Hoapili Trail

Each of the Hawaiian islands erupted to life atop the force of a volcano that tore through the waves from the bottom of the sea. The volcanic rock, shiny, sharp and glistening in its infancy, eventually broke down under the battering of waves into finer sand and dirt. This allowed Hawaii’s tropical flora to take root which provided a home for the islands’ fauna.

It takes thousands of years for the ocean to grind the young volcanic rock down into an inhabitable island, and you can take a trip back in time on the Hoapili Trail on Maui’s southern coast. The Hoapili Trail takes you through fields of young, glassy, hot and sharp volcanic rock, and the hike allows you to see what a Hawaiian island looks like in its infancy.

Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island, so you won’t find much young rock there. Oahu is also well established. But Maui and The Big Island are both fairly young, so the Hoapili Trail is a unique experience. If you have the time, then the Hoapili Trail is not to be missed. But the trail shouldn’t be a priority if you’re short on time.

Preparing For The Sun And Heat

The Hoapili Trail is an out-and-back track that spans 5.5 miles and takes about four hours to complete. There is no shade. In fact, you’ll be getting twice the sun exposure as the sun’s rays reflect off the hot, glassy rock like a mirror. Even a hat won’t protect you from the reflection. 

You’ll need a sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF. Apply the sunscreen in the shade for about 15 minutes before you hit the trail. It’s best to do it in the car on the way down to the Hoapili Trail. And you’ll want to re-apply sunscreen every two hours. Since the hike takes four hours, it’s best to re-apply when you reach the end of the out-and-back trail before you hike the two hours it takes to get back to the car.

The reflective rock will also increase the temperature. It’s called ambient heat, and it can be a killer if you’re not prepared. You’ll want to load up on hydration before hitting the trail, and you should bring at least 1.5 liters of drinking per person for the long, hot and exposed hike.

Trampled Underfoot

Hawaiian volcanic rock is unforgiving, and the trail is made up of ground down chunks of young rock. The rocks shift underfoot, and they have plenty of sharp edges. You’ll need sturdy footwear for the hike, and sturdy sandals won’t do. The open toe makes you susceptible to sharp, shifting rocks. 

Hiking boots are best, especially if they have a steel toe, but regular sneakers should do. But, even with sneakers, you’ll feel those rocks pushing into the bottom of your foot. And your feet will be sore by the end of the hike.

Getting to the Hoapili Trail

The trailhead sits about 30 minutes south of Kihei on the southern edge of Maui. Take Highway 31 South out of Kihei for about 20 minutes until it links up with Makena Road. Take the Makena Road south past the famous Makena Beach for about 10 minutes. 

The landscape around you will transform into a barren field of volcanic rocks. Park in the La Perouse Bay parking lot, and you’ll see the Hoapili Trail running parallel to the coastline. Walk south along the coastal Hoapili Trail.

The King’s Highway

Hoapili Trail is also known as “The King’s Highway” as it was once a walking path reserved for the island’s royal members. It was reconstructed in the early 1800s and remains intact today. As you walk the trail, just think about all the many Hawaiians’ that have walked before you.

The first three-quarters of a mile will take you along the coast. You’ll hike over a few pockets of sand, and you may even see a few wild goats. You’ll then come upon an old volcanic rock ruin. Here, look out at the ocean for any surfers. This is a famous surfing spot known as “Laps” which is short for La Perouse Bay, and some of the world’s best surfers challenge the waves here during a large winter swell.

You’ll hike inland and uphill for about 10 minutes before the trail splits. There is a sign to remind you to stay respectful of the ruins in the area, and it’ll take you leftward. 

After the trail splits, you’ll find two spur trails that take you to two different sites. The first is an abandoned lighthouse, but there’s not much to see down this trail other than an old busted light. The second spur trail, which you’ll hit about 20 minutes after the junction, is much prettier. It’ll take you down to Keawanaku Beach where you’re almost certain to have the beach to yourself. 

To find the beach’s spur trail, simply look for the lone palm tree clinging to the volcanic rock amongst the more stout Kiawe trees. The trail is easy to spot despite the rockiness, and it’s also easy to follow. If you find yourself looking for the trail, then you’ve probably lost it.

After the two spur trails, the main Hoapili Trail will take you down to the Kanaio black-and-white sand beach. You’ll find the ruins of an old fishing village along the coast. Just remember to remain respectful of America’s history. After all, Hawaii is America’s 50th state. Hawaiian history is American history.

Black-and-white sand is a wonder to behold. It is a mixture of sharp volcanic rocks and soft calcium from the ocean. It’s halfway between the young island and the old. And the ruins of the ancient fishing village upon this harlequin beach completes your trip back in time.

After admiring the ruins, it’s time to turn around to head back to the parking lot. Some intrepid hikers continue along the King’s Highway all the way to Highway 31 which is commonly known as the “Back Road to Hana.” But this extension of the Hoapili Trail requires you to camp overnight.

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Price: Free
Kula, Maui