Lanikai Pillbox Hike Sunrise In Oahu, Hawaii (Kaiwa Ridge Trail)
This is a short, slightly challenging hike (but still family friendly) with a big payoff. The Lanikai pillbox trail is on the windward side of Oahu island, near the town of Kailua, and it features some old World War II bunkers with amazing ocean views.
Also known as the Kailua pillbox hike or the Kaiwa ridge trail, this one has become popular to do as a sunrise hike, since it’s short and you get stunning views of the sun rising over Lanikai Beach and the Mokulua islands in the distance.
This travel guide will explain how to get to Lanikai pillbox hike, along with other information like trail distance, cost, parking, safety, sunrise tips, and everything else you need to know before you go!
- Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km) roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 400 feet (120 m)
- Duration: 45 – 60 mins roundtrip
- Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
*These stats are for the Lanikai pill box hike only. The full Kaiwa ridge trail is longer.
Lanikai Pillboxes Trail: What To Expect
The Lanikai pillbox trail takes you on a dirt path up the Kaiwa ridge until you reach some old World War II-era concrete bunkers with panoramic views.
Once you’re on the trail, you can’t really get lost. Just follow the wide dirt path and the other hikers. There’s very little shade though, so a hat and sunscreen can be helpful.
The dirt trail has lots of sand and loose rocks that can be slippery, especially on the way down. This can get muddy after a big rain, so you’ll want to keep an eye on weather conditions before you go.
At the top of the ridge, there are amazing 360 degree views of windward Oahu. To the east, you can see Lanikai Beach and the little Mokulua islands (the ‘Mokes’), while to the west you can see the Ko’olau mountains and parts of Kailua.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Distance
The one way distance for the Lanikai pillboxes hike is 1/2 mile, although it can be a bit longer than that depending on where you park.
It’s a very short hike (you can reach the top in 15 minutes if you rush), but it’s also an uphill ankle killer and a bit strenuous, so it feels longer. Bring water!
The great views start almost immediately on this hike, so even if you can’t reach the first pillbox, you’ll still be treated to some nice scenery.
Or, if you want a longer hike, you can continue on the Kaiwa Ridge Trail past the pillboxes and enjoy more of the same trek without the crowds.
There’s plenty of room on this trail for kids, but make sure to steer clear of the edges because the drop-offs are pretty significant later in the hike.
I’ve done the trail in sandals many times (including in the dark for sunrise), so it’s not exactly treacherous, but hiking shoes are a much better option if you have them.
There have been a few cases of people hurting their ankles on this hike and calling in an airlift.
Lanikai Pillbox #1
This hike features two concrete bunkers (dubbed ‘pillboxes’) at the top of the ridge, which you can sit on while enjoying the scenery.
Back in the 1940s, these pillboxes were built all over the island of Oahu as lookout posts by the U.S. military during World War II, and the two on this hike still give some truly amazing views.
The first Lanikai pillbox can be reached in about 15-20 minutes of hiking, and in my opinion it’s the best vantage point (and photo spot) of the whole hike.
It’s a fun place to chill after the hike, and there’s a nice ocean breeze so it doesn’t feel too hot up there even in the middle of the day.
From the first pillbox, you can already see the second one just a short distance away, so don’t be afraid to keep going!
Lanikai Pillbox #2
From the first pillbox at Lanikai, it’s only a 10 minute walk to reach the second pillbox, which is bigger.
The second pillbox actually has two separate rooms, and you can go inside either of them by climbing down a set of metal rungs. The interiors are filled with graffiti, and looking out the windows gives another neat perspective of the outside scenery.
Just be careful with small kids near the hatch, because it wouldn’t be a good place to fall. A safer, easier way for kids to enjoy the inside of the pillboxes is by climbing through the front window instead, although they still may need a hand.
Kaiwa Ridge Trail
After reaching the second pillbox, most people turn around and hike back down the same way they came. However, if you keep going you can see more of the Kaiwa ridge, and the crowds thin out quickly.
This part of the trail is very quiet and the views are still great. If you continue all the way along the Kaiwa ridge, the path eventually takes you east down to Lanikai Beach, or you can head west to go down to Kamahele street and the Enchanted Lake community of Kailua.
It gives some interesting possibilities for loop hikes, or you could do the whole hike in reverse by starting from one of these other sides of the ridge.As always, please remember to keep the trail clean, be considerate of other hikers, and leave no trace. Thanks and happy travels!
Lanikai Pillbox Sunrise Hike
Because of the 360 degree views that you get on top of the bunkers, this trail is also one of the best sunrise and sunset spots on the whole island.
The photos below show what kind of views you can expect at sunrise. In the morning, you’ll be watching the sun rise over the ocean (and behind the ‘Mokes’).
You’ll want to bring a flashlight and a coat if you go for sunrise, because the path will be dark and the wind at the top can make it feel a bit chilly while you wait for the sun to come up.
I would also recommend doing this hike at least once during the daytime before attempting it at sunrise. The terrain is a little tricky in the dark, so it helps a lot to gain some familiarity with it first.
With that said, the Lanikai pillbox sunrise hike is spectacular, and it’s really worth waking up early for the experience!
Lanikai Pillbox Sunset Hike
Although the Lanikai pillbox is most popular as a sunrise hike, you can also do it for sunset.
Watching the sun set behind the Ko’olau mountains is a great way to wrap up a day at Lanikai Beach, and the Kaiwa ridge is one of the best places to see it.
The photo below shows what kind of views you can expect if you do the Lanikai pillbox hike at sunset on a clear day.
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Cost
The Lanikai pillbox hike is FREE as of 2022.
There’s no ticket cost or entrance fee to do this hike, although the state has floated the idea of possibly limiting the number of hikers per day.
I’ll keep this guide updated if there are any changes!
Is The Lanikai Pillbox Hike Closed / Open?
The Lanikai pill box hike is OPEN as of 2022.
There was a brief 2-month closure for trail repairs in 2018, but aside from rare things of this sort, the trail is always open for hikers.
You can also check the Hawaii DNLR site to see recent updates about which trails are open or closed.
How To Get To Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The trailhead for the Lanikai pillboxes hike starts in an upper class residential neighborhood in Lanikai (a community in Kailua).
It’s located on a dead end road by a private drive, across the street from the Mid-Pacific Country Club, which is a scenic golf course in Lanikai.
The pin on the map below is the correct location for the start of the hike. From there, it’s easy to follow the path up the ridge!
Lanikai Pillbox Hike Parking
There’s no dedicated parking lot for the Lanikai pillbox hike, and it’s located in a residential area, so finding parking can be a bit tricky.
It’s generally best to park somewhere in Kailua and go to the trail by walking or taking TheBus, although this does add a bit of time and the nearest bus stop is still a 5-10 minutes’ walk from the trailhead.
You can also park at the nearby Kailua Beach Park boat ramp, which is a 1/2 mile walk (15 minutes) to reach the Lanikai pillbox start. This parking lot is usually full during the day, but you may be able to find a space. And it’s great for the sunrise hike since it’s empty at that time.
You can also find some parking spaces in the residential streets near the pillbox trailhead, but just be careful because the locals are touchy and parking rules are strictly enforced.
That means no parking within 4 feet of a driveway entrance or apron, within 10 feet of a fire hydrant, within 20 feet of a crosswalk, or within 30 feet of a stop sign, and no blocking the unimproved pedestrian right of way (where a sidewalk would normally be).
While you’re in Lanikai doing the pillbox trail, don’t forget Lanikai Beach is located just a 10 minute walk away!
This is one of the best white sand beaches in Hawaii, and it’s one of our favorite places to relax, swim, kayak, etc.
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