Hiking in Paradise: Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail
Tucked away in East Oʻahu, Wiliwilinui Ridge is one of three advanced hikes you’ll find along the Koʻolau Summit Trail, and arguably the most accessible. Unlike Hawaiʻi Loa Ridge (steep inclines) or Kuliʻouʻou Ridge (a challenging push to the summit), Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail seems to have struck a balance between challenging and manageable—a balance for which a somewhat novice hiker like myself is always searching.
Before you take a single step onto the trail, you’ll need to work through the parking situation. The trail head is located at the peak of the Waiʻalae Ike subdivision, a private neighborhood that requires permission to enter. As you drive to the subdivision you’ll eventually come across a guardshack—tell him you’re here to hike Wiliwilinui Ridge, and he’ll provide you with a parking pass and instructions to reach the trail. There are only a few stalls available to the general public at the start of the trail, so make sure you arrive early!
On my last visit to Wiliwilinui Ridge, we arrived around 9 a.m. (much later than we’d anticipated; I would recommend coming earlier) and proceeded to nab the very last stall in the lot. The start of the trail was easy to find with the help of clearly marked signs and the vast open clearing, and as we began our walk, we were lucky to enjoy brisk winds and sunny skies overhead (though the previous few days of rain had lended a soggy texture to the soft, muddy ground).
The expansive, curved trees created a makeshift tunnel and provided us with generous shade at the start of our hike.
During the first mile and a half of the hike, two things became apparent: the hills were steep, and we were definitely about to get muddy. While this first part of the trail was far easier than the second, it still had its fair share of rolling hills and slippery terrain affected by the last week of rainfall. Thankfully, always following a long stretch uphill was a longer stretch of flat ground.
Despite the slippery terrain uphill, this was definitely my favorite part of the hike. As we climbed closer to the halfway mark, we were treated to sweeping valley views amidst the lush trees (and occasional powerlines).
Sneaking a peek at the gorgeous landscape and ocean views in the distance.
After about 45 minutes of hiking, we reached another dirt patch clearing marked by a single bench and a steep row of stairs ascending up the cliff. This is also the point at which many inexperienced hikers or hikers with children will turn back and head downhill. Here we stopped for water, reapplied extra sunscreen, turned around for a final peek at the verdant valley views, and charged up the steps!
The last picture we took before pocketing our phones to exert all of our energy up and along the ridgeline.
The second half of the hike is significantly harder than the first, as this is where the ridge portion officially begins. Because none of us are truly advanced hikers, we decided to pocket our phones and spend the remaining half of the trek simply soaking in the sights...and concentrating on our balance!
The stairs are no joke, and climbing up them can take some time if you’re focused on standing upright! We navigated the stairs gradually, and when we reached the top we realized just how quickly the elevation had increased. Here we were treated to alternating views of the iconic Diamond Head, shimmering Downtown Honolulu and portions of the Windward Koʻolau ridgelines.
We stopped briefly before continuing our climb—and climb we did! It seemed like the closer we got to the end, the steeper the trail became. Near the end of the hike we reached the steepest portion of the trail, where the ground had eroded and ropes were installed as an added safety measure. While some people are comfortable with ropes, I’m always a little hesitant to use them (you should never rely on them entirely!), but found them useful during this final push uphill.
We knew from friends who’d done this hike before that we were close when we spotted a rusted communications tower. Like the power lines draped over the lush valleys in the first half of the hike, the communications tower seemed rather out of place, but we were grateful for its presence to indicate that we were approaching the end.
By the time we reached the top, clouds were rolling in overhead, and our view of the sweeping windward coast and Koʻolau mountain range was short lived. On a sunnier day, we probably would’ve snapped more photos of the panoramic windward to leeward Oʻahu views, but my friends and I were well aware of how precarious the terrain would be if it started to rain. Instead we stopped for a quick minute to soak in the sights before turning around for the downhill trek—hoping to avoid getting soaked ourselves!
Thankfully we made it downhill without incident (though I did slip in some muddy patches a few times). While the morning didn’t turn out exactly as we’d hoped, we were thrilled to hike this new trail successfully. No matter how busy our schedules may get, we love reuniting as a group to chat, reconnect, and take in the natural wonders of Hawaiʻi.
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-Length: 4.5 miles roundtrip, about 1,400 feet elevation gain
-Climate: Cool when shaded, very hot in certain exposed areas, often muddy. Wet ridgeline. Wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and bring a change of slippers to spare your car from a muddy mess.
-Bring: Water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, camera
-Note: Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail is located in a gated community. You must pass through a guardshack and state your intentions to hike the trail to the guard working on that particular day. Come early to nab a parking stall!
Know Before You Go:
This is a dog-friendly hike that’s suitable for novice hikers looking for a challenge. Be aware that the trail can be quite muddy and slippery even if it hasn’t rained that day. Hunting dogs are sometimes in the area. Plan your hike accordingly!