The North Shore of Oahu has so much offer- incredible snorkeling, surf vibes, and all the acai bowls your body craves. But there’s also a hike, tucked into its rolling green hills, that provides stunning views of miles and miles of white powdery beaches and the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean below- the Ehukai Pillbox Hike.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Ehukai Pillbox Hike, from how to get there to tips to make your hike as epic as possible.
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Pssst… are you looking for even more Oahu hikes? If so, check out our other posts about hiking in Oahu:
- 4 Actually Easy Hikes in Oahu: The Perfect Trails for Beginners
- Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail: Oahu’s Best Hike
- Koko Crater Trail: Everything You Need to Know
What is the Ehukai Pillbox?
There are a couple of trails that are referred to as “pillbox hikes” around Oahu. So what the heck is a pillbox?
Well, it’s important, as a visitor, to understand how the United States’ interest in Hawai’i as a military asset in the south Pacific has deeply impacted the history of the islands, from the United States’ participation in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 to the presence of 50,000 troops stationed there today.
This complicated history extends to how the United States leveraged Hawai’i during World War II for its strategic location, close to Japan and the rest of Southeastern Asia. In the 1940s, many concrete bunkers (or “pillboxes”) were built all over Oahu’s hills, including on the famous Diamond Head Crater (or Lēʻahi, as Native Hawaiian name) and here, along the North Shore, as observation stations to scope out any incoming enemy ships, planes, and other military assets and to hold radar and other operational equipment.
These bunkers were later abandoned by the U.S. military and hiking trails were eventually created to these relics of the past, now covered in layer upon layer of vibrant graffiti. The Ehukai Pillbox provides views of Ehukai Beach; the famous Bonzai Pipeline, known for its 20-foot waves at certain times of the year; and the endless horizon stretching along the Pacific Ocean below.
And despite these incredible views and the popularity of some of the other pillbox hikes on the island, this trail has remained relatively under the radar, allowing visitors to enjoy it without swarms of crowds.
About the Ehukai Pillbox Hike
- Length: 2.1 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Dog friendly?: You can bring your furry best friend, but they must be on a leash.
The trailhead can be accessed here, through the parking lot of the Sunset Beach Elementary School. Don’t park in the school’s parking lot, though- you can either park across the street in the lot for Ehukai Beach Park or along one of the residential streets along the Kamehameha Highway.
I recommend choosing the latter- word to the wise that many beach parking lots around Oahu are prime targets for car break-ins, as opportunistic thieves know you’ll be away from your car for quite a while. And regardless of where you park, make sure not to leave any valuables in your vehicle!
Once you’ve walked to the school’s parking lot, you should see a bright orange sign to the back left of the lot, reading “Mahalo!” which marks the start of the trailhead.
Along the first half mile of the hike, there are a few section that are really steep, which require you to climb or scramble over hundreds of knobby tree roots (there are ropes in the steepest areas to help you pull yourself up). The trail also seemingly has tons of different offshoots and branches, so it may be helpful to follow the path along on the All Trails app to make sure you’re headed the right way.
While the hike certainly has some challenging aspects, there’s also good news- you’ll be hiking almost the entire time in the shade, which is unusual for many of the hikes in Oahu (and can be a welcome reprieve from the intense Hawaiian sun!).
You’ll hit the first pillbox after about 0.6 miles of the trail on your left-hand side. The view here is partially obstructed by bushes and trees that surround the pillbox, but you still get a decent vista of Sunset Beach off to your right and a wide expanse of the ocean to your left. The interior of the pillbox is also pretty neat and worth exploring, with colorful graffiti decorating every square inch of the concrete bunker.
To continue on to the more Instagram-famous “Peace Pillbox”, continue on the path furthest to the left of the first pillbox for about 0.3 miles (note that there’s trails going off every which way here and if you follow the All Trails map after the first pillbox, it won’t lead you to the second one).
The view from the second pillbox, which is painted with a bright peace sign, is incredible, with a big ol’ floofy palm tree to your left and unobstructed views of the North Shore in front of you.
