The Ultimate Guide to the Lanikai Pillbox Hike – Oahu Hawaii

Are you looking for the ultimate guide to the Lanikai Pillbox hike? This guide from a Hawaii local has everything you need to know!

Lanikai Pillbox Hike Opener

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.

Lanikai Pillbox Hike Sunrise

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.

While there are a few fantastic Hawaii sunscreen brands out there, Little Hands Hawaii is my go-to. (Use the code BORDERS15 on the Little Hands Hawaii website to get 15% off your order!)

Athletic Shoes

The first section of the hike can be quite slippery, so it definitely helps to have shoes with some grip on the soles. My go-to is the Fila Women’s Hiking Shoes, but there is also a men’s version.


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!

Lanikai Pillbox Hike

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 Reward

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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  1. wow this seems like the perfect combination of historic and beautiful destination. I can hardly imagine anything more wonderful than a sunrise hike on a tropical island.

  2. Oh lovely. Hiking in Hawaii is an awesome and memorable thing to do. I loved the view from Diamond Crater down towards Honolulu. Will have to give this one a try when i next visit!

  3. Honestly, I learned what is a pillbox from here. Originally, I thought its a box which contains pills[medicines], ha! Its a very informative post, thanks for sharing with us!

    1. Haha yes!! It’s pretty much tradition to head down to one of those nearby beaches either before or after the hike! I’m not sure you can scuba dive there though, because the water is pretty shallow, but snorkeling is definitely an option!

  4. Last year I did a hike along the English coast in Kent and we saw sooo many pillboxes. There were thousands dotted around the UK too. Now they are mostly covered in graffiti, or slowly sinking back into the ground!

    The Oahu pillbox hike looks soooo much nicer (well, it’s those epic Hawaiian views!)

    It’s kind of cool that you can get the same historical sites on opposites sides of the planet!!

    1. Not going to lie, the Hawaii pillboxes are also covered in graffiti, so if that’s not your thing, I thought I’d let you know.

  5. How hot does it get in Hawaii in the summer afternoons? I imagine it can get pretty intense? I never knew this about myself until I moved to LA a year ago, but apparently my body really can’t handle extreme heat, I get heatstroke very easily despite hydration. Sucks cuz I love to hike! Never had problems in Colorado or Alaska. If I come to Hawaii do you think I should go in the winter, or is it actually not as bad as I’m thinking? Maybe the sea breeze actually takes the temperatures down a notch?

    1. I will say that while Hawaii can get kind of hot (like it rarely breaches the 90s), it is nothing in comparison to that California heat that breaches 100 degrees. That being said, I do think it’d be better to come between like October and May for you, just to be safe :).

  6. One thing I wished I had more time to do when visiting O’ahu was to do more hiking around the island. The views are just breathtaking! Definitely need to return to experience the sunrise here <3

    1. Oh yes!! Our hikes are so amazing! It’s one of my favorite things to do on the island, so its definitely worth another trip :).

  7. I learned a new thing today: pillbox, though I was hoping to see at least one picture of it. Looks like this hike is very popular for the locals.

    1. It’s not super recognizable usually with half of it stuck in the dirt and it covered with people lol. I have another pillbox hike that I’m hoping to write about in the future that’ll be much easier to see :).

  8. We really wanted to do this hike while in Oahu, but we were there for a marathon relay and couldn’t make it work with our schedules. I’ve definitely bookmarked this in case we ever go back and I can try it again! There is a beach nearby we loved, though: Bellows Beach. It’s so pretty!

    1. Next time! I’ve heard Bellows is stunning, but it’s only accessible to military, so I haven’t been able to go!

  9. What incredible views. Great shots. I love this hike that sounds pretty approachable and accessible. Have been hiking in Maui, but have not made it to Oahu yet. Interesting history about the pillboxes. I look forward to going back and exploring more of Hawaii soon.

    1. Oh my gosh, yes!! April is the perfect time to come too!! Feel free to snoop around the blog for more Hawaii local tips!

  10. I had no idea what a pillbox was, or that they even existed, before I read this! So interesting! I love that you’re always out exploring on foot. You’re inspiring me to finally buy some hiking boots!

  11. This looks like such a beautiful view. I love reading your posts. I am saving this, along with several others, to refer back to when I visit Hawaii next month.

  12. a very beautiful place indeed! good to know that this is ideally great to visit/ hike to any time of the day.. but i’d love to see the sunset so i think i’d hike in the wee hours 🙂

    1. Just a tip: the sun won’t actually set on that side, but the sun will rise on that side, so perhaps that information will influence that decision.

  13. Beautiful photos! Thank you for sharing this hike. My husband is an avid hiker and is always looking for new hikes to try. I accompany him on some of the shorter ones. This one looks like something I could do and catching the sunrise there looks amazing!

  14. That view of the sunrise is just awesome. Never heard of this beautiful place before.Thanks for introducing me to this mesmerizing place and your captures do complete justice to it 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! It’s always so hard to get pictures to capture the beauty of nature, so that means a lot :).

  15. I am an outdoor girl always waiting on a chance to go for a hike in the mountains or a just ride a bicycle on the beach. You have brought the exact picture of what i thought Hawaii was like.
    I guess my next step is to plan a trip and enjoy those beautiful views.
    great pics btw

  16. This is on our list for our upcoming trip. How long before sunrise should we start the hike to get the best views? Maybe 45 minutes? Thanks so much for the tips!

    1. I think it depends on how comfortable you are with hiking. While I did the hike in 25 minutes (I was trying to do it fast because we were running a little late that day), if you’re doing it with kids, it might take longer. Plus, I like to watch the colors pre-sunrise (in my opinion, that’s the best part!). Maybe consider starting the hike closer to 55 minutes prior to sunrise? Also, don’t forget to allocate a solid 10-15 minutes to find a rare spot of street parking and walk to the start of the hike. I hope that helps!

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