Hikes on Maui include treks along coastal seashore, verdant rain forest, and alpine desert. Orchids, hibiscus, ginger, heliconia, and anthuriums grow wild on many trails, and exotic fruits like mountain apple, lilikoi (passion fruit), and strawberry guava provide refreshing snacks for hikers. Much of what you see in lower-altitude forests is alien, brought to Hawaii at one time or another by someone hoping to improve on nature. Plants like strawberry guava and ginger may be tasty, but they grow over native plants and have become problematic weeds.
The best hikes get you out of the imported landscaping and into the truly exotic wilderness. Hawaii possesses some of the world's rarest plants, insects, and birds. Pocket field guides are available at most grocery or drug stores and can really illuminate your walk. If you watch the right branches quietly you can spot the same honeycreepers or happy-face spiders scientists have spent their lives studying.
Haleakala National Park Haleakala Crater
Haleakala Crater. Undoubtedly the best hiking on the island is at Haleakala Crater, with 30 mi of trails, two camping areas, and three cabins. If you're in shape, do a day hike descending from the summit along Keoneheehee Trail (also known as Sliding Sands Trail) to the crater floor. If you're in shape and have time, consider spending several days here amid the cinder cones, lava flows, and all that loud silence. Going into the crater is like going to a different planet. In the early 1960s NASA actually brought moon-suited astronauts here to practice what it would be like to "walk on the moon." Today, on one of the many hikes—most moderate to strenuous—you can traverse black sand and wild lava formations, follow the trail of blooming ahinahina (silverswords), and witness tremendous views of big sky and burned-red cliffs.
The best time to go into the crater is in the summer months, when the conditions are generally more predictable. Be sure to bring layered clothing—and plenty of warm clothes if you're staying overnight. It may be scorching hot during the day, but it gets mighty chilly after dark. Bring your own drinking water, as it is only available at the two visitor centers. Water inside the crater is nonpotable. Note that overnight visitors must get a permit at park headquarters before entering the crater; day-use visitors do not need a permit.
Cabins are $75 per night for reservations made 21 or more days in advance ($60 per night within 21 days, nonrefundable), and accommodate 12 people. You can book up to three consecutive nights. Online cabin reservations may be made through Friends of Haleakala National Park (www.fhnp.org). Haleakala Crater Rd., HI, 96768. PHONE: 808/572-4400. www.nps.gov/hale.
A branch of Haleakala National Park, Oheo Gulch is famous for its pools (the area is sometimes called the "Seven Sacred Pools"). Truth is, there are more than seven pools, and there's nothing sacred about them. A former owner of the Travaasa Hotel Hana started calling the area "Seven Sacred Pools" to attract the masses to sleepy old Hana. His plan worked and the name stuck, much to the chagrin of most Mauians.
The best time to visit the pools is in the morning, before the crowds and tour buses arrive. Start your day with a vigorous hike. Oheo has some fantastic trails to choose from, including our favorite, the Pipiwai Trail. When you're done, nothing could be better than going to the pools, lounging on the rocks, and cooling off in the freshwater reserves. (Keep in mind, however, that the park periodically closes the pools to swimming when the potential for flash flooding exists.)
You can find Oheo Gulch on Route 31, 10 miles past Hana town. All visitors must pay a $10 national park fee (per car not per person), which is valid for three days and can be used at Haleakala's summit as well. Be sure to visit Haleakala National Park's Kipahulu Visitor Center, 10 miles past Hana, for information about scheduled orientations and cultural demonstrations. Note that there is no drinking water here.
Kahakai Trail. This quarter-mile hike (more like a walk) stretches between Kuloa Point and the Kipahulu campground. You'll see rugged shoreline views, and you can stop to gaze at the surging waves below. Easy.Trailhead: Kuloa Point, Hana, HI, 96713.
Kuloa Point Trail. A half-mile walk, this trail takes you from the Kipahulu Visitor Center down to the Pools of Oheo at Kuloa Point. On the trail you pass native trees and precontact Hawaiian sites. Don't forget to bring your swimsuit and a towel if you're planning a dip in the pools. Exercise extreme caution, as no lifeguards are on duty. Stick to the pools—don't even think about swimming in the ocean. The park periodically closes the pools when the potential for flash flooding exists. Easy.Trailhead: Kipahulu Visitor Center, Hana Hwy., Hana, HI, 96713.
