Over a few brief decades, Maui transformed from a rural island to a fast-paced resort destination, but its natural beauty has remained largely inviolate. Many pristine places can be explored only on foot. Those interested in seeing the backcountry—complete with virgin waterfalls, remote wilderness trails, and quiet, meditative settings—should head to Haleakala or the tropical Hana Coast.
For details on Maui hiking trails and free maps, contact Haleakala National Park (www.nps.gov/hale; 808/572-4400), the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (www.dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/hiking/maui; 808/984-8109) or the state’s Na Ala Hele program (www.hawaiitrails.org; 808/873-3508). Choose different tabs on the Na Ala Hele website to download maps.
Guided Hikes—Maui’s oldest hiking company is Hike Maui ★★ (www.hikemaui.com; 866/324-6284 or 808/879-5270), headed by Ken Schmitt, who pioneered guided treks on the Valley Isle. Hike Maui offers numerous treks island-wide, ranging from an easy 1-mile, 3-hour hike to a waterfall ($95) to a strenuous full-day hike in Haleakala Crater ($190). On the popular East Maui waterfall trips ($124), you can swim and jump from the rocks into rainforest pools. Guides share cultural and botanical knowledge along the trail. All prices include equipment and transportation. Hotel pickup costs an extra $25 per person.
If you’d like a knowledgeable guide to accompany you on a hike, call Maui Hiking Safaris ★ (www.mauihikingsafaris.com; 888/445-3963 or 808/573-0168). Owner Randy Warner takes eight or fewer adventurers on half- and full-day hikes into valleys, rainforests, and coastal areas. Randy’s been hiking around Maui for more than 30 years and is wise in the ways of Hawaiian history, native flora and fauna, and volcanology. His rates range from $75 for a half-day to $169 for a full day, and hikes include daypacks, rain parkas, snacks, water, and, on full-day hikes, sandwiches. Private half-day tours are $150 per person ($125 per additional person).
The Maui chapter of the Sierra Club ★★ offers the best deal by far: guided hikes for a $5 donation. Volunteer naturalists lead small groups along historic coastlines and up into forest waterfalls. Call 808/419-5143 or go to www.mauisierraclub.org.
Haleakala National Park ★★★
For complete coverage of the national park, see "Things to See".
Wilderness Hikes: Sliding Sands & Halemauu Trails
Hiking into Maui’s dormant volcano is an experience like no other. The terrain inside the wilderness area of the volcano, which ranges from burnt-red cinder cones to ebony-black lava flows, is astonishing. There are some 27 miles of hiking trails, two camping sites, and three cabins.
Entrance to Haleakala National Park is $25 per car. The rangers offer free guided hikes (usually Mon and Thurs), a great way to learn about the unusual flora and geological formations here. Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared for wind, rain, and intense sun. Bring water, snacks, and a hat. Additional options include full-moon hikes and star-program hikes. The hikes and briefing sessions may be canceled, so check first. Call 808/572-4400 or visit www.nps.gov/hale.
Avid hikers should plan to stay at least 1 night in the park; 2 or 3 nights will allow more time to explore the fascinating interior of the volcano (see below for details on the cabins and campgrounds in the wilderness area of the valley). If you want to venture out on your own, the best route takes in two trails: into the crater along Sliding Sands Trail, which begins on the rim at 9,800 feet and descends to the valley floor at 6,600 feet, and back out along Halemauu Trail. Before you set out, stop at park headquarters to get trail updates.
The trailhead for Sliding Sands is well marked and the trail easy to follow over lava flows and cinders. As you descend, look around: The view is breathtaking. In the afternoon, waves of clouds flow into the Kaupo and Koolau gaps. Vegetation is spare to nonexistent at the top, but the closer you get to the valley floor, the more growth you’ll see: bracken ferns, pili grass, shrubs, even flowers. On the floor, the trail travels across rough lava flows, passing by rare silversword plants, volcanic vents, and multicolored cinder cones.
The Halemauu Trail goes over red and black lava and past native ohelo berries and ohia trees as it ascends up the valley wall. Occasionally, riders on horseback use this trail. The proper etiquette is to step aside and stand quietly next to the trail as the horses pass.
Some shorter and easier hiking options include the half-mile walk down the Hosmer Grove Nature Trail, or just the first mile or two down Sliding Sands Trail. (Even this short hike is exhausting at the high altitude.) A good day hike is Halemauu Trail to Holua Cabin and back, an 8-mile, half-day trip.
All the way out in Hana, lush and rainy Kipahulu is one section of Haleakala National Park that is not accessible from the summit. From the ranger station just off of Hana Highway, it’s a short hike above the famous Oheo Gulch (aka the Seven Sacred Pools) to two spectacular waterfalls. Check with rangers before heading out, to make sure that no flash floods are expected. (Streams can swell quickly, even when it appears sunny. Never attempt to cross flooding waters.) The Pipiwai Trail begins near the ranger station, across the street from the central parking area. Follow it 5 miles to the Makahiku Falls overlook. Continue on another 1.5 miles across two bridges and through a magical bamboo forest to Waimoku Falls. It’s a challenging uphill trek, but mostly shaded and sweetened by the sounds of clattering bamboo canes.
