Pu’u o Kona to Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Loop

If you enjoy beautiful views, narrow ridges, and brief but challenging climbs then the Kuli’ou’ou Loop might be for you. Yesterday, I hiked that loop backwards by ascending the west Kuli’ou’ou Ridge to the top of Pu’u o Kona. On the top were commanding views of Maunawili Valley and the Ko’olau Range. Then, I proceeded along the summit trail to the terminus of the popular state trail known as Kuli’ou’ou Ridge while taking in views of Molokai in the distance. Please enjoy my latest photowalk.
Ko'olau Summit Trail View Cover Shot

Yesterday, I was actually not going to Pu’u o Kona at all. My plans were to take the Waimano Ridge trail all the way to the summit but it was dark and rainy. Sadly, my plans for the windward side were canceled.

Instead, I set off for Schofield Barracks to attempt the Pu’u Hapapa trail near Kole Kole Pass. Sadly, that was also a “no go” as the entire road was barricade for live fire exercises by the US Army.

Defeated, I set off for some grocery shopping when the rain clouds started to dissipate. Now was my chance! But, it was already the middle of the day so I had to do something rather short. I narrowed it down to Wiliwilinui and Pu’u o Kona. In the end, I decided to do Pu’u o Kona, the 2,200 ft summit at the top of the western Kuliouou Ridge. It was wonderful.
The trail to Pu’u o Kona can be taken from either the state trail or from the direct route. I chose the direct path as the Kuli’ou’ou state trail is kind of tedious and boring with all the switchbacks with no views. The western ridge was much more exciting!

To find the Pu’u o Kona trail, instead of following the signs for the Kuli’ou’ou state trail, continue on the paved road until you reach a Board of Water Supply building.
Kuliouou West Ridge Trailhead
The dry and hot trail starts on the right side of the building. Prepare to climb! ^^;
Steep Climb to Ridge With Rope
The steep climb to gain the west ridge was very exhausting but it’s much more direct than the state trail. Along the way, I had to stop in the rare moments of shade to quickly gulp down some water. This trail is HOT!
Pu'u o Kona in Distance
Once I finally hit the ridge trail, I headed mauka to reach the towering summit that seemed quite a distance away.
Shaded Tunnel
The trail was surprisingly easy to follow. However, I did get misdirected at one junction.

If you are at a clearing and the trail quickly ends, backtrack and take the right most path.
Looking Back as I near o Kona
Looking back at the distance I’ve traveled. I still had a way to go.
View of the Ko'olaus towards Southwest
On the way up, I ran into a few hikers who gave me a warm welcome. They asked if I was going “all the way” to the state trail and I told them “I don’t know”.

The last time I tried to reach Pu’u o Kona, I went the opposite way when I was confronted with a large eroded cliff by a steep drop. Fearing for the worst, I turned around. This time, I was really unsure just how far I’d go. ^^;
False Summit and Eroded Slope
Speaking of steep eroded slopes, the climb to Pu’u o Kona involves quite a few of them. Most sections have ropes but not all.

If you don’t feel comfortable with what you see, there is no shame in turning around. Lord knows I have done that quite a bit. lol ^^;
Very Steep Climbs to Summit
After climbing a 90 degree eroded wall with ropes, the final climbs involved very steep sections with no ropes. Fun stuff! ^^;
Ko'olau View Upisland from o Kona
Eventually, I made it to Pu’u o Kona’s grassy summit. On my left, I could see the windward side from Chinaman’s Hat to Olomana.

It was such a beautiful day. Konahuanui was cloudless and that rarely happens.
View towards Moks from top of Pu'u o Kona
Looking out from the Pu’u o Kona summit towards the Mok Islands and the turquoise waters of Lanikai Beach.
Along Summit Trail to Bear Claw connection
With no break, I turned right along the summit trail and headed for a flat topped mountain as tourists looked on a mile away.
Soon after starting out, I got to the “landslide” section. This is a dangerous section where the ground has given way. All that separates you from an express trip to Waimanalo is a very narrow path that might not be entirely stable. Attempt at your own risk! ^^;
Bumpy Leaves
Some “bumpy leafs” along the way.
View towards Kahana and Three Peaks
On this hike, I frequently stopped to take in the view. A lot of times I forget to do that. lol ^^;
Bear Claw Trail
At the top of the next hill, I saw a steep trail going down to Waimanalo.
This is the extreme hike known as “Bear Claw”. It’s very dangerous and should not be attempted.
Ko'olau Summit Trail Towards Rabbit Island
Looking out at the southern portions of the summit trail.

At this point, with the perfect weather, I debated continuing all the way to Makapu’u. Alas, with my late start, this wouldn’t be possible.
I plan to finish that leg of the summit trail soon (with an earlier start). (:
Ko'olau Summit Trail
After passing Bear Claw, I only had that eroded slope that scared me away last time. It was much easier from this direction though and a bit of fun.
With the extraordinarily clear weather, I could see out to the neighboring islands.
Maybe, someday, I will make it to these neighboring islands. I especially want to see Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. :3
Kuliouou Sign
At the state trail, I finally took a well deserved break and watched the European tourists photographing Molokai. Nice folks!
Heading Back
Well, that’s the Pu’u o Kona to Kuli’ou’ou loop trail. It took me about 4 1/2 hours and the views were better than Pu’u Manamana though the trails felt comparable. Both trails had amazing views, lots of fun, with a fare amount of danger. Overall, I would recommend this hike for those who are not afraid of heights and have a lot of experience on Hawaii’s trails. Be careful though…it’s kind of intense up there. ^^;

Hope you enjoyed this one. Till next time. (:

Kuli’ou’ou Ridge/Valley Trail

6 comments on “Pu’u o Kona to Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Loop

  1. Hiram says:

    Solid…I’ve always enjoyed reading your hiking adventures..I completed Pu’u O Kona last weekend and wasn’t comfortable doing the loop then but after this I’m surely going to give it a try..thanks for the write up..

    • punynari says:

      It’s a beautiful and challenging trail for sure. It’s also a good staging ground for more lengthy Ko’olau hikes.
      I’m thinking Mount Olympus to O Kona or Kuli’ou’ou to Makapu’u next.

      Have fun but stay safe. (:

      • Hiram says:

        I was thinking the exact same thing by practicing this loop along with kulepeamoa to Hawaii Loa Ridge loop I can build the experience and confidence to do the others..once again thanks for your write ups..

  2. Hiram says:

    Thanks for your help…I completed it this past weekend 11-3-12…it was simply an amazing hike..the weather was perfect and views incredible..just like you I enjoy hiking alone, so the experience of just you up there makes it even more magical..once again I couldn’t have done it without your write up and replying to my messages…next up ill probably study your Pu’u Manamana write up and make a go at it..

  3. punynari says:

    Corrected an error in this article.
    You can see other islands other than Molokai from Oahu. ^^;

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