Pipiwai Trail. This 2-mile trek upstream leads to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls, pounding down in all its power and glory. Following signs from the parking lot, head across the road and uphill into the forest. The trail borders a sensational gorge and passes onto a boardwalk through a mystifying forest of giant bamboo. This stomp through muddy and rocky terrain includes two stream crossings and takes around three hours to fully enjoy. Although this trail is never truly crowded, t's best done early in the morning before the tours arrive. Be sure to bring mosquito repellent. Moderate.Hana Hwy., near mile marker 42, Hana, HI, 96713.
Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area
A hiking area with great trails for all levels—and something totally unexpected on a tropical island—is the Kula Forest Reserve at Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area in Upcountry Maui. During the Great Depression the government began a program to reforest the mountain, and soon cedar, pine, cypress, and even redwood took hold. The area, at an elevation of 6,200 feet, feels more like Vermont than Hawaii. It's cold and foggy, and often wet, but there's something about the enormity of the trees, quiet mist, and mysterious caves that make you feel you've discovered an unspoken secret. Hikers should wear brightly colored clothing, as hunters may be in the area.
To reach the forest, take Route 37 all the way out to the far end of Kula. Then turn left at Route 377. After about ½ mile, turn right at Waipoli Road. You'll encounter switchbacks; after that the road is bad but passable. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are strongly recommended, although standard cars have been known to make it. Use your best judgment.
Boundary Trail. This 4-mile trail begins just past the Kula Forest Reserve boundary cattle guard on Polipoli Road and descends into the lower boundary southward, all the way to the ranger's cabin at the junction of the Redwood and Plum trails. Combine them and you've got a hearty 5-mile day hike. The trail crosses many scenic gulches, with an overhead of tall eucalyptus, pine, cedar, and plum trees. Peep through the trees for wide views of Kula and Central Maui. Moderate.Trailhead: Polipoli Campground, Polipoli Rd., Kula, HI, 96790.
Redwood Trail. This colorful hike winds through redwoods and conifers past the short Tie Trail down to the old ranger's cabin. Although the views are limited, groves of trees and flowering bushes abound. At the end of the trail is an old cabin site and three-way junction with the Plum Trail and the Boundary Trail. Easy.Trailhead: Near Polipoli Campground, Polipoli Rd., Kula, HI, 96790.
Upper Waiakoa Trail. Start this scenic albeit rugged trail at the Polipoli Access Road (look for trailhead signs) and proceed up Haleakala through mixed pine and past caves and thick shrubs. The path crosses the land of Kaonoulu to the land of Waiakoa, where it reaches its highest point—7,800 feet. Here you'll find yourself in barren, raw terrain with fantastic views. At this point, you can either turn around, or continue on to the 3-mile Waiakoa Loop for a 14-mile journey. Other than a cave shelter, there's no water or other facilities on these trails, so come prepared. Difficult.Trailhead: Polipoli Access Rd., Kula, HI, 96790.
You can take an overnight trip to the island of Molokai for a day of hiking down to Kalaupapa Peninsula and back, by means of a 3-mile, 26-switchback trail. The trail is nearly vertical, traversing the face of some of the highest sea cliffs in the world.
Iao Valley State Monument
In Hawaiian, Iao means "supreme cloud." When you enter this mystical valley in the middle of an unexpected rain forest near Wailuku in West Maui, you'll know why. At 750 feet above sea level, the 10-mile valley clings to the clouds as if it's trying to cover its naked beauty. One of Maui's great wonders, the valley is the site of a famous battle to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Out of the clouds, the Iao Needle, a tall chunk of volcanic rock, stands as a monument to the long-ago lookout for Maui warriors. Today, there's nothing warlike about it: the valley is a peaceful land of lush, tropical plants, clear pools and a running stream, and easy, enjoyable strolls.
To get to Iao Valley State Monument, head to the western end of Route 32. The road dead-ends into the parking lot ($5 per car). The park is open daily 7 am to 7 pm. Facilities are available, but there is no drinking water.
Iao Valley Trail. Anyone (including your grandparents) can handle this short walk from the parking lot at Iao Valley State Monument. On your choice of two paved walkways, you can cross the Iao Stream and explore the junglelike area. Ascend the stairs up to the Iao Needle for spectacular views of Central Maui. Be sure to stop at the lovely Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens, which commemorate the cultural contributions of various immigrant groups. Easy.Trailhead: Iao Valley State Monument parking lot, Rte. 32, Wailuku, HI, 96793.
