A Journey to Mount Olympus (Awaawaloa) via the Kolowalu Trail

With the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in full swing last week and leaders from all over the world arriving on the island, Joel and I decided to skip the busy city streets and instead explore the depths of Manoa Valley. Awaawaloa, or Mount Olympus as it is affectionately known as in the hiking community, has been on my to-do list for some time now for two reasons. First, it’s one of the Honolulu hikes in Stuart Ball’s The Hikers Guide to Oahu. And if you remember, I’m trying to complete all of the Honolulu hikes in Ball’s book by the end of the year. Second, Mount Olympus seemed (by name at least) very intimidating and I like to tackle intimidating things.

From the top of Mount Olympus you get a great view of Diamond Head Crater and Kaau Crater.

There are two well-known ways to tackle Mount Olympus, the first being via the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail atop of St. Louis Heights, or via the Kolowalu Trail in Manoa Valley. After discussing with Marvin the night before, we decided against Ball’s suggested route of Wa’ahila Ridge [1] and instead opted to go with the Kolowalu Trail. To access the Kolowalu trail you will need to follow East Monoa Road until it ends and turns into Alani Drive. Continue on Alani Drive until it intersects with Woodlawn Drive. We parked along this road. A sign indicating the trail can be seen on the curve where the two roads intersect. Follow the sign on to the gravel road and a few moments later you will reach the trailhead to both the Pu’u Pia and Kolowalu Trail. The Kolowalu Trail is the one that you want. Here, you will also see a little wooded picnic and rest area.

Spotted this plant at the start of the trai.

Spotted this plant at the start of the Kolowalu trail.

A few moments after staring the Kolowalu Trail (~11:25pm), Joel and I realized that this would be a very wet, muddy, and mosquito infested trail. We were both wearing shorts and failed to apply mosquito repellent. This did not help our cause, especially considering that neither of us have mosquito repellent skin like Marvin [2].

The trail will soon steeply gain elevation as you stomp on the wet rock. Once out of the rocky wet stream like section, the trail will veer right along the ridge. Continue up until you encounter a T-like interaction. Joel thought this to be the Kolowalu-Wa’ahila Junction. I said it was not. There was no signs so Joel assumed that they removed the signs. I insisted that there were no signs to begin with as we had not yet reached the junction. We continued on the trail, veering left up a long hill. The hiking sticks really helped in this steep but open section.

Ready to hike.

After passing the first of three clearing, we eventually did reach the true Kolowalu-Wa’ahila Junction along the crest of Wa’ahila Ridge (~12:45pm). This junction marked the end of both the Kolowalu Trail and the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail. This is made evident by the three posted signs indicating the end of both trails. There is also a third sign indicating the end of the maintained trail, warning to not continue beyond that point. This sign indicated the start of the trail to Awaawaloa, or Mount Olympus.

As we worked our way up, we encountered the second clearing at 1:15pm. At this point, we had a clear view of Mount Olympus – it seemed so far away. Dayle Turner suggested that it would take two hours from the junction to reach the summit of Mount Olympus. I was worried that we would take longer than that. With that in mind, we hiked on.

Coty looks on. The top of Awaawaloa seems so far away.

We reached the third clearing about 40 minutes later and took a short break. At this point, two other hikers arrived shortly. We chatted with them a bit and found out that they had taken the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail. They were neither old, nor were they boy scouts. Marvin was wrong yet again [1]. From there, we made the final push to the top of Mount Olympus. As we made out way up the final hill we encountered some very steep and muddy sections. There are ropes in these areas to help you with the climb up. The hiking sticks that we brought along worked wonders. At 2:15pm we trekked past the white T-Shirt inscribed with the state motto just before reaching the summit of Mount Olympus. In total, it took us a little under 3 hours to reach the summit of Mount Olympus. Those 3 hours were totally worth it as we were treated to an outstanding 360 degree view of the island. On one side we could see Olomana and Konahuanui, while on the other side we had views of Ka’au Crater and Diamond Head. We spent about 30 minutes at the top just soaking in the amazing view. It was very windy on this day and it was a bit overcast, but still there was nothing to complain about since the views were spectacular.

At around 2:45pm we decided to make a mad rush back down. Time was not on our side, and we were afraid that the sun would begin to set before we were out of the valley. Fortunately for us, the journey down did not take as long as the journey up. It took us exactly 2 hours to finish the trail and reach the Kolowalu Trailhead. The five hour hiking time is totally worth the breathtaking views at the top of Mount Olympus. You could even shorten the hike time if you take the less strenuous Wa’ahila Ridge Trail. I won’t think any less of you, though, Marvin might.

From the Olympus summit you get great view of Olomana and Konahuanui.

Coty takes a good look at Olomana.

It’s a long journey home.

Spotted these lemon looking organism growing on a tree. They weren’t lemons.

A mosquito kept flying into this photo. We finally got it right the third time around.

Total Distance: 5 miles roundtrip.

Total Time: 5 hours (including a 30 minute summit break); 3 hours up and 2 hours down.

Mount Olympus Trail Tips:

1. Hiking sticks proved to be very useful on this trail, especially when navigating the wide open yet steep sections of the trail.

2. Remember to apply mosquito repellent both when ascending into and descending out of the Kolowalu Trail.

Directions: Head towards the back for Manoa by going to the end of East Manoa Road. At the end, make a left on Alani Dr. and go to the end of the street to where it intersects with Woodlawn Drive. Park along the road in this area. Follow the sign on the road to the trailhead.

 


1. Marvin insisted that Wa’ahila Ridge Trail is for old people and boy scouts. Sorry in advance if Marvin has offended you.

2. Marvin claims that mosquitos do not bite him.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.

8 comments

  1. Still haven’t been bitten by a mosquito in Manoa hikes, although I might have been over in Laie.

    Pretty sure Wa’ahila trail is much longer than starting with Kolowalu so it shouldn’t make the hike shorter. But it would make the hike easier since the elevation gain is more gradual.

    • Waahila might be longer but because of the gradual elevation gain you’ll get there faster. Dayle Turner did Waahila Ridge to Olympus in 90 minutes.

    • 9-year-old girl did it when it was dry! They only had to deal with mud from summit to cabin, and that took them 30 minutes. We did that section in about 20 minutes.

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