The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a relatively easy hike with stunning views, a fun family activity to appreciate the natural beauty of the island of Oahu!
Oahu is a place of stunning natural beauty, with two parallel mountain ranges, the Koolau and Waianae, connected by a lush, green, central plateau. The island has over 100 beaches, each with its own unique charm and character.
Oahu is also rich in history and culture, from the ancient Hawaiian temples and petroglyphs to the modern attractions of Honolulu and Waikiki.
Hiking is a great way to experience Oahu’s beauty and culture: you get exercise, connect with nature, and discover places you might not see otherwise.
One of my favorite hikes on Oahu is the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, and one of the best things to do in Oahu!
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a short but steep hike that takes you up to two old military bunkers (or pillboxes) that offer amazing views of the turquoise waters of Lanikai Beach, the Mokulua Islands, and the Koolau Mountains.
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike photos in this guide don’t do justice to the amazing panoramic views you get.
I urge you to hike the trail for yourself, and experience the views! As a bonus, you’ll get some stunning Lanikai Pillbox hike photos for your Instagram.
In this blog post, I’ll give you all the details you need to plan and enjoy your Lanikai Pillbox Hike.
I’ll tell you how to get there, where to park, what to bring, what to expect on the trail, and what to do after the hike.
I’ll also share some personal tips and recommendations that will make your hike even better.
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The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is a unique combination of history, nature, and adventure!
The Lanikai pillboxes were built in 1943 as part of Oahu’s coastal defense system during World War II. They are now covered with colorful graffiti and serve as lookout points for hikers.
Since the pillboxes were designed to be observation points, the views from the pillboxes are breathtaking, especially at sunrise or sunset.
You can see the whole Windward Coast, from Waimanalo to Kaneohe Bay, as well as the offshore islands that are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.
You can also spot whales, dolphins, turtles, and other marine life in the clear water below.
The hike is also a fun challenge that will get your heart pumping and your muscles working.
Enjoy hiking? Oahu has hundreds of hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging, from coastal to forested, from urban to rural.
Check out our 25 best hikes in Oahu to find suitable options! We have a hike for everyone on Oahu, whether you’re a beginner or an expert, a solo traveler or a family.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Fast Facts
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is variously called the Ka’iwa Ridge Hike, Lanikai Pillboxes Hike (because there is more than one pillbox on the way), or even the Kailua Pillbox Hike.
Though there are many pillbox hikes all over Oahu, if someone asks you about the pillbox hike, they are usually referring to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, the most popular of the pillbox hikes.
Here is some basic information about the Lanikai Pillbox Trail:
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Difficulty
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike difficulty is rated easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level and the trail conditions. The hike involves some steep and slippery sections that require scrambling and good balance.
There are also some exposed areas with no guardrails along the cliffs, so be careful and watch your step.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Length or Distance
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike length is 0.9 miles for an out-and-back total roundtrip distance of 1.8 miles.
If you are parking at the beach, the total distance is more like 2.4 miles if you include the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Elevation Gain
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike elevation gain is 406 feet, or 613 feet if you include the walk from the parking lot to the trailhead.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Reservation
No reservations are required for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike. Yay!
Family-friendly: Yes, but only for older kids who are comfortable with hiking and heights. The hike is not suitable for young children, toddlers, or strollers.
There are some dangerous drop-offs and loose rocks that could pose a risk for kids who are not careful or experienced.
Pet-friendly: Yes, but only for dogs who are well-trained and leashed. There are some sharp rocks and cacti that could hurt your furry friends.
Also, be respectful of other hikers and wildlife, and pick up after your pets.
>> Book an exciting, 5-star rated, highly popular, Oahu tour now!
Getting to the Trailhead for Lanikai Pillbox Trail
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is located on the Windward Coast of Oahu, in the town of Kailua.
The trailhead is on Kaelepulu Drive, opposite of the Mid Pacific Country Club & Golf Course, just before you reach an exclusive gated community.
There is a sign that says “Lanikai Pillbox Hike” at the trailhead.
To get there, you have a few options.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Directions
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike directions are quite straightforward.
