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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Lanipo Trail (Mau’umae Trail)

Basic Information

  • Name: Lanipo Trail (Mau’umae Trail)
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,961 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 5-6 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Topographic Map of the Lanipo Trail

Lanipo Trail Topo Map

Elevation Map of Lanipo Trail

Lanipo Trail Elevation Map

Google Earth Map of Lanipo Trail

Lanipo Trail on Google Earth

Narrative

On a recent weekend I was looking to hike to the summit of the Ko’olau Range on a trail a little more difficult than the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail that I had previously hiked.  The hike I decided to attempt was the Lanipo Trail which was a little bit longer hike with similar elevation gain as the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail.  This hike also offers one of the most unique views on all of Oahu of the isolated Ka’au Crater.  First I had to get to the trail which was actually pretty east to do.  The Lanipo Trailhead is accessed off of the H1 Freeway at exit 26A.  At the exit I traveled north on Koko Head Avenue until it merged with Sierra Avenue.  Sierra Avenue hen switchbacked all the way to the top of the hill until it reached Maunalani Circle:

On Maunalani Circle I spotted the trailhead which was marked with this nondescript sign:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The sign says Mau’umae Trail, but it is the Lanipo Trail.  According to the book, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu Mau’umae is the name of the ridge that the Lanipo Trail traverses.  The book also says the trail was used by early Hawaiians to catch birds in the upper Ko’olau Range and was later used by loggers to cut down the valuable sandalwood tree for foreign export.  Parking is on the side of the road which on the weekend I went, there was probably room for about 5-8 cars.

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I arrived at the trailhead at 6:15 AM and was the first person on the trail.  The start of the trail is squeezed between private property on one side and Honolulu city property on the other:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

After passing through the access corridor the view opens up and the ridgeline route to the summit of the Ko’olau Range unfolded in front of me:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The Lanipo Trail is well known for being a rollercoaster of a hike and from where I was standing I could easily see that this was going to be the case.  From the viewpoint the hike begins a steep descent down a sometimes rocky trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Below the ridge to my left I could see a nice neighborhood tucked into the valley.  In the neighborhood the most prominent building is the Muryang-sa Temple:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The Muryang-sa is a Korean Buddhist temple that was founded in 1980:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a brief history of the temple from the Muryang-sa website:

The temple’s name, Mu-Ryang-Sa, means “Broken Ridge Temple.” You may have noticed on your drive up that the top ridge of the temple is broken. What appears as a flaw of the temple has both a story and a significant Buddhist teaching. The construction of the first temple building began in 1980, but during the temple’s construction, it was discovered that the roof of the main hall exceeded City and County height limitations. As a result, the roof was lowered to its present height. In Buddha’s teachings, he speaks of shattering our inner ridge-poles of ignorance, greed, and craving in our “house of illusion.” The shattering of the ridge-pole of ignorance by wisdom results in the demolition of illusion and the attainment of liberation, or nirvana. As with the enlightenment of the Buddha, may the shattering of own ridge-pole remind us of the structures of ignorance that can be let go to reach the true heights of our inner liberation.

Once I reached the bottom of the descent, the trail next steeply ascended back up the ridgeline:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I had just started the hike and I was already experiencing the rollercoaster effect this trail is infamous for.  The ascent on this portion of the trail had a few rocky sections I had to scramble up, but nothing to challenging:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

At the top of this section of the ridgeline I found a little bench:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The bench was constructed in memory of Steve Becker who was a member of the Hawaiian Trail & Mountain Club who died on the Lanipo Trail back in December 2003:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

From the bench there are sweeping views of the area.  Here is the view looking south back towards Honolulu where the hill where the trailhead is at can be seen in the center of the picture:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at Waikiki that can be seen in the distance:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is the view looking in the opposite direction towards the summit of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I looked towards the Ko’olau summit I was a bit concerned by the rain showers I could see ahead.  I made a decision that despite any rain I would at least hike to the viewpoint of the Ka’au Crater before turning around.  From the park bench I did another short descent before powering up yet another rocky ascent:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a picture of the view behind me as I ascended the ridgeline:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

On the hill to the left of me I spotted this house where the home owner must have an absolutely incredible view of the island:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

For most of the beginning section of the hike there were very few trees along the trail until I entered into a thick forest:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

