In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before tackling the Lanikai Pillbox hike, including where to park, when to hike, the trail stats, and more!
One of the best things we did during our most recent trip to Oahu was get up for sunrise hikes. While it’s a bit hard to get up bright and early on vacation, it pays off big time. You’re able to start your day off with an amazing view, you get to experience more solitude than hiking mid-day, and you have the rest of the day to explore or relax!
And by far one of the best sunrise hikes on Oahu is the Lanikai Pillbox hike. It’s a very popular hike (you’ve probably seen it on Instagram), but for good reason! The trail is relatively short, easy and accessible for just about any age, and the view at the end is incredible! (Watch our experience on the hike!)
Whether you conquer the Lanikai Pillbox hike at sunrise, like we did, or at any other time of the day, you’ll be treated to some crazy views of the bright blue ocean and the rest of the island. It’s an absolute must-do when visiting Oahu!
Ready to hike it for yourself? In this guide we’re sharing all of the details to conquer the Lanikai Pillbox hike, including the different trailhead options, where to park, the mileage, and more!
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Leave No Trace Principles
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you research and prepare for every adventure so that you know the rules, stay safe, and to minimize resource damage.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on the trail and only camp in designated areas, as well as the required length away from water sources.
- Dispose of waste properly. Whatever you pack in, pack it out! Make sure to carry out your trash, as well as any trash you find. If you have a dog, please do not leave poop bags on the trail. For human waste, use a trowel to dig a hole far from water sources or use a wag bag (sometimes required).
- Leave what you find. Do not take any items from the trail with you, including rocks, plants, or artifacts.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Know the rules of where you can and cannot have campfires and if allowed, use designated fire rings. Use local firewood to prevent bringing any pests or diseases to the area you’re visiting and make sure to fully extinguish your fire.
- Respect wildlife. Keep your distance from wildlife, control your pets on the trail, and never ever feed them! Make sure to keep your food stored properly as well (we like this bear canister).
- Be considerate of other visitors. Be respectful to others on the trail. Hikers going uphill have the right of way on hikes and it’s always courteous to let those quicker than you pass. Avoid playing music out loud, talking loudly, and having your pets bother others.
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
About the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is located in Kailua, about 30 minutes northeast of Honolulu, on the east side of the island. The hike takes you up the Ka’iwa Ridge (another name for the trail) and has expansive views of both Lanikai and Kailua beach below, the Mokulua Islands, and the whole east side of Oahu.
And while the hike is amazing because of the views, it’s also pretty cool because of what you hike to: a couple of colorful, graffiti covered pillboxes. These two pillboxes were originally built in 1943 and used as observation stations for incoming enemy ships.
If you want to get technical, these pillboxes aren’t technically pillboxes. In military terms, pillboxes are created to be affixed with weapons. These observation points were not designed to have weapons and were only meant for observation. But we can confidently say they accomplish their goal even to this day!
Lanikai Pillbox Trail Stats
There are two different ways to hike to the Lanikai Pillboxes, with both being approximately 1.7-1.8 miles (round trip) and has an elevation gain of 636-649 feet, making it a bit steep, but thankfully pretty short, so the uphill battle isn’t for too long. You can expect to hike about 30 minutes each way.
Trail Option #1 (most popular)
The most popular trailhead is located on Kaelepulu Drive, blocks from Lanikai Beach. You will walk up a path right next to a private driveway (there is a sign to tell you where to go) to start the trail. This is where we began the hike, so this guide will mostly be based on our experience hiking up this way.
Trail Option #2
This is the less popular trailhead, which is on Kamahale Street in the Enchanted Lake neighborhood.
For both trails, the trailheads are in residential neighborhoods (see our parking tips below!) and start at easements through private property (the trails are legal for the public). The trails are also not developed, so they are not marked, but there is a clear dirt path to help guide you. And since it’s a very popular hike, no matter what time of day or year you visit, you’ll likely be able to follow others to find your way.
Be careful if it has been extra rainy, as the trails can be steep, rocky, and dusty, so they would get slick and dangerous after the rain. The first trail option does have some ropes to help you up some trickier parts as well.
Parking for the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
As we mentioned above, the trailheads are located in neighborhoods, so there are no parking lots and you’ll instead be parking on residential streets. Because of this, parking can be tricky and there are some rules to abide by.