If you have a car, you can drive to Kailua from Honolulu via the Pali Highway (HI-61) or the H-3 Freeway. The drive takes about 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
I usually enter lanikai pillbox hike kaelepulu drive kailua hi in Google maps.
Once you reach Kailua, follow the signs to Lanikai Beach and look for Kaelepulu Drive on your right.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Parking
Lanikai Pillbox Hike parking can be tricky and hard to find, especially during peak hours or weekends.
There is limited free street parking on Kaelepulu Drive, but it fills up quickly.
You can also park on some of the side streets in the Lanikai neighborhood, but be aware of parking signs and rules, as many parking tickets are given.
Do not park in front of driveways, fire hydrants, or no parking zones.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Parking: The Best Option
The best option for Lanikai Pillbox Hike parking is to park at the Kailua Beach Park or the Kailua Beach Boat Ramp parking lots, which are about 0.6 mile or 15 minutes walk from the trailhead.
These parking lots have more spaces and are free of charge, but they may also be crowded during busy times.
Bus to Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead
If you don’t have a car, you can take TheBus from Honolulu to Kailua.
TheBus routes 56 and 57 will take you to Kailua Town Center, where you can transfer to route 70 that goes to Lanikai.
Get off at the stop near Kaelepulu Drive and walk to the trailhead.
The bus ride takes about an hour and costs $2.75 per person.
Bike to Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also bike to Kailua from Honolulu via the Pali Highway or the H-3 Freeway.
Apart from a regular bike that takes about an hour and a half, depending on your speed and stamina, you can also try a scooter or moped.
We rented a moped for a day on our last trip to the island of Oahu, and loved the flexibility! Staff helped my wife with feeling comfortable on the moped.
Scooter rentals are also available and are perfect for a couple, if one person does not want to drive.
Best Time to Hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is open year-round and can be hiked at any time of the year.
However, consider the weather, crowds and views when choosing the best time to hike.
No Shade on the Lanikai Pillbox Trail
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is exposed to the sun and wind, so it can get very hot and dry during the day. There is also very little shade on the trail, so you should wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, and bring plenty of water.
You should also avoid hiking after heavy rain, as the trail can get muddy and slippery. Wear sturdy shoes with good grip, as the trail can be rocky and slippery.
Lanikai Pillbox Trail can be Crowded
Since the Lanikai Pillbox Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Oahu, it can get very crowded during peak hours or weekends. You may have to wait in line to take photos at the pillboxes or share the narrow trail with many other hikers.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you should hike early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or on weekdays.
You should also be respectful of other hikers and residents, and follow the trail etiquette.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Sunrise
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike sunrise is one of the best sunrises in Oahu.
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail offers spectacular views of the ocean, the beach, and the islands at any time of the day. However, you may prefer to hike at sunrise, when the sky is painted with beautiful colors and the light is softer.
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is one of the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, with spectacular colors as the sun rises over the Mokulua Islands and Lanikai Beach from the pillboxes.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Sunset
Oddly enough, due to the high ridge views, the Lanikai Pillbox Hike is also one of the best sunset hikes in Oahu, with colorful sunsets behind the Koolau Mountains from the trail.
However, you should be prepared for hiking in the dark if you hike at sunrise or sunset. You should bring a flashlight or a headlamp, and be careful of your footing.
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Lanikai Pillbox Hike: How Long?
The time to hike the trail depends on your pace, fitness level, and how long you spend at the pillboxes.
The trail is relatively short but steep, the shortest time to hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail is about 30-45 minutes.
We don’t recommend this, as you will miss out on the beauty and fun of the hike. You should take your time and enjoy the scenery, especially at the pillboxes.
We chose to stroll and linger, enjoy the views, and take a lot of Lanikai Pillbox hike photos, especially at sunset. We were on the trail for roughly 1 1/2 hours.
Lanikai Pillbox Trail
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail, is a short but steep hike that offers amazing views of Lanikai Beach, the Mokulua Islands, and the Koolau Mountains.
On a clear day, you may see other Oahu iconic landmarks like Kaneohe Bay, Chinaman’s Hat Island, Coconut Island, Diamond Head Crater, Honolulu skyline, Pearl Harbor, and Kaena Point.
The trail is named after the two concrete pillboxes that you can see at the top, which were built as observation stations during World War II.
