Time: 1-2 HOURS
Distance: 0.8 MILES (1st Pillbox), 1.0 MILES (2nd Pillbox), 1.6 MILES (3rd Pillbox)
Elevation Gain: 450 FEET
Foot Traffic: HIGH
Challenges: Dusty, A few steep climbs with loose dirt, Shadeless
Sights: Pillboxes, Lanikai Beach, The Mokes, Three Peaks, Ko'olau Mountain Range, K-Bay
What to Bring: Sunscreen, Water
This popular hike on the Windward side of Oahu has a lot to offer in such a short hike. You get ridge hiking, you get history, and you get amazing views of the windward coast and Ko'olau Mountain range all in a short 1-1.5 mile hike. On top of it all, you are just minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States, Lanikai Beach. Even on a cloudy day like mine, there's nothing to dislike about this awesome trail.
I've done the pillbox hike at least a dozen times, both hiking and trail running. Each time I do it, I find it just as enjoyable as the last. Despite the high foot traffic, this hike is awesome! When I found myself near Lanikai on a Tuesday, I decided to make the most of it and hike the pillboxes so I could take some pictures and video to share its awesomeness.
Here is a Google Earth Image of the hike from the Mokulua Islands or the Mokes, a pair of islands that many people swim and kayak too. As you can see this is a beautiful ridge hike right on the coast. There's a reason it's popular.
The hike begins on Kaelepulu Drive across from the Mid Pacific Country Club. There's a little bit of parking along this street, but most people park on Aalapapa Drive. Be warned, recently they've been restricting parking in Lanikai for safety reasons, primarily on holiday weekends. If there aren't tons of cars lining the streets, it's probably one of those weekends.
This is the trailhead. These signs give some mixed signals, but I recommend adhering to the construction sign that says The Pillbox. Now that I look at that sign, I'm realizing that sign should probably be plural...
A little sense of humor can go a long way. But seriously, just respect the land. It will give you some amazing views so the least you can do is keep it clean.
And right away you get some good vibes with these pretty purple flowers.
The hike hits you abruptly. The first few minutes are the steepest part of the entire hike. It can suck if it's muddy, but luckily there are a lot of good trees to grab onto if you need them.
But after you make it up that first incline, you can veer slightly left to an awesome lookout of Lanikai and the Mokes. I should clarify what I said earlier, you can only travel to the LEFT island. The right one is a bird sanctuary. But really, don't you already want to move here?
A little preview of what we are about to conquer.
Let's get to it! As you can see this is a ridge hike, but it doesn't have any crazy narrow areas or steep dropoffs.
Except for this rock wall you have to climb...
Just kidding! You can head right and go around it. There is the smallest amount of climbing to reach the first pillbox at this point. By climbing, I mean you might have to use your hands.
There's no need to get this close to the edge. There's plenty of different paths to get to the first pillbox. You can simply take the one that looks the most appealing. However, I prefer to take the road less traveled #bobbyfrost
And here we are Pillbox Numero Uno!
Another shot of the beautiful Mokes. Something about the water color plus the islands plus the ocean beyond is very appealing to look at.
Looking north along the windward coast. You can still see pretty far down the coast despite the cloud cover.
Onward to to Pillbox Number 2!
The second pillbox is a two story pillbox. That's some high quality living.
Fun fact, the term pillbox apparently is an incorrect way to describe these structures. Pillbox implies there is some sort of defensive armament. These were observation posts constructed to spot enemy ships (info courtesy of lanikaipillbox.com)
It's time to head to the third "pillbox." You will soon see why that is in quotes. Most people don't venture past the second pillbox, which is totally fine. The best views are definitely at the first two pillboxes. I, however, like the seclusion that the third offers. My friend actually proposed to his girlfriend at the third pillbox. So romantic!
It's a little bit more challenging to get to the third, but nothing crazy. Here you have to go to the left of this little cliff.
And do a wee bit of bushwacking.
And of course take a look at the Mokes ... just to make sure they are still there.
But really, it is a pleasant walk to the third pillbox. You can see Three Peaks slowly emerging from the clouds.
That's it, the third pillbox. I didn't even bother to get a good shot of it because it's basically a bunch of stones with a small crawlspace underneath. For me, it was a great platform to take some photos.
Uh Oh, a storms coming. Please don't hit me... at least not until I get some good pictures.
As is typical, the rain moved towards the center of the island, giving me this cool shot of the half covered ridge.
And the opportunity to grab a few more shots of the coastline. You can barely make out Chinaman's Hat in front of that far ridge.
But alas, it was time to head home for dinner. I had a date with my roommate to help him catch up on Game of Thrones. On my way back I snagged this shot of the partially covered peaks of the Ko'olau range. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite photos.
And one more shot of the southern part of the Windward coast. Another hike at Ka'iwa Ridge, another incredible day in paradise.
Check out my POV video of this popular hike!
Also Check out this drone video of the Pillboxes!
Have you experienced this amazing place? Share your story below!
Also Check Out:
- Lanikai Pillbox official website for more information on the hike
- This Wikipedia Page for more information on the Mokulua Islands