Puu Hapapa: Surveying the Waianae Range at 2883 feet

If I had to sum up Puu Hapapa in three words, those three words would be: short, thrilling, and exhilarating. This actually was not my first attempt at Hapapa. Last February I was scheduled to hike it with a few other people. However, it ended up pouring rain within the first 15 minutes of the hike. Due to the unforeseen circumstances, Joel, Ahnate, and I decided that it would be best to pass on the rest of the hike and instead go, ummm, bowling. Hey, bowling, beer, and comfort food is a nice alternative to wet hiking! Four months later, we returned to Puu Hapapa. Fortunately for us, the skies were clear and the trail was nice and dry. Today’s crew would be Exploration: Hawaii regulars, Joel and Ahnate, plus my good buddy John, who just returned from a stint in Afghanistan. John was game for an epic hike and so were the rest of us. Hapapa was on like Donkey Kong.

Within 15 minutes or so of hiking you get this view. The mountain in the back is the one we climbed. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Hapapa Notches. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John looking toward Waianae. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

That’s Waianae behind Coty. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

The Puu Hapapa trail is located in Wahiaha and is situated on Schofield Barracks, a United States Army post. It can be an iffy situation if you’re a civilian trying to enter with the intent to hike Hapapa. You’ll definitely need identification and your vehicle registration before you’re allowed to enter. If the Army is participating in live firearms then you won’t probably won’t be granted access. Of course, it was easy for us to get in since John is in the Army. From the Lyman entrance, you will continue to drive straight until you reach a fork in the road. Turn left at the fork and continue driving straight. Just before you reach the Kolekole pass entrance, you will see a dirt lot to your left. This is the parking for the Hapapa trail and the location of its trailhead.

From the parking lot you will walk into the valley while passing a few warning signs. You’ll also pass a large rock. This rock is known as the Kolekole pass rock. There are rumors that this rock used to be used by ancient Hawaiians for beheadings. That’s just a rumor and something that I believed has been made up. Still, it’s a nice photo opportunity and story to tell. Continue pass the rock and up some dirt steps. Eventually you will pass a white tower. Continue pass the tower and shortly thereafter you will reach the open valley. From here you’ll have a clear view of the two notches and subsequent ridge that you be climbing and hiking on. It’s at this point that you should start to feel your palms begin to get sweaty. Those notches, they’re sketchy. Proceed with caution.

Steep hill. Use the roots as steps. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The first notch that we had to climb is that monster in the background. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John, Ahnate, and Coty strike a pose for the camera. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Someone said something funny. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Intense photo of Joel and Coty hanging out and looking at the first notch. This was one of my favorite shots of the day. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Joel stands strong. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

From the open section you will follow the trail back into the covered valley. Eventually, you will work your way up a steep dirt hill. The tree roots are useful here as makeshift steps. At the end of this steep hill will be your first challenge, the first notch. The first notch is indeed the scariest of the two. It’s intimidating. You get an up close view of the rock face that you will need to climb (and the one that you will need to climb down when making you return trip). There are two ways to tackle that rockface. There’s a rough contour trail to the left, or you have the option of using the hand and footholds on the rockface to work your way up. A misstep here would likely lead to death as you would fall straight down into the valley below. It’s a long and hard drop. The other issue is that the rocks are quite loose here. There were many instances in which we pulled rocks right out of the wall. Not good. Thankfully, we all made it pass the first notch.

Almost immediately after passing the first notch you will encounter the second notch. The second notch isn’t as bad, however, steep sections and loose rock will be your adversary. Take your time and test hand and footholds before placing your full weight on them. If you succeed pass notch two then you’re in the clear (for the most part). The rest of the trail will be a fun ridge hike with drops on both sides. Of course, if you’ve made it this far then those drops should be more thrilling then scary (you’ve completed the scary part). You’ll ridge walk for approximately 45 minutes until you reach a fence that will run along the rest of the trail. About 5 minutes after following the fence, you will reach the Hapapa lookout platform. Soak in the views because if you’re there on a clear day then you should have an awesome view from Waianae to the North Shore and even Diamond Head. Facing Waianae and Lualualei Valley, we could see Puu Heleakala and Puu O Hulu. Shifting a bit toward the North Shore, you can make out the tallest peak on the island, Mount Kaala. Turn around and you’ll see Dillingham Airfield and the Kealia Trail. Continue to shift your gaze to the right and you should be able to see all the way to Diamond Head Crater.

