The Pali Lookout is not just another scenic spot on Oahu, it’s actually a sacred area where one of the largest Hawaiian battles took place in late 1794. This Honolulu attraction is the dividing point between town side and the beautiful Windward side. It’s a short drive outside of Waikiki, and offers some of the most beautiful views of the eastern side of the island, with sky scraping Ko’olau Mountains in the background and a luscious, green valley below.
You can see a long stretch from Kailua all the way to Chinaman’s Hat in Kualoa, and aqua blue ocean as far as the eye can see. It’s hard to believe with so much beauty in the horizon that this was the spot where King Kamehameha drove his enemies up the Pali and over the cliffs to meet their deaths.
If you want to experience the best of Oahu’s natural wonders without having to take on a steep trail or fearsome surf, head up Highway 61 in Nuuanu to experience this iconic lookout.
The Pali Lookout rises 1200 feet above the Ko’olau Mountains, better known as The Ko'olaus. It is one of the most memorable lookouts on the island.
The island is teeming with stunning mountainous topography and breathtaking ocean views, but nothing compares to the Pali.
The lookout offers visitors unrivaled, unobstructed views of the Windward side of the island. The Nuuanu Pali Lookout offers more than just a great view, it is also the site of an important King Kamehameha victory.
Take a moment and explore the grounds from the parking lot to this scenic lookout, and see why so many visitors make a point to visit here.
The best way to get to the Pali Lookout is by car, or signing up for an island tour bus ride that makes a stop here. From the parking lot, it is a quick walk to platforms to take in the grand views.
And while the wind might seem tame in the parking lot, expect a dramatic change with hurricane force winds whistling up the mountainside as you approach the viewing platforms. Hold onto your hats tightly or better yet, take them off and secure them in your bags because the strong winds will surely rip them off your heads. Especially strong gusts have also been known to cause people to stumble, so please be careful.
Make it to the viewing platform and that's where you will feel the raging, powerful winds. Be mindful not to hold anything over the railing, as countless phones, cameras, sun glasses, hats, and other valuables have been lost to the spirits below.
There are two long platforms on two levels, allowing you to take in
the spectacular views. While some are here to just get a few
pictures and move on, many others find themselves in awe, and could spend well over
an hour exploring the surrounding area if the winds aren't too much to bear.
You used to be able to hike down the Old Pali Road that was constructed in 1845 and allowed travelers to pass to the other side of the island. It closed in 1959 when the tunnels and the highway were built. It was then transformed into a hiking path, which you could access from the lower platform.
But it has remained closed for the past few years due to a rockslide that has made the passage unsafe. It was a fun, wide hiking trail with beautiful coastal views.
There is also a side trail that branched off from the old Pali Road, which leads to Likeke Falls. You can still experience this beautiful 2-tiered Oahu waterfall if you drive about 10 minutes onward towards Kailua, to the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, located below the Pali Hwy.
All around the platforms at the Pali lookout, you will find signs and information boards. Some with dramatic illustrations and a synopsis of the history of the very important battle that took place here. And others show helpful information about the area and what you are seeing in front of you.
There is the iconic, impossible-to-miss, jagged mountain peak that symbolizes the Pali. It is known as Pali Notches and it rises higher than any of the other peaks, just to the left of the platforms. It is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Oahu.
It not only helps define the Pali, but characterizes what took place over 200 years ago. Lots of folks say it’s not uncommon to feel the presence of the Hawaiian spirits in the area. I can only advise to be respectful when visiting.
As we stated above, the Pali Lookout offers panoramic views of the Windward coast of Oahu. The several viewing platforms facing different directions provide sweeping views of the lush mountaintops, the blue Pacific Ocean, and beyond.
Pali translates to cliffs. So it’s only fitting that the view overlooks the towering, 985-foot cliffs of the Koolau Mountain Range. The Koolau Mountain Range, or "The Koolaus" form the eastern two-thirds of the island and runs 37 miles long.
Pali Lookout is one of the only places on the island where you can get a bird’s eye view of Kaneohe Bay and Chinaman's Hat (Mokolii).
Passing clouds pushed by the winds cast moving shadows over the lush, green mountains and over the valley below, all the way to the ocean. This is truly what they call from "mauka to makai" (from the mountains to the sea).
This unique vantage point is made special not only by the unobstructed views but by its unique history.
Consider signing up for a grand island tour exploring the Pali, the Halona Blowhole, the Dole Plantation in the North Shore, the Makapu'u Lighthouse, and lunch at the famous shrimp trucks. Learn more about this tour...
Like much of Oahu, Pali Lookout is steeped in Native Hawaiian history. The Pali Lookout has been a crucial piece of land throughout Hawaii’s storied past because it is a relatively low-lying, traversable area within the Koʻolau Mountain Range. Over 200 years ago, the great Battle of Nuuanu took place on the site of today’s lookout.
