Hike to Mokoli’i – China Man’s Hat

We’ve all hiked mountains, beaches, canyons… but have you hiked through the ocean? O’ahu offers unique experiences where you can paddle to a few small islands nearby. But, if you time the low tide well enough, you can actually hike to one of them: Mokoli’i, also known as China Man’s Hat.

From Mokoli’i, you get amazing views of the Ko’olau mountain range, which is hands-down the most beautiful mountains on Oahu. You also get to see the vast Kaneohe Bay and the beaches that surround you… Oh, and you will also feel super small in comparison to the landscape that surrounds you.

The Tides

If going at low tide, the hike to Mokoli’i only takes less than an hour. You will need shoes or reef walkers to walk across the sharp reef/lava rock, then to hike up to the island’s peak (which is awesome). I recently learned that this method could harm some of the wildlife that lies in the ocean floor, but others suggest that it has no significant affect.

If going at any other time, shoes or reef walkers are still encouraged, however you may need a surfboard or floaty to get you across comfortably.

To check the tide chart, click here. This is the most reliable site to use when checking the time of the tides. If you’re planning to walk at low tide without boards, make sure you begin hiking about 30 minutes before so that the tide is lowering as you go and stays low upon your return.

About the Trail

Location: In Kaneohe Bay on windward side of Oahu

Length: < 1 mile

Fear Factor: Moderate – depends on your tolerance of the ocean water. The hike on Mokoli’i does get a bit gnarly when you have to climb a vertical rock wall toward the peak.

Starting the Hike

Parking is easy – just head to the Kualoa Regional Park and find a spot.

Then, take your board (or just yourself) over to the water and start walking toward Mokoli’i!

Chinaman's Hat Hike
Thanks, Honolulu Mag!

Doing the Hike

The hike or swim is a short one. The deepest the water has been for me is up to my neck, and it’s only for a brief couple yards. I’m 5’3, so if you’re taller than me, you’re probably in the clear.

Watch out for the reef because it’s easy to misstep and knee a rock (like I did – scar to prove it). Other than that, the journey is not treacherous at all despite the shark breeding ground on the backside of the island.

You heard me, shark breeding ground. No worries though, because they don’t cross your pathway. Too shallow, I guess?


You made it to China Man’s Hat! Take a second to appreciate how quick the hike/swim actually was compared to how long you were expecting it to take. What a breeze.

You’ll immediately notice that there isn’t much of a beach, as it’s pretty rocky and the brush begins right by the water after the rocks. The island begs to be climbed. So, the best way to the best views is… up.

Hiking up the Mokoli’i trail is fine until you hit the shear vertical rock wall that you must climb (and also eventually descend down). There are plenty of hand and foot holds, and there’s a very trustworthy rope attached to a metal spike at the top, but it is intimidating at first glance.

It’s not that bad.

I actually did freak out a small amount, but after I climbed up/down, I realized how do-able it actually was. Like anything, the more you think about it, the scarier it becomes. It is nice to have someone with you to point out the good holds, though.

Also, if you stop before climbing the wall, you’d be missing out on 360 degree views of this:

Those Ko’olaus 😍

If you’re on the island at low tide, you wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour hanging out on top of China Man’s Hat. You’ve got to make it back before the tide rises too much if you’re uncomfortable swimming a bit more going back.

But, you still get to enjoy the awesome views on the way back! These views never disappoint. The Ko’olaus are forever my favorites.

Want to do this hike? Is it on your bucket list?

Or… Do you love hiking to/on Mokoli’i (China Man’s Hat)? How was your experience? What did you think of the rock climb on the island?

Comment below and let me know!

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