There are few places in the world you can see three shorelines of an island at the peak of a hike. Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail Hike on O’ahu, Hawaii is one such place where you’re guaranteed a vista worthy of the gods.
After a steady, winding hike through one of the most diverse nature trails on the island, and a steep stepped incline to the top, you’ll be greeted with the turquoise blue hues of the windward side of the island looking over Waimanalo and Lanikai, a stunning panorama of Koko Head Crater on the south shore, and in the vast distance behind you, the sky rises of Waikiki.
When I first visited O’ahu in 2016, a boy I met on Tinder (are you really surprised right now) took me on this hike instead of whatever people normally do on a date, and it made me literally fall in love with the island (I think he was a bit disappointed I didn’t fall in love with him, tbh). There’s just something about climbing to the top of the volcanic spine of the island that brings me so much joy.
The nitty gritty
Elevation gain from trailhead: 495m
Route type: Out and back
How to get there
The easiest and quickest way to reach the trailhead of this hike is to drive. Once you’re heading east on the Kalanianaole Highway, you can take a left just before you reach Hawaii Kai onto Kuliouou Street. Follow the curve of the road to the left, and take a right hand turn onto Kuliouou Road. Proceed up the road, turn right on Kalaau Place until you reach the cul-de-sac at the end of the street.
You can park at the end of the cul-de-sac (keep in mind this is a residential area so be respectful) and proceed on foot past the gate on the access road. The trail begins on the right hand side of the road.
By public transport
If you can’t get your hands on a car, you can take the bus from Waikiki. As of March 2019, you can purchase an all day pass for $5.50USD and you must have the exact change. You can take the number 13 bus along Kuhio Avenue, and when you arrive at Kapiolani Boulevard and Waialae Avenue, change to the number 1 bus. The bus will take you directly to Kalanianaole Highway and Kuliouou Road. Once you get off, cross the highway at the lights and make your way up Kuliouou Road and up the valley following the same route as those travelling by car.
Keep in mind that this will add an extra 2 kilometres to your hike, and features a small incline of 75 metres.
The trail is listed as a moderate difficulty online and is kept in fairly good condition. As you begin the hike, you gain elevation quickly by walking a series of switchbacks up the side of the ridge. The track here is tropical, rocky, and with a few tree roots that are good to keep and eye on if you have clumsy feet like me.
As you reach about halfway up and over the lower ridge line, the vegetation an quickly changes to a pine forest environment. The ground here is a welcome soft footing under your feet, and a very brisk breeze makes its way up the south facing valley.
There is a picnic table and covered in area here that’s great for a snack stop. I love completing this hike early in the day and will often stop for lunch here if it’s not too busy.
Once you’ve filled up on your Cliff Bars and peanut butter bagels, this is where the real fun begins. You will start climbing up through the forest leaving the pine trees behind. You traverse up a steep incline using tropical tree roots as a staircase up the ridge line.
Once you get above the tree line, get ready for a series of stunning vistas. You’ll want your camera strapped to your side as you’ll be stopping every few steps to take in the view. A never ending set of stairs ascending to the sky ahead of you is the final frontier to completing this hike before you emerge looking over Waimanalo below. It’s pretty windy up at the top so be careful!
After completing most of the hikes on O’ahu, Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail continues to be one of my favourites. You can work up a great sweat no matter what your fitness level may be. If you’re feeling adventurous, running this trail is very common amongst locals. This is a great hike for families with kids, people with dogs or just someone looking to challenge themselves. It’s a high traffic trail so depending on the time of day you should run into a lot of other friendly hikers.
Make sure you take water with you as there is no where to fill it up once you start at the trailhead. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the weather prior to completing this hike, as the views are best where there are minimal clouds around.
For more information about O’ahu, Hawaii you can read my Ultimate Backpackers Guide to O’ahu which I update on a yearly basis with the best (and cheapest) options for travelling around the island on a backpacker budget. Happy hour is on me!