Enjoyed the amazing view of east Oahu from the Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Everything You Need to Know

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!

Enjoying amazing ocean views while hiking the Pillbox trail

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.

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.

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.

The most popular place to park is at the end of Kaelepulu Drive in the residential neighborhood. Please be sure to park legally and follow all parking protocols before deciding to park your car.

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.

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.

Relaxing on the beach at Lanikai Beach. There are views of the Mokulua Islands in the back

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 eastside 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.

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.

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!

Mountain views and east side of Oahu views on the Pillbox hike

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!

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!

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.

This is on top of the second bunker at the Pillbox hike. We relaxed here for a while before heading down

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.

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.

Enjoying the gorgeous sunrise view on top of one of the bunkers at the pillbox hike.

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.

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.

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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