Are you looking for the ultimate guide to the Lanikai Pillbox hike? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!
The Lanikai pillbox hike is easily one of the most famous hikes on Oahu (after Stairway to Heaven, Koko Head, and Diamond Head). With jaw-dropping views with not-too-much effort, it’s no wonder it’s such a beloved hike.
If you’re new to hiking, this could be a good way to motivate yourself to do a slightly more challenging hike. (To put it in perspective, I added it to my list of easy Oahu hikes, although it is a slight stretch) And if you’re basically a pro hiker, this little trail will have a super rewarding view for the little bit of effort you’ll have to put in.
Either way, here are some basics to help you with the Lanikai pillbox hike.
First, What Exactly is a Pillbox?
Pillboxes are little concrete rooms that were basically used to keep an eye out for approaching enemies. Oahu’s pillboxes were built for the U.S. military during World War II. (In other locations, pillboxes are used as a line of defense, but the ones on Oahu were never used for that purpose.)
How to Get to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Getting to the Lanikai pillbox hike is actually pretty simple. You’ll make your way to the town of Kailua (think the Kailua Beach and Lanikai Beach area, if you’re familiar). Then, Google Maps will get you pretty close to the starting areas, and handmade signs that the locals have set out near the very start of the hike will lead you the rest of the way.
The struggle is figuring out the parking situation. There is no designated parking area for the Lanikai pillbox hike, so it’s all street parking. Please be considerate of those living in the area! Do not blog their driveways! Also, please be aware of any no parking street signs that are posted.
When to Go to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
Honestly, the Lanikai pillbox hike is a perfect hike for any time of day. Many people opt to go for sunrise, because it’s the best place on the island to catch it. If sunrises aren’t your thing though, the view at the end of the hike is stunning any time of day.
The number of people on the hike is actually quite consistent from sunrise to sunset. (Clearly I’ve done this hike quite a few times.) The one aspect that the time of day might change is the temperature. If you’re going in the heat of summer, hiking in the middle of the day might not be the best move.
What to Bring on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
You actually don’t need a ton of gear for this hike, so don’t burden yourself with anything extra.
You should always bring water with you when you hike. And it doesn’t hurt to make it a reusable water bottle, so you can help the environment as you help yourself.
Unless you plan on doing this hike for sunrise, there’s a good chance that the Hawaii sun will be out and that it’ll be HOT. Keep your skin — and nature — safe with a layer of reef-safe sunscreen.
It’s Hawaii. The sun is usually quite bright. Sunglasses are nice to have. And make sure they have SPF, just like sunscreen.f
You’ve just got to capture that stunning view.
A backpack is particularly helpful to carry the other items. It allows you to keep your hands free to make hiking a little easier. I recommend a High Sierra backpack, since I’ve been using mine for over 10 years, and it’s still holding up well!
What to Expect on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike
I’ll be the first to tell you that the beginning one hundred feet of the hike are quite steep. You might actually need to use a rope to help you keep your balance (but you don’t actually need to pull yourself up). If that sounds intimidating, don’t let that stop you! I promise, that’s the worst it gets.
After that difficult start, you should take a quick break. Catch your breath, take in the (already) beautiful views), and then get ready to power on through. You can actually make it to the first pillbox in 25 minutes (roundtrip, the journey is about 45 minutes).
There are other pillboxes further down the Lanikai Pillbox hike trail, but honestly, the view stays pretty similar to the one you see at the first pillbox. In my opinion, it’s not worth the effort to go past the first pillbox.
The first thing you’ll see when you reach the first pillbox, is, well, the pillbox! This graffiti-covered bunker is quite a unique site to see. And while you can maneuver your way inside the pillbox, I don’t recommend staying in there for long, because it smells quite bad. If you look to your right, you’ll also see a couple more pillboxes off in the distance.
But the real reward of the Lanikai Pillbox hike is the view of the Pacific Ocean and the mokes. The mokes, officially known as the Mokulua Islands, are two small islands a few miles off the coast of Oahu. The two islands are named Moku Nui and Moku Iki.
Fun fact: While one of the mokes is owned by the military, you can actually kayak to the other one!
If you’re looking for another amazing sunrise hike to try during your Oahu trip, here are five more hikes to choose from.
Have you ever done the Lanikai pillbox hike? Tell me about your experience in the comments!
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