Polipoli Springs Area ★
At this state recreation area, part of the 21,000-acre Kula and Kahikinui forest reserves on the slope of Haleakala, it’s hard to believe that you’re in Hawaii. First of all, it’s cold, even in summer, because the elevation is 5,300 to 6,200 feet. Second, this former forest of native koa, ohia, and mamane, which was overlogged in the 1800s, was reforested in the 1930s with introduced species: pine, Monterey cypress, ash, sugi, red alder, redwood, and several varieties of eucalyptus. The result is a cool area, with muted sunlight filtered by towering trees.
This is some hike—strenuous but worth every step if you like seeing the big picture. It’s 6.8 miles down, then back up again, with a dazzling 100-mile view of the islands dotting the blue Pacific, plus the West Maui Mountains, which seem like a separate island.
The trail is just outside Haleakala National Park at Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area; however, you access it by going through the national park to the summit. It starts just beyond the Puu Ulaula summit building on the south side of Science City and follows the southwest rift zone of Haleakala from its lunar-like cinder cones to a cool redwood grove. The trail drops 2,600 feet into the 12,000-acre Kahikinui Forest Reserve. Plan on eight hours; bring water and extreme weather gear.
Follow the Skyline trail to its terminus, and you’ll reach the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area. Alternately, you can drive straight there and embark on several cool weather hikes. (Four-wheel-drive vehicle recommended.) One of the most unusual hikes in the state is the easy 3.5-mile Polipoli Loop, which takes about 3 hours. Take the Haleakala Highway (Hwy. 37) to Kēokea and turn right onto Hwy. 337; after less than a half-mile, turn on Waipoli Road, which climbs swiftly. After 10 miles, Waipoli Road ends at the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area campgrounds. The well-marked trailhead is next to the parking lot near a stand of Monterey cypress; the tree-lined trail offers the best view of the island. Dress warmly.
Polipoli Loop is really a network of three trails: Haleakala Ridge, Plum Trail, and Redwood Trail. After .5 miles of meandering through groves of eucalyptus, blackwood, swamp mahogany, and hybrid cypress, you’ll join the Haleakala Ridge Trail, which, about a mile in, joins with the Plum Trail (named for the plums that ripen in June and July). This trail passes through massive redwoods and by an old Conservation Corps bunkhouse before joining up with the Redwood Trail, which climbs through Mexican pine, tropical ash, Port Orford cedar, and, of course, redwood.
Waianapanapa State Park ★★★
Tucked in a jungle on the outskirts of the little coastal town of Hana is this state park, a black-sand beach nestled against vine-strewn cliffs.
The Hana-Waianapanapa Coast Trail is an easy 6-mile hike that takes you back in time. Allow 4 hours to walk along this relatively flat trail, which parallels the sea, along lava cliffs and a forest of lauhala trees. The best time to take the hike is either early morning or late afternoon, when the light on the lava and surf makes for great photos. Midday is the worst time; not only is it hot (lava intensifies the heat), but there’s also no shade or potable water available.
There’s no formal trailhead; join the route at any point along the Waianapanapa Campground and go in either direction. Along the trail, you’ll see remains of an ancient heiau (temple), stands of lauhala trees, caves, a blowhole, and a remarkable plant, the naupaka, which flourishes along the beach. Upon close inspection, you’ll see that the naupaka have only half-blossoms; according to Hawaiian legend, a similar plant living in the mountains has the other half of the blossoms. Old myths say they are tragically separated lovers, one banished to the mountain and the other to the sea.
Hana: The Hike to Fagan’s Cross
This 3-mile hike to the cross erected in memory of Paul Fagan, the founder of Hana Ranch and the former Hotel Hana-Maui (now the Travaasa Hana), offers spectacular views of the Hana Coast, particularly at sunset. The uphill trail starts across Hana Highway from the Hotel Hana-Maui. Enter the pastures at your own risk; they’re often occupied by glaring bulls with sharp horns and cows with new calves. Watch your step as you ascend this steep hill on a jeep trail across open pastures to the cross and breathtaking views.
Camping on Maui can be extreme (inside a volcano) or laid back (by the sea in Hana). It can be wet, cold, and rainy, or hot, dry, and windy—often all on the same day. If you’re heading for Haleakala, remember that U.S. astronauts trained for the moon inside the volcano; pack survival gear. You’ll need both a swimsuit and raincoat if you’re bound for Waianapanapa. Bring your own equipment—Maui has no place that rents camping gear.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.