Did the Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail (not to be confused with the Kuliou’ou Valley Trail) for the first time in my entire life this past Wednesday, 1.10.18. Many fellow Yelpers rave about this trail, but I’m sorry, I’m going to have to say “meh”. Now don’t get me wrong, as if you’ve never/rarely hiked on Oahu, you’ll probably be stoked by the splendor of the giant pine tree forest atop the ridge you’re going through, the occasional peek of the lush, epic valleys on both sides, and of course the view at the summit, which I’ll get to shortly.
However if you’re just focusing on getting to the summit, and then back down to the trailhead? This hike can be in a word: TEDIOUS. Mainly due to the mostly lack of views along the way, combined with its extreme length, which is 5.3 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,119.72 ft. from trailhead to summit. Basically a hike from deep within Kuliou’ou valley, to the very top of the Koolau mountain range where you’ll eventually — and I mean “eventually” in quotes — will be overlooking the eastern-most part of Waimanalo on the windward side of Oahu.
The summit of this hike is of course the goal, where you’ll overlook the entire span of Waimanalo, from Bellows Beach to Rabbit Island, sans the view of Makapuu from this particular vantage point. From the summit, and other vantage points along the way, you also get a bird’s eye view of Hawaii Kai valley. Also along the hike you can see down Kuliou’ou valley, as well as Diamond Head crater from atop. The coolest of all to me, seeing all the farms in Waimanalo from atop, all in neatly divided sections deep down near the Koolau Mountain range on East Oahu. Which you’re now the king of when at the top of the Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail hike.
The reason I say “meh” is becuase this hike is LOADED with boring switchbacks at the begining that seem to take FOREVER, followed by weird climbs up “bland” hills covered heavily with dried pine needles. Then more switchbacks, then some rest stops including that picnic bench area everyone mentions. Then more of the same, with hardly any outside views, except for occasional peeks at your progress seeing the what I must admit are GORGEOUS Kuliou’ou valley views.
Then those STAIRS. Dude. I counted them. Like another Yelper said, there’s 1 BILLION STAIRS. I kid you not. If you don’t believe me, count them yourself, then get back to me if you say I can’t count correctly.
Once you get to the top of the stairs at the top of the trail, you’re at the summit, overlooking what I explained earlier.
Was it worth all them switchbacks, weird, steep hill-climbing and otherwise none-view hiking experience deep within a mountain forest on the east side of Oahu, “just” to get a bird’s eye view of Waimanalo and Hawaii Kai? I would say for me, no. The time it took and the experience of the hike along the way was again, “tedious”. Not necessarily boring, because no hike ever is. It just gets monotonous.
My tips for the Kuliiou’ou Ridge Hike are:
- Bring at least 1 liter of water person. Trust me, you’ll dehydrate on this hike. Pack that in a backpack, along with maybe a couple musubi or trail mix and you should be good, survival-wise. OK, maybe a hunting knife, just in case for protection. Also, make sure your phone is fully charged. I got 100% reception both internet and telephone on my T-Mobile network (not a plug) along the entire trail. Also, make sure to spray yourself with mosquito repellent, as they are there.
- Don’t listen to any Yelper or otherwise that says this hike “easy” or “moderate”. I would say this hike is DIFFICULT in exertion. Every person I seen passing by and/or spoke with on this hike were BEAT. Young, fit dudes and chicks were huffing ‘n puffing. Sweating. Gasping for air at all points of the trail. And this was on a clear, blue sky, cool air (low 80’s) day.
- The trail surface varies from dirt (mud when wet of course), lots of rocks, lots of heavy tree roots, lots of fallen pine needs, and LOTS AND LOTS OF stairs made of steel and plywood-supported dirt inclines. That said, bring the most heavy duty sports shoes you have, preferably hiking boots for sure! Rubbah slippahs? Sandals? High Heels? Brah, you’re asking for trouble. No even try!
- Energize yourself BEFORE hiking this trail with a good meal and supplements. You’ll need it. This hike is LONG. It took us 5 hours in this breakdown: 2 hours and 30 minutes from the trailhead (the very, very beginning where the Board of Water Supply sign is) to the summit. We spent about 20 minutes at the summit taking photos and resting. It took us an additional 2 hours and 10 minutes to get back down to the trailhead, for a total of 5 hours round trip (hike). This, including MANY breaks. How other Yelpers say they do this hike in 3 hours is beyond me. They must be SPRINTING the entire way up and down to do this hike in 3 hours.
- Pace yourself. Don’t rush, especially at the top where the “1 billion” stairs begin. Start as early as possible on a CLEAR day. DO NOT do this hike, or any hike in adverse weather conditions, unless you’re experienced and hardcore.
- Use a trekking pole! A must! Find any tree branch that suits itself as a sort of “staff” you can rely on to help you stay stable. A trekking pole is easy to find in the form of a tree branch around the trail head. This will especially help when you’re climbing down those steep stairs at the top, preventing you from falling forward. Trust me, you do NOT want fall down those stairs.
- Malama da aina.
Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail
Kala’au Place (the very end)
Honolulu, Hawaii 96821
Kuliou’ou Ridge Trail – Yelp user reviews
P.S. Speaking of exercise and fitness, following are some photos of me from WAY WAY WAY BACK IN THE DAY. So stoked I found these! ;-)
Pomai at 19 years old competing in a bodybuilding competition at Timmy’s Gym, formerly located on Fort Street Mall in downtown Honolulu. Took 2nd place out of 6 competitors. The guy to the left (IIRC Bradley) took 1st place ~ 1987