This section of the forest was mostly composed of ironwood trees which have long needles that kill the vegetation below.  This causes areas with ironwood trees to have great trails due to the lack of surrounding vegetation:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As the trail continued through the forest there were a few more rocky sections I had to ascend:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Along the Lanipo Trail there are a few social trails that go in other directions, however the main trail is easy to stay on due to pink ribbons tied to various trees:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I ascended this section of the trail, behind me I could see the always impressive Diamond Head Crater in the distance:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at this awesome crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I also had a really good view of Waikiki as well:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a nice view of Queen Kapiolani Park which I had recently taken my kids to, to attend the Filipino Fiesta 2017:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

To the west I could see Mt. Tantalus which is an extinct cinder cone volcano that rises over Honolulu that has many great hiking trails on it that I have explored with my kids before:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The trails on Mt. Tantalus may be great for young kids, but I do not recommend the Lanipo Trail for children.  The hike has too many rocky sections, muddy spots, and elevation gain for most young kids to handle.  Teenagers on the other had shouldn’t have any issues on the trail if they are fit.

As I ascended higher up the trail the muddier the trail became due to the increased moisture the higher elevations of the Ko’olau Range receives:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

It did not help either that it was now raining.  However, I stuck with my plan and continued up the trail to at least see the Ka’au Crater.  The rain did not last for long and soon the clouds passed revealing this beautiful rainbow:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I stopped to look at the rainbow I noticed these mushrooms growing on a log near the trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I have no idea if these mushrooms are edible, but during the hike I would see plenty of more of these mushrooms along the trail.  As I pushed up the trail I could see more thick clouds and rain ahead of me:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

With all the clouds blanketing it, the Ko’olau Range had a bit of an eerie look to them:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The scenery was definitely giving me the feeling that I had entered into Jurassic Park:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

No matter how ominous the view in front of me may have looked, I could just look behind me and see the sunny skies above Honolulu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I pushed up the trail I was soon engulfed in clouds again.  I had also reached the first section of the trail that had a rope:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The trail was a little bit muddy, but I was able to get up it with no issues.  However, I could see how this rope would be useful if the trail was extremely slippery due to mud.  Just a word of caution when it comes to ropes, it is always best to test it with your full weight before using them.  Additionally don’t completely use the rope to do an ascent because who knows how long it has been there.  The elements over time will erode the rope to where it could break, always keep at least one hand on the ground when ascending rocky slopes.

At this point I had entered the higher elevations of the Ko’olau Range where the plant life is very different from down below.  This is because the vegetation is primarily native plants such as the koa tree:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The trail was also increasingly engulfed with thick vegetation which made me glad I wore pants:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

My pants were soaked from the moisture on the vegetation, but at least I was not getting any scratches which is a common complaint from people who have hiked this trail before.  I next came to a rocky section that had an old ratchet strap to assist hikers up:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

It was at this point that the clouds opened up a bit and I had my first view of Ka’au Crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

This crater in my opinion is one of the most scenic views on Oahu.  To add to the view was the fact that I could see and even hear the waterfalls flowing down the side of the crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is another look at the waterfalls:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at these waterfalls:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

There is actually a trail that ascends up these waterfalls to the rim of the Ka’au Crater that I would like to try some time.  The interior of the crater I have heard is a large marsh that feeds the waterfall that flows down it:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at the marsh inside of Ka’au Crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

According to Hawaiian mythology Ka’au Crater was formed when the demigod Maui sat at Kaena Point on Oahu and tried to use his magical fishhook to drag the island of Kauai closer to Oahu.  However, the tip of Kauai broke off and landed on Kaena Point.  The big boulder at Kaena Point is known today as a Pohaku o Kauai.  Here is a picture of this boulder at Kaena Point:

Maui’s fishhook on the other hand flew into the air behind him and hit the Ko’olau Range forming Ka’au Crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

After spending about 15 minutes taking in the views of Ka’au Crater and its accompanying waterfalls I then proceeded up the trail again.  I came to another section with old ratchet straps to help hikers up:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

At this point it was raining again, but I still had good views of Ka’au Crater to the left of the trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The higher I ascended up the trail the better the view of the crater became:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

From a higher perspective I could see that the crater also had a large amount of trees growing in it and was not completely a marshland:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I was also able to spot another waterfall flowing out of the crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

