PU’U KONAHUANUI PEAK HIKE – KALAWAHINE TRAIL TO K1, K2

The Pu’u Konahuanui Peak hiking trail via Kalawahine Ridge is a very adventurous, muddy ascent to the two of the highest peaks on Oahu, Hawaii. Pu’u Konahuanui, also known as K2, is among the tallest mountains on Oahu and the second tallest mountain in the mighty Ko’olau Range with an elevation of 3,150ft or 960m. The trail is pretty wild and for experienced hikers looking for a challenge. Most people do this trail as an out and back but we took it one step further by descending via the Pali Notches, which is for experienced hikers only. In this blog post, I’ll share all the photos and details about the route with you so you can take on this ridge hike with some good preparation and knowledge.

BLOG POST: You might also be interested in my experience (many years ago) hiking the Stairway to Heaven. You can check out my blog post here: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN HIKE ON OAHU, HAWAII: UPDATED 2021

OAHU HIKING GUIDE: I’ve written a guide for the top hikes on Oahu that I am sure you will find useful: TOP 10 HIKES ON OAHU, HAWAII

PU’U KONAHUANUI PEAK HIKE HIKE DETAILS

Hike Distance: The total distance of the hike is 12km out and back (return trip) if you return from K1 back the way you came. We descended from K1 on the Pali Notches, which was a shorter distance but a significantly more technical trail with a total distance of 8.6km instead of 12km.

Hike Duration: The hike to K2, K1, and back should take about four hours but if it’s slippery and/or you take a lot of photos you can expect 5+ hours on this route.

Hike Difficulty: The Pu’u Konahuanui Peak hiking trail is quite technical compared to a normal hiking route. While the path is relatively easy to follow you will encounter very uneven terrain with constant shuffling over tree roots and naturally formed clay stairs. Muddy embankments and slippery slopes require ropes at certain points to navigate. There is some basic rope climbing required but only to help you clamber up the muddy slopes. If you are in average athletic condition, reaching K1 and K2 will be an exciting and challenging route but easily achievable. Continuing on to descend via Pali Notches is only for very experienced hikers and those with solid experience scrambling and descending down steep rock faces with ropes.

Hike Incline: 650 meters incline on the hike to the third peak and back.

My Strava Map Upload: Kalawahine Trail to K1, K2 to Pali Notches

HOW TO GET TO THE PU’U KONAHUANUI PEAK HIKE TRAILHEAD

Directions from Honolulu: Head up through Makiki Heights Drive and continue up Tantalus Drive. The trailhead will be on the left. It will be adjacent to a private road, going uphill. Park in the parking area on the right just past the trailhead and you will find a small sign saying ‘Kalawahine Trail. I’ve pinned the trailhead location on the map below and the images below show the entrance to the trail.

MY EXPERIENCE ON THE PU’U KONAHUANUI PEAK HIKE – KALAWAHINE TRAIL TO K1, K2

Our journey began at the entrance to the Kalawahine Trail, just past the Tantalus Lookout in the hills looking down over Honolulu. We had caught an Uber for $22 in the early morning and got dropped at the trailhead. This gave us the flexibility to finish at an alternate spot rather than doing an out and back to return to our car.

The Kalawahine Trails is quite popular as it is the starting point for many different routes. We saw trail-runners, families, and those out for a leisurely walk. They turned off at different points but we would continue on the most adventurous route.

The trail begins by easing you in along a forest path without much incline but beautiful lush surroundings. The first couple of kilometers wind you along the path beneath the canopy on a relaxing dirt trail. This would be a great walk for those looking for a peaceful exploration into the forest.

After a couple of kilometers, the trail will reach Pauoa Flats, which is a muddy, yet flat trail through tropical forest beginning with a series of boardwalks. When you reach this spot, turn left following the boardwalk towards the Nuuanu side. This boardwalk will finish soon but the trail will lead you all the way through to your first view of the journey at the Nu’uanu Lookout. Here you can enjoy beautiful views of the Nu’uanu Reservoir, Pali Highway, and the entire windward side of Oahu.

The Nu’uanu lookout signals the conclusion of the ‘maintained’ trail. From here on out you will follow the summit trail, which begins at the right of the lookout clearing and heads up towards the peaks above. This is where the hike starts to get interesting with an overgrown, muddy, single-track route undulating along the side of the cliffs. While there are lots of points with major drop-offs and considerable exposure the track is wide enough with lots of foliage and bushes, which enables you to feel quite secure as you slowly navigate your way higher into the mountains.

I really started to enjoy this hike as the trail got more and more technical with a few ropes installed to help you ascend the muddy slopes and slippery clay walls of the trail. Again, there were no moments of dangerous exposure on this trail but there are drop-offs on either side so general caution is required and only experienced hikers should venture up this one. On a rainy day, things can get quite interesting on these slippery slopes.

