Hiking Ualakaa Trail

By Rasa Fournier

hiking ualakaa trail
Just when I thought I had done every official trail on Oahu, one pops to my attention that I haven’t explored. And it’s been right in front of me all along. Mount Tantalus is home to a network of hiking trails that stretch into Pauoa and Nuuanu Valleys on the West and Manoa Valley on the East. Having spent much of my life in these neighborhoods, the paths are my playground. I go to them for solace, for exercise, for adventure and to get lost (which has worked in the most literal sense, on occasion). Numerous trail heads mark the gateway points into the labyrinthian system of interconnecting paths. Many of the paths find their starting point along Mount Tantalus’s winding roads. One such path begins on the grounds of Mount Tantalus’s most notable lookout point: Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Park.

The park is a grassy plateau overlooking the city, with views so grand and all-encompassing that cinematic shots for TV shows and movies are often filmed in the area. As with the proverbial journey, I’ve always been so set on reaching the view, I failed to consciously notice a trail off the side of the road that I’ve driven past countless times.

The trail begins in an enchanting grove of Cook Pines. A flood of soft shade nestles beneath the towering trees, creating a dusky atmosphere. In the forest exists a certain magic where the architecture of nature predominates over that of man. All those massive trunks topped by all those fanned out stacks of sloping branches create a permanent daytime twilight, even on a bright day. Through that forest, into a path of cool breezes and birdsong I wonder.

hiking ualakaa trail

My way is marked by tunnels of trees of every kind. Hau bushes have almost a cookie-cutter hole that has been hacked through them to make way for hikers. The dense shade is welcome. Quickly a perpendicular path cuts in on the left, which I ignore as that’s the path that will spill me out full circle at the end of the loop. Instead, I continue straight ahead.

On the right side of the path, I’m taken by a massive flood of bending, twisting, intertwining branches that are enticing. I have to drag myself away knowing I’d never finish my hike if I were to answer to every tree that beckoned. Unfortunately, banyans are an invasive species, detrimental to the ecosystem. At this moment, I can’t help but marvel at their branches and aerial roots that stretch so tall and sprawl so far, melding together in such gnarly shapes and angles as to make fantastical fortresses and dramatic archways all along the path. This is a forest nymph’s dream. I shed my water-pack to amble up or swing within one irresistible play-gym of nature after another. There’s something about, not only the tactile experience, but of exploring these structures from various vantage points and heights, and simply to hang, climb and play freely, shedding the weekday dictates of societal decorum. Here, I get to let out my inner monkey.

hiking ualakaa trail

The loop trail is comprised of segments. The first segment snakes along until it opens onto Round Top Drive, at which point I cross the street and meet up with the next section of trail, which also opens onto Round Top and continues across the street. The next segment is technically a portion of Makiki Valley Trail, but it deposits me at a junction where I am able to pick back up on ‘Ualaka‘a Trail, by turning left, to complete the loop. This fairly short, family-friendly adventure is all about the birds, the breezes, views that fill my whole body with a smile, and an oh-so giddy array of climbable, visually compelling banyans.

TRAIL: ‘Ualaka‘a Trail
LENGTH: 1-mile loop
HOW TO GET THERE: From Waikiki, take Kalakaua Avenue heading North. Turn right onto South King Street and take an immediate left onto Punahou Street. Go left at Nehoa Street, then right onto Makiki Street, turning left at Round Top Drive. Zigzag up Round Top Drive and turn left at the sign for Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a State Park. Soon after entering the park, you will see a marked trailhead on your righthand side. Park in one of the makeshift parking areas across from the trailhead.

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