Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Everything You Need to Know About Hiking This Popular Trail on Oahu

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu.

The scenery is gorgeous, with great views of the Mokolua Islands and Lanikai Beach.

While it may be easy to find information on how to get there, you’ll have a hard time finding all of the details about what you need to know before hiking this trail.

We’ve created this blog post as an ultimate guide for anyone who wants more information about hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail. Here you will learn everything from where to park, what time is best for hiking, safety tips, and much more!

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    Enjoying amazing ocean views while hiking the Pillbox trail
    Me and Cody enjoying the city and mountain views from the Lanikai Pillbox hike

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Before we begin, let’s answer some FAQs below:

    How hard is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike?

    The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is considered an easy-moderate hike. However, parts of the hike can be a bit steep, especially at the start of the trail.

    Depending on who you ask, some might rate this trail as easy and some as moderate. The first time we hiked this trail, we thought it was easy; however, the second was more on the moderate side.

    This could be because we didn’t do much hiking the first time than the second and third times. Our legs were more tired the second and third time we hiked the trail.

    Where is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike?

    The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is located in Lanikai, which is in the town of Kailua.

    How long does it take to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail?

    It typically takes hikers about 30 minutes to 1 hour each way, depending on your fitness level and how fast you hike.

    What should I wear/bring on this hike?

    We recommend wearing proper hiking gear, including hiking shoes or trail running shoes.

    Me wearing a sunhat, hiking boots and a jacket while hiking the pillbox trail
    We did this hike at sunrise so it was a little chilly when we started. However, it does get hot quickly and I had to take the jacket off. Also, I wish I had shorts on because it was hot after the sun came out.

    What is the earliest time you can start this hike?

    The Lanikai Pillbox Hike can be done as early as sunrise. We did this hike for sunrise and it was spectacular.

    What is the best time of year to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail?

    The best time of year to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail is anytime! Try to avoid going after heavy rainfall though, as it can get very slippery.

    Now that we have answered some frequently asked questions let’s dive into the article!

    You can see the east side of Oahu, Lanikai beach from the Lanikai Pillbox trail

    How to Get to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike

    There are a few ways to get there: Drive or take the bus. Driving is the most convenient and fastest way. I don’t recommend riding the bus as you will have to walk for about 37 minutes to get to the trail after you get off the bus.

    Driving: Take H-1W to HI-61 to Kailua Road in Kailua, then continue on Kailua Road and drive to Kaelepulu Drive. The drive from Waikiki should take you about 40 minutes.

    Note: There is no public parking at Lanikai Beach. The most popular place to park is at the end of Kaelepulu Drive in the residential neighborhood. Parking here is only available during the week and not open to the public on weekends.

    Please be sure to park legally and follow all parking protocols before deciding to park your car.

    Parking sign at Kaelepulu Drive on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
    Cars parked on Kaelepulu Drive at the Lanikai Pillbox hike

    Tip: If all parking spots are taken you can try parking at the neighboring Kailua Beach, but you will have to walk about 20-25 minutes to get to Lanikai Pillbox Trail. You can also park at Kailua Beach on the weekends since parking in the residential neighborhood is not allowed on weekends.

    Bus: Bus # 671 will take you to Kailua, but you will need to walk for about 37 minutes after you get off the bus. Also, you will need to make multiple bus transfers before getting on the #671, depending on where you are staying.

    How Many Trailheads are There?

    The Lanikai Pillbox Hike has two trailheads. They are both about 1.7 miles roundtrip, and they both start in a residential neighborhood.

    Don’t worry, the trails are legal, but as always respect the locals and try not to disturb them.

    1. The first trailhead is located at the end of Kaelepulu Drive This is the same parking space you will use for Lanikai Beach. Also, this is the most popular trail that everyone takes.

    2. The second trailhead is on Kamahale Street (Enchanted Lake Neighborhood). This one tends to be less busy than the other trailhead.

    Cody walking to our car right at Kaelepulu Drive  after hiking the pillbox trail

    This article will reference the Kaelepulu Drive starting point, as this is the one most visitors use and is the same one we used multiple times ourselves.