The view gets better and better as you climb higher and higher up the ridge. Waikiki and Honolulu can be spotted in the distance but you feel a strong sense of separation from civilization while climbing up through the dense vegetation.

There is one major hill to ascend before the summit, which is particularly muddy and has a 50-meter rope-assisted section. I flew the drone here to give you an idea of the slope and terrain in this area.

After three hours of steady-paced walking with lots of breaks and photo opportunities, we reached the summit of Pu’u Konahuanui Peak. You’ll first reach K2 and this is the peak shown on the AllTrails map, but you actually want to continue to K1 on the left. It’s only another ten minutes of hiking and is actually four meters higher than K2. These are two of the highest points in the Koolau Mountain Range and two key points on the Koolau Summit Trail. We met a few others coming down from the summit but other than that it was a lightly trafficked trail.

It’s very common for the summit to be covered in fog as the clouds tend to gather around these peaks. Due to the fast-moving nature of the clouds if you have a bite to eat and wait it out you can usually get a glimpse of the view.

Most people will return the way they came after reaching K1 and K2 doing an ‘out-and-back route. However, we decided to challenge ourselves and try and descend via pali notches as the weather was dry and we were feeling good. I would advise almost all hikers to return to Kalawahine unless they are experienced with rock climbing or very exposed hiking.

The trail now became something quite special as we traversed down the rugged Koolau Summit Trail along the sharp ridges. Overgrown, muddy and, with many natural obstacles, we slowly made our way down the ridge towards Pali Notches. The clouds faded as we dropped down in elevation and views of the east and north-east parts of Oahu opened up to provide a beautiful vista. The wind began to pick up a lot and we often had to crouch low to keep our balance. The ever-changing conditions are just another reason you need to be very comfortable with heights for segments like these on the Koolau Summit Trail.

After about an hour of traversing the ridge towards Pali Notches, we reached the major downclimb of the rocky wall. This is normally the section you see at the end of the Pali Notches hike, but on this day it was our descent to finish the route. Coming down this rocky section requires good balance, basic rock-climbing ability, and the use of ropes. The rocks can be unstable and crumbly and the ropes are installed by others so you need to test and try not to rely on them too much. All of these factors can lead to some nervous moments as you face some serious exposure to dangerous drops. This area is notoriously windy, which can create even more stress during the down-climb. Luckily we managed to survive the wall and made it safely to the Pali Notches trail.

After reaching the regular Pali Notches trail we could breathe a sigh of relief. We just had a few small rock climbs left to tackle but nothing as exhilerating as the chimney and rock tower we had just down-climbed. It was an epic adventure but definitely only a route for those with lots of experience climbing and managing heights. The route to K1 and K2 is much more manageable for regular hikers ad as an out-and-back route is suitable for regular hikers with a sense of adventure and a willingness to get muddy.

I hope you enjoyed this guide to the Pu’u Konahuanui Peak hiking trail via Kalawahine Ridge and have good luck and good weather on your journey!

MY FOUR FAVORITE ACTIVITIES ON OAHU

Looking for some idea for activities on your rest day from hiking? These are my favorite activities on the island… especially the doors-off helicopter flight.

  • Oahu scenic helicopter flight: My number one recommendation is to do a heli-flight (doors off). You will be absolutely blown away when you see Oahu from the sky! Click to book your tour: Doors-Off Helicopter Flight Tour
  • North Shore Shark Cage Adventure: The biggest adrenaline rush you can have in Hawaii is beneath the surface with sharks! Click to book your tour: North Shore Shark Cage Experience
  • Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Half-Day Cruise: One of the best experiences I had on Oahu was swimming with the beautiful spinner dolphins. A once in a lifetime experience. Click to book your tour: Eco-Friendly Dolphin and Snorkel Tour
  • Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran: One of my favorite memories of Hawaii is floating in the water with a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. On this tour that is exactly what you will do! Click to book your tour: Turtle Canyon Snorkel Cruise by Catamaran

HAWAII HIKING PACKING LIST

Many people come unprepared for hiking on Oahu and that’s why there are so many rescues. Make sure you atleast have the basics and you will be prepared for bad weather or any mishaps on the trail. A headlamp, rainjacket and good hiking boots or shoes are the three main pieces of gear you need.

