Which Ridge Hike to Choose?
To prepare for our New Zealand backpacking trip (and to break in new hiking boots), we’ve been visiting kid-friendly hiking trails around Oahu. The Kuliouou Ridge Trail is one we’ve hiked only once in the past (without kids) and had little memory of it. Actually, the only thing I do remember is that I prefer the ridge hike on neighboring Hawaii Loa Ridge. However, Hawaii Loa has restricted access and the meager ten parking permits are usually gone on a Sunday afternoon.
About the Hike
So off to Kuliouou. According to AllTrails, the popular hike is 4 miles round trip, but it feels longer. Others report it as 4.5 or 5 miles which is nicer on the ego because it was slow-going on the final ascent to the summit.
For the first half of the hike, we zig-zagged up the mountain through towering ironwood and guava. Above, the dense canopy danced eagerly in the wind filling the forest with ominous whispers. At this point, Mila decided continuous chatter was necessary to quell the creepiness. As she sped ahead I took care not to twist an ankle. Tree roots, half-hidden under forest debris, snake back and forth along the trail waiting to grab an unsuspecting foot. Several times we took unintentional shortcuts which took us on an unpleasantly steep scramble up the hillside.
A little after the halfway point, the switchbacks are replaced with a straight, steep ascent. You navigate your way over a sea of roots and into a grove of imposing pines before emerging into blinding daylight. Here, you’re rewarded with your first views – the ocean, the neighboring ridges, Koko Head and Hawaii kai. It only gets more spectacular from this point, but first, you have to conquer the stairs. Up you go, cheered by birdsong – is that an apapane I hear? and Seuss-ian ohia trees.
I tried not to take it personally when the kids began to chant “the power of youth!” and sprinted ahead. Step by careful step, mindful of my aging knees, I made my way to the summit. We were running out of daylight so we made a quick stop for snacks before heading back down.
In total, the hike took us 3 hours with stops for snacks and photos. The trail can get wet and slippery which would add time, but it’s manageable for families with some hiking experience. We even saw younger kids about 5 or 6 years old near the summit.
Looking for More Kid-Friendly Hiking Ideas?
Prefer a shorter, less-intense hike with the kids? Try the Lanikai Pillbox hike which is short and sweet and still packs in the great views. For more ideas on family fun in Oahu, sign up for the Little Bird Post below.