Stretching from just behind Honolulu to Oahu’s Windward (eastern) coastline, the Ko’olau Range is not actually a mountain range at all. Instead, the undulating green and vertical slopes which top out at 3,100 feet, are just one side the ancient, massive Ko’olau shield volcano. The other half of the volcano collapsed into the ocean millennia ago. The Ko’olau Range acts as a wind block for points inland, stopping clouds along the coast and causing regular rains. But here, rain is a good thing: Residents and locals delight as the Ko’olau’s creased face fills with hundreds of thin white waterfalls and Hawaii’s iconic rainbows arch across the sky.
The best places to experience the grandeur of the Ko’olau Range are themselves elevated. The Pali Road, connecting Kailua to downtown Honolulu, winds up, into and, in some instances, through, the Ko’olaus via tunnels bored directly into the cliff face. Be sure to stop and take in the view from several scenic stop-offs along the way. The Likelike Highway and Interstate H-3 also run through the Ko’olau Range. The popular but family-friendly hike to Makapu’u Point overlooking a historic lighthouse, is recommended and from the top affords sweeping views of the Ko’olaus behind Waimanalo and heading north to Kaneohe Bay.
Several driving and helicopter tours take in Ko’olau Range scenery. Should you choose to get up close and personal with the Ko’olau Range via a hike, however, it’s important to note that several historically popular trails navigating the summit ridgeline—including Stairway to Heaven off the Pali and the Tom Tom Trail behind Waimanalo—are now considered dangerous and may be closed. Safer alternatives that still pack the scenic punch include the 1-mile roundtrip to the Pali Puka (hole), a wind-battered hole through a stone wall from the Pali Lookout, and the challenging 11.6 mile round trip hike on the Manana Trail following the Ko’olau ridgeline above the Pacific Palisades; the trailhead is off Komo Mai Drive.