Hikes on the South Shore and West Maui
Hoapili Trail. A challenging hike through eye-popping scenery in southwestern Maui is this 5.5-mile coastal trail beyond the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. Named after a bygone king, it follows the shoreline, threading through the remains of ancient villages. King Hoapili created an islandwide road, and this wide path of stacked lava rocks is a marvel to look at and walk on. (It's not the easiest surface for the ankles and feet, so wear sturdy shoes.) This is brutal territory with little shade and no facilities, and extra water is a must. To get here, follow Makena Road to La Perouse Bay. The trail can be a challenge to find—walk south along the ocean through the kiawe trees, where you'll encounter numerous wild goats (don't worry—they're tame), and past a scenic little bay. The trail begins just around the corner to the left. Difficult.Trailhead: La Perouse Bay, Makena Rd., Makena, HI, 96753.
Kapalua Resort. The resort offers free access to 100 mi of hiking trails to guests and visitors as a self-guided experience. Trail information and maps are available at the Kapalua Adventure Center. Access to most trails is via a complimentary resort shuttle, which must be reserved in advance. Guided hiking tours are also available. 2000 Village Rd., corner of Office Rd., Kapalua, HI, 96761. PHONE: 808/665-4386 or 877/665-4386. www.kapalua.com..
Waihee Ridge. This moderately strenuous 4¾-mile hike in West Maui offers a generous reward at the top: breathtaking panoramic views of the windward coast and the ridges that rise inland, as well as Mt. Lanilili, Puu Kukui, Eke Crater, and the remote village of Kahakuloa. A picnic table enables you to enjoy a comfortable lunch. In rainy conditions the trail can quickly turn into a muddy, slippery affair. To get here from Highway 340, turn left across the highway from Mendes Ranch and drive ¾ mile up a partially paved road to the signed trailhead. Moderate.Trailhead: Opposite Mendes Ranch, Hwy. 340, Wailuku, HI, 96793.
Guided hikes can help you see more than you might on your own. If the company is driving you to the site, be sure to ask about drive times; they can be long.
Friends of Haleakala National Park. This nonprofit offers day and overnight trips into the volcanic crater. The purpose of your trip, the service work itself, isn't too much—mostly native planting, removing invasive plants, and light cabin maintenance. An interpretive park ranger accompanies each trip, taking you to places you'd otherwise miss and teaching you about the native flora and fauna. HI. PHONE: 808/876-1673. www.fhnp.org.
Hike Maui. Started in 1983, the area's oldest hiking company remains extremely well regarded for waterfall, rain forest, and crater hikes led by enthusiastic, highly trained guides who weave botany, geology, ethnobotany, culture, and history into the outdoor experience. Prices range from $80 to $170 for excursions lasting 3 to 11 hours (discounts for booking online). Hike Maui supplies day packs, rain gear, mosquito repellent, first-aid supplies, bottled water, snacks, lunch for the longer trips, and transportation to and from the site. Hotel transfers are available for most hikes (extra fee may apply). 285 Hukilike St., Unit B-104, Kahului, HI, 96732. PHONE: 808/879-5270 or 866/324-6284. www.hikemaui.com.
Kipahulu Ohana. Native Hawaiian guides from this nonprofit organization lead cultural interpretive hikes and taro patch tours at Kipahulu near Hana through a cooperative agreement with Haleakala National Park. The two-hour hike ($49) takes you to scenic overlooks and past remnants from the sugar-cane industry, culminating at an ancient taro farm that has been restored to active production. A three-hour hike ($79) includes a side trip to 400-foot Waimoku Falls. You can park at Kipahulu Visitor Center ($10 per car) and meet your guide at the Hale Kuai, the traditional thatched house near the center. Hana, HI, 96713. PHONE: 808/248-8558. www.kipahulu.org.
Sierra Club. One great avenue into the island's untrammeled wilderness is Maui's chapter of the Sierra Club. Join one of the club's hikes into pristine forests, along ancient coastal paths, to historic sites, and to Haleakala Crater. Some outings require volunteer service, but most are just for fun. Bring your own food and water, rain gear, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, and a suggested donation of $5 for hikers over age 14. This is a true bargain. Box 791180, Paia, HI, 96779. PHONE: 808/573-4147. www.hi.sierraclub.org/maui.
Tips for Day Hikes
Hiking is a perfect way to see Maui. Just wear sturdy shoes to spare your ankles from a crash course in loose lava rock. At upper elevations, the weather is guaranteed to be extreme—alternately chilly or blazing—so layers are good.
When hiking near streams or waterfalls, be cautious: Flash floods can occur at any time. Don't drink stream water or swim in streams if you have open cuts; bacteria and parasites are not the souvenir you want to take home with you.
Here's a checklist for what to take for a great hike.
Water (at least two quarts per person; drink even if you're not thirsty)
Food—fruit, trail mix, and lunch
Rain gear—especially if going into the crater
Sturdy hiking shoes
Wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
Sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher recommended)
Mosquito repellent (a must around waterfalls and pools)