I first completed Hawaii Loa Ridge many years ago, back in 2004. I remember the trail as being a very brutal one with steep inclines and challenging rope climbs. Of course, that was way back in 2004 and Hawaii Loa was my first big hike.
I revisited this hike a few days ago with Joel, one of the friends that I originally did this hike with. The rest of the people that originally hiked this trail with us have long moved away from the islands. Needless to say, the memories of the previous hike flowed like one of the many waterfalls that we’ve since visited. I remember our group taking multiple breaks on the way up to the summit of Hawaii Loa Ridge. I remember vowing never to do this hike ever again. And I vividly remember one of my friends being so grumpy towards the end – I wasn’t even sure if she was going to make it up (we miss you Annette!).
Seven years later, I’m back on Hawaii Loa Ridge. Was it as brutal as the first time I did it? Not at all. Joel and I pretty much blazed our way up the trail, only stopping once about halfway. It took us 1 hour and 44 minutes to reach the top of Hawaii Loa Ridge. The first time we did it, it took about 2 hours and 45 minutes (over 5 hours round trip).
The trail will start off very dry, however, the deeper that you go into the ridge, the more muddy the terrain will become. There are no narrow ridges to walk on this trail, so it’s a good one to do if you’re not a fan big drop offs. Overall, Hawaii Loa Ridge offers a relatively safe upwards climb towards the Ko’olau Summit Trail. I counted about 5-6 steep climbing sections (nothing too hairy though, just take your time as you navigate your way up).
Throughout our way to the top, I kept telling Joel that “we better get a view this time.” The last time we did this trail, we were totally engulfed by the clouds and had absolutely no view of the Windward side of the island. This made for a horrible reward after completing the upward climb to the top of the ridge. Speaking of the climb, if you are able to complete the Koko Head Crater Steps Trail, then you should have no problem doing the last part of the Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail. The last quarter of the hike will involve you climbing up a few Koko Head like steps. The main difference is that these steps are much more muddy and therefore there is a greater chance of you slipping. There will be some rope installations to also help you navigate your way up.
I was initially disappointed when we reached the top of the trail. We were once again engulfed by the clouds! There was absolutely no view! Fortunately for us, this lasted for just 10 minutes or so. After that time, the clouds cleared up and were rewarded with excellent views of the Windward side of Oahu. Even better, two people that we had passed earlier on the trail reached the top and proceeded to gift us with some homemade oatmeal cookies and even some Toblerone chocolate bars! Both were excellent treats after a great cardio workout. We talked story with our new friends for a little while, took some pictures of the little green army men, and most of all we soaked in the view. Once our friends left us, we proceeded to enjoy our lunch, fried chicken bentos from 7-11, on the edge of the ridge! Anything will taste gourmet after a strenuous workout. In total, we spent an hour relaxing on the Hawaii Loa Ridge summit. That was an excellent hour.
The trek down the mountain can be a little tricky, especially navigating the slippery and muddy steps. The rope will be helpful in working your way down. We took our time walking down and it took us a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach my car. I’d rank this hike as an intermediate one and a nice next hike if you’ve already completed the Mariner’s Ridge hike.
Directions: Get on to H1 freeway east bound towards Hawaii Kai. The freeway will eventually end and turn into Kalaniana’ole Highway. You will then bear right at Kawaiku’i Beach Park and make a slight left loop onto Pu’u ‘Ikena Drive. You will then be at a stop light, cross across Kalaniana’ole Highway and make your way into the Hawaii Loa Ridge gated community. Stop at the guard station to check in. From there you continue to drive up on Pu’u ‘Ikena Drive until you reach a park. you will see a board of Water Supply tank on the right side of the park. Park on the right side of the tank.
Hawaii Loa Ridge Trail Tips:
- The trailhead to Hawaii Loa Ridge is located within the Hawaii Loa gated community. In order to gain access, you will need to stop at the guard shack and present a local ID (the driver’s license will suffice). So be sure that at least the driver has his/her ID. Everyone in the car will then have to sign off on a liability form.
- There are only about 10 stalls for parking for those wishing to do this trail. You will be turned away at the guard shack if all 10 stalls are taken. Get there at least before 10am to have an increased chance at scoring a parking stall.
- Vibram FiveFingers would probably work well throughout the dry half of this trail. However, you’ll wish you had a good pair of hiking shoes once things get a bit muddier.
- The Hawaii Loa Ridge trail offers one of the fastest and easiest routes up to the Ko’olau Summit Trail. Once at the summit of Hawaii Loa Ridge, you will be provided with two optional trails, one to the left towards Wiliwilinui and another trail which will lead you to the Kuliouou and Makapu’u. Both trails are narrow ridge trails and are for advanced hikers only.