I’ve been wanting to try this hike for a long time. Things finally came together, and my friend Mia and I were able to make the trek. I’ve read some articles and blogs about this trail and was a bit apprehensive, knowing it went to the top of the Ko’olau. I wasn’t sure my knees could handle it. But going up turned out not to be a problem and the strain of going down was lessened by using a knee brace. I found a walking stick to help take the pressure off, as well. If I can do it, you can do it!
The trailhead is at the back of Kuliouou Valley. Turn into the valley from Kalanianiole Highway onto Kuliouou Road, and follow it almost to the end. Turn right onto Kalaau Place. At the end of this road is the trailhead. Find parking on the street. Google Maps shows the location of the trailhead and a nice layout of the trail itself. To start, walk just around the Board of Water Supply gate and then veer right.
Most people I’ve talked to said it took around an hour and a half to the top. It took us two hours at our relaxed pace. The trail starts on a gradual incline as you make your way into the forest. Soon there’s a series of very-slightly-steep switchbacks. This day there were a lot of muddy areas. I’m told it gets quite dry and hot during the summer. The mud was tolerable — not too bad — but we had to be careful not to slip and fall on our butts. I did see one hiker lose footing and hit the ground.
After finishing the 12-14 switchbacks, the trail flattens out to a gradual incline through beautiful wooded surroundings with ironwood trees and Cook pines. Some are the biggest Cook pines I’ve ever seen. This forest takes you out of Hawaii, feeling like you’re on the mainland somewhere. You eventually reach a picnic-table area, and now you’re about half way up. Sit, relax, and swing a little. (Note: the swing on this trail has made the local news and is scheduled to be removed.) Now get ready for the last half of the hike.
Continue on the trail which rapidly gains elevation, and soon you’ll reach the beginning of the 351 stairs. (Yes, Mia counted them.) Stop and catch some of the spectacular views of Hawaii Kai, Koko Head, Koko Crater, and Maunalua Bay. Here you’re level with the the clouds drifting down the steep walls of the valley, but the best is yet to come. The stairs become quite steep and were very muddy, as well. You will get a nice leg workout at this point. You can see the top of the mountain coming into view. Woo-hoo! You have made it to the top. Enjoy the 360-degree view of the Windward-side all the way to the Southeast-part of Honolulu, accompanied by a nice breeze to cool you off.
Time to go down. We saw several people running down. Looked like fun, but alas, not with MY knees! It wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be. Going up the steep muddy stairs made me worry about the descent, but it was fine. We stopped at the picnic table area once again and ate the snacks we brought for lunch. Then it was time for the last stretch back to the car.
This was a great hike with spectacular views at the top.
Recommended for the novice to intermediate hiker. My MapMyRun app said we hiked round-trip 6.27 miles from where we parked the car. My “Hikers Guide to Oahu” book calls it a 5-mile round-trip.
One last thought: I feel there are too many drop-offs and slippery, steep inclines for young children. Some of the 351 stairs at the top are quite deep and a challenge even for an adult. If your child is sevenish or older and is used to hiking, then they should be fine. (Just a friendly word of caution.)