Lahaina Pali Trail
Let me start with an important note on hiking this trail. I like this hike when the Pali is green from recent rain, and most of the time it is very dry up there. So enjoy the pictures of a green Pali.
This is a strenuous hike, just under 5 miles one-way. Through hikers often arrange to have a car at each end. The trail is steep and rocky, but the views are remarkable and the history you walk over is deep.
How to Get There
You need to get to Honoapillani Highway, Hwy 30.
The Trail and the Plants
This historic trail is part of Alaloa, ‘the long road’ that circled all of Maui. Travelers in ancient times most likely chose to swim or take a canoe around the sheer cliffs of this southern point of the West Maui Mountains, but a footpath was probably here also.
The first missionary to reach Maui arrived in 1821 and within a few years, before 1825, this nearly 5-mile boulder paved road was cut over the arid landscape, high above the sheer cliffs tumbling into the ocean. The path climbs steep ridges and crosses over numerous gulches. The environment is dry scrubland that in the past contained Pili Grass, Wiliwili, Iliahialoe (Coast Sandalwood) and Aalii.
From the Lahaina side the trail starts near the southern end of Ukumehame Beach State Park. Just past the last sandy beach and before the road starts’ climbing from the coast is a parking area Mauka side (mountain side) of the road. From this parking area there is a short path that leads to the Old Pali Highway first constructed in the early 1900’s by prison labor. This Highway effectively replaced the Pali Trail, which then fell into disuse. You travel this Old Highway a short distance to the actual trailhead, which is on the left.
In the first section of the trail you can see intact parts of the boulder-paved track.
You quickly gain elevation as the trail climbs over the upper section of several gulches. Note the numbered signposts, put there by Na Ala Hele, the Hawaiian Trail and Access System. They have a guidebook, ‘Tales From the Trail’, that provides the information for each post. For example, post #1 tells of how this trail is hand made, with each boulder and stone placed there by human power, no heavy machinery existed at the time.
On this the Lahaina side of the trail, the Leeward side (sheltered from the wind and therefore the rain), the plants are dominated by non-native species. Fountain Grass, Haole Koa, Kiawe and the vine Hairy Merremia. But there are some natives. Uhaloa thrives in the dry ground and was a popular medicinal plant for the Hawaiians. Alena, a short-lived perennial and also a medicinal plant is abundant. Ilima, prized as Lei flower also enjoys these drier sites. A few years back there were still some Iliahialoe (Coast Sandalwood), but fire has taken them out. (Note, there are many more on the windward side of the trail)
Ahead is one of the few shade trees, a mid-sized Kiawe. Stop here and enjoy the azure blue waters below with their coral reefs enhancing the picture. This is the .5-mile marker. I’m sure you’ve already noticed the heat. The trail climbs the side of the first gulch, Kamaohi, with a full southern exposure. Soon you reach the .6-mile Kamaohi Gulch sign.
Next a few switches in the trail bring you to the side of a longer gulch, this is Mokumana. This section is tough on a really hot day. You can see the tips of windmills in the distance. As you cross the top of the gulch you have reached mile 1.0.
Beyond Mokumana Gulch the trail climbs an exposed ridge with leads to the much broader Opunaha Gulch at mile 1.4. The old road is more visible here and the climb less steep. At signpost 6 look down the hill for a cattle-watering trough, cattle were here from the 1850’s until 1990. You quickly reach large boulders bordering each side of the trail and the windmills now in full view. Just beyond is a fairly level stretch and you pass Makahuna and Kaalaina Gulch. It doesn’t feel like a gulch here, more like a high grassy meadow. A sign a mile 1.7 calls this the Pohakuloa Area.
At the end of this level section is a truly dramatic gulch, Manawainui. ‘Wai’ means water and nui means large or all. So this is ‘large water stream’, for it is water and wind that carved this gulch. More natives greet us as we drop into the gulch, Ulei on the right and Nehe on both sides. At the head of the gulch is mile 1.9, and just after, in the shade of the large boulders on your right is a small native fern, Iwaiwa. As you climb up the other side enjoy the great views of Kahoolawe Island on the horizon.
One more ascent and you are at the top of the trail, on Kealaloloa Ridge, where the windmills are placed, 1585’. The grassy mesa around this area is called Kaheawa Pasture. It can be very windy up here on the ridge. Hawaiians called them Mumuku Winds and they can be intense. If you are only hiking part of the trail this is a good place to turn around.
Back on the trail you cross the service road that serves the windmills. And then across the grassy mesa to a second dirt road that is a DLNR access road to conservation areas higher up the ridge. At the first sharp curve in the road you reach mile 2.5 and Malalowaiaole Gulch. And then in a short 100 yards the Pali Trail picks up on your right.
Now on the windward side the vegetation becomes more interesting. The grassy hillsides are still filled with Fountain Grass but now large numbers of Aalii and Iliahialoe (Coast Sandalwood) dot the hillsides along with much more Ilima. There was a burn in this area a few years back and I found another native sprouting from the cleared ground, the Hawaiian Moon Flower, a native morning glory.
The views now are of Maalaea Harbor, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, Kihei and Wailea on the distant coast, the rolling cane fields in the isthmus and of course mighty Haleakala.
The trail continues descending at a moderate rate. The views are stunning. And then I find another native treasure, Pua kala, the only native Poppy in Hawaii. Although bitter to taste the latex sap and the seeds were important medicinally in ancient times. The large white flower, with crepe paper petals, sits atop blue green leaves with heavily prickled stems. (I know because I tried to hold the stem in the Mumuku winds one day, Ouch!)
Ahead on the trail is a large old Kiawe located at mile marker 3.0. Take a few minutes and treasure the shade. The trail continues for another ½ mile while maintaining the moderate descent. Then at mile 3.5 the trail drops sharply right down a very steep ridge.
The next mile was tough on me, with my old knees, and I imagine it would not be easy going up either. The trail zigs and zags several times while continuing the steep descent. There is a trail sign at the bottom that calls this ‘The zigzagiest road that was ever built’.
At the bottom of this steep ridge there is a short section to the trailhead.