Breathtaking views greet you from every direction as you bask in the pristine beauty of a Lanikai Pillbox hike sunrise.
The 1.6 mile roundtrip trail is one of Oahu’s most approachable and rewarding hikes, particularly when you do it at sunrise!
This Lanikai Pillbox hiking guide includes everything you need to know, including details on where to park legally and respectfully, the best time to hike (hint: sunrise!), what to bring, how to stay safe on the trail, and more.
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Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike, also called the Ka’iwa Ridge Hike, is a short but difficult hike. Like many other ridge hikes on Oahu, Ka’iwa Ridge has rapid elevation gain, no shade, slippery terrain, unforgiving cliffs, and a few scrambles along the way.
But if you wake up early and hike the Lanikai Pillbox trail at sunrise, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views on Oahu as the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean and the Mokulua islands.
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is also worth doing later in the day if you can’t catch sunrise, but keep in mind that the sun is very strong and there is no shade. Hiking in the early morning or late afternoon for sunset is most comfortable—and beautiful.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike History
Oahu’s Lanikai Pillbox Hike is one of Oahu’s most famous pillbox hikes, though the military structures built into the Ka’iwa Ridge are technically not pillboxes. A Lanikai Pillbox trail guide written by the residents of the Lanikai neighborhood explains:
“The structures at the top of the ridge, which are commonly and mistakenly referred to as the ‘Lanikai Pillboxes’, functioned as Coast Artillery observation stations in 1943 and were not equipped with defensive armament. The raised concrete platforms found in the stations did not mount machine guns but high-powered observing instruments to fix a maritime vessel’s position from the station. In military terms, a pillbox actually means a defensive site such as a machine gun pillbox, which is not the case here.”
Quick Facts About the Ka’iwa Ridge Hike
Length: 1.6-miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 613 ft
Time to hike: 20-30 minutes in, 20-30 minutes out. Plan on 1+ hour if you intend to spend time at the top.
Difficulty: Hard. But keep in mind that it is a very short hike. Most active people should be able to hike it without issue.
Reasons to hike: Panoramic views of Kailua, Lanikai Beach, the Mokulua islands, the Ko’olau mountains, and Waimānalo. Plus, the chance to see two World War II bunkers.
Things to be aware of: Lanikai Pillbox Hike parking can be difficult (but not impossible). Be sure to read the parking section of this article for more info. Also, despite its short length and popularity, this can be a dangerous hike due to the rough terrain and nearly constant cliffs with no railings. Be careful with dogs and children, and be sure to wear the right type of shoes—more info on that in the ‘what to pack’ section of this article.
How to Get to the Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead
The Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead is marked here on Google Maps. It is located on the edge of the Lanikai residential neighborhood and next to the Mid-Pacific Country Club.
The trailhead is about a 45 minute drive from Waikiki, and less than ten minutes from the center of Kailua town. It is a short walk from Lanikai Beach (one of the best beaches on Oahu).
In addition to driving your own rental car, you can also get to Lanikai by taking The Bus, Ohau’s public transportation system. Since Lanikai parking can be difficult, The Bus is a great option!
Note: Be careful when using Google Maps to get to the Lanikai Trailhead. There is technically a second trailhead for the Lanikai Pillbox Back Way Hike. This “Lanikai Back Way” trail passes through private land and is closed to the public. However, if you’re not careful, your GPS may route you to this trailhead, which is about 10 minutes away from the main trailhead.
You may have to route your GPS to Kailua Beach Park if its being finicky. From there, follow Mokulua Dr until you reach a fork in the road at the entrance to the Lanikai neighborhood. Stay right, then find parking (legally—more on this below) and the trailhead will be just a few hundred feet up Kaelepulu Dr.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Parking
Parking for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a challenge. There is no public parking at the trailhead, and while street parking is available, it is extremely limited.
If you hike the Lanikai Pillboxes at sunrise on a weekday you should be able to find a parallel parking spot in the Lanikai neighborhood.
If you choose street parking, please follow these tips to park legally and respectfully:
★ Do not park in bike lanes
★ Make sure your car is parked at least 4 feet from driveways, 10 feet from fire hydrants, 10 feet from street corners, and 30 feet from stop signs
★ Park facing the direction of traffic
★ If you park early in the morning, consider locking your car quietly from the inside (instead of with the fob) to reduce noise for sleeping residents
If you can’t find any parking in the Lanikai neighborhood, the closest public parking lot is at the Kailua Boat Ramp (which happens to be a great place to snorkel with sea turtles!)
