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.
Like hiking, camping on Maui 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: Bring survival gear. Don’t forget raingear, especially if you’re bound for Waianapanapa.
RENTING GEAR: To avoid the hassle, and possible airline baggage fees, of bringing camping equipment with you, rent your gear on island—just make sure you reserve it in advance. There are no walk-up rentals available on Maui, although guests at Camp Olowalu (see below) may rent a limited number of tents and some equipment for use onsite.
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 to a strenuous full-day hike in Haleakala Crater. On the popular East Maui waterfall trips 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.
Maui Camping Company (www.mauicampingcompany.com; tel. 808/762-1168) offers three kinds of camping kits, from basic to “glamping,” all with inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows, four-person tent, and other essentials, starting at $100 for 1 to 3 days, $150 for the week. Prices are based on two campers, but you can add extra sleeping gear, or upgrade to a six-person tent for just a bit more. Backpacking kits, which include a lightweight two-person tent, sleeping bag, pillow, pad, kitchen kit, and headlamp, among other items, are available by the day or the week. Excursion kits are perfect for ferrying over to Lanai or flying to another island, and can even be mailed back (box provided) if you’re not returning to Maui. Add-on rentals range from trekking poles to Yeti coolers and even ukuleles and guitars. Maui Camping Company doesn’t have a storefront, but uses Adventure Sports Maui, 400 Hana Hwy., Kahului (www.adventuresportsmaui.com; tel. 808/877-7443), for pickups and dropoffs.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 “Haleakala National Park,”.
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.
Keanae Arboretum ★
About 33 miles from Kahului along the Hana Highway, just after the YMCA Camp Keanae (and just before the turnoff to the Keanae Peninsula), is an easy walk through the Keanae Arboretum. The 6-acre arboretum features both native and introduced plants, maintained by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Allow 1 to 2 hours, longer if you take time out to swim. Take raingear and mosquito repellent (and leave nothing in your rental car—break-ins have happened here).
To park, look for the pullouts between mile markers 16 and 17 on the Hana Highway. Walk along the fairly flat jeep road to the entrance. For .5 mile, you will pass by plants introduced to Hawaii (rainbow eucalyptus, torch ginger, pomelo, banana, papaya, hibiscus, and more), all with identifying tags. Next is a taro patch showing the different varieties that Hawaiians used as their staple crop. After the taro, a 1-mile, unmaintained trail leads through a Hawaiian rainforest, crisscrossing a stream along the way. You’ll see a few shallow swimming holes; be careful entering and exiting them—the rocks can be slippery—and avoid altogether if it’s been raining; flash floods are a potential danger.
Lahaina Pali Trail ★
Unless you’re very hardy, you’ll want to drop off a vehicle at the western end of this trail, 5.5 miles one way, or have someone meet you there. But it’s not too much of a sacrifice for those who wait, since they’re at Ukumehame Beach, which has picnic tables overlooking the sandy beach (and convenient portable toilets). The eastern trailhead lies at a gravel parking lot .2 miles south of the intersection of Honoapiilani Highway (Hwy. 30) and Kihei Road (Hwy. 310), on the right side of the road if coming from Kihei.
The well-signed trail doesn’t look like much at first; you pass through dry scrubland and kiawe before starting to cross a series of gullies as you ascend Kealaloloa Ridge and the Lahaina Pali (the Hawaiian word for “cliff”). Turn left on unpaved McGregor Point Road and follow to stone steps leading to the highest point of the trail, 1,600 feet, and a pasture with sweeping views of Kahoolawe, Molokini, and Haleakala. Cross the gravel access road past wind turbines—a line of white windmills incongruously marching downslope and visible from points far south—and carefully make your way over and around the three switchbacks of Manawainui Gulch.
Five more gulches, some deep, some shallow, await until the trail flattens out above the Lahaina Tunnel, where you can also spy Lanai and Lahaina. The trail follows the coast until a right turn onto an old cliff road, which leads to the final descent into Manawaipueo Gulch and the Ukumehame parking area. You may spot whales along the way, so consider bringing binoculars along with lots of water, sunglasses, and a hat—there’s almost no shade.
Waihee Ridge ★
This strenuous 5-mile round-trip hike, with a 1,500-foot climb, offers spectacular views of the valleys of the West Maui Mountains. Allow 3 to 4 hours for the ascent and descent. Pack a lunch, carry lots of water, and pick a dry day, as this area is very wet. There’s a picnic table at the summit with great views. Native apapane, a red-breasted bird with black wing and tails, flit among the tufted ohia blossoms in the forest canopy, while below them native amau and hapuu ferns unfurl their fronds.
To get here from Wailuku, turn north on Market Street, which becomes the Kahekili Highway (Hwy. 340) and passes through Waihee. Go just over 2[bf]1/2 winding, often steep miles from the Waihee Elementary School and, after passing Mendes Ranch, look for the turnoff at Boy Scouts’ Camp Maluhia on the left. Turn into the camp and drive nearly a mile to the trailhead on the jeep road. About [bf]1/3 mile in, there will be another gate, marking the entrance to the West Maui Forest Reserve. A foot trail, kept in good shape by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, begins here, leading through kukui, guava, Cook pines, and eucalyptus before reaching a bench overlooking a waterfall along Makamakakaole Stream. Catch you breath before climbing to the top of the ridge, Lanilili Peak, which at 2,563 feet offers panoramic vistas of green gulches, cleft ridges, and Wailuku— providing it’s not too misty.
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.