    The History of Lanikai Pillbox

    Some people may be wondering why they should hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail.

    This is a significant historic landmark that offers panoramic views of beautiful beaches and mountains.

    The pillboxes were built in 1943 by the U.S military during World War II.

    Even though the two structure units at the top are commonly known as the Lanikai Pillboxes, they were not equipped with defensive weapons.

    The pillboxes were meant to be lookout stations for spotting enemy ships, so they mainly functioned as coast artillery observation stations.

    After WWII, the military sold the ridge to a private owner, but it was later resold at least once to private individuals until sometime in the 1980s. The state then acquired the land, and it has been open to the public ever since.

    Lanikai Pillbox: Important Information

    Trail Name: The trail is officially known as Kaiwa Ridge Trail, but most people call it the Lanikai Pillbox Trail.

    Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

    Distance: 1.7 miles

    Elevation Gain: 649 ft

    Route Type: Out & Back

    Highlights of the Trail: Views of Lanikai and Kailua Beaches, Mokolua Islands, and the east side of Oahu.

    This is the first bunker on the Pillbox hike. From here you can see Lanikai Beach and the east side of Oahu

    Lanikai Pillbox: Parking Information

    Parking at the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is tricky and hard to find depending on the time of day you get there.

    If you are taking the most popular trailhead you will need to park on Kaelepulu Drive. There is limited free street parking here and it fills up quickly.

    As mentioned before this parking is in a residential neighborhood, so be respectful of the locals and do not block driveways or park in front of fire hydrants. Please be sure to follow all parking regulations.

    If you decide to go for sunrise keep in mind that some residents might still be sleeping, so please try to be as quiet as possible.

    I will be the first to admit that on our first-ever trip to Lanikai Beach we got ourselves a parking ticket (even though we got there super early for sunrise with multiple parking spaces available). We got the ticket because we parked facing the wrong side of traffic.

    Below are some Hawaii parking protocols that you can follow to prepare you before heading there:

    Hawaii Parking Rules Brochure

    Hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

    The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is an easy-moderate hike located on the windward side of Oahu. The trail can be completed by anyone in decent physical condition.

    It’s an excellent hike for the whole family and will take you about 60-90 minutes (round trip) depending on how fast you hike.

    This is where the trail starts if you park at Kaelepulu Drive

    The trail starts very steep but then levels out as you make your way up. There are ropes at the beginning of the trail to help you hike the steep hills.

    The steep part at the start of the Lanikail Pillbox trail

    Many people consider this trail to be moderate due to the steep start, but I have seen young children and adults do this hike multiple times. You just have to make it through the steep start!

    The steep section at Lanikai Pillbox trail
    Man hiking up the steep rocky section on the Lanikai Pillbox Trail
    This section was steep and rocky we used hands to climb up
    Me climbing down the steep rocky part of Lanikai Pillbox trail using my hands

    More About The Trail

    The trail is only 0.8 miles one way, so it’s not bad at all. Just take your time and pace yourself. Feel free to take as many breaks as possible while enjoying the gorgeous views all around you. Remember, it’s not a race!

    Me taking a breath after hiking the steep part of Lanikai Pillbox trail
    I had to switch to my rashguard on the way back down as it got extremely hot. Make sure to add sunscreen or a rashguard to your Hawaii packing list.

    The trails are not well maintained, but they are relatively clean and easy to navigate partly because of the number of people who hike here.

    As mentioned before, this is one of the most popular hikes in Oahu.

    About halfway up you will see an amazing view of Lanikai Beach. This is one of the best views on Oahu, so make sure to stop for some pictures!

    View of Lanikai Beach and the city of Honolulu from the Lanikai Pillbox hike
    View of Lanikai Beach from the pillbox hike

    As you hike up you will be rewarded with gorgeous views everywhere you turn. The views along the hike are absolutely stunning and get better and better as you go.

    After hiking for about 35 minutes you should reach the first pillbox. From here, you can see Kailua Beach, Lanikai Beach, and the Mokolua Islands.

    The first pillbox is the most popular one and is where many people stop to take photos. Over the years this has become a popular Instagram photo opp location.

    I can’t blame all the people who come to take famous shots though, as the views are incredible.

