Note: Lanihuli trail is a closed trail and is not open to the public. As our disclaimer partially reads: “I’m not your daddy, these are dangerous as sh*t hikes, even the simple ones, if you got [insert applicable disorder, disease, or physical impairment] don’t even think about it yo.” Also, consider these tips on Hiking Safely In Hawaii. Mahalo.
Our hike to Lanihuli took a lot of time and research  to plan but it was all worth it. The planning and research took place as soon as I got home from the Kamanaiki Ridge Trail that Marvin, Joel, and I completed a week ago. From the Kamanaiki Trail, we had an excellent view of the Lanihuli summit, a peak on the Ko’olau Range that towers over the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus. I had also heard many great things about Lanihuli from people who have reached it via the Pali Puka. Needless to say, I was adamant on experiencing the stellar views that Lanihuli had to offer.
The morning started at 7am with a stop at Safeway. After picking up a few snacks and our lunches, we headed straight to Na Pueo Park. There are three known ways to access the Kapalama Loop Trail. One way is via Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus, however, they do not offer permits to access the hike trailhead . Another access point requires disturbing a residential area. The third access point utilizes the Na Pueo Park Bypass Trail located in Na Pueo Park (see directions to Na Pueo Park below). We chose the third access point since it did not require any trespassing.
Once you arrive at the park you will see a Jungle Gym to the far right. The trailhead to the Na Pueo Park Bypass Trail is located to the far left just below the water tank (see photo above). You will see a series of pink ribbons that will guide you toward the Kapalama Loop. Eventually, you will reach an area of the bypass featuring some fenced rock (to prevent the rocks from rolling down to the residential homes). Along the way, we spotted a small cave area that contained a few empty beer cans and some rather large bones. Continue to follow this path and you will eventually be greeted with an open area sporting multiple pink and orange ribbons. We found a ribbon (see photo below) that was put up by XJ of the Not So Great Hiking Blog. This ribbon had an arrow that pointed to the right. We followed that ribbon through what seemed like an unmarked trail (there were ribbons placed sparingly here) but eventually we intersected with the Kapalama Loop Trail .
Once on the Kapalama Loop Trail from the Na Pueno Bypass Trail, you can either turn and continue left or turn and continue right. If you turn left then you will be headed toward Kamehameha Schools. If you turn right then you will eventually reach the junction to Lanihuli. Lanihuli was our destination so we turned right. At this point, the trail seemed very un-Hawaii like. You’re greeted with a variety of pine trees which makes it seem like you’re hiking a trail on the mainland. We did, however, find some Strawberry Guava’s, which I of course munched on. The first landmark that you will encounter will be the makeshift camp ground, complete with a makeshift tarp topped tent. The trail is a mix of steadily inclining ups and downs. Exhausting as it was, the trail would become even more brutal.
It took us 2 hours from the start of the Na Pueno Bypass Trail to reach the Kaplama Loop and Lanihuli Junction. You’ll know it’s the junction because of the all of the ribbons to the right. If you go left then you continue on the Kapalama Loop Trail. We took a little breather at this junction and I was even able to snap a few traditional OWLing shots atop of an old and banged-up looking Koa tree. I have to say, Marvin is becoming quite the expert OWLing photographer (he might in fact the be the world’s foremost authority on OWLing photography).
The last leg of this hike will lead you from the Kapalama Loop Trail to the Lanihuli Summit. Again, the trail is a mix of ups and downs. Some of these ups and downs were very steep. Often times, these steep sections will include a variety of old rope, used straps, and/or worn out computer cables (yes, computer cables). Remember, never put all of your body weight on these ropes as they can break at any time. The first third of the Lanihuli trail is quite mundane – it’s mainly flat with moderate ups and downs. The middle part of this trail is where things will get fun. First, you are introduced to a steep and muddy decline (which you will need to climb back up on the way home). Then, you’ll reach a narrow ridge that others have found to be quite intimidating. We were a bit disappoint with this open ridge, though. It is narrow, with drops on both sides, however, there are a lot of vegetation there for you to grasp. Take your time on this narrow ridge section and you will be fine. The final third of the Lanihuli Trail is the most exhausting because you will be introduced to steep incline after steep incline. According to Marvin’s GPS, you go up about 550 feet in about 0.35 miles. As you work your way to the top, just think of how awesome the summit of Lanihuli will be. And let me tell you, if you’re lucky to be there on a clear day then you will be in for a treat.
