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Best Hikes on Oahu: Ehukai Pillbox Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Ehukai Pillbox Trail
  • Where: Sunset Beach, Oahu
  • Distance: 3 miles round-trip for loop hike
  • Elevation Gain: 670 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 2 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Topographic Map of Ehukai Pillbox Trail

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Google Earth Map of the Ehukai Pillbox Trail

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Narrative

A really nice kid friendly hike that I took my 4-year old son on was the Ehukai Pillbox Trail located on Oahu’s North Shore.  The trail is well maintained and offers a beautiful view of the North Shore from the top of an old World War II era military bunker.  The hike begins at the Sunset Elementary School, which is located off the Kamehameha Highway just a short distance outside the village of Pupukea:

The school is located in an amazingly beautiful area with the famed Sunset Beach literally right across the street and the green foothills of the Ko’olau Range rising above it:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

It is important to remember to not park in the Sunset Elementary School parking lot.  Parking for the Ehukai Pillbox Trail is located along the sidewalk near the public restroom and playground adjacent to the school.  I was fortunate enough to get there early enough to find a place to park, but since Sunset Beach is so popular the lot can fill up pretty quickly:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

From the parking lot the trailhead for this hike is very easy to spot, just look for this large orange sign:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Based off of what I read on the sign there was a lot of organizations involved with the establishment of the Pupukea-Paumalu Forest Reserve where the Ehukai Pillbox Trail is located.  Here is further information about the forest reserve and efforts to maintain it from the North Shore Community Land Trust website:

The 1,144-acre Pūpūkea-Paumalū State Park Reserve was permanently protected from development in 2007. Since that monumental conservation agreement, the North Shore Community Land Trust has worked with the State of Hawaiʻi Parks Department to steward this unique resource and ensure that it is safely enjoyed by community members and visitors alike. Unless otherwise announced, monthly community work days occur on the fourth Saturday of each month from 9am-noon. Meet at the trail head adjacent to the Sunset Beach Elementary School parking lot prior to hiking into the reserve.

From the trailhead my son and I began our hike into the Pupukea-Paumalu Forest Reserve:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The start of the hike is a pleasant walk through the woods on a well maintained trail:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

After a short distance the trail begins to ascend up the hillside:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The trail then reaches a section that has some very useful stairs to help ascend up the steeper portions of the hillside;

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

There are even ropes installed in certain areas to assist with the climb:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The stairs were in great shape and my four year old had no problems getting up the trail.  At the top of the stair section there is a nice view looking out over the ocean below:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

At the top of the stairs is where hikers have the choice of making this a longer loop hike or a more direct and thus shorter hike to the bunker.  Going straight on the trail leads to the bunker while taking a right leads to the loop hike.  My son and I took a right which led deeper into the forest reserve:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Hiking through the forest reserve can be a bit confusing because there are social trails everywhere.  There was occasional orange ribbons on the trees to help with navigation:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

I had to keep consulting my trail map to ensure we were staying on trail because of the lack trail signs:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

As we continued down the trail I knew we were going the right way because we crossed over a dirt road which was in line with the trail description in my guide book, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu.  As we continued down the trail we then passed what appeared to be an old, concrete container that once held water for livestock:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

We then saw the only sign hanging on a tree during the entire hike which said Kahikilani:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Kahikilani is part of the much larger system of mountain bike trails that run through the Pupukea-Paumalu Forest Reserve.  During our hike we were the only hikers we saw off of the main trail to the pillbox, everyone else we saw were riding mountain bikes.  As we continued down the road we next hit a T-intersection where we took a left on a wide trail to head towards the bunker lookout:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Along the way we spotted this large concrete structure which was covered in graffiti:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

I have no idea what this structure was, but it looked like an alien flying saucer crashed into the forest.  A short distance later we camp upon the bunker:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The bunker looked like something out of a science fiction movie as well:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

This pillbox is a legacy from Hawaii’s World War II past.  After the initial attack on Pearl Harbor there was a general fear that a landing operation would be next by the Imperial Japanese.  The US military turned Oahu into “Fortress Hawaii” due to the fact that it was the island where it was able to project military power from.  All around Oahu abandoned bunkers can be seen on prominent ridgelines like this.  Even the world famous Diamond Head Crater is covered in bunkers.

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Bunkers Trail (Pu’u Ma’elieli Trail)

My son and I walked into the bunker and found it completely covered in graffiti:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The real highpoint of this hike though is standing on top of the pillbox and taking in the views of Sunset Beach:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

During the winter months the waves that roll into Sunset Beach become quite large and attract professional surfers because of their size and barrel shape.  These waves have led to this surf break to be known as the Banzai Pipeline.  Because of the size of the winter waves only highly experienced surfers should attempt to ride these waves, however during other months the waves are safe for most people to ride.  Here is a panorama picture of the view from the top of the bunker:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

The Ehukai Pillbox Trail is often compared to its more popular counterpart, The Pillbox Trail (Ka’iwa Ridge) in Kailua.  In my opinion the Pillbox Trail has a much better view, but the Ehukai Pillbox Trail is a better hike because it is less crowded, has more parking, and the trail is far better maintained.  Considering the popularity of the Pillbox Trail the condition of the trail is a joke and the people maintaining it should take a lesson from the people on the North Shore who know how to properly maintain a trail.

Best Hikes On Oahu: The Pillbox Trail (Ka’iwa Ridge)

There is an option to hike further along the cliff line to a second bunker.  However, there is a sign telling people to keep out since it is private property:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Since I respect people’s private property rights, my son and I turned around.  However, there were plenty of people that walked passed the sign down the trail to the second bunker.  So you have to make your own personal choice on how you want to proceed at this point.  My son and I we headed down the main trail back to the trailhead:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

We soon came back to the stair section and carefully made our way down the hillside:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

We soon found ourselves back at the trailhead after completing what turned out to be a 3-mile loop hike.  For those who just want to hike to the bunker the hike becomes about 1.5 miles round-trip.  After returning to the trailhead my son and I walked over to the Ehukai Beach Park where Sunset Beach is located.  Ehukai means “sea spray” in Hawaiian and the beach was living up to its name with some nice waves the day we visited.  My son enjoyed watching the large number of people bodyboarding and surfing the waves:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

We then played in the sand and built a sea turtle sculpture together:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

After finishing making the sea turtle in the sand we then headed back to the parking lot and drove down the road to Kahuku Farms to eat a lunch of organic smoothies, lemonade, and vegetable pizza:

Picture from the Ehukai Trail

Conclusion

The Ehukai Pillbox Trail is a short, family friendly hike that I recommend people visiting the North Shore to checkout.  The trail is well maintained, has a cool bunker to explore, and a sweeping ocean view.  Considering the amount of additional trails in the Pupukea-Paumalu Forest Reserve much longer hikes can be attempted from this trailhead as well.  My only caution would be that these trails have few to no signs so good navigation skills are needed to venture deeper into the forest.  For those just going to the pillbox this is a very straightforward hike to a fantastic viewpoint.

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