With the rain continuing to fall I cautiously continued up the trail.  Since I had reached my goal of getting a view of the Ka’au Crater I was content to turn around if the trail conditions became too poor because of the rain.  I next came to the most eroded section of the hike that I took my time and carefully climbed up.  This section required me to use both my hands and feet to get up.   The light rain did not make this section slippery at all, but I could see how this could be a challenge to get up if it was drenched in moisture.  Because of this there is a rope available to assist hikers, but I did not need to use it:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Ahead of me I could see that the end of the hike was near with the summit of the Ko’olau Range visible in the clouds:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Looking behind me I captured this really nice picture of a native ohia tree:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The ohia tree has an interesting legend associated with it due to its bright red flowers:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The legend states that if you pick the tree’s lehua flower it will rain on the same day.  This belief goes back to a legend involving Hawaii’s goddess of fire Pele.  She wanted a great warrior named Ohia to marry her.  He refused because he was already in love with a woman named Lehua.  Pele was angry and turned Ohia into a twisted tree called the ohia tree today.  Other Hawaiian Gods took pity on Lehua for losing her lover and thus turned her into the Lehua flower so she could forever be with Ohia.  So if you pick the Lehua Flower you are separating Lehua from her lover which will cause it to rain due to Lehua’s tears.  I did not need to pick any Lehua flowers to cause it to rain because it was already raining.

Besides seeing Lehua flowers along the trail I also saw plenty of purple orchids:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is another plant I saw a lot of along the trail which is used to make baskets:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I continued to ascend up the trail I came to the final section I needed to climb to reach the Ko’olau Summit:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The trail is pretty steep at this point, but even with a few muddy areas it was easy to hike up.  I could see the summit peak in front of me named Kainawa’auika where the Lanipo Trail ends:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I paused to catch my breath I noticed to the east Koko Head making its self visible from the trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at Koko Head which is a volcanic crater just like Ka’au Crater and Diamond Head, but it has been submerged by the ocean forming the famous tourist destination of Hanauma Bay.  Here is a closer look at the Koko Head:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

A short distance later I eventually found myself emerging at a flat grassy spot on the summit of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

This grassy knob is the summit of the 2,520 foot Kainawa’auika peak.  Here is a wider angle view of the grassy area on top of the peak:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I was very fortunate because when I reached the summit of the Ko’olau the rain had stopped and the clouds opened up to offer me stunning views of Oahu’s Windward Coast.  To the north I could see the Ko’olau Range extending to its highest point at the cloud covered summit of the 3,149 foot Konahuanui:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Below Konahuanui I could see the town of Kaneohe:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I could even see a small section of the Pali Highway that connects Honolulu with Windward Oahu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a wider angle picture of the view looking to the north:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Further out in the distance I could see Pu’u Kanehoalani which is a sacred mountain on Oahu for native Hawaiians:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

At the base of the mountain I could see the small islet known as Chinaman’s Hat which is part of the Kualoa Regional Park:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

To the south of Kaneohe I could see the city of Kailua which is well known for its wealthy citizens and beautiful beach:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Adjacent to Kailua is the largest wetland in Hawaii named Kawainui Marsh:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Bordering Kailua I could see the Ka’iwa Ridge which the popular Pillbox Trail traverses:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Off the coast of Kailua I could also see the scenic Mokulua Islets:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Directly below me I could see the thick rainforest that engulfs much of Windward Oahu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

One of most prominent landmarks on the Windward Coast is the mountain called Olomana which has a trail that is one of the most dangerous on the island:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Something I did not know was that between Olomana and the Ko’olau Range there is a golf course:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I could barely make out the golf course because of how engulfed it was by the rainforest.  Here is a picture of the clubhouse that seemed out of place in the thick rainforest:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Something else I noticed down below was that there were even a few small farm fields located way back in the rainforest:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Directly below me looking down the extremely steep pali cliffs I could see a trail I think was the Muanawili Trail that is a long, but fantastic hike that explores the forest below the cliffs of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a wider angle picture of the view that was directly in front of me:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Finally to the east of my location I could see the primarily Hawaiian village of Waimanalo:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Adjacent to Waimanalo is Bellows Air Force Station which has one of my favorite beaches on Oahu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Directly to the east of me I could see the Ko’olau Range extending into the distance:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The Ko’olau Summit Trail (KST) that follows the ridgeline is often very narrow, wet, and dangerous in many sections.  I was more than happy to enjoy the views I had from the grassy lookout and not venture on the narrow trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a panorama view of the entire Windward Coast from Ko’olau Summit:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

