Kailua Lanikai Pillbox Hike on Oahu, Hawaii - SkyAboveUs - Outdoors
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Kailua Lanikai Pillbox Hike on Oahu, Hawaii

Lanikai pillbox

Lanikai pillbox

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike, also known as the Ka'iwa Ridge Trail, is one of Oahu's easiest hikes. Unlike many other easy hikes, it also has absolutely breathtaking views. However, easy for Hawaii isn't exactly the same as easy for other parts of the world - the climb is still steep and can be dangerous, if you aren't cautious. It is short, but the dry, steep conditions mean you'll need shoes with some grip.

This hike is also a little tricky to find - you literally park on a residential street next to a golf course and begin the hike by cutting between two houses! Finding this slightly out of the way hike is well worth the effort - just make sure to bring your camera and a bottle of water!

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

This is actually the least-steep portion of the trail!

This is actually the least-steep portion of the trail!

Arid, windward conditions mean you'll see some interesting plants

Arid, windward conditions mean you'll see some interesting plants

Hiking to the Lanikai Pillboxes

This hike is located on the windward side of Oahu, which means it is dry, windy, and open. Before starting the hike, make sure to hydrate well, put on some hiking shoes, and apply plenty of sunscreen. Temperatures in the low to mid 80s with stiff breezes mean you don't always feel hot, but the sun's tropical rays can, and will, quickly burn your skin. If you have a very snug hat, or a hat with a strap, wear it on the hike. However, if it isn't firmly attached to your head, you may lose it along the way!

Make sure you don't leave any valuables (or anything else, for that matter) visible in your car. The neighborhood is classified as a high theft area, so make sure to either bring your items with you or lock them in the trunk. After finding a place to park, locating the trail's entrance is relatively easy. Yes, you cut between two yards, but a sign and a marked trashcan make the trailhead difficult to miss. The trail starts off with some very steep uphill trekking, but don't be afraid to grab onto roots, trees or even occasional helpful ropes. As you go uphill, it quickly becomes clear that this hike is more of a destination than a single trail. There are many routes to the top - just make sure to be safe. The rock is very fragile and flaky - in some paces you can literally break the rock off with your fingers!

As you hike, you move from a slightly wooded area onto the absolutely unprotected mountainside. The hike is technically short - you can do the whole round trip in less than an hour - but not necessarily easily, particularly if you're not accustomed to mountains. Also, the trail literally runs along the mountain's ridge, so those afraid of heights may have psychological difficulties with this hike. As noted above, there is no one set path - just make it to the pillboxes! You can see them clearly, so just pick your path to adventure.

Unlike many decayed and decrepit pillboxes in Hawaii, the Lanikai pillboxes are very intact. The first pillbox is absolutely covered in graffiti. From American flags to your typical tags, the graffiti left by folks from around the world is worth checking out, in its own right.

It is relatively easy to climb on the first pillbox's roof for a unique perspective on the area. Also, you can climb inside the pillbox, either with the ladder from the roof, or by squeezing through the viewing slit. The inside is just as decorated as the outside and the graffiti'd cement block walls juxtapose with the beautiful scenery visible through the slit. What was life like on Oahu when these pillboxes were constructed? What was it like for the men assigned to them, a place already targeted by the Japanese on December 7, 1941?

Second Lanikai Pillbox

The second pillbox is only about an additional five minutes along the trail. You can clearly see it from the first pillbox, and the trail between the two is easy to hike. The second pillbox is a double pillbox with two separate sections. Just like the first pillbox, you can climb down inside. While the second pillbox does have graffiti, it is nowhere near as colorful as the first. The second pillbox is basically at the end of the ridge and offers fantastic views of the ocean, on one side, and the mountains, on the other.

The Descent

Getting back down the trail safely is tricky. Because of the dry, dusty conditions and flaky rock, the trail is slippery. My best advice is don't try to work against gravity. If you take small steps, stay standing upright, and allow yourself to speed up if you need to, instead of trying to forcibly stop yourself, you should make it to the bottom safely. If you feel like you're off balance or trip, trying to stop yourself on the slope will just ensure you will fall over. If you go with the flow and channel gravity and momentum to assist your descent, you'll be a lot better off. Also, don't be afraid to grab onto roots or trees, once they become available!

If you have the opportunity to hike up to the Lanikai pillboxes, don't pass it up. The views are some of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights I've ever seen, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them, too.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Ken Muise from Honolulu on May 05, 2014:

Yeah...it was incredible. Thanks for the tips!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on May 04, 2014:

I hope you have/had a fun time! The view from up there is spectacular. I went at night back in January, and the view was just as breathtaking then.

Ken Muise from Honolulu on May 03, 2014:

Great Hub. Gonna' do this trail tomorrow. Thanks for the information and great directions.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 17, 2012:

Hahaha yes, that part kinda sketched me out a little. Actually, on one of them a rung was broken, so I was a little nervous! It was worth it, though.

Dianna Mendez on August 17, 2012:

Again, you are quite an adventurous woman! Wow, I don't think I would climb down into one of these, but they are fascinating to read about.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 12, 2012:

Yes, they are part of the island's WWII defenses. A lot of the more developing hiking sites actually have signs about the defenses and how they had crossing lines of fire. I'll try to include some of those signs and diagrams in future hubs about Oahu hikes!

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on August 12, 2012:

How breathtaking. Are the pillboxes lookouts left over from the second World War or simply defense systems for the island? They are so strategically placed (in the most fabulous places)!! Admire your courage going up there.

Great pictures.

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 11, 2012:

I've never been to the NW, but I hear it's beautiful. Thanks for stopping by, Wilderness, and I hope you get the chance to visit Hawaii sometime soon.

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on August 10, 2012:

Beautiful! Hawaii has to be the most beautiful state in the union (outside, of course, my own NW mainland). One day, perhaps, I will visit...

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 10, 2012:

I haven't been first thing in the morning, but I've heard it can be a lot of fun to hike the pillboxes with a flashlight and wait for the sun to come up. I bet it's amazing, since it's on the side of the island facing the rising sun. I have hiked Diamondhead Crater first thing in the morning and that was a pretty cool experience.

Ali Dawson from Honolulu, HI on August 10, 2012:

I love the Pillboxes! Such a beautiful way to start a day (and good for you too!)

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 10, 2012:

Thank you for sharing!

I must admit - the hills were a little tricky for me! I'm in decent shape, but really accustomed to very flat land. Even a little bump in the road seems like a hill to me, so a legitimate hill was fairly difficult! I hadn't been hiking in forever, either, but I have fallen back in love =)

Joshua Zerbini from Pennsylvania on August 10, 2012:


All right I must confess, after reading all these hiking hubs from various hubbers, I am feeling tempted to go on one! I have not been hiking in a while and need to do so! Beautiful pictures Natasha and I also liked your information on wheat to bring and how to protect yourself against the sun. These are useful tips for some people out there who have ventured out on a hike before. Great job Natasha! I have shared!

Natasha (author) from Hawaii on August 10, 2012:

Thank you! It's so beautiful there it's difficult to take a bad photo.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 10, 2012:

I have never been to Hawaii but I have heard of the Pillbox....great photos my friend.