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Kuliouou Ridge Trail

Koolau Summit, KST, Ridge, Uloha -

Kuliouou Ridge Trail

What You'll See: Switchbacks through a thriving forest;
Narrow trail with South Shore views among native vegetation;
Windward views from Kailua to Makapu'u.
Time: Approximately 2-3 hours
Distance: 4.6 miles roundtrip
What to Pack: A light snack at minimum and 1-2 Liters of water.

Kuliouou First Third - Image by Nandor Szotak

Getting There: Take either Elelupe Road or Kuliouou Road off Kalanianaole Highway and head Mauka (towards the mountains) into the Kuliouou neighborhood. Both will lead to Kuliouou Road. Your last chance at a public restroom is the neighborhood park on the right a few blocks before you turn right onto Kalaau Place. Parking can be a challenge here because of the trail's popularity. Avoid parking too close to driveways as residents may struggle entering the street safely and you may get ticketed or towed. The trailhead is at the top of Kalaau Place. 



Time and Distance: Plan on 3 hours to hike this 4.6 mile out-n-back trail. The summit is 1,900 feet above sea level and you begin at about 200 feet, so that leaves 1,700 feet for you to climb. Switchbacks make the initial gain a little easier, but once you are on top of the ridge and you turn Mauka, you'll be at the mercy of the ridges natural grade. Strong trail runners may be able complete the trail in about an hour.

Kuliouou Last Third - Image by Nandor SzotakKuliouou Final Push - Image by Nandor Szotak

Overview: Kuliouou Ridge Trail is at the back of Kuliouou Valley and follows the contours of the East ridge up to the summit. After passing the gate at the trailhead, there will be a fork almost immediately. The Board of Water Supply has a water tank to the left and the Na Ala Hele trail is marked with a sign and map on the right.

Head off-road on the trail to the right and in a couple of minutes trail signs will identify where the ridge trail diverges from the valley trail. Today I am taking the right fork up Kuliouou Ridge Trail for the workout and scenic views. A boot scrubber is provided at this junction to brush off your shoes. Picnic tables and benches are available trailside in a couple of spots for you to take breaks.

I mentally divide the trail into thirds. The first third is the switchback section, which makes the elevation gain more gradual. Shortcutting the trail is a growing problem that not only damages the flora and fauna, but also the underlying microbiome in the soil. This can hinder the ability of organisms to take root and germinate. It's our responsibility as hikers to try to leave no trace, no scars on the land, and to help ensure the landscape is preserved for future enthusiasts to enjoy. The second third is more direct and runs on top of the ridge. This last section is the steep and open section. The start is marked by a second boot scrubber. You'll notice the cook pines and ironwood trees fall away and are quickly replaced by many native ʻōhiʻa trees and more native, protected species. The top isn't far from here, but the stairs are steep, so pace yourself.

On a clear day you can enjoy summit views all the way from Kailua Beach in the North down to Makapuu Lighthouse in the South. 

Invasive Species: Haole Koa and Fountain Grass litter the lower elevations. As you ascend, a forest of Cook Pines dominates the landscape. After you escape these tall trees, the invasive species thin and make way for native ʻōhiʻa and lama. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) is a fungal disease that cripples ʻōhiʻa trees. It enters through cuts and scrapes on these trees that expose the underlying layers.

Follow this link to learn more about ROD:

BootScrubber image by Yoshi Akaha

Please do your part to keep our forests healthy by not damaging these trees. Use the boot scrubbers provided on state sanctioned trails whenever they're available. As of this writing (10/25/21) they're a little worn out, but they're there to deseed your hiking shoes and remove traces of contaminants like spores and bacteria that are harmful to the native ecosystems. After you've enjoyed your day in the mountains, our island's conservation groups request that you take the time to disinfect your trail shoes, shoe spikes, gloves, and any other gear that may have picked up seeds from invasive plants. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy this beautiful ridge trail--it's a favorite of mine! You can preview the hike and pick up some helpful tips from Uloha's General Manager, Matt Sorenson in the short video below.

Hiking Kuliouou Ridge Trail | Uloha Quick Guide:

 Kuliouou Boot Scrubber2 by Yoshi Akaha