along a paved path to a lookout point where you can admire the panoramic vistas and catch glimpses of whales during the winter months. It’s a great spot for whale watching and enjoying the refreshing ocean breeze.


If you’re up for a longer, more challenging hike, the Kaena Point Trail is an excellent choice. This scenic trail takes you along the rugged western coastline of Oahu, offering stunning views of the ocean and an opportunity to spot native seabirds and Hawaiian monk seals. The trail is approximately 7 miles round trip, so be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen.


These are just a few examples of the incredible hiking trails you can explore in Oahu. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced hiker, there are trails for every skill level. Just make sure to research the trail’s difficulty, bring appropriate gear, and always practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural beauty of the island.


After a day of hiking, you’ll likely want to unwind and cool off at one of Oahu’s stunning beaches. Let’s discover some of the best beaches on the island that deserve a spot on every backpacker’s itinerary.



When it comes to pristine beaches, Oahu has an abundance of options for every beach lover. With its golden sands, crystal-clear waters, and picture-perfect scenery, spending time at the beaches of Oahu is an essential part of any backpacking adventure on the island.


Waikiki Beach is the most famous beach on Oahu and a hub of activity. This iconic stretch of sand is lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops, making it an ideal spot for swimming, sunbathing, and people-watching. The beach offers gentle waves, making it perfect for beginner surfers and swimmers.


If you’re looking for a more secluded and less crowded beach experience, head to Lanikai Beach. This hidden gem is located in the small town of Kailua and offers powdery white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters. The calm and shallow waters make it a great beach for swimming, kayaking, and snorkeling. Don’t forget to take in the breathtaking view of the nearby Mokulua Islands.


For those seeking a bit of adventure, Makaha Beach is a great option. Located on Oahu’s west coast, this beach is known for its powerful waves that attract experienced surfers. If you’re not into surfing, you can simply relax on the beach and watch the incredible skills of the wave riders.


One of the most visually stunning beaches on the island is Sunset Beach. As the name suggests, this beach offers breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky with vibrant hues. This North Shore beach is also world-renowned for its massive winter swells, making it a popular spot for big wave surfing competitions.


If you’re looking for a beach that combines natural beauty with cultural significance, visit Hanauma Bay. This protected marine reserve boasts a crescent-shaped beach with calm and clear waters, making it an ideal spot for snorkeling and experiencing vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful tropical fish.


No matter which beach you choose to visit in Oahu, remember to respect the environment and practice responsible beach etiquette. Be mindful of the ocean conditions and adhere to any posted signs or lifeguard instructions to ensure a safe and enjoyable beach experience.


Now that you know where to find the best beaches on Oahu, it’s time to dive into the exciting water activities that the island has to offer.


Water Activities

Oahu is a haven for water enthusiasts, offering a wide range of thrilling water activities for backpackers to enjoy. Whether you’re a seasoned surfer or eager to try something new, the island has something for everyone.


Surfing is undoubtedly one of the top water activities in Oahu. With its world-class waves, the island attracts surfers from around the globe. Whether you’re a beginner looking to take your first lesson or an experienced rider looking to challenge yourself on legendary breaks, Oahu offers surf spots for every skill level. Waikiki Beach, in particular, is a popular spot for learning to surf, as it offers gentle waves that are perfect for beginners.


Snorkeling is another must-try water activity in Oahu. With its warm and clear waters, the island is home to stunning coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. Hanauma Bay, Shark’s Cove, and Electric Beach are just a few of the incredible snorkeling spots where you can discover vibrant coral and swim alongside colorful fish. Remember to respect the marine environment and refrain from touching or damaging the coral or marine life.


If you’re feeling adventurous, consider trying out stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) or kayaking. Oahu’s calm bays and crystal-clear lagoons provide the perfect conditions for these activities. Rent a paddleboard or kayak and explore the coastline, enjoying the tranquility of gliding across the water and taking in the scenic views.


To truly immerse yourself in the underwater world, consider going on a scuba diving adventure. Oahu offers incredible dive sites, ranging from shallow reefs to fascinating wrecks. Whether you’re a certified diver or looking to get certified, there are plenty of dive operators on the island that can provide you with unforgettable underwater experiences.


For a unique and thrilling experience, why not try parasailing? Soar above the sparkling waters of Oahu and take in the breathtaking views of the island from a bird’s-eye perspective. Parasailing is a popular activity available in various locations, including Waikiki and the North Shore.


These are just a few examples of the exciting water activities you can enjoy in Oahu. Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or more leisurely pursuits, the island offers endless opportunities for water-based fun and exploration.


Now that we’ve covered the thrilling water activities, let’s journey into the culinary delights that Oahu has to offer.


Local Cuisine

Exploring the local cuisine is an essential part of any travel experience, and Oahu offers a vibrant food scene that reflects the island’s diverse cultures and flavors. From traditional Hawaiian dishes to international fusion cuisine, there is something to satisfy every palate on the island.


