As the orange sun peeks over the horizon, the darkened Koolau Mountain range slowly takes shape, the sun highlighting the detailed vertical ridgelines. The dirt trail curves in front of you, beckoning you forward. A hike on the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail is great for sweeping views of Oahu’s east coast. Hiked at sunrise, you will be treated to an array of soft colors across the mountains and sky.
The Wiliwilinui Trail is located to the left of the popular Koko Crater, and is part of three mountain ridges: Kuliouou, Hawaii Loa and Wiliwilinui. While the beginning of the trail is a paved road originally built by the Army in 1941 as a service road, the pavement quickly gives way to a wide dirt road. The roadside will be dotted with both introduced and indigenous plants, such as red ohia, lehua flowers, uluhe ferns and koa trees.
After about an hour of walking, you’ll reach a clearing. You might want to rest up here, because the real challenge is up ahead – more than ten sets of endless stairs leading you up to 1,600 feet of elevation. While the stairs don’t provide for the most natural hiking experience, they do help you ascend the steep terrain and protect the path against erosion. When your climbing has (finally) come to end, you’ll reach a communications tower. Five minutes beyond that is your final destination – a lone bench on which to sit and soak in the panoramic views of Waikiki, Honolulu, Waimanalo and Konahuanui, the highest peak in the Koolau Mountain range.
Be sure to choose a clear-forecast day if you want to avoid having a view of nothing but clouds. Have a snack and enjoy the unimpeded views before retracing your steps back to the starting point. Experienced and adventurous hikers may consider continuing on toward Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail (by turning right at the summit) or Lanipo Trail (by turning left at the summit). The Wiliwilinui Trail is a 4.5 mile out and back trail.
From Honolulu, head toward Hawaii Kai on the H-1, which eventually becomes Kalanianaole Highway. Turn left on Laukahi Street, just past Kalani High School. Follow this road to the guard station at the entrance of Waialae Iki subdivision, a gated community. The guard will take down your license number and give you a parking pass. There are a limited number of passes given daily. The trailhead is on Okoa Street within the gated community.
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