Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Is This The Best Hike on Oahu?
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is one of Oahu’s most stunning trails, offering spectacular views of the Kailua-Lanikai coastline. This relatively short hike takes you to two old army bunkers, also known as “Lanikai Pillboxes,” which lay atop Ka’iwa Ridge.
Officially known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, the Pillbox Hike is a popular spot for locals and visitors.
If you plan to hike to the Lanikai Pillboxes, but you are not sure what to expect, we’ve got you covered. We have hiked this trail multiple times and can assure you that it is an unforgettable experience.
We 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, the best time for hiking, safety tips, lots of trail photos, and much more!
Is the Lanikai Pillbox the Best Hike in Oahu?
There are so many great hikes in Oahu! However, The Pillbox Hike stands out for its stunning views and relatively short distance. It’s an excellent option for those short on time but still wanting to experience the beauty of Oahu and its fantastic hiking trails.
In our opinion, the Lanikai Pillbox is the best hike on the island and one of the most beautiful hikes in Hawaii. So if you’re looking for a stunning trail with breathtaking views, this hike is for you!
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Important Information
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.
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. We don’t recommend riding the bus as you will have to walk for about 37 minutes to get to the Pillbox Trail after getting 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.
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 #671, depending on where you are staying.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Parking Information
Parking at the Lanikai Pillboxes 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.
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.
We will be the first to admit that on our first-ever trip to Lanikai Pillboxes, 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 before heading there: Hawaii Parking Rules Brochure
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.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Map
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.
- 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.
- The second trailhead is on Kamahale Street (Enchanted Lake Neighborhood). This one tends to be less busy than the other trailhead.
This article will reference the Kaelepulu Drive starting point, as this is the one most visitors use and is the same one we have taken multiple times ourselves.
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 Start of the Pillbox 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!
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.
The Last Part of the Pillbox Trail
About halfway up, you will start seeing spectacular views of Lanikai Beach. This is one of the best views on Oahu, so make sure to stop for some pictures!
This part of the trail has some steep sections, but nothing too bad compared to other trails in Oahu. Again, pace yourself, and you should be good.
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.
As you get close to the first pillbox, there is another steep section that can be difficult, so be sure to take your time and watch your footing.
The First Pillbox
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
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.
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
Tips for Hiking The Lanikai Pillboxes
Below are some tips to help you have a fantastic experience while hiking to the Lanikai Pillboxes:
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.
Pick a clear day: Pick a clear day: If you plan to watch the sunrise at the pillboxes, make sure that you pick a clear day, as there will be no sunrise views 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.
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.
Our Different Experiences Hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail
We have hiked to the Lanikai Pillboxes several times, and each time was a unique experience. Depending on the weather, time of day, or even who we were hiking with, our experiences varied significantly.
After doing this trail multiple times, we prefer hiking early for sunrise or late afternoon. In our experience, these times have been less crowded, making the experience a little more intimate.
Most recently, we started this trail on a windy day around 4 pm, and we only saw five other people. We enjoyed sitting atop the pillbox for about 30 minutes before another couple showed up.
Interestingly, hiking during sunrise or late afternoon gives you a good chance to catch some extra wind which helps ward off the heat and humidity.
The trail will likely be crowded between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. If you want to avoid the biggest crowds, try to go early or late.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 as the second and third times. Our legs were more tired the second and third times 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 the Pillbox Hike?
We recommend wearing proper hiking gear, including hiking shoes or trail running shoes.
What Is the Earliest Time You Can Start the Pillbox 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?
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.
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.
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 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!
So what are you waiting for – lace up your shoes and hit this stunning trail!
Mahalo for reading, and happy hiking in Hawaii!
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