Hiking the Nu’uanu Judd Trail | July 21, 2018
If you’re looking for a trusted resource to learn more about hiking on Oahu, (other than this blog 😉 ) we recommend The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu by Stuart Ball. It’s where we have found some of our favorite more obscure hikes, as well as gotten information for more popular ones. It shares how to get to the trailhead, where to park (because that isn’t always clear), a thorough trail description, different types of flora along the trail, history in the area, and other need-to-know information. It also doesn’t list illegal hikes where you could be fined, and omits some of the most popular hikes that everyone does (for example, Diamond Head and Koko Crater Stairway).
While it isn’t a priority for us to accomplish every hike in the book, we’re working our way through doing the ones that interest us. Before getting the book, we had hiked the Judd loop trail last December. Afterwards we read about the Nu’uanu trail that branches off the loop and ends at a lookout over the Nu’uanu Valley. We were looking for a new-to-us easier hike with a view, and this one fit the bill. We drove to the trailhead and began the loop trail going clockwise.
There are signs marking the way to the Nua’uanu trail, and we began heading up that path. It started by switchbacking back and forth, up through the pine trees. Once past the pines, the trail continued switchbacking up a hillside. I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy this part of the trail, and honestly wasn’t expecting much from this hike. I always prefer switchbacks over steep straight up the mountain trails, but it seemed as though the path was either super muddy or dry and crumbly. It also just felt dark, as it was West-facing earlier in the morning with a thick tree cover. This part lasted about a mile and gained around 600 feet of elevation.
However, once we reached the end of this stretch, it got better from here: we began following a ridge and had more views to the South, facing Waikiki and the deep blue ocean. One thing we had read from our hiking book was that there were cinnamon trees around this trail. We were starting to wonder which trees they were referring to, and kept our eyes out for any tree that looked unfamiliar.
Eventually the Nu’uanu Trail intersected with the Pauoa Flats trail, and here we took a left. If we were to go right, this trail would lead to the Mount Tantalus area, with other trail intersections that would take you to the Manoa Falls area. Both of these are areas that we’ve previously hiked, and it’s interesting to me to see how they all connect. Just looking at the AllTrails listing for this hike, you can see all the different trails that intersect in this area. There are so many different ways you could create a longer through-hike or loop hike in this area.
The Pauoa Flats trail took us through a large bamboo forest — as always, we enjoy walking through it and listening to the bamboo crash together in the wind, but it always seems to be muddier in these areas. Finally after one last uphill stretch, we made it to our destination overlooking the Nu’uanu Valley and reservoir. We were both pleasantly surprised by how great the view was. I admit I was skeptical that I would be impressed with this hike, but it was definitely worth it. The valley we were overlooking is where the trail to Lulumahu Falls crosses and the Pali Highway goes through. We loved seeing these familiar places from a different angle. (Note — since we hiked the Lulumahu Falls trail last December, they have begun construction on the reservoir so the path has changed. I believe the new trail cuts straight through the bamboo, but I honestly have no idea.)
From this point, the sanctioned trail is officially over, but if we were to hike to K1 or K2, the highest peaks in the Ko’olau range, we would continue on the path to the right for another mile and a half and 1600 feet up. I know this is pretty much the only trail Curtis REALLY wants to do, but unfortunately it’s almost always socked in by clouds. I’m not exaggerating when I say that — I can see this mountain out my kitchen window, and it’s very rare that I see it in its entirety. While we’re learning to appreciate cloudy hikes, this is one we’d want to do on a clear day to make it worth it. Today was definitely not a clear day — from where we were the wind was already strong, meaning it’d be even stronger at the top, and there were dark clouds hovering over the peak. Another day…
The view isn’t the only thing that makes this lookout fascinating — the valley is also a significant battle site in Hawaiian history. Curtis read aloud from the Hiker’s Guide to Oahu about the invasion and fight that took place in this very valley in 1795, that ended with Chief Kamehameha taking control of the island. I have to admit it’s so easy for me to forget that this island is so rich in history when all we see is how Americanized it has become. Taking in the view, it was so hard to imagine a battle going on right in the middle of this beautiful mountain range.
After a while spent enjoying this lookout, we began our trek down. This time, Curtis was determined to find the cinnamon trees, so he picked a leaf and crunched it up in his hand and smelled it. And what do you know — it was cinnamon! Just to be sure, he took a piece of the bark, smelled it, then put it in his mouth. His exact words to me were “It’s just like putting a stick of Big Red in your mouth!” As it turned out, we had been surrounded by cinnamon trees all along!
That wasn’t the only surprise we found on our descent. Have you ever been so focused on the ground while walking that you missed out on the views in a certain direction? I realized that I had missed all these wide South-facing views on the way up, and now was able to enjoy them. It was still just of Waikiki and Honolulu, though there was a small window where we could see all the way out to the Leeward coast and the Wai’anae Mountains. We stopped to appreciate them and the pleasant smelling cinnamon trees for the rest of our hike down.
When we returned to the Judd trail, we continued on the loop just to revisit the rest of the trail. However, we decided to skip returning to the Jackass Ginger pool/waterfall as we could hear all the people there from a distance. Instead, we returned to our car and called it a day, clocking in at 6 miles hiked.