The Pali Notches is one of those iconic hikes that promises unbelievable cliffside views of the island when conditions permit. During the 18th century, King Kamehameha's final battle for unification of the Hawaiian islands took place near the Pali. His army invaded O'ahu, flanking the local army in the Nu'uanu Valley. The stone notches were carved from the cliff for canons to defend the island as a natural fortification. It is said that the outnumbered O'ahu soldiers were cornered and driven off the cliffs to their deaths. Many years later, construction workers found hundreds of skulls below the cliff, perhaps from the fallen warriors. That being said, many people have fallen since due to the narrow path along the cliff, poor weather conditions, eroding trails, and strong gusts of wind.
The trailhead is located off the Pali Lookout behind the parking lot, where an old drainage ditch makes its way through the dense lower part of the forest. The muddy trail starts steeply up the mountainside, and roots and branches are the only stable holds to grab on to. The trail soon reaches a clearing, which allows for a brief rest and the amazing first views of the windward and leeward sides of the island. This would be a great place to turn around if the weather is not ideal because strong wind, clouds, and rain can make the next part dangerous. To continue up to the notches themselves, hikers must scramble across loose gravely rocks and squeeze through narrow and steep crevices. At the top of the first notch with vertical drop-offs on either side, there is not much escape from the gale-force winds that funnel through the valley. Serious adventurers may continue along the trail, but most people turn around at the first notch because the view is the same. Those comfortable with a bit of rock climbing should carefully use the ropes to descend the first notch, being careful not to grab rocks that may pull free. After the second notch, the trail makes its way up to what is known as the chimney, a nearly vertical exposed stretch of rock leading up toward the Ko'olaus highest peaks, K1 and K2.
This short trail is more difficult and exposed than the nearby Pali Puka, and it is not suited for families, pets, and those with a fear for heights! It's not a maintained trail and should really only be attempted by those who are confident in their hiking abilities and who have verified the weather/wind conditions at the Pali.