Hiking the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail | Honolulu, Hawaii
I’ve decided to stop viewing the cloud-covered ridge as an annoyance or a reason to not hike, and start recognizing the advantages of it instead. A cloudy day on the summit means that we’re not in direct sunlight, the temperatures are cooler, and there’s a refreshing breeze. If there isn’t a view, that means there will be less people at the top or on the trails. When we let the forecast control our plans, we miss out on the beauty and exciting experience we could have. And so when we were trying to pick out a hike last Saturday morning, we didn’t rule out the Ko’olaus just because we couldn’t see the summit. Instead, we chose an easier ridge and went with open minds, just seeking an enjoyable experience together. (Disclaimer: this only applies to cloudy days, if it were actually raining then we still wouldn’t hike those narrow, steep, muddy trails!)
We drove through Honolulu and up one of the neighborhood ridges to Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail. To access the trail, we had to register with the neighborhood security guard and show an ID. He gave us a day pass and directions to the trailhead. We drove to the parking area and began our hike.
This is our 5th ridge hike in the Southern Ko’olau mountain range, and is similar to Kuli’ou’ou and Hawaii Loa in difficulty and trail conditions. The drive up through the neighborhood cuts off a lot of elevation gain, and the first part of the trail is a very easy walk on a wide path. For much of the way, the path follows electrical poles, so I presume that it’s wide enough for vehicle access. We were in the shade for much of the beginning as well, with little gaps between the trees where we had South facing views that got better the higher we were. In that regard, it was more scenic than Kuli’ou’ou ridge right from the beginning.
We eventually came upon the first staircase of many. Here, we left behind the shaded area and started to have even better views to the South, from Honolulu to Koko Head. This is where I became thankful that it was so cloudy — the breeze felt so good while going straight up the steps! Soon we had the radio towers near the end of the trail in view, and it was intimidating to look and see how much higher we had to climb. Overall though, the stairs were in good condition and the trail wasn’t too muddy. We reached the tower and continued on the last stretch of the trail to the summit.
We reached the end and sat down on the bench together, the peak all to ourselves. There wasn’t any view to the Windward side, but we knew if we waited long enough we could see something. Eventually another group made it to the peak, and we struck up a conversation with them about different hikes around the island. They talked about some of the illegal hikes they’d done, such as Stairway to Heaven and Sacred Falls, and it honestly solidified in our minds that we don’t have any desire to do those. Besides the point that they’re illegal, they’re also incredibly popular and on everyone’s bucket list — we just don’t get the hype.
Finally the clouds cleared to the East, and we had glimpses of Olomana, Kailua, Ka’iwa Ridge, and more. If it had been clearer, we would have walked along the Ko’olau Summit Trail a bit more, but we’ll save that for another day. I would definitely do this hike again — it was a good workout without being too risky, and even without clear skies we still enjoyed the views we had. Kulepeamoa is still my favorite hike we’ve done on the Ko’olaus, and probably all of Oahu, but I honestly don’t want to do it again because I know the danger and risk that comes with that ridge. Once is good enough!
We said goodbye to the other group and began our hike back down Wiliwilinui Ridge. I had been dreading going down the stairs because I always find it harder to go down than up steep steps, but it really wasn’t that bad and we made good time getting back. Altogether the hike was 5 miles and gained almost 1600 feet. It’s honestly pretty easy until the last .3 miles when it gains most of the elevation. If you’re interested in seeing our AllTrails recording, click here.