Maui is known for its palm trees, turquoise waves and large surf, but few people know that at 6,500 feet above sea level, it has redwood trees and trails that crisscross fields of cinder and feel like the surface of the moon.
Experience the island’s variety of landscapes on hiking adventures that range from treks through bamboo near Waimoku Falls, to strolling past world-class, white sand beaches on the Kapalua Coastal Trail.
The exceptional diversity makes hiking on Maui so unique that you could hike every day for 10 days and never encounter the same scenery.
Take, for example, the town of Waihe‘e, near the island’s central valley, where three different hikes in a 10-minute radius offer wildly different experiences. At the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, a 2-mile trail runs right along a beach that’s covered in white sand and driftwood. Just 4 miles away, the Waihe‘e Ridge Trail climbs 2,500 feet up the mountain on a fern-lined trail in the mists. And a mile up the road, a narrow trail in Makamaka‘ole Valley leads down to a hidden waterfall, where hikers scramble down the roots of a banyan tree for a refreshing dip in the swimming hole.
If that last move sounds a little bit dangerous, it’s important to remember that hiking in Maui can have it’s fair share of consequences. Visitors should always assess their abilities, find detailed information on the trails and be sure to keep an eye on the weather since flash flooding can occur on parts of the island.
One place where flooding is rarely an issue is along the Hoapili Trail, a historic 5-mile round-trip hike that crosses the island’s last lava flow in Keone‘ōi‘o, past Makena. This trail was commissioned in 1830 by Governor Hoapili and passes numerous cultural sites and ancient Hawaiian villages. It’s as if time was frozen in stone as you hike on the desolate trail. Since there’s virtually no shade on this section of coast, be sure to start early, bring lots of water and wear hiking boots for the lava rock.
Swap out the sunscreen you’d use on the Hoapili Trail for sweatshirts while hiking in Kula. Trails in the Kula Forest Reserve — or as locals know it, Poli Poli — range in elevation from 5,500 feet to the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakalā. Here you’ll find stands of towering redwoods, plum, eucalyptus and pine trees and a well-marked network of hiking trails with the feel of the Pacific Northwest. Much of this land is open for hunting, so be sure to wear bright colors and watch for wild goats and pigs that often dart down the trail. If you’re feeling ambitious and up to the challenge, you can give your lungs a high-altitude workout and hike “Skyline Drive” — a road that zig zags all the way up to the top of Haleakalā Crater.
If you packed a tent and sleeping bag — and don’t mind being a little cold — Haleakalā Crater has some of Hawaiʻi’s best backcountry hiking. There are three campgrounds in Haleakalā Crater that require quite a bit of walking — 8 miles to the closest Holua campground and 20 miles to the furthest Palikū campground.
But if hiking with a tent in 40-degree temperatures doesn’t sound like a tropical vacation, stick to the shorter trails that hug the West Maui coastline. The Kapalua Coastal Trail connects Kapalua Bay with D.T. Fleming Beach Park — both of which have been previously named “America’s Best Beach” by Dr. Beach. Take in all different shades of green while hiking through Honolua Valley to the shoreline of Honolua Bay, where vines dangle from a canopy of ferns and moss covers the tree trunks.
For a chance to spot whales during the winter months, hike the 2-mile Ohai Trail just past the Nakalele Blowhole or the rugged Lāhainā Pali Trail on the road between Lahaina and Ma‘alaea. Both offer sweeping views of the coastline and are rarely ever crowded, which allows you just sit back and enjoy the scenery. That’s what hiking in Maui is all about.