The Lanikai Pillbox hike is an iconic trail on O’ahu, frequently visited by locals and visitors alike.
Though its actual trail name is the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, it’s most commonly referred to as the Lanikai Pillbox hike because of the concrete platforms built along the trail.
At the top, hikers can climb atop the pillboxes for an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean and the nearby offshore Mokulua Islands.
Though it’s short in length, the Lanikai Pillbox hike is steep and exposed. Though generally considered a good trail for hikers of all levels, don’t underestimate the challenge.
In this guide, I highlight what to expect hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Trail, finding parking, locating the trailhead, the best times to hike, and more. Stick around until the end for more pillbox hikes to check out around the island, as well as awesome things to do near Lanikai.
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Guide to Hiking the Iconic Lanikai Pillbox Hike on O’ahu (Kaiwa Ridge Trail)
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Lanikai Pillbox Hike Stats
Distance: 1.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 626 Feet
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Is There Parking for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike?
As with most trails on the O’ahu, there is no official trail parking for the Lanikai Pillbox hike. Hikers must find parking along one of the several residential roads.
Lanikai Beach is arguably the most popular beach on O’ahu so finding parking can be a struggle at times. Make sure when parking, you are being mindful and respectful of residents. Do not block driveways or mailboxes, and abide by any and all “No Parking” signs.
Furthermore, the entire neighborhood is closed to the public on certain days, such as holidays. In this case, hikers would need to park at Kailua Beach Park and complete the .5-mile walk to the trailhead.
Is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike Worth the Hype?
The pillbox hikes on O’ahu receive a lot of hype and foot traffic because they are normally viewed as a good hiking option for people of all ages and experience levels.
While the hike up Kaiwa Ridge Trail to the Lanikai Pillboxes does not compare to the thrill of conquering O’ahu’s Three Peaks or summiting K1 and K2, the view from the top is undeniably worth the hype.
At the end of the trail, hikers get a perfect view of the iconic Mokulua Islands picturesquely set in the teal waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The only downside to the Lanikai Pillbox hike is the inevitable crowdedness of the trail.
Where Is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike Trailhead?
Once you find parking, walk toward Kaelepulu Drive, away from the ocean. The trailhead is located about a 4-minute walk from the intersection of Kaelepulu Drive and Aalapapa Drive.
Just past the first road on your left, there is a small dirt path with a fence lining the trail on the right. This path leads to the start of Kaiwa Ridge Trail
What Time of Day Is Best for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike?
Being located on the east side of the island, sunrise is the most beautiful time of day to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail.
From atop the pillboxes, hikers get an unimpeded view of the sun making its debut over the Pacific Ocean. If you can manage to pull yourself out of bed for a sunrise trek, you are also more likely to encounter fewer hikers.
It’s a win-win.
Sunset is also an incredible time to be on the trail. While you won’t get to see the sun actually set, you will get to enjoy the sky changing colors, if you’re lucky.
Furthermore, if you can work it into your schedule, I encourage you to check out the Lanikai Pillbox hike on a weekday to avoid some of the trail congestion.
Lastly, the trail is steep, exposed, and lined with dirt, roots, and loose scree. With that being said if it has recently rained be prepared for the trail to be extremely slippery. On the other hand, if the sun is blaring prepare for things to heat up quickly.
Either way, come prepared.
What to Expect on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike (Kaiwa Ridge Trail)
Though short, the Lanikai Pillbox hike puts you to work almost immediately — and buckle up because the trail steadily climbs for nearly the entire duration of the hike.
Hikers are essentially forced to forge their way straight up the hillside to the crest. Instead of utilizing the use of switchbacks, most of the Kaiwa Ridge Trail leads directly up. The trail is made up of dirt, roots, rocks, and loose scree. Hiking shoes with good tread are a must if you want to avoid slipping and sliding down the trail.
As always, be mindful of the fact that whatever you hike up, you must be able to manage on the way down. Due to the elevation pitch and condition of the trail, some hikers find coming down to be more challenging than going up.
Good balance and confidence in your footing are key when hiking the Lanikai Pillbox hike.
The first section of the Lanikai Pillbox hike is beneath a thick canopy, so you aren’t awarded with views just yet. However, as you climb and make your way up the hill, the trees begin to thin and you get your first view of the ocean.
My favorite section of the trail is actually the middle before you reach the pillboxes.
This section of the trail is characterized by a narrow ridge with views on both sides. On the left, hikers have a clear view of the ocean and Mokulua Islands, while on the right hikers can peer into the valley and soak in the mountains.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the cacti lining the trail in full bloom. While most people are set on gunning for the pillboxes awaiting at the end of the hike, I always take my time on this section as I find it the most beautiful.
About .5 miles into the trail, you reach pillbox #1 and just past it, you can see pillbox #2.
Most hikers choose to end the hike here by climbing atop these pillboxes to soak in the view. The view is essentially the same from either pillbox.
If you continue on the trail, you won’t find any more pillboxes or differing views, but you may possibly find more solitude. I always love to continue past the pillboxes and find a good rock or clearing to sit down on to soak in the surroundings.
You can, however, stop after you reach pillbox #2 and make the hike only a 1-mile round trip.