Please be respectful to the residents by following the laws for parking on these streets so that you don’t get fined, towed, or cause a ruckus. Some general rules are to park a few feet from driveways, obey any parking signs, don’t park near fire hydrants or too close to corners and stop signs, make sure you’re facing the correct way, and don’t park in the bike lanes.
If you’re hiking at sunrise, you may be arriving when residents are sleeping, so we highly suggest locking your car from the inside (if your car makes a loud noise when locking), so you do not wake anyone up.
These residents have to deal with hundreds of hikers taking over their street everyday, so please do your part to ensure that the public does not lose the privilege to hike this trail. And make sure to leave no trace.
For the first trailhead option, we parked here and had about a 7 minute walk to the trailhead. We saw others parked on the road the trailhead was on, as well as other side streets nearby. The later you arrive in the day, the harder parking will be, so make sure to prepare yourself to circle around a bit.
When to hike to the Lanikai Pillbox
Hawaii is perfect anytime of year, so no matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to have an amazing time and view from this hike. The winters can be a bit rainier, so we’d suggest avoiding doing this hike right after a lot of rain to avoid slipping on the trail.
If we had to pick a time of day to go we firmly believe sunrise is the BEST time to do this hike because the sun rises in the east and the main view from the pillboxes faces east as well.
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is one of the most loved and popular hikes on Oahu, so do not expect solitude while you’re out on the trail or at the pillboxes. See the photo above for a more accurate representation of the hike.
We went on a Sunday morning at sunrise and it was relatively busy, although weekdays may be better. There were quite a few people sitting on the pillboxes for sunrise, so getting that picture perfect shot all alone was not really possible.
What to bring when hiking to the Lanikai Pillboxes
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
The Lanikai Pillbox hike is very exposed, so you’ll get lots of sun!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. Despite the hike’s short distance, make sure to bring plenty of water for everyone in your party. Being on an island and being so close to the ocean, it gets warm and steamy quickly!
Having a headlamp is not only one of the 10 hiking essentials, but is especially important if you plan to start your hike before sunrise or finish after sunset.
This trail is steep with loose rocks, so solid hiking footwear is highly recommended. Flip flops aren’t the best footwear for the Lanikai Pillbox hike, so if you’re planning on going to the beach after make sure to bring a change of shoes for later. We did wear Chacos (hiking sandals with good grip) and didn’t have issues with them!
Our experience hiking to the Lanikai Pillboxes
Now that we have shared info about the trail, when to hike the trail, what to bring, and more, we’re going to dive into our experience on the trail, to hopefully give you a better idea of what to expect. You can also watch part of our experience!
After a few days of exploring Oahu, we woke up bright and early to tackle the Lanikai Pillbox hike. We arrived at the neighborhood by the trailhead in the pitch black, found a good parking spot next to a park, turned on our headlamps, and started the walk to the trailhead.
There was a sign by the beginning of the trail to tell you where to go, which was super helpful in the dark. Navigating the trail in the dark was a bit tricky at times, as there were a few different path options, but we tried to stick to the paths that felt safest to us.
As we started to get closer to the ridge, the sky was lightening up a little bit, which made finishing the trail a lot easier. We were huffing and puffing a bit by the time we made it to the top, but very quickly did not mind being a little sweaty after seeing the view. Even without the sun up yet, we could tell it was going to be incredible.
We were definitely not alone though and there were a handful of groups already sitting on the pillboxes, waiting for the sunrise. We found an empty spot, snapped a few photos, and waited for the sun to peek up above the few clouds on the horizon.
The clouds started turning this crazy hot pink color, which was insane, and as the sun began to rise, the ocean started to get bluer and bluer and the surrounding mountains were given a gorgeous yellow glow. It was one of the best sunrises we have ever seen!
After the sun had risen, we snapped more photos from the pillbox area and then ventured down the jungly trail and saw a couple getting photos on this cool rock that overlooks Lanikai Beach. Once they were done, we had them take a couple pictures of us (it’s still one of our favorite photos!) and then enjoyed the view for a bit. This part of the trail was super empty compared to the pillboxes, so we highly recommend venturing past the pillboxes for a bit more solitude.
We continued further down the trail to an overlook of the mountains and inland part of Oahu before turning back around and heading down. At this point, there was a steady stream of people coming up the trail, so we were extra happy with our decision to start at sunrise.
