The Kuliouou Ridge Trail has always been my favorite sunrise hike on Oahu. It’s just a short drive from town but the trail quickly leaves civilization behind as you climb 500m of incline to reach the sunrise viewpoint. After clambering up the stairs and weaving through the dense forest, you will be rewarded with views of Lanikai and the east coast while also enjoying a clear sight all the way back to Diamond Head Crater.
KULIOUOU RIDGE TRAIL
In this blog post, I will share with you all of the details you need to know about the Kuliouou Ridge Trail. You can expect information such as distance, incline, difficulty, where to park, how to get there, and some photos to convince you that this is one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu.
KULIOUOU RIDGE TRAIL DETAILS
- Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 4.7 miles or 7.5km
- Hike Duration: The hike will take you about 2.5 hours up and down
- Hike Incline: Total incline for the hike was 1650ft or 502 meters
- Hike Difficulty: The only major difficulty of the hike is the incline you will encounter on the stairs. There are no major dangers on this hike and the trail is clear and marked the whole way. Compared to many of the intense and wild hikes on Oahu, this is one for fit families and most levels of fitness.
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- Doors-Off Oahu Helicopter Flight Tour: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off) and be blown away when you see Oahu from the air.
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HOW TO GET TO THE KULIOUOU RIDGE TRAIL
To reach the trailhead for the Kuliouou Ridge Trail, it’s just a 20-minute drive from Waikiki. It’s close enough that an Uber wouldn’t be that expensive if you were on the island without a car. The trailhead begins at the end of a dead-end street in a neighborhood road. Please be as quiet as possible when you leave your car because these residents get a bit frustrated with loud groups congregated near their houses and front yards. It’s relatively easy to find parking for the Kuliouou Ridge Trail but on weekends and during peak season, you may need to park down the hill or in nearby streets as it is a popular hike.
I’ve added the map below, which has a pin location for the trailhead so you know where to go.
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BEST TIME TO HIKE THE KULIOUOU RIDGE TRAIL
The Kuliouou Ridge can be hiked at any time of day but this one is a great trail for a sunrise adventure. It’s relatively short so you can reach the summit in about an hour and the views look out towards the east where the sun will rise. It has a beautiful plateau viewpoint at the top with views out over Lanikai Beach, Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail, and the Tom-Tom Trail. Just start the hike an hour before sunrise and enjoy a great adventure.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING THE KULIOUOU RIDGE TRAIL
I’ve been up the Kuliouou Ridge Trail more than a couple of times and it never disappoints. It’s not only a great viewpoint at the top but a challenging workout. The trail begins at the end of the dead-end street in the neighborhood. Here you quickly leave behind the suburbs and delve into the thick forest while following the winding path of switchbacks up to the ridgeline.
If you are heading out for a sunrise hike, you will want a head torch or at least a phone light for this first section as you will be under dense tree cover. A series of switchbacks allow you to ease into the incline as you pass by the beautiful forest of Cook Pines.
The path is one of the more well-maintained trails on the island with lots of small reforestation projects visible alongside the trail. It helps if you don’t take any shortcuts up the switchbacks and keep to the designated path to allow the plants to grow as intended.
While the first couple of kilometers on the trail are great, it’s the last half of the hike that I really enjoy. It’s during the last couple of kilometers during the ascent that you start to emerge onto the ridge. Slowly the tree cover starts to thin and you catch glimpses of the sunrise glow or views of civilization behind you. It’s at this point you may begin to panic that you have left your run too late if the sun is already rising. Time to push on!
HAWAII HIKING PACKING LIST
Many people come unprepared for hiking on Oahu and that’s why there are so many rescues. Make sure you at least have the basics and you will be prepared for bad weather or any mishaps on the trail. A headlamp, rain jacket, and good hiking boots or shoes are the three main pieces of gear you need. Below are my four Hawaii hiking essentials.
- Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
- Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
- Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.
The absolute best part of the Kuliouou Ridge Trail is the series of stairs that lead you up the final sections of the ridge. Without the stairs, this muddy ridge would almost be impassable. With trees and wildflowers lining the sides of the path, the steep staircase beckons you to push through to reach the viewpoint. The stairs seem to go on forever, continuing with another set around each corner.
After three and a half kilometers, you will reach the last stair and arrive at the plateau viewpoint. A pocket of red, dusty rock makes the perfect perch to wait for the sun to rise in the east. You’ll have sweeping views all the way from Laie to Makapu’u on one side of the mountain. Turning around to face the ridge you just climbed, Diamond Head Crater and Koko Head Crater will catch your eye on the south side.
There are a few smaller perches that make for great photo spots but the gravel is slippery and there are drop-offs so if you do venture away from the safety of the plateau, take care.
Most people will head back down the same way they hiked up to make it an out-and-back route. However, you can continue to loop around and visit P’u’ukona viewpoint along the way before descending down the adjacent ridge. This is known as the Kuliouou Ridge Loop Trail. It also ends you back at your parking lot and works out to be the same distance but an extra 200m of elevation. It is a little trickier with some ridgeline action but nothing too dramatic.
Either way, both routes are about 7.5km and will land you back at your car after about 2-3 hours of hiking action. I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Kuliouou Ridge Trail and have a great hike.
WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort (Overall Favorite): In the heart of Waikiki, this high-end resort is right on the beach with a private lagoon.
- Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach.
- Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD.
- Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location.
- Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like you are living in a theme park.
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