The Kolowalu Trail is a short 2.5-mile hike up a steep ridge in the back of Manoa Valley. Originally used as a hunting and gathering trail, this relentlessly steep trail takes one of the most direct routes to Wa'ahila Ridge and the higher summits of the Ko'olau Range. Unlike the lower Wa'ahila Ridge, which is known for its dry climate, the gulches around Kolowalu are damp, humid, buggy and oftentimes muddy. Combined with the steep grade and slick tangle of roots and rocks, the Kolowalu Trail requires some skill and perseverance before reaching the ridge above.
The trail starts at the back of Manoa Road in a small neighborhood with limited street parking. Make your way courteously down Alani Drive to the end where the path begins through dense tropical forest alongside a riverbed. The trail forks at a signed junction with the Pu'u Pia Trail. Take the right fork around a hunting shelter and picnic table (this can be reserved with a permit). The trail makes its way through a stand of strawberry guava trees, across a muddy stream and up some slippery rocks. At the first switchback the real ascent begins up the steep ridge, scrambling over guava and eucalyptus roots, before reaching a small clearing and a massive fallen log. Views into Manoa Valley from here are quite picturesque where Mount Tantalus, the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus and downtown Honolulu are all visible. One final switchback brings hikers past native ti, koa and 'ohi'a trees to a trail junction with the Wa'ahila Ridge Trail. A sign warns of continuing up the unmaintained ridge towards the summit of Mount Olympus. Instead, heading right (down the ridge toward the ocean) leads to the trailhead of the lower Wa'ahila Ridge Trail. Returning the same way down the Kolowalu Trail will return hikers to the parking area. Remember to exercise caution when descending the slippery trail back.