Given that you’ll have a birds-eye view over the west side of the island, this is one of the absolute best places to watch the sunset in Oahu and a must-do on any Oahu itinerary, especially if you’re going to be spending any part of it along the North Shore. My husband, Justin, and I hiked this trail on one of our last nights on the island and it was a lovely way to say goodbye to this beautiful place.
An important note here- I didn’t know this before going on the hike (and certainly didn’t notice any signs or other barriers while we were on the hike), but I’ve read conflicting reports online about the second pillbox possibly being located on private property. Please keep your eye peeled for any signs instructing you to keep out, abide by them, and be respectful of the trail and the surrounding land.
To return, you’ll just simply retrace your footsteps until you reach the trailhead.
What to Pack for the Ehukai Pillbox Hike
Since this trail is so short, there isn’t a ton you’ll need to conquer this hike, but there are a few things I’d recommend making sure are on your Hawaii packing list.
- Headlamp: If you’re planning on watching sunset at one of the pillboxes, you NEED to bring along a headlamp to make your way back down the trail. During our time in Oahu, we went on several sunset hikes and on each one, ran into a terrified hiker fumbling their way back down the trail, either with a very weak cell phone flashlight or without any kind of lighting source to help them at all.
Please don’t be that guy, especially on this trail and its many roots that are seemingly designed to trip you in even the brightest of light- hiking a trail in the dark without the appropriate gear is extremely dangerous and could result in you doing anything from twisting your ankle to literally falling off a cliff (definitely not how you want to remember your Hawaiian getaway).
My husband, Justin, and I have these ones that came in a pack of two AND are rechargeable, so you don’t have to mess around with carrying extra batteries. Score!
- Hiking shoes: While most people laze around Oahu with flip-flops, I wouldn’t recommend doing that on this trail, given the steep and uneven terrain and sometimes extremely muddy ground.
At a minimum, you should wear hiking sandals, like Tevas (options for women and men) or Chacos (options for women and men), to provide better traction and support. I wore actual hiking boots (here’s my boots and men’s equivalent) and personally think, if you’re planning on doing this and other moderately challenging hikes in Hawai’i, it’s worth the luggage real estate to bring along some sturdier shoes.
- Reusable water bottle: Be sure to bring along plenty of water on this hike- while the trail is mostly shaded, it can be quite warm here, especially when you’re climbing uphill. To be kind to the planet and to cut down on wasting money on bottled water, Justin and I both have giant Nalgene bottles that we take everywhere, from international vacations to RV trips around the Pacific Northwest and, yup, even hiking in Hawai’i!
Where to Stay near the Ehukai Pillbox Hike
If you’re considering where to stay in Oahu and looking for someplace that’s close to lots of outdoor adventures, I’d strongly recommend staying along the North Shore. It’s SO cool and has an entirely different vibe than Waikiki and, frankly, the rest of the island. It’s definitely worth staying near the North Shore for a couple of days to get to know its beaches, quirky food trucks, and laid back personality (seriously, I saw many people walk around a grocery store in totally bare feet- what’s more laidback than that?!). So here’s some ideas for where to stay on the North Shore:
- Beach side studio: This studio, perfect for a couple, is located in the surfer town of Haleiwa. Within walking distance to Ke Iki Beach- so close, in fact, you can literally hear the waves while you fall asleep.
- 160 West: For something with a bit more amenities, consider this 2-bedroom condo, with an in-unit washer and dryer, pool, and private parking.
- Turtle Bay Resort: For something a bit swankier, Turtle Bay is the way to go, as the only luxury resort on the North Shore. With its own lagoon that’s perfect for snorkeling, manicured gardens, and an onsite spa, it’s the perfect bougie juxtaposition to the area’s super chill vibes.
I hope you get the most incredible sunset while you’re up hiking the Ehukai Pillbox Hike. Are there any tips about the trail that I missed? Did you try the other pillbox hikes while you were on Oahu? Let me know in the comments below.