Joel climbs. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John and Joel on the ridge. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate’s best superhero impression. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Some Army men were found. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Group shot at the Hapapa Summit. Thanks Ohia Lehua for holding my camera. Photo by Ohia Lehua.

Picked up some Loacker Dark Chocolate Wafers for a summit treat. John served as the hand model. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

While at the summit we engaged in some tomfoolery. Ahnate made a funny timelapse. I took photos of tiny toy Army men (apparently, the same Army men seen in these photos). John disseminated the Loaker dark chocolate wafers. Joel was fooling around with Instagram on his iPhone. Speaking of iPhone, I might be dubbing this crew Team Apple or the iCrew! We’re all Apple aficionados with a fond affection for our Macs, iPhones, and iPads. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully, Gentaro’s knee and his iPhone will be healed and ready for the next hike.

I’m happy that I didn’t do Hapapa the first time around. It would have been a waste. The views are beautiful on a clear day but not so much when it’s cloudy and rainy. Plus, that rockface would have been a pain to climb. Rule of thumb: if it’s pouring on the day of an epic hike, opt instead for beer, bowling, and good comfort food. The trail will always be there and it will arguably be much more enjoyable on a sunny day.

Explorers: Coty Gonzales, Ahnate Lim, John Mercado, and Joel Sabugo.

It was such a clear day. We could see all the way to Diamond Head. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Ahnate, John, and Coty making their way back home. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Joel, John, and Coty traversing a tiny saddle. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Joel and Ahnate on a narrow ridge portion. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

John and Joel on the other side watching as Coty starts his descent down the first notch. Photo by Ahnate Lim.

Joel watched as Ahnate climbs down the first notch. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Coty’s stoked. About something. Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Total Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes.

Puu Hapapa Tips:

  1. Not for the faint of heart. If you dislike heights or open ridges then this is not the hike for you.
  2. Go on a nice clear day, the views will be much more rewarding. The drawback is that the heat might be punishing.
  3. Sunscreen! You’ll be exposed to the sun for most of this hike.

Directions To the Puu Hapapa Trailhead: From Honolulu, take H1 west bound. Proceed on H-1 to the H-2 interchange and go north to Wahiawa. Continue on H2 (about 8 miles) until it ends into a divided highway (Wilikina Drive 99), proceed to the second traffic light (Wilikina & Kunia Road) and turn left onto Kunia Road. Make a right at LYMAN GATE and proceed to the guard shack. Once the guard gives the OK, continue to drive straight until you reach a fork in the road. Turn left at the fork and continue driving straight. Just before you reach the Kolekole pass entrance, you will see a dirt lot to your left. This is the parking for the Hapapa trail and the location of its trailhead.

About Coty

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


  1. Wow! These are the best photos I’ve seen of Pu’u Hapapa. Good job.

    I was wondering though, the last time I attempted this, I saw a barbed wire fence blocking progress further down the trail (near Kole Kole rock). Is this trail open now? Wouldn’t mind doing this one someday. (:

    • Hi Punynari! Thank you and I’m happy that you enjoyed the pictures!

      The barbed wire near Kolokole rock was actually there when we went the first time in February and again this time. The trail actually contours around the barbed wire. There were many more military families that went around the barbed wire as well to access the lookout point (see the first photo, that’s where most of the families stopped – it’s about 15 minutes into the hike and pass the barbed wire). It should be fine. We also told security at the gate which hike we were doing and they had no problem with it. You should be fine!

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