The Kuliouou Ridge Trail, situated on the southeast corner of Oahu, is a hidden gem for nature enthusiasts and hikers. It’s a moderate ridge hike that offers a taste of Hawaii’s natural splendor without being overly challenging.
To prepare for our New Zealand backpacking trip (and to break in new hiking boots), we’ve been visiting kid-friendly hiking trails around Oahu. The Kuliouou Ridge Trail is one we’ve hiked only once in the past (without kids) and had little memory of it. Truthfully, we favor the ridge hike on neighboring Hawaii Loa Ridge. However, Hawaii Loa has restricted access to local and military guests and the meager ten parking permits are usually gone by late morning. We arrived too late so adjust plans to hike the Kuliouou Ridge Trail instead and weren’t disappointed.
How to Prepare for the Kuliouou Ridge Trail
Getting There and Key Information
The trailhead starts in the back of Kuliouou Valley which lies east of Waikiki, about a 30 minute drive. Park along the street but please be aware that this is a residential area. Drive carefully, and be considerate of local residents.
The popular hike covers a 4.4-mile round trip, featuring a steady ascent to the summit ridge where you can enjoy panoramic views. In total, the hike took us 3 hours with stops for snacks an photos. Although the trail can become wet and slippery, potentially extending hike time, it’s manageable for families with some hiking experience. In fact, we high-fived younger kids, around 5 or 6 years old, near the Kuliouou Ridge Trail summit who were in good spirits.
On the Trail
The Kuliouou Ridge trail begins with a series of switchbacks through towering ironwood and guava trees. As we made our way up, the dense canopy overhead began to dance eagerly in the wind, filling the forest with ominous creaks and whispers. At this point, the kids quickened their pace, while I did my best to keep up without risking a twisted ankle. Along the way, tree roots, half-hidden under forest debris, snaked back and forth across the trail, ever-ready to grab an unsuspecting foot.
Around the halfway mark, the switchbacks gave way to a straight, steep ascent. Passing through a grove of imposing pines, we emerged into blinding daylight and were rewarded with sweeping views of neighboring ridges, Koko Head, and Hawaii Kai. The vistas only grew more spectacular from this point, but there was a challenge ahead – the stairs. With native ohia trees and birdsong providing a cheering soundtrack, we began the climb. Could that be the melodious call of an apapane?
As we ascended, the kids playfully chanted “the power of youth!” and surged ahead. I took it all in stride, one careful step after another, mindful of my aging knees. Eventually, we reached the wind-battered summit and breathed in the beauty around us. Conscious of the fading daylight, our stop was too brief and we were forced to begin our descent.
Fortunately, it’s hard to get lost on a ridge trail and this one is well marked and straightforward. Like most hikes in Hawaii, prepare for mud, sun, and a chill at the summit.
Shoes. Light hiking shoes or trail running shoes with big lugs are good for most Hawaii hikes.
Sunscreen. Although over half of the trail is under dense canopy, it can get bright and sunny as you approach the summit.
Water + Snacks. Always bring more water than you think you will need and snacks, well, they make hiking more fun.
Alltrails.com. An excellent hiking resource with great trail descriptions!
Geochaching. Kuliouou Ridge Trail is a long trail for kids. Keep them moving with some geocaching fun.
Shorter Alternatives to Kuliouou Ridge Trail
If you’re looking for a shorter, less intense hike you might want to try one of the following options as an alternative to the Kuliouou Ridge Trail –
Keiki & Plow Farm. a family run, organic farm in Hawaii Kai that offers local families a hands-on farm experience. Come play in the dirt, harvest your own produce, and enjoy reconnecting with the `Aina.
Sea Life Park. Learn about and interact with a variety of marine animals while enjoying entertaining shows and exhibits
Family photos! Let me plan a fun morning for your family so you can have a great time and take home beautiful memories. You can see examples of photo sessions around Waikiki here, here, and here.
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