Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail is in my list of Top 3 hikes in Hawaii. For me, nothing beats Koko Head, but if I’m out for a little bit of a longer hike with a good workout and great views, Kuli’ou’ou Ridge is it. My other favorite hike is the Lanikai Pillbox Trail.
For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the trail, depending on your pace, you are actually walking on two different trails – the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail and the less popular Kuli’ou’ou Valley Trail. Then the trails split off; the ridge goes up to the right and the valley goes down to the left. I have walked both trails, but definitely prefer the ridge side.
The valley trail is nice, but the trail is poorly marked and can be confusing. There were several times I wasn’t sure if the trail was over or not because it took awhile to find the next marking, which was sometimes up and around the other side of a large boulder and impossible to see. I still recommend checking out the valley side, just to know what it’s like, but the ridge side is a lot more beautiful.
There are several roots along the trail going up the ridge side, which has around a 2,000 ft elevation. The trail winds back and forth up the mountain with several hairpin turns and gorgeous wooded scenery everywhere.
My favorite section of the trail is when you first enter the area of the pine needle blanket completely covering everything you see. It is absolutely gorgeous and just feels so surreal. This section of trail goes on for some time, but eventually it flattens out to a wide open area that makes you want to have a picnic.
Eventually you will ascend a couple, steep, heavily rooted areas that can be a little slippery if it’s wet out. The roots are a good sign, as you should be almost 2/3 of the way done once you get passed them. The first rooted area isn’t that bad, but the second one is significantly more steep and longer. Don’t worry, soon after these sections there is a bench you can stop and rest at and enjoy a little view of the valley down below before you push on to the ridge.
The ridge section begins with a nice, decently inclined path that soon turns into staircase after staircase of up, up, and more up. I tried counting them once, and got to about 384 but I messed up at the end so it could be plus or minus about 15 stairs.
Once you climb the last staircase and get a peek of the view, you’ll know the entire hike was worth it. From the top of Kuli’ou’ou Ridge, you can see a good portion of the eastern shoreline – including all the way out to the Lanikai Pillboxes and Olomana Trail (Three peaks).
Elevation: 2,000 ft
Length of hike: The trail is about 5 miles in length, round-trip. It takes about 3 hours to complete.
Best time to go: Any time of day is fine. The trail is shaded for almost the entire time.
Worst time to go: There isn’t really one, but some sections are pretty slippery if it has just rained.