Guide to Lanikai Pillbox Hike in Oahu, Hawaii

If you are looking for the perfect sunrise hike then Lanikai Pillbox hike is the place to go. This stunning hiking trail is filled with stunning views of Lanikai and Kailua including the picturesque Mokulua Islands. The small town of Lanikai in Oahu, Hawaii is probably by far one of my favorite places on the entire island. The water is a gorgeous turquoise color just like you see in the vacation magazines and it’s so clear. Just absolutely gorgeous. This destination is definitely one that you don’t want to miss if you are visiting the island of Oahu in Hawaii. 

In this hiking guide I will be sharing with you all of the details about the Lanikai Pillbox hike, also known as the Kaiwa Ridge Trail. Some of these details include how to be safe, finding the best parking, best time to go, packing list, and other fun things to do in the area like beaches, restaurants, and where to grab good local drink.

** THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED ON JANUARY 2023 **

photo of lanikai islands with overlay during sunrise

Disclaimer: Please be cautious when hiking and always follow Leave No Trace Principles when on the trail. There are affiliate links in this post. This means that I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This commission helps me to continue to run this website and provide free information and travel resources for you. To learn more about how affiliate links work please read our Disclosure Policy. Thank you for using our links and for your support.

photo of the islands at sunrise from the lanikai pillboxes

PARKING FOR LANIKAI PILLBOX AND FINDING THE TRAILHEAD

The Lanikai Pillbox trail is the perfect sunrise hike for a few reasons. One, the trail is not as crowded meaning it is easier to find a parking spot and avoid the crowds. And two, the Mokulua Islands are stunning during the sunrise with that morning glow. The ocean view is looking east making it a perfect way to start your day. 

Once you arrive at the location, I recommend finding a spot to park on the side of the road close to the trail head. The later you arrive in the morning the harder it is to find a parking spot close to the trailhead. As you walk up Kaelepulu Drive towards the end you can find a dirt path to your left. This is where the trail begins at. If you can’t find it, always ask a local or anyone that seems like they just got done with a hike. I’m sure they will be nice enough to point you towards the right direction.

HIKING TRAIL DETAILS FOR LANIKAI PILLBOX HIKE

Length: 1.25 miles one way (it is an out and back trail)

Elevation: 500 feet

Difficulty: Moderate but can be steep in some areas. Hold on to the ropes or trees to avoid slipping. 

Time round trip: 1 hour to 90 minutes. Maybe more depending on how far you are hiking this is the estimated time to reach the first two pillboxes and take a small break for pictures. 

Cost: Parking – free on the side of the road

Location: 265 Kaelepulu Dr. Kailua, HI 96734

RELATED ARTICLE: HIKING WITH KIDS – BEST TIPS FROM AN OUTDOOR MOM

HIKING OAHU’S LANIKAI PILLBOX HIKE

The hike is easy to find but not the easiest hike to do with little kids. If you go make sure you can carry your kid all the way up. With bigger kids, holding hands, a harness, or even a rope to help them grab onto something may be ideal. I’ve done this hike already twice and can’t wait to do it again.

ridge of lanikai pillbox trail

Begining of the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

The beginning of the hike I think is the hardest part. It is very slippery and steep. If you aren’t careful you can get seriously injured. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen so always stay hydrated, wear proper clothing, sunblock, and a hat. It is mostly all exposed to the sun so the heat will get to you. It’s best to do this hike in the early morning right after the sun comes out and the day is still cool. You can also go before the sunrise so you can catch the sunrise from the mountain top but definitely bring a headlamp, flashlight, and extra batteries to help guide you through the darkness.

Once you have passed the rough part in the beginning the rest of the way is rocky and uphill. There will still be some climbing and slippery areas so be careful. There’s some areas where it’s a ridge so definitely hold your little ones’ hands. Once you get to the first pillbox you can go around to the right side of it and climb on top. The view from here is absolutely gorgeous and worth it. It was our perfect resting spot.

view of Mokulua Islands from the pillbox at Lanikai Hawaii

First Pillbox of the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

From the first pillbox you can see the second pillbox. It’s not too much further but it’s crossing another ridge and some more climbing and going uphill in order to get to it. I stayed behind while my husband went up to explore more. I didn’t dare take the little ones but this is up to your own discretion. My kiddos were already exhausted by this point so I didn’t want to push their limits.

Second Pillbox of the Lanikai Pillbox Trail

My husband went up to the second pillbox and noted that it was about the same terrain and level of elevation to the second one. If you have older kids, I’m sure it is doable to continue up the trail or if you are baby carrying. Just be cautious with the much younger ones. 

Right underneath the pillboxes you can find a very nice residential area. Please keep in mind to never throw any trash or other items for safety of others that may be down below. 

Kaiwa Ridge

We haven’t done the Kaiwa Ridge part of the hiking trails but I wanted to add a few friendly tips to help you out in case you wanted to try it ou. The overall hike has a back entrance that can be reached through Kamahele Street. At the end of this road you should find the trail leading to the Kaiwa Ridge. This ridge connects to Kaelepulu Dr on the other side which is also the entrance for the trail head that we used meantioned above. 