Many hikers come to enjoy the view of the Mokulua Islands from the iconic pillboxes — If you do choose to hike only to the pillboxes and back, please remember to share the view.
Other Pillbox Hikes on O’ahu
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail (Kaneohe Pillbox)
Also located on the east side of O’ahu is Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail.
Pu’u Ma’eli’eli Trail is a shorter and easier pillbox hike option for those looking for an east-side adventure. The trail is more commonly known as the “Kaneohe Pillbox” and is the easiest pillbox hike on O’ahu, in my opinion.
From the pillbox platform hikers are rewarded with unobstructed views of the Kaneohe Bay coastline and beyond. From the top, you can see the popular Kaneohe sandbar, Coconut Island, Kualoa Ranch, and more.
Ehukai Pillbox (North Shore Pillbox)
The Ehukai Pillbox Trail is located on the north shore of O’ahu.
There aren’t many hiking trails on the north shore, as most visitors make their way to this side of the island in search of laid-back vibes, waves, and warm sandy beaches. However, if hiking is your MO, add this pillbox to the list.
Ehukai Pillbox offers amazing views of the coast and is suitable for the whole family. Even better, the trail is located just .01 mile from the popular Sunrise Shake making it a perfect pit stop for a post-hike smoothie bowl.
Maili Pillbox (Pink Pillbox)
Saving the best for last — Maili Pillbox.
Pu’u O Hulu Trail — or Maili Pillbox or “Pink” Pillbox — is my favorite pillbox hike on O’ahu. While the trail itself is short and pretty straightforward the views from the top are unbeatable.
The painted pink pillbox looks west over the long stretch of untouched coastline. If you can time it perfectly, the top provides unobstructed, front-row seats to the sunset. If you’re looking for the best place to watch the sunset on O’ahu, Maili Pillbox is it. Expect crowds of other hikers enjoying the spot as well.
Things to Do Near Lanikai
Sunbathe at Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach is one of the most popular beaches on O’ahu and undeniably the most beautiful.
Just offshore of Lanikai Beach lies the picturesque Mokulua Islands. The sand is powdery white and the water is a crystal teal blue, year-round. To make things even better, the water is almost always calm making it a perfect beach to grab a float and throw on some shades for an enjoyable day on the water.
Kayak to the Mokulua Islands
One of my favorite adventures on O’ahu is kayaking to the Mokulua Islands.
The Mokulua Islands or “Mokes” are located straight offshore from the popular Lanikai Beach and are even more beautiful up close. Visitors are able to visit the island on the right where more adventure awaits those keen for a little exploring.
While just kayaking to the island and back would be enough to make it a bucket list-worthy trip, this island takes it a step further thanks to the cliff jumping spot and enchanting swimming hole secretly located around the backside.
As always, use caution and check the waves and tides before jumping in the water.
Grab a Brew at Lanikai Brewing
After a day of adventuring, swing by Lanikai Brewing to enjoy a brew outside. Apart from beers, the brewery makes great pizzas, has a great atmosphere, and is conveniently located right in Kailua town.
If you’re an IPA lover, try the Cheehoo IPA. Even better, buy some to go. Their iconic logo of the Mokulua Islands makes them a great beach day go-to drink.
Browse the Aloha Home Market
The Aloha Home Market is a monthly, small business craft market and my favorite one on O’ahu. The market takes place on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and displays a wide collection of local artists.
Our perfect Sunday in Kailua consisted of swinging by the Aloha Home Market in the morning, then driving over to Lanikai Beach for some sun in the afternoon, and capping the day at Lanikai Brewing in the evening with a beer.
What to Pack for Lanikai Pillbox
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is short and sweet but it’s still important to be prepared for the hike. Considering bringing along these items for the best hiking experience.
Lanikai Pillbox Trail is hot and exposed with nearly zero reprieve from the sun. Prepare to drink more water than you’re accustomed to. A good rule of thumb is always to bring more than you need.
On shorter hikes like the pillbox trails, it’s still important to use a day pack to house all of your things in one place while keeping your hands free.
I’ve used several different daypacks but the Gregory Nano Pack is my favorite and current go-to. With just enough structure, the pack feels secure, but not too large, and is the perfect size for day hikes.
Hawai’i trails are not as nicely maintained or manicured as trails on the mainland. The trails on O’ahu are rugged, and scrambly, and therefore warrant wearing hiking or trail shoes.
I’ve tried and loved several different trail running shoes over the years, but my current favorites are the Merrell Antora 3 Trail Running Shoes.
Regardless of the time of year, O’ahu trails heat up quickly and the Lanikai Pillbox hike is no exception. Make sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen, a sun shirt, a hat, and/or sunglasses. It’s not uncommon for visitors to suffer from heat stroke or exhaustion.
Nothing ruins a trip quicker.
If you plan to enjoy nearby Lanikai Beach post-hike, don’t forget to throw a swimsuit (and towel) into your day pack. What’s better than laying on the beach and relaxing after an epic hike?
If you have any questions about hiking the Lanikai Pillbox Hike or any of the other pillbox hikes on O’ahu, leave me a message in the comment section below.
Enjoy your time in Lanikai and make sure to check out my other Hawai’i guides highlighting my favorite island hikes, adventures, and more.
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