O‘ahu Hike of the Month: Wa‘ahila Ridge Trail
This moderate hike combines a good workout with spectacular views.
Editor’s Note: We love hiking! Fortunately, O‘ahu is full of great hikes. With this web series, we bring you our favorite O‘ahu trails—a new one every third Wednesday of the month.
TRAIL NAME: Wa‘ahila Ridge Trail
LENGTH: 4.5 miles roundtrip
LOCATION: Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, at the top of St. Louis Heights
Hiking can be dangerous, and not every trail is a good idea for every person. Keep your personal fitness and skill levels in mind, and always take proper precautions when venturing off road. Heed “no trespassing” and other warning signs.
Photos: Katrina Valcourt
Despite this being one of only eight state park hiking trails on O‘ahu, we’ve never found it crowded, probably because it’s not as easy as the Mānoa Falls or Makapuʻu Point trails. And, while not the most strenuous hike, it’s sufficiently challenging, with some narrow pathways and short rock faces you’ll have to climb.
The trail begins at the back of the Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area, which has covered and uncovered picnic tables, restrooms and lots of space for kids to safely run around. After a short trek along the path beneath towering Cook Island pines, turn left to head down into a more densely packed forest.
One of my favorite things about this hike is that the terrain constantly changes—one minute you’re climbing down steps, the next you’re hiking up tentacles of tree roots covered in soft ironwood needles, then scaling some boulders. Some areas are open and breezy; others are totally covered. The trail alternates between up- and downhill fairly often, which makes it easier than going straight up and keeps your legs working on the way back.
Don’t forget to look up—strawberry guava grows along this trail all year-round, though it’s much more prevalent during the summer months. Don’t feel bad about picking the fruits as you go—they are invasive, after all, and are a sweet boost of energy. On our most recent hike, we only ate two. We also saw butterflies and heard the white-rumped shama singing along the way.
In the open areas along the trail, you can see down into Pālolo Valley on one side and Mānoa on the other. We usually stop at a flat, grassy lookout near the end, 500 feet above sea level, from which you can see Diamond Head, Waikīkī and even Downtown. It’s another 10 minutes until you reach the end of the maintained trail, but the only payoff there is the end-of-trail sign—unless you want to continue on to Mt. Olympus, which is much more difficult, less safe and a restricted watershed area, or the Kolowalu Trail, which will take you into Mānoa Valley.
This may not be a loop trail, but that doesn’t mean the hike back is any less interesting. It took us a little over an hour to get to the lookout and 45 minutes back, though it was slightly voggy and we stopped often.
Dogs are not allowed in the park, but you can bring them on the hike if leashed.
There’s an ongoing pig control hunt in the area on Wednesdays and Sundays, so watch out for off-leash hunting dogs.
Though we saw some families on the hike, kids may have a hard time with the steeper areas.
It’s mostly covered, but it can get hot when there are no breezes, so make sure you have plenty of water, along with sunscreen and snacks.
The trail can be slippery both when it’s dry—loose dirt and pine needles—and when it’s wet. Check the weather report and wear clothes you don’t mind getting muddy if it’s been raining.
The park opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 6:45 p.m. during the winter (after Labor Day to March 31) and 7:45 p.m. in the summer (April 1 to Labor Day).
MAP & DIRECTIONS
Follow St. Louis Drive all the way up the mountain, turn right onto Peter Street, then left at Ruth Place. Enter the Wa‘ahila Ridge State Recreation Area. If there are no available parking spaces, it’s OK to park along the makai side of road, except between the no-parking signs.
READ MORE STORIES BY KATRINA VALCOURT