Once back at the car, we spent the day exploring more of the area, which has a ton to offer. Keep on reading to see some of our suggestions of things to do nearby!
Things to do after hiking to the Lanikai Pillbox
The Kailua area of Oahu is incredible! It feels more residential and less commercial, with no major hotels or big shopping centers. We fell in love with this area during our last trip and hope to spend a lot more time there in the future.
If you’re looking for ideas of things to do after hiking to the Lanikai Pillboxes, here are some suggestions of beaches to visit, other hikes nearby, places to eat, and more!
Lanikai Beach has often been included in top beaches, not only in Hawaii, but in the world! The beach offers powder soft sand, islands off in the distance, and clear waters. After hiking the trail, working up a good sweat, and seeing the aqua blue waters from high above, all you’ll want to do is jump in the “Lani Kai” or “Heavenly Ocean”.
There are no facilities at this beach, but there are some next door at Kailua Beach Park. The only drawback of Lanikai Beach is that it is located in a residential area, so similar to the Lanikai Pillbox hike, there is no parking lot, only street parking. We recommend getting there before 9 AM and going on a weekday if you can. And just like for the hike, make sure to be respectful of where you park.
Kailua Beach Park
Another beautiful beach just a few minutes away from the Lanikai Pillbox hike is Kailua Beach Park. While Lanikai Beach is hard to beat, Kailua Beach is larger and has facilities like restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.
With soft sand, calm waters, and lots of real estate to spread out, Kailua Beach is a great spot to spend a day at the beach!
Pro tip: grab lunch from Kono’s nearby in Kailua for an excellent lunch! We recommend the Kalua pork burrito, sandwich, or plate!
Kalama Beach is a fantastic beach just down the sand from Kailua Beach, but without the crowds. The waters are mostly calm, which is perfect for beginner surfers and bodyboarders.
Other Hikes Nearby
Miles: 1.7 miles
Elevation: 1,040 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
Go chase waterfalls at Lulumahu Falls! We did this hike after doing the Lanikai Pillbox hike and it was awesome!
The trail to the falls is 1.7 miles (round trip) and gains about 1,040 feet in elevation. This hike is technically government property and is considered trespassing without a permit. Most people don’t get a permit, but it’s only $2.50 and super easy to get, so we highly recommend getting one to be safe.
You will park alongside a highway and enter the trail through a fence. We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map for this one, as the trail can be a bit confusing. We got a little lost (watch our experience), but if you follow the pink markers on the trees and follow the stream, you’ll eventually find it.
Note: do not visit after heavy rains, as it will be dangerous to cross the streams on this trail.
Maunawili Falls Trail
Miles: 2.8 miles
Elevation: 1,007 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
Trek through the rainforest along a creek to Maunawili Falls and its swimming hole. About half way through, you will poke out of the jungle to get great views of the surrounding area too!
There is no parking lot for this trail and you will begin in a residential area, so be sure you are parking legally, pack out your trash, and respect the neighborhood. The trail can be very muddy, especially after rain, so make sure to wear proper footwear.
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout
This amazing lookout, which is located 1,200 feet above the windward coast of Oahu, was also the site of an important event in Hawaiian history.
In 1795, King Kamehameha I won the Battle of Nu’uanu, in this spot, to unite all of Oahu under one ruler. However, during this battle, many warriors were pushed off the side of the cliffs, while others fell. When constructing the road, they found 800 skulls, which they believed to be from these warriors.
The overlook is open from 7 AM-7 PM and costs $7 per vehicle. While the fee may seem steep for a quick lookout, the views are incredible! But hold onto your hats…it gets windy!
Visit a Farmers’ Market
We love checking out local farmers markets and came across one after completing the Lanikai Pillbox hike. Here are a few options near the trail, which operate at different dates and times.
Kailua Farmers’ Market
Thursdays from 4-7 PM
Kailua Town Farmers’ Market
Sundays 8 AM-noon
Sundays 9 AM-1 PM
Looking for somewhere to eat before or after your hike? We suggest checking out these spots!
KONO’S – get the 12-hour slow roasted Kalua pork!
ChadLou’s Coffee Roasters
Rai Rai Ramen
Island Snow – the Obama family’s favorite shave ice!
Kalapawai Cafe & Deli
Adela’s Country Eatery
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