Also Known As:Kaiwi Ridge Trail
Distance: .77 miles (1239 meters)
Elevation Gain: 504 feet (154 meters)
Route Type: In-And-Out
Terrain: rocky, hills, slopes
Hours: 6:00 am - 7:00 pm
Completion Time: 1 - 2 hours
Difficulty: 3 / 5
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu! Not only is the area, Kailua, very popular with Japanese tourists, but there are many young tourists coming here to get a glimpse of the ridiculous view and take Instagram selfies (examples here). This hike is the best “value” hike — you hike a short period, but you get an amazing view. Also nice is that this hike is almost never muddy, since there is no forest canopy (bring sunscreen).
Getting to the hike is the same method you would use to go into Kailua town. If you’re driving from Honolulu, you will likely take the Pali Highway. You can also use the Likelike Highway, which goes to a neighborhood area in the Windward side called “Kaneohe.” Once you get into Kailua town (you’ll start to see lots of people, a car dealership, and a river/marsh you pass over, you will then be close. You can continue straight, until you hit the end, and then turn right. If you are coming from West Oahu, you can consider taking the H3 Freeway, which will be much faster as the speed limit is higher (65 miles per hour, I think) and it is meant to go from the central area to the Windward side.
If you catch the bus, this trip will take a bit longer because of the transfers involved and because the Lanikai bus only runs once an hour.
If you use the bus, the best way is to get on the 56 or 57. They both start at Ala Moana Shopping Center. The 56 goes to Kailua town, then Kaneohe, while the 57 goes into Kailua town, then an area of Kailua called Enchanted Lake. You want to hop off either one once you reach Kailua town. From there, you catch the 70 Bus, which is a small bus running once an hour from about 6am to 7pm (see the schedule).
You can try finding parking in the Lanikai residential areas, but your best bet is to try parking at Kailua Beach, then walking an extra ~10 minutes to the hiking spot. Be aware that because it is a single road in and out of Lanikai and because the hike is popular, you may have an awful time finding parking on weekends and holidays. Many holidays also do not allow Lanikai residential area parking, because of major congestion issues residents faced. One Labor Day Monday, I tried to get to Kailua Beach, and had to turn around and park in a residential area because of all the traffic. If you park in residential areas, you use the easement rule, which uses the area between a homeowner’s fence and the edge of the road (see easement article).
Walking to the Hike
If you park at Kailua Beach, then you can walk along the road, with a view of the ocean on your left!
After a couple of minutes, you will see this fork — go right. Walk straight and then turn right on Kaelepulu Drive.
Keep walking — you’ll see a Mid Pacific golf course on your right. You’ll see a left turn ahead of some gates — take it.
There are no official signs marking the entrance — you’ll just see a bunch of random, fan-made signs, like this silly one below:
The hike itself is short, but not easy. I rate it a 3 / 5. It requires a lot of concentration and you need to look ahead, because there are many paths up, and none of them are easily marked. You can get lost if you don’t look where you’re going, like I did once :).
A Local's Advice
In-And-Out vs One-Way
There are actually 2 ways to hike this trail. The first is what most people do and what this guide is written for: in-and-out. This stops at the second pillbox and then goes back. The second way is to go fully through the ridge trail and you exit in a different part of Kailua, called Enchanted Lake.
Stop at the 2nd pillbox = .77 miles
Go all the way and go back = 2.3 miles
Here are some pictures of the terrain:
For me, this hike is fun because of all the micro-decisions you make along the way for footing. Others might find it difficult. On this day, the area was a bit rainy the day before, but aside from the beginning, which was slightly soft mud, the rest of the hike was perfect!
A Local's Advice
I recommend you use the many branches along the early part! They will allow your hands to give you a sense of security and you can pull going up. Going down, you can grab the branches to slow your descent.
Once you reach the 1st pillbox, you will be greeted with some tasteful graffiti:
Wait your turn to try and take a picture. You can take it on the pillbox top, or there is a ridge that you can go on as well. Unfortunately, since the repairs in 2018, they sealed the inside of the pillbox, so you cannot go inside anymore. The best way to go up the 1st pillbox is to go on the back side, which is lower, and climb onto the ridge. I like to use the BACK-LIFT method: turn your back to it, put your hands down, then push off and jump off your feet to get your butt up.
You can continue walking along the ridge to get to the second pillbox. It is another pillbox. To get up, they put a wood plank down… It seems flimsy, so I just used my BACK-LIFT method instead.
From here, you can continue walking along the ridge for about a mile more to go into a different park of Kailua, but there are no more pillboxes. Or, you can simply enjoy your view!
There isn’t anywhere to eat in Lanikai. Near Kailua Beach, there is a grocery store. There is also a small strip mall near there where you can buy shave ice. I would recommend you go back into Kailua town (see photo above), where they have lots of things to eat, such as :
- Whole Foods
- Maui Tacos
- Big City Diner
- California Pizza Kitchen