In the opposite direction I had a great view of Honolulu with Ka’au Crater visible on the bottom right of the picture:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at Honolulu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is also a closer look at Diamond Head Crater from the lookout:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I could even see all way over to the West side of Oahu where the resort hotels along the coast at Ko’olina were visible:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a wider angle picture of the view looking towards Honolulu:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I sat on the summit drinking water and taking in the view I noticed this unusual round red flower which I have never seen before:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

If anyone knows what this flower is please leave a comment and let me know.  After spending about 30 minutes taking in the views from the summit I decided to head back down the trail.  From the summit I could see the entire ridgeline I would need to descend to reach the trailhead:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Going down the trail from the summit was steep, but not difficult:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I descended down the Lanipo Trail I looked behind me and noticed that the clouds were rolling back in over the Ko’olau:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I really did not want to get rained on again so sped up my descent down the mountain:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

As I descended and looked at the sides of the mountains I could see the fresh effects of erosion on the hillsides:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a closer look at the various mudslides on the steeper slopes of the mountain:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The entire Ko’olau Range was at one time a giant shield volcano like the ones found on the Big Island.  However, erosion over the centuries caused the majority of the Ko’olau volcano to collapse into the sea.  This below image I took of a signboard at the start of the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail shows the effects of the erosion that is continuing on Oahu to this day:

Eventually the entire island will disappear under the sea just like the Northwest Hawaiian Islands are today.  It took 7-30 million years for the Northwest Hawaiian to erode down to sea level and Oahu is only an estimated 3 million years.  This means there is still a lot of time to enjoy the great views of the Ko’olau before they are gone:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Something else I noticed as I descended down the trail was that I heard voices.  I looked around and did not see anyone on the trail and eventually saw they were coming from hikers ascending the waterfall below the Ka’au Crater:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Zooming in with my camera I was able to watch the hiking group ascend very carefully up the trail adjacent to the waterfalls:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is one last picture I took of the scenic Ka’au Crater before continuing down the trail:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Despite the ups and downs of the trail I was actually making very good time getting back to the trailhead.  I looked behind me and the summit of the Ko’olau was very far behind me:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

In the center of the below photograph is the peak I was just sitting on the summit of, but it was now well in the distance because of the good time I was making getting back.

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

I soon found myself walking back through the ironwood forest which meant I was nearing the area of the trail with little vegetation:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

When I exited the ironwood forest I was now exposed to the full sunshine above me:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

It was very hot outside at this point, but I continued to push myself down the trail.  I eventually ascended the hill where the memorial bench is at:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

At the bench I stopped and took some photographs of the surrounding scenery.  Here is the view looking back towards Honolulu with the trailhead located on the hill in the center of the photograph:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is a panorama photo that shows the entire view stretching from Honolulu to the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

After taking a few minutes to take in the view I then proceeded to descend the last hill of my hike:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The final section of the hike is a steep ascent up a rocky ridgeline:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

By this time I was pretty tired and could feel the soreness in my legs, but continued to power up the hill in the mid-day heat.  I soon found myself on the top of the hill looking back at the Mau’umae Ridge that I had hiked all the way to the distant summit of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

From the top of the hill I next had to walk back through the fenced in corridor:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

The corridor at least had some trees to provide some shade from the sun:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Here is the last final stretch of the Lanipo Trail before I was back at the trailhead:

Picture from the Lanipo Trail

Conclusion

At the conclusion of my hike I measured the Lanipo Trail as being 6.8 miles in distance and having 1,961 feet of elevation gain.  The distance and elevation gain may not seem too difficult, but don’t underestimate this trail.  It is harder than the statistics would lead to believe.  To ascend the trail it took me 2.5 hours and I spent 30 minutes on the summit.  To get back it took me 2 hours for a grand total of 5 hours to complete this hike.  For being a half day hike the Lanipo Trail sure did offer some incredible scenery especially of the most isolated volcanic feature on Oahu, Ka’au Crater.  Overall, for those who are in shape and are looking for a challenging hike, with little danger, and big views the Lanipo Trail delivers.

YOU CAN FIND MORE GREAT HIKES AT THE OAHU REGIONAL TRAIL FINDER:

The Oahu Regional Trail Finder

Note: Further information about the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail can be found in the below book:

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