When it comes to Hawaiian cuisine, one of the must-try dishes is the iconic plate lunch. This hearty meal typically consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and an entrée like kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, or loco moco (a dish topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy). Plate lunches are a filling and affordable option that can be found at local “plate lunch” spots throughout the island.


Another Hawaiian specialty is poke (pronounced poh-kay), which has gained popularity worldwide. Poke is a refreshing dish made with raw fish, typically tuna or salmon, marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and various seasonings. It’s often enjoyed over a bed of rice or as a salad, and you can find a wide variety of poke flavors and combinations in Oahu.


Oahu is also known for its diverse culinary influences, particularly from Japan and other Asian countries. Indulge in a sushi feast at one of the many sushi bars or try traditional Japanese ramen at a local noodle shop. Don’t miss out on other Asian delights like Korean barbecue, Vietnamese pho, and Thai curry, which can be found in various restaurants across the island.


If you’re looking for a unique local treat, try malasadas. These Portuguese-inspired pastries are deep-fried and coated in sugar, resulting in a delightful, melt-in-your-mouth treat. Leonard’s Bakery in Honolulu is the go-to spot for delicious malasadas that come in various flavors and fillings.


No culinary exploration of Oahu would be complete without sampling the tropical fruits that thrive on the island. Indulge in the sweetness of fresh pineapples, juicy mangoes, and creamy coconuts. You can find these fruits at local farmers’ markets or in fruit stands scattered throughout the island.


To truly embrace the local culinary scene, consider trying a local food tour or exploring the food trucks that are popular in Oahu. These mobile eateries offer a wide variety of cuisines, including Hawaiian, Mexican, Korean, and more, showcasing the island’s diverse flavors.


With its mix of traditional Hawaiian cuisine and international flavors, Oahu is a food lover’s paradise. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new dishes that will tantalize your taste buds and provide insight into the island’s rich culinary heritage.


Now that we’ve covered the culinary delights of Oahu, let’s move on to an important aspect of any travel experience: safety tips for backpackers exploring the island.


Safety Tips

While Oahu is generally a safe destination for backpackers, it’s always important to prioritize your safety and well-being during your travels. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind as you explore the island:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings: Whether you’re walking in a crowded city or hiking in a remote area, always stay alert and aware of your surroundings. Be cautious of your belongings and avoid displaying valuables in public.
  • Protect yourself from the sun: Oahu’s tropical climate means the sun can be intense. Always wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Stay hydrated and seek shade during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Observe beach safety: While the beaches of Oahu are beautiful, it’s important to be mindful of the ocean’s power. Observe and obey any posted warning signs or lifeguard instructions. Be cautious of strong currents and never turn your back to the ocean.
  • Take precautions while hiking: If you plan to go hiking, make sure to research your chosen trail beforehand and be prepared. Wear appropriate footwear, bring plenty of water, and inform someone of your hiking plans. Stay on marked trails and be cautious of slippery conditions.
  • Be respectful of nature and wildlife: Oahu is home to unique flora and fauna, so treat the environment with respect. Do not disturb or remove any plants or animals, and keep a safe distance from any wildlife you may encounter, such as sea turtles or monk seals.
  • Use caution when swimming or participating in water activities: While enjoying the water, be cautious of your swimming abilities and the conditions. Only swim in designated areas with lifeguards present. Check local weather and surf reports before venturing into the ocean.
  • Practice responsible drinking: If you choose to consume alcohol, do so responsibly. Drinking excessively can impair judgment and put you at risk. Know your limits, avoid accepting drinks from strangers, and never drink and drive.
  • Stay connected and informed: Make sure to have a working phone with emergency numbers saved and keep it charged. Stay informed about any local advisories or safety alerts during your stay.

By following these safety tips, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable backpacking experience on Oahu. Remember to trust your instincts, use common sense, and prioritize your well-being at all times.


As your adventure comes to an end, let’s wrap up this guide to backpacking around Oahu.



Backpacking around Oahu offers a remarkable opportunity to explore the stunning natural landscapes, immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, and create unforgettable memories. From breathtaking hiking trails to beautiful beaches and thrilling water activities, Oahu is a paradise for adventure seekers.


By planning your trip during the best time to go, taking advantage of the various transportation options, and choosing accommodation that suits your preferences, you can make the most of your backpacking adventure on the island.


Visiting must-see places like Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and the North Shore will provide you with a well-rounded understanding of Oahu’s history, culture, and natural beauty. Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, exploring the diverse flavors and culinary traditions that make Oahu’s food scene so special.


As you embark on your journey, stay safe by remaining vigilant, protecting yourself from the elements, and following the guidelines for beach safety and hiking precautions. By doing so, you can fully enjoy the island’s beauty and adventure without compromising your well-being.


Remember to respect the environment, practice responsible tourism, and leave Oahu as you found it, so future backpackers can enjoy the same incredible experiences you had.


Whether you’re a solo traveler or embarking on this adventure with friends, backpacking around Oahu will leave you with lifelong memories and a deep appreciation for the island’s natural wonders. So, pack your bags, embrace the Aloha spirit, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in the tropical paradise of Oahu!