The Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trail: hiking on the Oahu ridges
The Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trail is a popular and pleasant hike in Oahu that takes you gently up to the Kuli'ou'ou ridge from where you can admire a beautiful panorama of the area around Waimanolo in the northeast of the island.
The difficulty of the hike is medium with a relatively easy first ascent, followed by a steeper climb that ends with a series of steps.
We really enjoyed doing this hike in the early morning as Honolulu was waking up at the crack of dawn. So here are all the indications to hike the Kuli'ou'ou ridge trail, without forgetting our practical advices.
1The Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trail itinerary
The trail starts at the very end of Kalaau Place. It starts by crossing a lush forest and climbs gently in the shade of the trees, making some very wide laces. The ascent is easy as the trail climbs gently and steadily.
After about 30 minutes of climbing, the rainforest turns into a pine forest. The trail is then covered with a thick carpet of pine needles that will not leave us for a while.
At this point, the trail continues to climb quietly and we begin to realize that the beginning of the ridge is not far above us. After about an hour's walk, we then enter a darker forest, where the pines are getting closer before reaching a shady picnic area with two tables that can be used for resting. This place marks the end of the 'easy' ascent, and thus the beginning of the final climb which will be steeper.
We now climb up into a forest of pines and big trees. The trail climbs between roots that help us to climb some steep sections, forming natural steps sometimes buried under the pine needles.
It is finally after 20 minutes from the picnic shelter, a total of 1h20 of walking, that we get out of the vegetation. We have reached the steep part of the ridge on which we will advance for another 500m to the final point of view.
The vegetation is spreading out to offer us the first views which are superb! We thus discover the whole area near the Koko Crater with its lagoon. We also guess very well Diamond Head in the distance. Personally these are the views that we preferred.
Pretty flowering plants line the path along the ridge, which soon turns into a very muddy path.
Soon we will be in sight of the hundred or so steps on the metal ledge that will take us to the top.
This last part is at the same time the most painful because of the mud but also the most beautiful with the panorama that accompanies us.
Be careful not to slip. The stairs can be very "jaw-dropping" especially if it has rained previously. Finally, young children may be in difficulty here because the height of some steps is important, you will have to help them in the last meters of the ascent.
Finally, after 1h40 of effort we reach the summit. The panorama embraces all the coast from Waimanalo Beach to Lanikai but we will regret not to have a view on Diamond Head at this place, the panorama opening only about 180° which makes that the final point of view is not really the highlight of the show even if it remains impressive.
After enjoying the panorama, the return journey is by the same route.
Contrary to the ascent, the return trip seemed really long and monotonous, especially during the last part in the undergrowth before arriving at the car park, which seemed to be endless.
In the end it took us almost 3 hours to make the return trip with a total of 500m of difference in altitude.
2How to access the Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trail
The trail starts at the very end of Kalaau Place, which ends in a dead-end street in the Kuliʻouʻou neighborhood southeast of Oahu.
There is no public parking lot at the end of the road or near the trail. You will therefore have to find a place to park in the residential area by finding a spot in front of one of the houses, taking care not to disturb the residents (garage access, mailboxes and garbage cans).
We advise you to go there at the beginning or end of the day so that you can park there easily. On busy days the street is crowded and it is not uncommon to have to park much further away and therefore have to climb several hundred metres to reach the start of the hike.
3Our tips for a successful Kuli'ou'ou Ridge trail hike
Like many hikes in Oahu, the Kuli'ou'ou'Ridge trail is very popular and therefore very crowded.
We took the gamble of getting up there very early in the morning (we started at 6:50 am) and it was a great experience! We were almost alone during the whole ascent (from 6:50 am until about 8:30 am). But once on the descent, we came across hordes of hikers who were almost in a continuous flow in the lower part of the climb, which became really painful!
All in all I think we passed no less than a hundred people going up as we were going down! So it must have been the traffic jam on the stairs near the top!
Another thing to know is that, this hike being located on the ridges of the center of the island, you will certainly find clouds that tend to accumulate on the summits as the day goes by. To take advantage of the beautiful views it is therefore imperative to come here on a clear day and very early, otherwise you may get fog on the summit, which will be a real shame.
However, if the fog comes in, be patient because the clouds can, as we have seen, quickly give way to a clear view in case of anticyclonic conditions. Indeed, in this particular case, the clouds tend to catch the ridge but can disappear in a flash with a gust of wind!
One last thing: if you want to enjoy the beautiful colours of the Oahu reef, you will have to go to the top between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, because before and after, the low light of the sun will not highlight the water which will not be of its beautiful turquoise colour.
You will therefore understand that it will be complicated to find the ideal niche! So you will have the choice between:
- Come very early in the morning if you prefer not to have people on the trail, be able to park easily, hike in the cool and maximize your chances of not having clouds at the top. In return you will not have the beautiful blue ocean colors on your photos.
- Come later in the day if you want to enjoy the view at the summit, but you will have to choose a day of high pressure, otherwise the clouds will spoil the view. Also expect to be warm on the climb and to meet more people as you progress. The flip side of the coin is that the part towards Waimanolo is likely to be dark.