The trail is well-defined and fairly eroded because of heavy use. On the one-mile hike to the Falls, you'll pass through a damp rain forest, climb some short, rocky sections, pass over some man-made boardwalks, and ascend some stairs. Before you know it, you'll hear the hissing of water and voila, Manoa Falls will appear before you.
When I journeyed on this route, I stopped just briefly at the cascade (a half dozen people were exploring the area around the pool at the time). Signs warned against climbing above the falls, but I had heard of many who had ascended the steep, slippery trail nevertheless. On occasions in the past, some of these sign-ignorers become stranded and must be rescued by emergency crews. Others fall and are injured; several have plunged to their deaths.
Not in the mood for death-defying feats, I backtracked a handful of yards and climbed a short, rocky trail (Aihualama) up a slope to the right. After negotiating the short incline, I reached a contour path that passed through a bamboo grove, then a couple of massive, sprawling banyans. In a few minutes, I had left the jungle canopy behind and broken into the open where I could see the massive mountain called Tantalus that I would ascend on a series of fourteen switchbacks.
The ascent to the ridgetop wasn't easy but was manageable because the trail snaked back and forth across the face of the mountain instead of beelining straight up it. A slight drizzle spilled earthward as I climbed, a to-be-expected occurrence in the depths of this lush, super-green valley. After 20 minutes of plugging upslope, I reached a regiment of bamboo at the crest of the main ridge. The trail was quite mushy at that point, and I hugged the edge of the path, grabbing bamboo stalks as I moved on and avoiding the muddier sections.
Once atop the ridge, I had a number of options. I could have climbed to the top of Pu'u Ohia (Tantalus) or circumnavigated the mountain on the Manoa Cliffs Trail or descended to the Old Pali Road via the Nuuanu Trail. Instead, headed right at the main junction, my intended turnaround destination being an overlook of the upper-Nuuanu reservoir.
I reached the lookout point in about 10 minutes by following a well-used, muddy trail that was cut through thick stands of bamboo. Nice views of the peaks Lanihuli and Konahuanui were my prizes for the long hump up from Manoa.
I retraced my steps down the muddy trail, the dozen-plus-two switchbacks, and the contour path to the Falls, where I lingered for several minutes to rinse off my muddy boots and swig some water from my canteen. That done, I hiked back to my car and headed home knowing that I had a completed a beauty of a journey.