The trail starts with a steep climb up a dirt path that can be slippery and rocky.
The trail is sometimes considered moderate, probably due to this initial section, the rest of the trail is relatively easier.
Lanikai Pillboxes #1
The first pillbox is about 0.4 miles from the trailhead, and it has a great view of Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua Islands. You can climb inside the pillbox and take some photos, but be careful not to damage or vandalize it.
Lanikai Pillboxes #2
The second pillbox is another 0.1 miles ahead, and it has a more panoramic view of the coast and the mountains. You can also see Waimanalo Beach and Makapuu Point from here.
Lanikai Pillboxes #3
The third pillbox is another 0.2 miles further, but it is not as well maintained or accessible as the first two.
You can continue along the ridge for another 0.4 miles until you reach a geodetic marker, which is a small concrete platform with a broken surveyor’s pole.
This is the highest point of the trail at 603 feet above sea level. You can see more of the windward side of Oahu from here, including Kaneohe Bay and Chinaman’s Hat, on a clear day.
You might see some native plants and birds along the trail, such as ohia lehua, ilima, naupaka, kolea, apapane, and amakihi. They add some color and life to the landscape.
How to Return to the Lanikai Pillbox Trailhead?
You can return to the trailhead by retracing your steps along the ridge, or you can take an alternative route that goes down a dirt road on the left side of the second pillbox.
This road leads to a residential street called Aalapapa Drive, where you can walk back to Kaelepulu Drive and then to your parking spot or bus stop.
What to Bring for Your Lanikai Pillbox Hike?
Pack plenty of water and snacks (there are no facilities or vendors along the trails).
Wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat as there is no shade on the trail.
Wear sturdy hiking shoes with a good grip, since the Lanikai Pillbox trail can be slippery and uneven, especially when hiking down or after rains.
If you are planning a sunrise or sunset hike, bring a fully charged headlamp or flashlight for safety and visibility in the dark.
Depending on the weather, or when you are hiking, dress warmly as it can be chilly before dawn, and some hikes can be very windy.
Make sure your cell phone is fully charged. We use the AllTrails app and download the maps. Cell reception may be spotty on most trails.
Bring a good camera, the Lanikai Pillbox Hike photos we took were amazing.
Bring a good pair of binoculars, you can often spot breaching humpback whales (in the winter months) or spinner dolphins clearing the surface of the ocean water from the trail.
Depending on the season, please bring and use bug repellent.
Some Precautions to Take on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Note that there are parts of the trail that have dangerous drop offs and loose rocks, keep an eye on your children.
Many parts of the trail have sharp rocks and cacti on the sides, so watch out!
Also, the pillboxes have sharp edges, be careful if you enter them or climb on them.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike: FAQ
Is Pillbox Hike easy?
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is rated easy to moderate in difficulty. I suspect the moderate rating comes from an initial section that is a bit steep, the rest of the trail was relatively easy.
After rains, the trail can be muddy and slippery!
What time of day to hike Lanikai Pillbox?
The best time of day to hike Lanikai Pillbox is early morning or late evening. There is no shade on the trail!
Is Lanikai Pillbox kid-friendly?
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is kid-friendly (no toddlers, though), with certain caveats. Some sections are steep, and there are no guardrails. Also, the pillboxes have sharp edges.
The hike is relatively short, I’ve seen many kids on the trail.
Do you need a reservation for Lanikai Pillbox Hike?
You do not need a reservation for Lanikai Pillbox Hike.
What else to do near Lanikai Pillbox Trail?
The Lanikai Pillbox Trail is a great hike by itself, but you can also combine it with some other activities in the area for a full day of fun.
Planning to spend a day around Lanikai? Check out our in-depth guide on the best things to do on the Windward (East) Side of Oahu!
After the hike, you can cool off and relax at Lanikai Beach, which is just a short walk from the trailhead.
You can swim, snorkel, sunbathe, or picnic on the beach, and enjoy the view of the Mokulua Islands.
Kayak to the Mokulua Islands
If you are feeling adventurous, you can rent a kayak or a paddleboard from one of the nearby shops and paddle to the Mokulua Islands, two small islands off the coast of Lanikai that are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary.
