Pu’u Lanihuli is one of the few peaks along the Ko’olau Summit Trail (KST) that really stands alone from the rest. Rising to roughly 2,780 feet above the Honolulu skyline in between two saddles, this peak makes a name for itself standing out from miles around. I can count 5 different routes that will take you to the summit, but here I’m only going to write about one. The reason I am not mentioning any of the others is purely for safety. It’s smartest for me to write about the most straight forward, least confusing, and safest trail possible for the safety of everyone even though there is a faster way. To follow some of the other routes you really have to live here and be familiar with these ridges and valleys to not get lost. Believe me if I tried to describe the shortest way to the summit you would get lost and hate me for telling you to go a way only very few know how to find. The other routes are either extremely overgrown, or put you on the edge of an exposed cliff which means one mistake and that’s your life.
The best route for first timers is called Kapalama Ridge Trail beginning in Alewa Heights at Na Pueo Park. The trail is 7.4 miles round trip, but don’t let that scare you; it’s really not all that difficult if you take your time. There’s only a couple of spots to park here, and because the city closes the park gate at a certain time I recommend parking outside of the actual park itself so your car doesn’t get locked in. From here the trail can be a little hidden, but it begins at the back right side of the park toward the water tower going uphill. When you reach the water tower stay right and look for an obvious trail heading downhill. This can be a little frustrating because you will have to go right back up again, but if you see a clear path that’s the way. The beginning part can be a little overgrown with tall grass depending if it has been cleared recently or not, but for the most part you should go down initially then slowly work your way back uphill toward the back of neighborhood. If you found the right trail it’s actually very straight forward and shouldn’t be hard to follow. The first half of this trail is very clear and well maintained. It isn’t until the ridge on the left known as Kamanaiki meets up with Kapalama that the trail will narrow significantly. You will know this spot because it is a clear grassy opening with the faint Kamanaiki Ridge Trail meeting up on the left, and there will be a clear view of the summit. After this spot the trail actually gets easier to follow, but will be significantly more muddy and overgrown. It’s not terrible though as the whole thing is moderately trafficked. Moving forward there’s not much more to it. You will have do some up and downs on a mostly muddy slippery ridge until the final ascent. On a clear day you can see as far as Kualoa Ranch to the northeast, the Waianaes across the Ewa Plain, 3 Peaks on the east side, and downtown Honolulu to the south. When you reach the KST you will see the trail going right and left. You can actually take the right down on a very narrow sketchy ridge to the Pali Lookout, but never attempt going left unless you are familiar with what’s ahead and you know exactly what you are doing or with someone that does! That trail is no joke please listen to me when I say this!
Hiking out is nothing more than retracing your steps down the same ridge which is exactly what I recommend you do if you weren’t planning on another route down. The only thing to note is a small step down close to the beginning of the trail that will be on your left coming back. If you are coming back in the dark this part can be easy to miss. Try to make a note of what I am talking about when you are hiking in so you don’t miss this little turn on the way out. It will be close to part of the trail directly along the fence line.
Do not attempt any other trail off of Kapalama that you weren’t already planning on. Especially those that aren’t familiar with Hawaii or the ridges and valleys surrounding Kapalama. It all goes back to what I said earlier about exposed cliffs and getting lost in the valleys. A straight forward ridge hike could result in a rescue ultimately putting others in danger if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Bring at least 2 liters of water, I always recommend 3, and don’t forget sunscreen because there is no shade on the back half of this trail.
All hikes in Hawai'i are extremely dangerous and require caution when attempting. Hawai'i is known for hot humid weather, steep dramatic cliffs, and flash floods which can occur at anytime. It is important that you check the local weather, and understand the physical condition of your entire group before attempting any hike. All being said, this blog is for information purposes only and I ACCEPT NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY INJURY, LOST INDIVIDUALS, OR LEGAL TROUBLE ENCOUNTERED WHILE FOLLOWING THE INFORMATION POSTED HERE.