The Battle of Nuuanu was one of the bloodiest battles in Hawaii’s history. King Kamehameha sailed from his home island of Hawai’i with an army of 10,000 warriors, including some non-Hawaiian fighters. He was on a mission to conquer Oahu and unify the Hawaiian island chain.
King Kamehameha I and his men drove the Oahu fighters through the valley and trapped them above the high cliffs where they were forced to plunge to their deaths. After King Kamehameha I defeated his foes on the Pali Lookout in 1795, he conquered the Island of Oahu and later, all of Hawaii.
He would go on to unify the islands in 1810 and become the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. None of this would have been possible without his decisive victory on the site of the Pali Lookout.
There are many paintings depicting this epic battle, showing warriors plunging to their deaths as they were driven off the cliffs. It's enough to make you shudder in shock and disbelief knowing you are standing at the exact spot where it happened. It's a good thing the only thing you need to worry about today are the gale-force winds and car break-ins at the parking lot!
In 1845, the first road was constructed and was named Nuʻuanu Pali to connect the Windward side of Oahu with the capital, Honolulu.
In 1898, the Nuʻuanu Pali was further developed into a larger highway. During the development, construction workers found 800 human skulls of the warriors who fell to their deaths. In 1959, the new Pali Highway as we know it today, was constructed.
As the site of an infamous battle where hundreds, if not thousands of Hawaiian warriors met their death, it’s only natural the area is associated with a handful of legends.
As one legend goes, two large stones towards the end of Nuʻuanu Valley are said to represent a pair of goddesses who are the guardians of the Pali. Travelers used to leave flower offerings to the goddesses to ensure safe passage.
It’s also said that parents would bury the umbilical cords of their newborn children under the stones as protection against evil.
Another legend states that the pass is home to a “moo wahine,” a mystical lizard that takes the form of a beautiful woman and leads male travelers to their deaths off the Pali cliffs. Yikes!
Hawaiian superstition cautions that when traveling through the Pali area, you should never carry raw pork over the Pali, especially at night. Pele, the volcano goddess, is said to be mortal enemies with Kamapua'a, a half-human half-hog god. It is said that bringing pork would anger her.
There are countless stories of drivers experiencing car problems, not being mindful, bringing pork up and over the Pali Highway.
Don't let the winds and superstitious legends stop you from coming up to experience the panoramic views at the Pali Lookout, as well as to immerse yourself in Hawaiian history and folklore with a visit to Nuuanu Pali State Park.
While the Nuuanu Pali Lookout is not a hike, it’s advisable to dress in sturdy shoes and bring a rain jacket/ windbreaker, even though you might not need it. The weather in Hawaii can be unpredictable, and the Pali Lookout is notoriously windy.
Trade winds are funneled through the valley on either side of the mountains and blow up the face of the Pali Lookout. Visitors frequently lose their hats in the wind, and as mentioned earlier, some are even knocked off their feet.
You will want to bring your cameras, video cams, and cell phones to capture the panoramic views, but keep them inside the railings.
As always, pack out whatever you bring. Do not leave any trash or discarded items near the lookout.
Pali Lookout is located on Oahu’s Pali Highway in Nu'uanu Pali State Park near the southern tip of the island between Honolulu and Kailua.
Just a short 5-mile drive out of downtown Honolulu will bring you to one of the island’s most historically significant locations, and with unmatched views of the sheer Koolau cliffs and vibrant Windward Coast.
The drive alone will leave you in awe as you climb up winding, mountainous Pali Highway surrounded by lush nature. From Waikiki, take route 61 (the Pali Highway) and follow signs for the lookout.
The viewpoint is open to visitors from 6 AM to 6 PM, and there is plenty of free parking for residents and a $7 parking for non-residents.
Be sure to secure your valuables and leave nothing in plain sight, as break-ins are known to occur in this area.
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Unfortunately there is not a good option at this time taking the #67 Oahu Bus to this scenic lookout. The bus does make a stop at the end of Nu'uanu Pali Dr, before traveling onward towards Kailua. But this leaves about a half mile uphill gap along the highway to the lookout.
Also in the area, located off the old Pali Road, is the Judd Trail. This Oahu trail is a fairly easy 1-mile loop that meanders through a bamboo grove, several stream crossings, and a beautiful, towering Norfolk Pine forest.
The trail ends at a natural, mountainside pool known as Jackass Ginger Falls. It feels like a waterpark, and the local kids spend hours jumping and splashing around in it.
Close by to the Pali Lookout is Lulumahu
Falls, which is an impressive 50 ft plus waterfall.
It's not exactly an easy hike, as you'll need to travel across some old hunting grounds, through a bamboo forest, along the Nu'uanu Reservoir, and up a narrow stream to get there, but it's worth it.
Better known as King Kamehameha III's summer home, these ruins are
close to the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout entrance.
The Kaniakapupu Ruins are incredible and an amazing find on this hike!
There’s not much left to the 1847 structure, but it was an area where 10,000 Hawaiian once gathered.