You can explore the rocky shores and coves, and see seabirds such as wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, brown noddies, and white terns.
Check out pricing and availability on these options:
You need a permit to land on the islands, which you can get from the Division of Forestry and Wildlife.
Explore Kailua Town
If you are hungry or thirsty, you can head to Kailua Town, which is about a 10-minute drive from Lanikai.
You can find many restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops in this charming town.
You can also visit some other attractions, such as the Kailua Farmers Market, the Kailua Beach Park, and the Kawainui Marsh.
Book a Guided Oahu Hiking Adventure!
Excited about hiking in Oahu but haven’t hiked in Hawaii before? This guided hiking adventure is a great way to get started.
It’s customizable to your interests and abilities and a local guide that’s familiar with the terrain will accompany you. Plus, round-trip transport is included.
You can pick two short hikes or a longer hike, and your guide can suggest specific hikes if you don’t know which ones you want to try.
Best Oahu Tours
Have you booked these popular Oahu tours and excursions yet?
Love snorkeling? This Turtle Canyon snorkeling excursion from Waikiki lets you frolic with colorful fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Hands down the MOST BOOKED Oahu snorkeling tour: turtle sightings are guaranteed!
The most popular luau in Oahu, Paradise Cove Luau has a 4.5 rating on Viator with over 3.5K reviews. The tour includes pick-up from your Waikiki hotel, pre-dinner games, arts, and crafts, a delicious meal, and an award-winning show.
Based in Waikiki but want to see more of the island? This full-day Oahu Circle Island Tour includes Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Haleiwa, the Dole Plantation, and more!
Pay your respects at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor! This popular Pearl Harbor tour includes boat tickets and round-trip transport from Waikiki.
A super popular Oahu North Shore excursion, this Oahu shark cage dive allows you to observe wild sharks in the open ocean from the safety of a cage! It’s a THRILLING Oahu advennture for your bucket list.
We have a detailed guide to the top Oahu tours and excursions if you are in the midst of planning your itinerary for the island.
Renting a Car in Oahu
If you want to explore more of the island of Oahu on your vacation, you should get a rental car.
Oahu’s popular attractions are spread over the island: the windward coast, the North Shore, and Ko Olina are great places to explore beyond Waikiki (or the greater Honolulu area).
While Oahu does have public transport options that are better than the other islands, a car offers a lot more flexibility and time savings.
We always use Discover Cars to book Oahu car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.
Honolulu Airport-Hotel Shuttle
If you are not planning to get a rental car at Honolulu Airport, consider booking shuttle transport in advance!
This shared shuttle can be canceled up to 24 hours from the date of service. It serves hotels in Waikiki and Honolulu and then back again to the airport the day you leave. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!
Staying in Ko Olina? Consider this round-trip airport transfer instead!
Where to Stay in Oahu
Honolulu (Waikiki in particular) offers a large number of hotels and resorts, along with shopping and dining options. Most visitors to Oahu choose to base in Honolulu at least for a part of their stay.
While many of the large chains have a presence if you are looking to use your memberships, Honolulu also has several unique boutiques to consider.
Want more room to spread out or looking to stay elsewhere on Oahu? You will find VRBO listings all over the island!
On previous trips to Oahu, we have stayed in VRBO rentals in Waikiki as well as on the North Shore and the east coast and we’ve found the choice and quality great.
More Oahu Travel Inspiration
Planning a trip to Oahu? Check out our other in-depth Oahu travel guides for help finalizing your Oahu itinerary!
Start by discovering the best things to do in Oahu. We also have a detailed guide to Oahu’s North Shore, a round-up of things to do on the east side of Oahu, and the best things to do in Ko Olina, on the west coast of the island.
Want to enjoy the thrill of observing sharks in the wild? Check out our article on shark cage diving on Oahu’s North Shore!
More advanced hikers will want to read up on the Koko Head Hike, a long set of stairs leading to expansive views.
Learn where to go for the best sunsets in Oahu, whether you want to hike or enjoy watching a colorful Hawaiian sunset without working up a sweat.
We also have a guide to the best sunrise hikes in Oahu, one of which is the spectacular Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail in the southeastern part of the island. The Lanikai Pillbox Hike is another wonderful sunrise hike on Oahu!
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