Time: 3-4 HOURS
Distance: 4 MILES
Elevation Gain: 1700 FEET
Foot Traffic: HIGH
Challenges: Some Steep Ascents, Uneven Footing
Sights: Koko Head, Diamond Head, Honolulu, The Mokes
What to Bring: Water, Snack
The final piece of what I call the "Triple Crown of Hawaii Kai Ridge Hiking," Kuli'ou'ou Ridge Trail is a great intermediate level ridge hike, perfect for those looking for a physical challenge, but with only minor technical obstacles. The hike starts along a series of switchbacks through the forest, where you will be surrounded by beautiful native trees. You will then reach the ridge where the trail opens up, giving you amazing views of the Leeward side and neighboring ridges. Once on the ridge will begin your push to the summit along a series of stairs, sure to make the legs burn. When you finally reach trail's end, you will be treated to a beautiful view of the windward coast and the town of Waimanalo.
A solid Fourth of July in Kailua left me feeling less than stellar on the 5th, but getting the day off work meant I had to take advantage. No better way to cure a minor hangover then to hike up a ridge and sweat. I would thus return to a ridge I have hiked many times, the popular Kuli'ou'ou Ridge.
This hike has two parts. The first is a series of switchbacks through the trees as you gain elevation gradually. The second is a steep climb up man made stairs that take you to the summit, where Kuli'ou'ou intersects with the Ko'olau Summit Trail.
The trailhead is located at the end of Kalaau Place. You cannot park in the cul-de-sac at the end of the road, but you can park anywhere else along the road. This hike does get quite crowded on the weekends, so it is possible you will have to walk some distance to reach the trailhead.
Let's hike. There are actually two trail heads here, the Ridge and the Valley Trail. As many times as I've been here, I have yet to tackle the valley trail. It is supposed to be easy with a pleasant waterfall at the end. Maybe someday when I'm not trying to sweat out a hangover...
Shortly after you start, the trail takes off into the trees.
And this is terrain we will be dealing with for part one of this hike. The elevation gain is gradual, but the footing is not even. There are several roots and rocks to contend with as you progress.
As you ascend you will get periodic glimpses of the valley all the way to the leeward coast.
And then it's back to the switchbacks. Every time I do this hike, I always feel like I'm not in Hawaii. Many of the hikes out here are exposed ridges and the trails are intermittently maintained. Kuli'ou'ou is different. It's always a nice change of pace.
Say Aloha to your fellow hikers along the trail! I enjoy hiking for many reasons, but simply getting a howzit or Aloha from someone I pass instantly boosts my mood. We are all just people out here enjoying nature, so why not be friendly?
At some point the terrain changes to pine needles. It's a nice change because the path is much smoother. No need to worry about your footing (at least for now).
It also indicates that you will soon arrive at my favorite part of this hike, these massive Cook Pines. Their grand size and those unique notches lining the trunk give them some all-powerful and mystical feeling. I never thought I could have a favorite tree, but the ease I feel when being in their presence has made me change my mind.
But enough staring at the trees, we have to summit. I consider this portion the trickiest part of the hike. It's a steep ascent on tree roots. Going up isn't too challenging, but down is a different story, ESPECIALLY if it's wet. Those roots can get insanely slippery. I've seen people crawl down this entire section on their butt to avoid slipping and falling. Whatever gets you down safely.
After that tough ascent there is a conveniently placed benched for you to catch your breath and gaze out into the valley. You will need that break...
Because it's stair time! Similar to the other two Hawaii Kai Triple Crown Hikes (Wiliwilinui and Hawaii Loa), these stairs will really get your heart rate up. They aren't your typical stairs, as they are steep and spaced far apart. However, if you have ever conquered Koko Head Stairs, these shouldn't be an issue.
Speaking of Koko Head, there it is! Once you break the tree line is when the views start to get good, so make sure you turn around and soak them in.
It's also a great excuse for a break. I can just barely see Diamond Head peaking over the adjacent Ko'olau ridges.
Alright I guess we have to keep going up.
But maybe one more break before the top? The water color off the coast of Hawaii Kai is always so mesmerizing with its various shades of blue. I'm guessing it has to do with the many reefs located out there. If you're into Scuba diving, that is a great place to go.
The final push...
We made it! Good thing too because I was gassed! I decided to make this a fast paced hike, and managed to summit in about an hour. I would say it is more typical to take 1.5 to 2 hours if you go at a reasonable pace. Time for some views! It was a little cloudy, but looking left you can make out Kailua and the Mokulua Islands off Lanikai Beach. Just in front of us is the town of Waimanalo.
And looking right, we can see Rabbit Island as well as the ridgeline that leads all the way to Makapu'u, home of the famous lighthouse and the most Southern part of Oahu. On a very clear day, I'm guessing you could see the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai in the distance. Unfortunately the summer months are often cloudy on the windward side so I had no such luck.
Feeling cured of my hangover and ready to eat, I decided to make my way back down the ridge. Mahalo for the cleanse, Kuli'ou'ou. You never disappoint!
Check out my video of Hawaii Loa, Kuli'ou'ou and Wiliwilinui Ridge!
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Also Check Out:
- My writeup of Wiliwilinui Ridge
- My writeup of Hawaii Loa Ridge