With most land privately held, the only real hiking opportunities on Molokai are the Kalaupapa Trail (permit required), Halawa Valley by guided tour, or in two hard-to-access Nature Conservancy preserves. Molokai Ocean Tours’ 6-hour Mountain Cultural Tour includes some hiking in the Molokai Forest Reserve.

Fragile Beauties: Hiking Molokai’s Nature Reserves

For spectacularly unique views of Molokai, the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii offers monthly guided hikes ★★★ March through October into two of the island’s most fragile landscapes: the windswept dunes in the 920-acre Moomomi Preserve on the northwest shore, and the cloud-ringed forest of the island’s highest mountain, part of the 2,774-acre Kamakou Preserve on the island’s East End.

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Just 8 1/2 miles northwest of Hoolehua, Moomomi is the most intact beach and sand dune area in the main Hawaiian islands, harboring jewel-like endemic plants, nesting green sea turtles, and fossils of now-extinct flightless birds.

Towering over the island’s eastern half, 4,970-foot Kamakou provides 60% of the fresh water on Molokai and shelter for rare native species, such happy-faced spiders and deep-throated lobelias. The Pepeopae Trail boardwalk (3 miles round-trip) meanders through a bog of miniature ohia trees and silver-leaved lilies that evolved over millennia; it leads to a view of pristine Pelekunu Valley on the North Shore.

Hikes are free (donations welcome), but the number of participants is limited. Book in advance; exact dates (usually Sat) are listed on the conservancy website (www.nature.org/hawaii). To check availability, e-mail hike_molokai@tnc.org, or call the field office (808/553-5236; weekdays 8am–3pm).

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It’s possible to access the preserves on your own, but you’ll need a rugged four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle, dry roads, and clear weather. Check in first at the field office, just north of Kaunakakai in Molokai Industrial Park, 23 Pueo Place, off Ulili Street near Highway 460. Ask for directions and current road conditions; in the case of Moomomi, you’ll also need to get a pass for the locked gate. Clean your shoes and gear before visiting the preserves to avoid bringing in invasive species, and drive cautiously—a tow job from these remote areas can easily cost $1,000.

A Hike Back in History

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“There are things on Molokai, sacred things, that you may not be able to see or hear, but they are there,” says Pilipo Solatorio, who was born and raised in Halawa Valley. “As Hawaiians, we respect these things.”

Solatorio and his family are among the few who allow visitors into the emerald East End valley, offering cultural waterfall tours ★★★ Monday to Saturday by reservation only. After welcoming visitors with traditional chants and the sharing of inhaled breath, foreheads pressed together, “Uncle” Pilipo relates the history of the area before son Greg guides the group along the rocky trail, which crosses two shallow streams. Greg also notes ancient sites, taro terraces, and native and invasive species along the path (1.7 miles each way). If conditions permit, visitors may swim in the pool below the 250-foot, double-tiered Mooula Falls, which the Solatorios explain is named after its legendary resident mo‘o, or lizard.

Uncle Pilipo, who can recall the 1946 tsunami that barreled into the ancient settlement when he was 6 years old, feels that learning about the history and culture of Molokai is part of the secret to appreciating the island. “To see the real Molokai, you need to understand and know things so that you are pono, you are right with the land, and don’t disrespect the culture,” he says.

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Leave a phone message for the Solatorios (www.halawavalleymolokai.com; 808/542-1855), giving your name, telephone number, the number of people in your party (minimum of two), and requested date of visit; the cash-only price is $60 adults, $35 children. Wear a swimsuit under your clothes and wear shoes that can get wet; bring a backpack with insect repellent, sunscreen, water, a rain poncho, a towel, lunch, and a camera.

Camping

All campgrounds are for tents only, and permits for county and state sites must be purchased in advance. You’ll have to bring your own equipment or plan to buy it on the island, as there are no rentals.

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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.