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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Kolowalu Trail to Mt. Olympus

Basic Information

  • Name: The Kolowalu Trail to Mt. Olympus
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 4.7 miles
  • Max Elevation: 2,486
  • Elevation Gain: 1,946 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 4-6 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Topographic Map

Kolowalu Trail Topo Map

Elevation Map

Kolowalu Trail Elevation Map

Overview

Hiking up Mt. Olympus via the Kolowalu Trail is a great introduction into moderate level ridge hiking on Oahu.  This 4.7 mile roundtrip hike features an initially steep trail that ascends to a ridgeline that leads to the summit of the 2,486 foot Mt. Olympus.  This hike has plenty of mud, ropes, and elevation gain,but very little exposure to dangerous falls.  The reward for completing this hike are great views of Honolulu, Windward Oahu, Ka’au Crater, and the Ko’olau Range.

Kolowalu Trail to Mt. Olympus

Directions

To get to the trailhead for the Kolowalu Trail I recommend exiting off the H-1 Freeway at exit 23 and then following Punahou Street east towards the Manoa Valley.  Passed the Punahou School the road will turn into Manoa Road.  While driving up Manoa Road look for a three way intersection where the middle road leads to E. Manoa Road.  Follow E. Manoa Road passed the commercial shopping district in the Manoa Valley and then just after the Chinese Cemetery make a left on to Alani Drive.

About a quarter mile up Alani Dr. the trailhead is marked by a small sign located on a sharp corner in the neighborhood:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a closer look at the trailhead sign:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Parking

There is no trailhead parking since it is located in a densely populated neighborhood.  Hikers will need to find street parking on the very narrow Alani Drive in order to park close to the trailhead:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

What I recommend is parking on E. Manoa Road across the street from the Chinese Cemetery.  The road is wide, has plenty of street parking, and will not disturb neighborhood residents:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

It requires a little extra walking to the trailhead, but as the picture above shows parking is plentiful.

Hawaiian Meaning

According to Stuart Ball’s book, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu, Kolowalu means “eight creeping” which may refer to the switchbacks in the trail which honestly there were not a whole lot of considering how steep the trail is.  Another interesting name is the Hawaiian name for Mt. Olympus, Awa’awaloa which means “long valley”.  This name is probably in reference to how long Manoa Valley is in front of the mountain.  Awa’awaloa received its English name Mt. Olympus by students at nearby Punahou School in the early 1840’s who hiked the peak and thought it took an Olympian effort to climb.

Narrative

My four year old son and I earlier this month hiked to the end of the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail.  The trail ends where the approach trail to Mt. Olympus begins.  Mt. Olympus is a prominent 2,486 foot peak towards the back of Honolulu’s beautiful Manoa Valley.  I did not take my son up Mt. Olympus due to the distance and more difficult trail conditions passed the end of the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail.

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Wa’ahila Ridge Trail

I recently decided to return to the area to hike up Mt. Olympus, however I was going to take a different trail this time.  I decided to ascend up Mt. Olympus via the Kolowalu Trail that begins in the Manoa Valley.  This trail would make for a shorter hike, but have greater elevation gain since I would be starting on the valley floor instead of on top of the ridgeline at the Wa’ahila State Recreation Area.  Mt. Olympus via the Wa’ahila Ridge Trail is 6.0 miles roundtrip while the Kolowalu Trail is 4.7 miles roundtrip:  Kolowalu Trail Google Earth 1

It was still dark out as I found street parking across the street from the Chinese Cemetery on E. Manoa Road.  From the cemetery I made the short walk up Alani Drive in the early morning darkness to where the trailhead sign is located:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Since I had been to this trailhead before to hike the Puu Pia Trail I had no issues spotting the trailhead sign in the darkness.