    The second pillbox is about a 5-10 minute walk from the first one and has some fantastic views as well. This pillbox is less crowded than the first, but it is definitely worth checking out.

    Cody hiking to the second pillbox on the Lanikai pillbox trail

    Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Sunrise

    If you’re looking to catch one of the best sunrises in Oahu, then the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is where you need to go.

    Sunrise is my favorite time to hike the trail because it’s less crowded, parking is easy to find, and it’s so peaceful during the early morning hours.

    Gorgeous sunrise at the Lanikai pillbox with a view of Lanikai beach and the Mokulua islands

    Be sure to bring a headlamp and a jacket, as it’s dark when you start the hike and it can be pretty windy on the pillboxes in the early morning hours. 

    Also, don’t forget your camera as the views are going to be spectacular.

    See also: Hawaii Packing List for Your Family in 2022: Things Not to Forget

    Below are some tips to help you have a fantastic experience while watching the sunrise at the Lanikai Pillboxes:

    Get there early: Give yourself enough time to get to the bunker and catch the sunrise. You don’t want to be running and rushing through it because you got there late. Make sure to check what time the sun rises before heading out.

    Pick a clear day: Make sure that you pick a clear day, as there will be no views of the sunrise on partly cloudy or rainy days.

    Pack snacks and drinks: I always bring snacks and/or food when I hike. And of course, we got coffee for this hike because why not?!

    You will most likely be waiting in the dark for the sun to rise, so bring something that will keep you occupied.

    For us, it was enjoying our morning coffee while waiting for the sun to come out.

    Tips For Hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

    Try to get there early: As mentioned before, this is a popular hike and you may find yourself driving around looking for parking. Getting there before the big crowds come in will help secure a parking space.

    Bring plenty of water: Make sure to stay hydrated during the hike.

    Wear good shoes: The trails are not well maintained, so it’s important to wear shoes with good traction.

    Avoid hiking after heavy rainfall: The trail can get very slippery after heavy rain. Check the weather forecast before heading out.

    Bring a hat and wear sunscreen: If hiking in the afternoon, the trail is mostly not shaded so you will be hiking in the sun. You can also wear a snorkeling rashguard as an alternative to sunscreen.

    Park your car legally: Sometimes people tend to park in no-parking areas, so be sure not to do this or you will risk getting ticketed.

    Be respectful: Please remember that this is a local neighborhood area and there are people that live around here, so please be respectful of their homes.

    Clean up after yourself: Make sure to clean up after yourself (pack in, pack out) and don’t litter. We all must do our part in keeping this place beautiful.

    Similar Hiking Trails

    Diamond Head Hike: This is an iconic hike on Oahu and is a great option if you’re looking for an easy hike close to Honolulu/Waikiki.

    Koko Head Trail: This is a difficult hike that offers some great views of Honolulu, Diamond Head, Sandy Beach, and Hanauma Bay.

    Makapu’u Lighthouse: This hike is paved all the way and perfect for families. The sunsets here are spectacular as well.

    Additional Things to Do After the Hike

    Lanikai Beach: This is a beautiful white sand beach perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and kayaking. Lanikai Beach shares the same parking as the hike, so you can walk on over after hiking the trail.

    Kailua Beach: This is another beautiful white sand beach that’s known for its excellent swimming, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and kayaking. You can kayak to Flat Island or the Mokolua Islands from Kailua Beach.

    Visit Kailua Town: After the beach, you can head to Kailua town and explore the cute shops and restaurants.

    Lanikai Brewing Company: This place is perfect for those who love beer and food. They also have fantastic pizza. The atmosphere here is very laid back and great for taking a load off.

    Stop by the Halona Beach Cove: Don’t miss out on this wonderful beach in Oahu.

    See Also: 15 Best Beaches in Oahu You Should Visit

    The Wrap Up

    The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a great way to enjoy the beauty of O’ahu. It’s easy to see why it has become such an iconic landmark on Oahu. 

    If you want an easy to moderate hike with stunning views of the beach and Mokolua Islands, this is just what you’re looking for!

    Mahalo for reading and happy hiking in Hawaii!

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