Distance: 2 miles | Time: 10 – 30 minutes | Level: Easy – Moderate
Hiking Crouching Lion is one of the most sought after adventures on O’ahu. The hike is easily accessible, quick, and leads to views many only ever see in travel magazines — making it a shoo-in as one of the must-do hikes on O’ahu.
Whether you live on the island or you’re just passing through, hiking Crouching Lion should be at the top of your bucket list. We’ve lived on the island for three years and still cannot pass through Ka’aawa without making an unexpected stop to scramble to the top. The panoramic view is unbeatable.
While the trail itself isn’t among the most epic of hiking trails, it undoubtedly leads to one of the best views on O’ahu. In this guide, I will highlight what to expect, how to find the trail entrance, best times to be on the trail, and bonus adventures to experience near the hike.
Know before you go: While the Crouching Lion trail is frequently hiked by locals and tourists alike, the hike is technically illegal and can result in fines. Hike at your own risk.
Hiking the Crouching Lion Trail on O’ahu, Hawai’i
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What to Expect Hiking Crouching Lion on O’ahu, Hawai’i
The Crouching Lion trail wastes no time before putting you to work. From the moment you start, to the moment you reach the iconic lookout, every step you take will be uphill.
Luckily, the hiking ascent is quick and can be completed in anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes depending on your pace and physical shape. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes with good tread, as the trail is primarily loose dirt.
Prepare to spend much of the hike slipping and grasping for trunks, roots, and low hanging branches to help stabilize yourself. While the hike can feel more like an uncoordinated scramble at times, the trail itself is not unsafe and does not present any life-threatening sections.
Once you reach the top, the extent to which you explore and push your adventurous limits is up to you.
Due to the briefness and accessibility of this summit, expect crowds on the trail. Not Diamond Head-level crowds, but constant trail traffic nonetheless. The last time we hiked Crouching Lion we encountered upwards of 30 hikers. Children and dogs are not unusual to see on this hike. However, use your own discretion when considering who (or what) to bring on the trail.
The first incredible viewpoint is about 5-10 minutes in. If, while tediously ascending, you find yourself contemplating why you willingly chose to do this hike, rest assured knowing that an epic lookout is near. Trust me, it is worth it (and will be over before you know it).
Keep in mind that regardless of what month you’re visiting Hawai’i or planning to do this hike it will be hot. Several parts of the ascent are shaded. However, the mountain blocks most of the wind going up and once you reach the first viewpoint the canopy begins to thin and eventually disappears all together. Get ready to get your sweat on.
Luckily, the breathtaking views from the top make up for it and strong gusts of wind will be waiting there to greet you. Once you reach the first clearing at the top you’ll come to a split. If you go left the trail will take you to the iconic lookout over Kahana Bay. If you go right the trail will continue upwards to several other viewpoint platforms. The views are incredible in all directions, you can’t go wrong.
Finding the Crouching Lion Trail Entrance
Coming from Waikiki, the drive takes about one hour if taking either Highway 61 or 63. However, I recommend taking the scenic route and following the 72 down the south coast before connecting to the 83 and continuing the trip north. While this route will add about 30-45 minutes to your drive it’s worth it. This road trip around the island is an adventure worth experiencing in itself.
When looking for trail locations (and all other trail-related inquiries) we use AllTrails. The AllTrails app is a great way to check for trail closures, level of difficulty, and recent reviews. Always plan ahead.
Note that when using Google Maps to find the Crouching Lion trail entrance from Waikiki, the map will instruct you to prematurely turn left into a driveway. Do not do this. Continue driving around the bend until you’re forced to make a 90 degree turn.
At this point, Kahana Bay will be on your right and the mountains will be on your left. Continue driving a bit further until you see a dirt parking lot on the right. Park here to access the hike entrance. If you come upon Kahana Campground, you’ve gone too far.
As with all hikes on O’ahu, do not leave any valuables in your car.
To locate the entrance, you will need to carefully cross the road (opposite of the parking lot) and continue walking in the direction you came. With the forest now on your right you will begin seeing “Area Closed” and “Hazardous Cliff” signs.
Unfortunately, those signs mean you are in the right place. Keep an eye out for any dirt path leading into the woods. There will be more than one but they all meet up just a short distance in. Once you find a path into the woods, follow it to the summit.
Best Time to Hike Crouching Lion
With its prime location on the east side of the island, choosing to hike Crouching Lion for sunrise is a no brainer. From the top, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the sun making its first appearance on the horizon. It doesn’t get any more magical than watching the sun make its debut over the ocean.
Apart from the epic sunrise, there are other incentives to getting an early start: fewer hikers, cooler temperatures, calmer winds, less traffic, and more parking. When coming from Honolulu, the road narrows to two lanes after Kaneohe and increasingly becomes more congested as the day goes on. With limited parking spots available near the trailhead, parking can also become an issue later in the day.
When planning any early morning hike, make sure to check the weather report the night before and morning of. Due to the steepness of the trail and exposed summit, this is not a hike to attempt in poor weather conditions. Sharp wind gusts at the top of any hike on the island are no joke and can be unpredictable.
Please use caution (and common sense) when attempting this hike on a rainy or windy day. We rely on Windy to stay in the know before heading out for a hike.
Other Activities Near Crouching Lion
Unfortunately, Crouching Lion is not located in the most convenient of locations. If you’re making the trip around the island for the hike, you might as well make a day of it. Near the trail you’ll find several other attractions and adventures waiting to be had.
The most notable of attractions being Kualoa Ranch is located just 10 minutes from Crouching Lion. Kualoa Ranch is famous for its many movie and television appearances, such as Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, Jumanji, Lost, and many others. The ranch offers a variety of tours for all ages via ATV, horseback and/or Ebike.
A reserved, guided tour is the only way to access the valley.
In this same area you will also find Mokoli’i island, more commonly referred to as Chinaman’s Hat for obvious reasons. If you’re up for it, we highly recommend renting a kayak and paddling to the nearby island. Once on the island, you can make the short 10-15 minute scramble to the top for unparalleled views of the Ko’olau Mountain Range.
If you’re interested in hiking Crouching Lion for sunrise, but less interested in the early wake up call, we suggest camping at the Kahana State Park. Permits are required. Even if you don’t choose to camp at the park, definitely take a dip in the bay post hike.
Hungry? Continue heading north for 20 minutes towards the Kuhuku Sugar Mill where you will find an array of food trucks or opt for a more quaint farm-to-table option at Kahuku Farms. At this point, another 20 minutes north will put you into the charming town of Hale’iwa.
Like we mentioned before, cruising the island’s eastern coast is an adventure not to miss in itself. Island time is real, embrace it.
Final Hiking Thoughts & Reminders
Practice Leave-No-Trace: Including, but not limited to, packing out your trash and staying on the designated trail. If you are hiking with snacks or liquids, do not dispose of these on the trail. There are no designated trashcans in the area. Any items you bring will need to be taken back to your car to be disposed of properly.
Stay on trail: Please stay on all designated trails to help minimize trail erosion and keep yourself and other hikers safe.
Be considerate of other hikers: In all cases, be aware of those hiking around you. When descending, yield to hikers coming up, and always be willing to step aside if a hiker is walking faster than you. Also, don’t be the guy playing your music without headphones.
Respect the ʻāina: Help keep Hawai’i beautiful. Don’t take or disturb what you find. It is a privilege that we get to play in these mountains. Let us never forget.
I hope this guide to hiking Crouching Lion was helpful for you! Let us know in the comments if you have any other questions about this hike or others on O’ahu. Keep an eye out for more O’ahu hiking guides to come.