Best Hikes On Oahu: The Pu’u Pia Trail

From the trailhead sign I followed a short neighborhood access road that eventually becomes a small dirt road with a chain gate blocking vehicle entry.  In the early morning darkness I nearly tripped over this chain since I could not see it.  On the other side of the chain I followed the dirt road for a short distance until it reached the intersection for the Puu Pia and Kolowalu Trails:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I had previously hiked the Puu Pia Trail with both of my young kids and consider it one of my favorite kid friendly hikes on Oahu.  However, this time I was going up the Kolowalu Trail which I have read trip reports about how tough of a hike it is.  My hike up the trail did not get off to a good start when in the darkness I stepped into a deep mud bog with my left foot that came up past my ankle:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I was very fortunate that I was wearing my  KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge waterproof hiking boots.  Additionally my hiking pants kept the mud from pouring down into the top of my boot which meant my foot was still dry despite the incident.  As I continued up the trail it became much steeper with many roots and rocks positioned like stairs that were difficult to see in the darkness.  However, as the early morning sunlight came out I found it much easier to navigate the trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The hike up the Kolowalu Trail reminded me of the Koko Crater Stairs, but instead of railroad ties the roots and rocks served as stairs:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I got higher up the trail I was rewarded with some nice sunrise views of Mt. Tantalus across the Manoa Valley from me:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Mt. Tantalus is an extinct cinder cone volcano that is home to many great family friendly hikes.  I also had a nice sunrise view of the lower Manoa Valley and Honolulu in the distance as well:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After taking in the views I continued my ascent up the Kolowalu Trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

On a steep rocky section of the trail I could see where someone had planted ti leaves around the trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Ti leaves were brought to Hawaii by the early Polynesian voyagers who used them for cooking and making clothes.  Ti leaves were so important to early Hawaiians that they became a symbol of good luck and blessing to those who received them.  As I neared the top of the Kolowalu Trail the path widened as I passed through a section of native koa trees.  Koa trees are what native Hawaiians used to construct canoes long ago:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

It was at this section of the upper Kolowalu Trail that I had another great view of early morning sunshine blanketing Mt. Tantalus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After about an hour of hiking I came to the intersection of the Kolowalu and Wa’ahila Ridge Trails that is marked with an “End of Maintained Trail” sign:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

For those that just want to hike the Kolowalu Trail the view from the intersection of the Ko’olau Range is outstanding:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

However, I was determined to hike up Mt. Olympus today and for the first time during the hike I spotted the prominent mountain looming ahead of me:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I hiked passed the end of trail sign I found that the trail for being officially unmaintained was actually in great shape:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I continued up the trail I came to a small clearing where I could see the 3,149 foot Konahuanui across the Manoa Valley from me.  Konahuanui is the highest peak in the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Down below me I could see Paradise Park and the Lyon Arboretum where the popular Manoa Falls Trail begins:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a panorama of the view where I could also see all of the Manoa Valley and Honolulu in the distance:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After taking in the views the trail became rougher passed the clearing:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The roughest sections had ropes installed that I did not need to use, but may be useful for those who do not have good boots on for traction:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After going up and down a few hills along the ridgeline I came to a large grass clearing on the last major hilltop before the final approach to Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

For those that are tired or uneasy about continuing on the trail, the grassy knoll makes for a great place to end the hike because of its awesome views.  For example here is the view looking towards Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is the view looking towards Konahuanui:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view looking towards the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I even had a great view of Diamond Head Crater to the south:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is the view looking down into the Manoa Valley where I could see the small hill that the Puu Pia Trail ascends up:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a great panorama picture of this awesome view to the south:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After spending time taking in the views from the large clearing I then proceeded to make the final push to Mt. Olympus.  First I had to descend from the clearing and then ascend another steep hill:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The ascent up the next hill was through a muddy trench that had been eroded into the hillside by countless hikers over the decades:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Fortunately I had my Free Steps 6 Spikes on which allowed me to easily ascend the steep hills despite the mud:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Mud was a common theme on this trail as I had to step in various mud holes throughout the hike that my hiking boots helped keep my feet dry from:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After exiting the steep trench the ascent became less steep, but the trail was now surrounded by ferns which made me glad I was wearing pants to avoid getting my legs scratched up during the hike:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The steepness of the trail soon increased, but some steps had been installed to assist with the climb:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I next came to another some what level section of the climb where I saw for the first time during my hike blossoms on the ohia trees:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The ohia trees earlier in the hike had no blossoms on them.  I am not sure if it is related to altitude, but at about the 2,000 foot level and up all the ohia trees had beautiful blossoms.  These blossoms meant they were quite popular for bees:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