RELATED ARTICLE: TOP 5 KID FRIENDLY HIKES IN OAHU, HAWAII

PACKING GUIDE FOR LANIKAI PILLBOX HIKE

I want to go over the things I packed down below so you can get more of an idea of what to bring and what is needed. Please make adjustments to your own packing list as you find fit. Take note that this is what I packed for us and our kids. You can also find individual guides regarding hiking essentials in the articles below if you are looking for a more in depth guide on what to pack for your hikes. 

You can also download our FREE packing lists in our Resource Library when you sign up below. 

WHAT TO PACK FOR THE LANIKAI PILLBOX HIKE

  • Water / Hydration
  • A hat
  • Sunblock (Check out our reef safe options here)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Baby Carrier – I like to use the Ergo for back support. Reach more about it here.
  • Sneakers or hiking boots
  • Active clothing that is comfortable and easy to move in. 
  • Backpack if you need one to carry your items. 
  • Snacks 

RELATED ARTICLE: HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS ON THE GO

ALWAYS FOLLOW LEAVE NO TRACE PRINCIPLES WHEN EXPLORING OUTDOORS

  • Always plan ahead and be prepared.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.
family photo at the first pillbox at Lanikai pillbox hike.

THINGS TO DO AFTER HIKING THE LANIKAI PILLBOXES HIKE

After doing this hike we always end up going to the beach to cool off and relax. It’s a really great way to just chill and enjoy the rest of the day after a great hike. Lanikai always brings a great vibe to my day so if you’re ever on Oahu, this is one of the must go places before you leave.  At the beach you can rent kayaks and paddle boards in various locations. You can also bring your own if you have one on the island. Definitely bring your snorkels so you can find some of the gorgeous fishes in the area.

You can also check out the local shops and restaurants to satisfy your thirsty and try some delicious local food as well.

lanikai beach ocean view of kailua beach park at oahu hawaii

BEACHES NEAR LANIKAI PILLBOX TRAIL 

There are a few beaches in the area that you can go cool off at after your hike. Here are a few of our favorite ones: 

  • Lanikai Beach
  • Kailua Beach Park
  • Kalama Beach Park
  • Castles Beach Park

WHAT TO PACK FOR THE BEACH

  • More water. It can get hot and staying hydrated is very important. 
  • Change of clothes. I always like to have a backup just in case I get dirty or muddy on the trail. 
  • Swimsuit and a towel if you plan to hit the beach
  • Snorkels, paddle board, kayak, sand toys, etc. – This is perfect for hitting the beach. 
  • Bag to put all your items in.
  • Lunch and snacks

RELATED ARTICLE: BEACH ESSENTIALS FOR THE FAMILY

mountain top view from lanikai pillbox trail

OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN LANIKAI, OAHU, HAWAII

If you want to do different things in the area that doesn’t involve a beach then you can check out these destinations: 

  • Pacific Country Club
  • Manoa Chocolate Hawaii
  • Moke’s Bed and Breakfast
  • Lanikai Brewing Compay – Tap and Barrel
  • Maui Brewing Company
  • Maui Mike’s – Fire Roasted Chicken (Our favorite place to get chicken at)

NEARBY LOCATIONS CLOSE TO LANIKAI THAT YOU CAN VISIT

If you want to venture off to a different city or town on the island then here are a few that are not too far away and have plenty of things to do. 

  • Diamond Head – about 40 minutes away. 
  • Koko Head – about 38 minutes
  • North Shore – about 50 minutes
  • Waimea Valley – about 1 hour
  • Kapolei – about 41 minutes
breastfeeding my little girl at Lanikai.

MORE HIKING TRAILS WE LOVE ON OAHU, HAWAII

  • Diamond Head
  • Ehukai Pillbox Trail
  • Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
  • Waimea Valley Falls Trail

MORE INFORMATION

SUMMARY OF THE ULTIMATE HIKING GUIDE TO THE LANIKAI PILLBOX HIKE

Hawaii has some very gorgeous and scenic hiking trails but this one is one of the best sunrise hikes in Oahu. If you do any of the hikes, I highly recommend doing this one. Make sure to arrive early, pack plenty of hydration, wear comfortable clothes, and bring your camera for that stunning morning glow over the Mokulua Islands. 

Well that’s a wrap for this hiking guide. I really hope you enjoyed the guide and are able to plan ahead for it. Always go prepared and bring what you need to hike safely. Don’t forget to always practice Leave No Trace and be courteous of others on the trail. Also if you enjoyed this blog post then you can check out more of our Hawaii travel guides here if you’d like. 

Hi, I'm Jessica!

I am a wife and mother to three amazing kids. A coffee addict and wine lover. I also have a huge love for the mountains and the the ocean. Through my blog I hope to inspire families to spend more time outdoors. 

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