Best Time to Hike the Lanikai Pillboxes
The best time to do the Lanikai Pillbox hike is at sunrise. It is the coolest time of the day, and given that there is no shade on the trail, an early morning hike is most comfortable. But even better, the views at sunrise are breathtaking as the sun rises over the ocean and illuminates the surrounding mountains, valleys, and bays with golden light.
When to arrive for a Lanikai Pillbox sunrise hike
The sunrise in Kailua, Ohau is different each day, so be sure to check the sunrise time online the night before. It took my husband and I only 17 minutes to reach the first pillbox, but we hike fast! Give yourself at least 30 minutes to hike before the sunrise, plus ~10 minutes to find hiking.
What to Bring on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
As mentioned before, the Lanikai Pillbox Hike can be difficult. It is important to come prepared. Regardless of your experience level, I recommend that everyone bring the following items on their Lanikai Hike:
Even though it is a short hike, you’ll certainly work up a sweat, especially when hiking in the direct sunlight. If you’re hiking with someone else, you could share a water bottle. If I were to hike it by myself, I’d bring a small water bottle like this one.
I will admit I hiked the Lanikai Pillboxes with terrible worn out 10-year old shoes. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Honestly, this hike make me realize I need to upgrade my travel hiking shoes. The trail is slippery even when dry so good grip is essential!
While any athletic top will do, I highly recommend a sun protectant shirt like this one from REI. It is light weight and breathable with UPF 50+ fabric.
Even if you hike at sunrise, you may want to throw some sunscreen in your backpack for the hike down.
Pack a healthy snack to eat as you watch the sunrise! Larabars are my favorite snacks for hiking at home and on vacation!
OPTIONAL: HIKING POLES
These collapsable hiking poles pack up nice and small and help provide stability on rough terrain, which you will certainly encounter on the Oahu Lanikai Pillbox Hike!
Also read: The Ultimate Hawaii Packing List
Other Things to Near the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is just one of so many wonderful things to do on Oahu’s windward side. I highly recommend spending at least one day on this part of the island during your Oahu vacation. A few things to do nearby include:
★ Sunbathe and snorkel at Lanikai Beach: After getting a view of Lanikai Beach from above, go explore the beach itself! It is one of the island’s most beautiful beaches and a great place to snorkel.
★ Kayak to the Mokes or Popoia Island: Rent a kayak and paddle out to one of the three tiny islands that you can see from the Lanikai pillboxes. What a cool experience it is to climb the ridge above these islands and then paddle to them all in one day! Book a guided kayak tour here or reserve a kayak rental here.
★ Sail to the Mokulua Islands: Alternatively, sail to the twin islands with a local guide. No more physical excretion needed! Book your sailing tour here.
★ Shop, eat, and drink in Kailua Town: Kailua town is one the best towns to explore on the island! Sip a local craft beer (or cocktail) at Lanikai Brewing Co., explore cute shops, and each a yummy Hawaiian lunch here!
★ Visit the Byodo In Temple: A short drive out of Kailua will take you to a place that feels just like Japan—the Byodo In Buddhist temple, which is one of the best places to visit on Oahu!
Final Thoughts: Oahu’s Lanikai Pillbox Hike Sunrise
Nothing beats a Lanikai Pillbox hike sunrise. It is truly one of the most magical experiences you can have on Oahu! Of course, hike carefully, pack out your trash, and be respectful to the residents in the Lanikai neighborhood.
If you have any questions about the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, leave a comment on this article. For more Oahu travel tips, check out my other Hawaii travel blogs!
★ 21 Fun Things to do in Kailua, Oahu
★ 21 Oahu Hidden Gems and Secret Spots
★ Hawaii Packing List for Females
★ One Day Oahu North Shore Itinerary
★ How to to Visit Oahu’s China Walls
★ How to Visit the Mermaid Caves in Oahu
★ How to Visit Halona Beach Cove in Oahu
★ How to Visit Oahu’s Byodo-In Temple
★ 5 Best Oahu Shark Dive Tours: Cage Dives + Freediving
★ What to Know BEFORE Swimming with Sharks in Oahu
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