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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Wa’ahila Ridge Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Wa’ahila Ridge Trail
  • Where: Honolulu Hawaii
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 592 feet
  • Max Elevation: 1,556
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Topographic Map

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Overview

The Wa’ahila Ridge Trail is an up and down hike across one of the many ridge lines along Oahu’s Ko’olau Range.  The trail features some rock scrambling and steep drop offs that make this not a family friendly hike.  For those willing to work up a sweat going up and down the many hills on this trail, they will be rewarded with outstanding views of the Ko’olau Range, Manoa Valley, and Palolo Valley.

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Directions

The trailhead for the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail is accessed through the appropriately named Wa’ahila Ridge State Recreation Area.  The easiest way to access the recreation area is by taking the H-1 freeway to exit 25A.  At exit drive towards the mountains on Waialae Avenue and make a left up St. Louis Drive.

This road will switchback up the neighborhood known as St. Louis Heights:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Near the top of the hill make a right on to Peter Street.  After a short distance make a left on to the narrow road Ruth Place.  At the end of the road is the entrance into the Wa’ahila Ridge State Recreation Area:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Parking

I arrived at the Wa’ahila Ridge State Recreation Area around 10:00 AM on a weekend and found plenty of parking available.  Considering how beautiful this park is I was surprised there wasn’t more people there.

Wa'ahila State Park Parking

Hawaiian Meaning

The word “Wa’ahila” is the name of an ancient Hawaiian female chief who was a skilled dancer.  The name then became associated with the type of rain that falls in Oahu’s Nu’uana and Manoa Valleys based on the Hawaiian legend of Punahou.

Narrative

My four-year old son asked me to take him on a hike that had some rock scrambling.  He has completed a number of hikes on the island of Oahu and was ready for something a little more challenging.  This is why I decided to take him on the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail.  I had not hiked this trail yet, but based on what I read in Stuart Ball’s, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu  I felt this trail would be perfect for my son to push his growing hiking skills a little bit further.  As we drove into the Wa’ahila State Recreation Area I was impressed by how nice the park was.  The park has a number of picnic tables and a restroom facility for the public to use.

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The most impressive thing about the park though is how huge the Cook Pine trees were that cover park. The Cook Pine is native to the Pacific island of New Caledonia and was introduced initially to Hawaii because it was believed the large trees would be useful in shipbuilding.  The trees planted at Wa’ahila were part of a reforestation effort on Oahu and were planted between 1931-1932.  It may be hard to believe today, but due to land clearing for agriculture, the lack of trees on Oahu began to create a major erosion and water crisis on the island.  These massive Cook Pine trees in the Wa’ahila State Recreation Area stand testament to the success of the reforestation efforts:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Besides the Cook Pines another tree I saw in the State Recreation Area that appeared to be a fairly recent planting where these pointy trees:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

I think these may be young native Hawaiian loulu palms, but I am not sure.  If anyone knows please leave a comment.  Something else really nice about this park are the views that can be seen from the picnic area of the surrounding mountains:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

However, due to the all the trees, the views of the surrounding scenery are often obscured and thus the best views available are along the Wa’ahilia Ridge Trail.  The trailhead for this hike is easy to find at the far end of the parking lot:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the trailhead the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail leads deeper into the Cook Pine forest:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The steadily ascending trail eventually exits the cool shade provided by the Cook Pines and becomes surrounded by shrubs which provide little shade:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The increase in temperature along this section of the trail is quite noticeable.  That is why I recommend wearing a hat and covering exposed areas with sunscreen due to increased sunshine on various sections of this trail.  As we neared the top of the first hill we missed the turn off that provides a bypass around a power line pole.  The trail marker sign was covered in graffiti so we did not notice that it was pointing to the left:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

For those that take the by pass there are stairs built that help hikers get around the power line pole.  We used the bypass on the way back and it was easier than going up to the power line pole:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Since we missed the bypass we continued up the hill to the power line pole:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the top of the hill we had a really good view looking down into the Palolo Valley even though the view was obscured with power lines:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

As we hiked down the hill from the power line pole we could see the ridgeline ahead of us stretching towards the summit of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

We could also see the homes in the adjacent Palolo Valley below us as well:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The ridgeline on the opposite side of the Palolo Valley from where we were at is where the Lanipo Trail I had previously hiked is located.  Much like the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail, the Lanipo Trail is a fantastic ridge hike that provides outstanding views of Honolulu and the Ko’olau Range:

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

As we scrambled to the bottom of the first hill we next had to ascend a rocky trail up another hill:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

After ascending the trail we then had to descend the rockiest section of the entire hike.  I had to go very slowly through this section to make sure that my four-year old son could safely climb down the rocks:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Once we got to the bottom of the hill we were rewarded with a nice view looking towards Honolulu:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Ahead of us we could just see more ridgeline stretching into the distance:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

We next entered a shaded area which got us out of the sun, but the trail had sections covered in tree roots and steep drop offs.  So once again I was very careful to help lead my son through this section of the trail:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

As we ascended up the next hill we began to have some stunning views of the Manoa Valley down below:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The Manoa Valley is one of the nicest neighborhoods on Oahu which means it is also in high demand.  This has caused housing prices to sky rocket with even simple homes costing over $1 million dollars.  As we continued up the trail we entered into a section of native forest covered in koa and ohia trees:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The koa trees were historically used by early Hawaiians for making canoes.  The trees are very easy to spot due to the sickle shape of their leaves:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

The ohia tree has an interesting legend associated with it due to its bright red flowers.  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.  The ohia trees were not in bloom as I hiked across the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail so I could not pick any to cause it to rain:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Towards the end of the trail there is a small clearing that was quite muddy when we reached it.  At the clearing there are once some nice views of the Manoa Valley:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Here is a closer look towards Honolulu and the opening of the Manoa Valley where the University of Hawaii is located:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Here is the view directly across from the lookout towards Mt. Tantalus which is an extinct cinder cone volcano with a number of great hiking trails that my kids and I have hiked up:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view from the clearing:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the clearing we walked about 10 minutes further up the trail.  We soon came to a sign that said this was the end of the maintained trail.  This is also where the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail intersects on the left with the Kolowalu Trail that leads down to the Manoa Valley:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the end of trail sign it is possible to continue on to the summit of Mt. Olympus which is one of the peaks that composes the summit ridge of the Ko’olau Range.  Mt Olympus can be seen in the below photograph on the far right:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the end of trail sign we had some really nice views of the southern Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

After taking in the views my son and I began the hike back up and down the ridgeline’s various hills to the trailhead:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

We made great time going back and soon found ourselves ascending up the final hill:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

From the final hill we took one last glance behind us at the ridgeline we had crossed and the beautiful Ko’olau Range in the distance:

Picture from the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail

Conclusion

In total my son and I hike 2.8 miles with nearly 600 feet in elevation gain.  It felt longer than that because of the up and down nature of the trail and the fact I had to go at my son’s four year old pace.  At my son’s speed we completed the hike in just under three hours.  Though my son was able to complete this hike I do not recommend it as a family hike for those with young kids.  My son has done a lot of hiking in Hawaii and thus was well conditioned for the terrain.  Many kids may have trouble with the rock scrambling on this trail so I recommend parents use their own best judgment before bringing kids on this trail.  With that said this is a trail I recommend to those looking for a short hike with nice views, but still have to work for it.  The up and down terrain and minor rock scrambling makes this a moderately challenging hike that some people may not enjoy.

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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