Hiking shoes – It’s best to use hiking boots with good grip and that can handle mud, rain, and tough terrain. Hiking shoes I use: Salomon Mid GTX

Rain Jacket – Never hike in Hawaii without a rain jacket, no matter how sunny it is in Honolulu. Rain Jacket I use: Arcteryx Lightweight Rain Jacket

Spare T-shirt – To change into at the top of a summit to be dry and warm as you will sweat through your original shirt while hiking: Dry fit hiking shirt I use: IceBreaker Merino Lite

Micro-spikes – You might not have used them much before but they basically slip over the top of your normal shoes giving you incredible grip, which is perfect for the slippery trails of Oahu. They will be the best purchase you make if you plan to hike a lot on Oahu. Microspikes I use: Kahtoola MICROspikes

Headlamp – So you can keep your hands free instead of holding a torch. Head Torch I use: Petzl Head Lamp 450 Lumens

My Camera Backpack: You simply won’t find a better camera backpack for hiking that my Atlas Athlete Backpack, which I’ve been using on all of my hikes all over the world for years now: Atlas Athlete Camera Backpack

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I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!

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. Luxury rooms overlooking the beach, a private lagoon and a free fireworks and dance performance show. Hilton is easily the most recognizable hotel on the Island.

Why I recommend this hotel: It has its own private lagoon. While lots of people love the beach it is perfect for families. Kids can kayak, swim and snorkel with no worries. There are no currents, waves or sea creatures to worry about. The hotel is right on Waikiki Beach so don’t worry the beach is right there also.

Sheraton Waikiki (Luxury): A luxury resort with the most amazing infinity pool on the island, which overlooks the beach. The bar and nightclub at the Sheraton is a great place to relax after a long day of island adventures.

Why I recommend this hotel: The Sheraton is always exceptional no matter the location but imagine you are leaning over the edge of an infinity pool, the ocean is below you and you turn to your left and watch Diamond Head crater in the distance. That’s where you will be at the end of each day, having a Mai Tai cocktail in your infinity pool. Later on, in the evening Rumfire is a great bar venue, which is actually part of the Sheraton. It is open to the public and is one of the best high-end venues on Oahu. It has a small dance floor but is mostly standing and seating areas for drinks, chats and good times.

Ewa Hotel Waikiki: (Value): Hotels in Waikiki can be expensive. Deciding where to stay on Oahu can be difficult if you don’t have much cash. Luckily, there is an accommodation option on the edge of Waikiki that is excellent value.

Why do I recommend this hostel/hotel: This is the perfect hotel if you want location but are willing to sacrifice a pool and some luxury items to save up to $200 per night. All of the hotels in this area are minimum $300 per night and often much more. Ewa Hotel is just one block back from the beach and is just over $150 USD. If you are like me, I never swim in the hotel pool anyway. Didn’t you come halfway across the world to swim in the beach!

Waikiki Beachside Hostel (Budget Choice): A budget alternative, which is still in an amazing location. Walking distance to Waikiki beach and a central location to base yourself for a week of adventures.

Why I recommend this hostel: Unfortunately Waikiki and Honolulu, in general, are not cheap.  You can grab a dorm room for under $35 a night within walking distance to Waikiki surf beach. This location really is great. You are near a lot of attractions and can take public transport to a lot of great east coast beaches and hikes. It is the number one hostel in Waikiki and I’m sure you will meet other adventurers to go on hikes with!

Disney Aulani Resort (Family Choice): This is a resort your kids will never forget. It honestly feels like a theme park at times with just how many pools and activities are available. If you can afford it, this is the #1 place to stay for families on Oahu.

Why I recommend this hotel: Disney Aulani Resort combines luxury accommodation with family fun. A huge lazy river/tire tube lagoon is probably the highlight of the resort although the water slides and private beach aren’t too far behind. The kids club and massage center are just among a few of the many activities included in your stay. Attend ukelele lessons, free fire-pit story-telling at night and more and more! Your kids will never be bored and the quality of entertainment and facilities is just beyond amazing.

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MORE OAHU BLOG POSTS

I lived on Oahu for two years and loved adventuring from the beaches to the mountains to the waterfalls! These are my most popular blog post and guides from the beautiful island of Oahu to help you plan your trip!

What to pack for Hawaii: THE HAWAII PACKING LIST: WHAT TO PACK AND WHY

A helpful guide to choosing accommodation: WHERE TO STAY ON OAHU: WHICH REGION IS BEST FOR YOU?

Most epic hike on Oahu: THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN OAHU, HAWAII: UPDATED 2018

The best Waterfalls: 11 AMAZING WATERFALLS ON OAHU, HAWAII

Ultimate Cliff Jumping Guide: 11 BEST CLIFF JUMPING SPOTS ON OAHU, HAWAII

Guide to Swimming with Sea Turtles: WHERE TO SEE TURTLES ON OAHU, HAWAII

My favorite experience on Oahu: AMAZING DOORS OFF HELICOPTER TOUR OF OAHU, HAWAII

The Ultimate Guide to Oahu: 80 THINGS TO DO ON OAHU – THE BUCKET LIST

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