Marvin was his speedy self and reached the top first. I followed second and was super stoked by the magnificent view. Marvin mentioned that the view from this summit rivals that of Manana (his favorite hike). I loved the view because it featured a somewhat symmetrical view of the Windward Coast. It appears symmetrical because of the symmetrical manner that the highway below was shaped.
After snapping a few photos from atop the Lanihuli Summit we sat and enjoyed our lunch while soaking in the views. Speaking of lunch, remind me never to buy another sandwich from Safeway again because it was nearly all bread and was severely dry! Next time I am bringing a SPAM musubi for lunch. We spent a total of 1-hour at the summit. I split the time between eating lunch, setting up a timelapse, and taking a quick nap. Energized, rejuvenated and inspired by our 1-hour summit break, we began the trek down toward the Kapalama Loop . For some reason, I felt really sluggish on the way down. All of those steep declines turned into steep inclines and I was exhausted (the energized state gained from the summit break lasted only a short while). Usually, the return trek back down a hike is often faster then the trek up. Today however, we took an even 4-hours up the trail and 4-hours down the trail.
I’m not going to lie, I thought this trail was brutal. It’s probably because it was my first long hike (I’ve been recently focusing on shorter distance hikes) since doing Bowman to Haiku Stairs (11.5 hours) this past August. As I write this post I can feel various parts of my body aching. My toes feel like they have been tortured. My calves are tense. My knees are in pain. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed this hikes. When I asked Marvin to rate this hike on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), he gave it a 9.6 and mentioned how it was a pleasant surprise. The mystery of connecting the various junction points coupled with the excellent summit view made this a hike that I will not soon forget.
Lanihuli Trail Tips:
- My 2-Liter CamelBack was not enough for me. It’s a good thing that I had packed in extra bottle of gatorade. Expect to spend 9 hours on this trail, so pack enough water (3 Liters or more).
- A large portion of this hike is open with no shade so remember to apply sunscreen.
- Be prepared before you go on finding the trailhead, and the different junctions. These can be tricky to find.
Total Miles: 7.2 miles roundtrip
Total Time: 9 Hours (including a 1-hour summit break).
Directions: There are three ways to access the site, I will describe the access point that does not require trespassing. This trailhead access point is located at Na Pueo Park on Alewa Drive. Take the H1 Ewa bound (west) and take exit 21A to merge onto N. School Street. Turn right onto Liliha Street and then turn left onto Judd Street. Turn right onto Mahalo Street and then turn left onto Twin View Drive. Make a sharp left onto Alewa Drive. Follow Alewa Drive to near the top of the hill. The park is located on the right side of Alewa Drive and is located in a residential area.
2. Even alumni have reportedly had difficulty gaining access. If you want to start via the Kamehameha Schools Kapalama Campus then you probably have to be either faculty or staff.
3. On the return trek back, we ventured off trail a bit at around this point. Fortunately, Marvin had his GPS system with him and Joel was nearby and had found the correct path. We found an orange ribbon attached to a metal fence that we then followed. This metal fence then led us to that sea of pink and orange ribbons mentioned above. So, if you decide not to follow NSGH’s ribbon pointing to the right, then you can instead walk up toward the sea of pink and orange ribbons and this should lead you to the fence, which you will need to follow right. This should then lead you to the Kapalama Loop Trail. If you are unsure (and it can get confusing) then please feel free to purchase our downloadable [CHECK BACK, THIS IS COMING SOON] GPS .gpx file which you can then upload to your personal GPS device.
4. The summit splits off into two separate trails. Facing the Windward side, the trail to the right will lead you toward the Pali Puka and Pali Lookout. The Trail to the left will lead you to the Bowman Summit.