Waahila Ridge to Kolowalu: An Easy Stroll At The Top of Saint Louis Heights

I’ve been a little obsessed with the Honolulu Mauka Trail System as of late. This trail system consists of 18 different trails, many of which can be connected to create longer hikes. Some of the variations that we have done and have featured on this site include:

Waahila Ridge has been on my list of hikes to do for some time. I had originally wanted to use this route as means of accessing Mount Olympus, but opted instead to use the Kolowalu Trail as the connector. With a short amount of time at my disposal, I decided to check out the Waahila Ridge Trail, connect with Kolowalu, and then finish up by completing Puu Pia. This would allow me to knock off two more trails from the Honolulu Mauka Trail System, since I already had done Kolowalu in the past.

You’re greeted with tons of pine trees as you enter the Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
To Mount Olympus. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Skyward. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Lots of signage so there’s no way that you could get lost. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

This would be a solo hike for me. Joel dropped me off at the Waahila Ridge trailhead, which is located within Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area. At the end of the parking lot you will notice the signage indicating the start of the ridge trail. During the drive, Joel recalled how he needed to hike this trail as part of Biology 265: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology class at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. [Do you want to try and do the lab yourself, here it is.] He mentioned that a few of his classmates opted out, deciding instead to write a paper. This is a class that I should have taken! Alas, Joel would not be joining me today. He instead had other plans, namely a family party to attend. He always chooses filipino food over hiking!

According to Na Ala Hele, Waahila Ridge is 2.4 miles long roundtrip. The trail ends at the Kolowalu-Waahila Junction. This junction marks the start of the trek up to Mount Olympus. Getting to this junction is much more enjoyable via Waahila Ridge versus Kolowalu. There are two major reasons: 1. The view, and 2. boulder hopping.

The Kolowalu trail is a valley trail that offers no view en route to the Kolwalu-Waahila Junction. Waahila Ridge, on the other hand, offers views of both Upper Manoa Valley, Palolo, Diamond Head, and Downtown Honolulu. Furthermore, by taking Waahila, you bypass the heart attack hill that needs to be climbed after passing Kolowalu Stream in order to reach the junction. This hill is cardio intensive and might appeal to certain folk, however, those looking to simply enjoy a hike with less exertion might consider Waahila Ridge. The advantage with Waahila is that the drive to the trailhead will have erased 1000+ feet of elevation for you. What’s left will be a series of moderate ups and downs with some mild boulder hopping.

Lots of pine, lots of mountain, lots of cable, lots of city. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Beautiful view of Downtown Honolulu. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
You can see the Waahila Ridge trail to your left. Keep going and you’ll reach Mount Olympus! Just be sure to turn where the signs say to stop! Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Keep going. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Looking toward Mount Olympus. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Once you’ve hit this sign you know you’ve reached the end of the Waahila Ridge Trail. Go straight to continue on the Kolowalu Trail which will bring you to East Manoa Road, or turn right and continue on toward Mount Olympus. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Waahila is a ridge hike, and there are a few sections that are quite open and exposed. With that said, much of this hike is very safe and maintained. As I hiked the trail, I noticed some koa trees and a lot of strawberry guava. Strawberry guavas were just about coming into season when I did this hike a few months ago, and it was on this hike that I had my first taste since 2011. It is quite possible that the last time I had strawberry guava’s was during my hike up Olympus early last November.

Once I reached the Kolowalu-Waahila junction, I sat for a bit to enjoy a cliff bar. As I relaxed, I noticed that a lot of people were descending Olympus and jumping back on the Waahila Ridge trail. I noticed that many of these hikers had full gear on, including CamelBaks, hiking sticks, and gaiters. Once I saw the large number of gaiters, I figured that this was a sanctioned HTMC hike to Olympus. When I got home I checked the HTMC schedule and I was indeed right.

The trip down Kolowalu was uneventful. As I made my way down that gut busting hill, I realized how much I hated going up it the last time. Since I was all alone, I decided to crank up the volume on my iPhone to block out the creepy sounds of the area. The stream section is especially eerrie, and I constantly found myself looking back. I couldn’t help but think of the stories that Uncle Joe of Oahu Ghost Tours shared with me about Manoa Valley during a ghost tour the previous year. Fortunately, the 1-mile Kolowalu trail went by relatively quickly. In total, it took me just under 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the start of the Kolowalu trail, marking the end of my hike for the day.

I contemplated continuing on Puu Pia, so I phoned in to check on Joel. He mentioned that he would be leaving his party soon and so I did not have enough time to finish Puu Pia. This short trail overlooking Manoa will need to wait for another day. Instead, I walked from the Kolowalu trailhead, down East Manoa Road, to McDonald’s. An icy cold Coke would be my savior on this hot and humid day.

Not only can you reach Mount Olympus, but you can keep going and eventually reach Kaau Crater. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
Downtown Honolulu in the distance. Photo by Coty Gonzales.
The Koolau Range in the distance. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As far as the Honolulu Mauka Trail System goes, I have just a few mini trails to cross off of my to-do list:

  • Tantalus-Arboretum
  • Pauoa Flats Trail
  • Nuuanu Trail
  • Judd Trail
  • Puu Pia Trail

Explorers: Coty Gonzales

Total Distance: 2.28 miles.

Total Time: 1 hour and 27 minutes.

Directions to the Waahila Ridge Trailhead: Waahila Ridge State Recreation Area is located at the end of Ruth Place, via Peter Street from St. Louis Drive off of Wai’alae Avenue, St. Louis Heights, Honolulu.

By Coty

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

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