The ohia tree has an interesting legend associated with it due to its bright red blossoms.  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 now called a ohia tree.  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 guess no one picked any lehua blossoms on this day because the weather was beautiful with partly cloudy skies as I approached the final summit ascent to Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

This final ascent was a very steep and muddy mess.  There were plenty of ropes installed to assist my climb, but my spikes provided me enough traction to where I did not need the ropes.  For those that do not have traction the ropes are must to help get up these slopes if muddy:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I neared the summit of Mt. Olympus I intersected with the old Castle-Olympus Trail that traverses the ridgeline across the Manoa Valley to Mt. Tantalus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

According to Stuart Ball’s Native Paths to Volunteer Trails: Hiking and Trail Building on Oahu, the Castle-Olympus Trail was built in 1910 by funding from prominent Honolulu businessman and politician William Castle.  The trail did not last long because it was closed by the Territorial Forester Charles Judd in 1921 because of the erosion and spread of non-native grass he believed threatened Honolulu’s water supply.  There were probably far less hikers back then compared to today in the Ko’olau Range and the city’s water supply continues to be safe.  The trail is no longer maintained, but it seems like that would be a cool hike to attempt across the ridgeline and then descend down the Aihualama Trail down to Manoa Falls.

William R. Castle

After a fun and muddy climb I finally reached a little clearing on the top of Mt. Olympus which provided great views of Oahu’s Windward Coast and the city of Kailua in the distance:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Once I was on the summit I was exposed to high winds for the first time.  The high winds caused me to take extra care to keep my balance since from the summit it is a steep 2,000 foot drop into the Maunawili Valley down below:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Taking pictures in the high wind was challenging, but to the northwest I could see the large mass of the 3,149 foot Konahuanui:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

To the south I could see the Wa’ahila Ridge that I followed up to the summit of Mt. Olympus with Honolulu visible in the distance:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a closer look at Diamond Head Crater that looks so tiny from the summit ridge of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a winder angle panorama of the view towards Honolulu:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

To the east I could see the next peak over from Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view looking to the east with Konahuanui on the far left, Kailua in the center, and the next peak over on the far right:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After spending some time taking in the views from the clearing I decided to descend off of Mt. Olympus and take the saddle over to the next peak.  As I hiked across the saddle I noticed Ka’au Crater below me:

Picture from the Kolowalu 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.  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 Kolowalu Trail

I had previously had some great views of Ka’au Crater when I hiked the Lanipo Trail which ascends the ridgeline on the opposite side of the crater from Mt. Olympus:

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

As I walked across the saddle the trail became narrower and the wind even worse.  Below is a view looking straight down the pali cliff line from the saddle.  Down there somewhere in the jungle is the Maunawili Trail that traverses the bottom of the pali:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a nice panorama picture I took of Windward Oahu from the saddle:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I ascended up the next peak the trail was very muddy and surrounded by thick vegetation which did provide a nice windbreak:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

From the summit of the peak there was a small break in the vegetation where I had a view looking towards Kailua:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a closer look at Kailua where the Kawainui Marsh, the largest wetland on Oahu could be seen:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a view of Olomana peak that rises above the Maunawili subdivision:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Passed Olomana, out in the distance, I could see the Mokulua Islands which are a popular kayaking destination:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Directly below me I could see the Maunawili subdivision which is the start point for the popular Maunawili Falls Trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Maunawili Falls is one of my favorite waterfalls on Oahu:

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Maunawili Falls Trail

Out in the distance to the northeast I could see the small city of Waimanalo:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is panorama picture I took of the view from the peak:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After checking out the views of Windward Oahu I tried to get views of Ka’au Crater from the summit of the peak, but could not due to the vegetation.  So I decided to descend down the opposite side of the peak and see if I could get some better views of the crater.  As I descended the trail I stopped to take another picture of a beautiful Lehua blossom:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I soon came to a clearing that had a nice view of Ka’au Crater:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Below is the view of Ka’au Crater where the old Castle-Olympus Trail can be seen etched in the side of the mountain heading towards the crater:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a stunning panorama I took of Ka’au Crater backdropped by the rugged peaks of the Ko’olau Range from the clearing:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After taking pictures from the clearing I then reascended up the peak and walked back over to the summit of Mt. Olympus.  I spent about an hour total on the summit of Mt. Olympus taking in the views before deciding to head back down the trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I was careful as I descended the mountain’s steep and muddy slopes, but once again my boot spikes provided me plenty of traction to make a safe descent:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After I reached the large grassy clearing on the Wa’ahila Ridge I made sure to take some more pictures of the view towards Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As l took pictures of Mt. Olympus I noticed some hikers I passed by on the way down who were using the ropes to get up the muddy steep slope to the mountain’s summit:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is a picture from the grassy knoll looking back towards Honolulu:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I took pictures from the grassy knoll I noticed this bush of Christmas berries.  These non-edible berries are an invasive species on Oahu and can be seen growing all over the island:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After leaving the clearing I continued to make good time getting back down the trail and soon enough I saw the Manoa Valley just below me:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I next found myself back at the Kolowalu Trail intersection:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Here is another panorama picture I took from the trail intersection:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

From the intersection I then began the descent back down the Kolowalu Trail:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

I took my spikes off for the descent because of how rocky the trail was.  Some of the slick rocks caused me to slip a few times, but not enough to where I lost my balance:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

At one viewpoint along the trail I was able to see the Chinese Cemetery where my truck was parked:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

After descending in less than an hour I came to the bottom of the trail where I saw the mud hole I had stepped in earlier that morning:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

In the daylight I was easily able to spot the mud hole this time and avoid it.  I next came to the intersection of the Kolowalu and Puu Pia Trails:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Next to the trail intersection I spotted a picnic table that looked like a nice picnic location for those interested:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

As I continued to hike down the trail back to the trailhead I spotted the chain across the road that I nearly tripped over in the early morning darkness:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Approximately five hours after setting off on my hike I returned to the trailhead and made the short walk through the neighborhood back to my truck:

Picture from the Kolowalu Trail

Conclusion

Overall I really liked the Kolowalu Trail to Mt. Olympus since it provided a nice morning workout with its respectable elevation gain of 1,946 feet over 4.7 miles.  Fortunately the weather cooperated and I had some awesome views through out the hike.  My ascent to the summit took 2.5 hours, I then spent 1 hour on summit and then 1.5 hours to get back down for a total of 5 hours hiking.  This is not a hike I recommend for small kids, but most teenagers and adults if properly equipped and in decent shape should be able to complete this moderately challenging Ko’olau Range ridge hike.


Disclaimer:  On-Walkabout is a website about outdoor activities that is not affiliated with any state or national government.  The articles on this website are for informational purposes only and to inspire others to get outside.  The activity descriptions are given to showcase the beauty and fun of experiencing the outdoors.  The writer of On-Walkabout is not responsible for any accidents, injuries, rescues, legal issues, or loss of life by anyone attempting the activities listed on this website.  Outdoor activities can be dangerous which is why it is the responsibility of the reader to use common sense and understand their own abilities before attempting an outdoor activity inspired by this website.  Most importantly parents need to understand the ability of their children before attempting an outdoor activity.  Just because my young children completed a hike mentioned on this site does not mean your children can as well.  Be safe and I hope this website inspires others to go and enjoy the outdoors as much as I do.  

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

The Oahu Regional Trail Finder

Note: Further hiking information can be found in the below book:

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