An excellent trail running adventure starts with a like-minded friend who is always up for traveling to explore new areas. I have such a best friend in Anita Ortiz and over the years we have visited locations near and far including Italy, Iceland, Slovenia, Austria, New Zealand, and Australia among them to enjoy running trails and learning about the nuances of terrain, way-finding signage, weather, and more.
On a recent trip to Maui, Hawaii’s second largest island, Anita and I found some hidden trail gems and some local favorites. Featured below are a few of the venues we explored with accompanying video as well as some tips and suggestions should you consider a Hawaiian trail running adventure.
Maui gear recommendations and tips
Footwear – since you will most likely start at a trail head, it’s best to have a good pair of trail running shoes with a tread that has some grip on the outsole, breathability and drainage (due to humid conditions and potential stream crossings). Conditions underfoot can vary from sharp lava rock to carpeted pine needles and everything in between.
Sun protection – Sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, hat and lightweight gloves.
Clothing – Shorts or capris, singlet/short sleeved t-shirt and a long sleeved t-shirt.
COVID-19 protection (as of April, 2021) – Mask or face covering
Hydration pack – often times a short run turns into a long run. Wrong turns and or curiosity of what lies beyond the bend can add mileage to any run so one should be prepared with fuel and an extra shirt or jacket.
Map – carry a map of the route you intend to travel either on your phone, or in a plastic bag in case of rain.
Fully charged mobile phone – not only for photos, but to assist with navigation, or for use in an emergency.
Dry clothes for post run – most likely you will get wet from sweat due to humid conditions, or rain showers that pop up throughout the day. As well, having a dry pair of socks and shoes, or better yet, a comfortable recovery slip on or flip flops. Be sure to wipe or scrub your shoes after each hike on the brushes available at the trailhead to avoid carrying invasive seeds in mud or dirt on your shoes between trails.
Finally, stay on designated trails.
There is a working pineapple plantation on Hali’imaile Road which happened to be adjacent to where we were staying at God’s Peace of Maui . Fortunately, the run we did was on a Sunday when there were no workers in the fields so we realistically had a “run” of the grounds (approximately 1350 acres) and we did just that. We started behind our lodging on a short overgrown path which led to the farm. The run was primarily on dirt roads between the plantings, and a few short out and back sections on lightly traveled paths.
Views at the upper reaches of the run (we never got much higher than 1,400 feet) included the Pacific Ocean and Kaheawa Wind Power in the distance to the south west as well as Haleakala’s observatory peeking out through the clouds to the south east. The intermittent rain and mist during the run led to a wonderfully magical experience pairing fragrant scents from the pineapple with a rainbow overhead and chirping birds awakening from their overnight slumber. The only animals we encountered were a few cows in a fenced area of the farm.
Toward the end of the nearly hour-long run, our shoes had collected a fair bit of packed dirt which was easily dislodged on the pavement by our cottage.
[Pro Tips] Enjoy the fragrance exuded by the fruit and take notice of the different types of pineapples all neatly planted in rows. With no technicality to the footing, it was easy to constantly marvel at the views. No signage, but easy to navigate. It is illegal to pick pineapples in Hawaii.
Bamboo Forest near Hana Highway
There are many areas on the island to find lush and varied vegetation, but we wanted to pick a trail run specifically in a forested area featuring mostly bamboo. We considered driving 2 hours to the Pipiwai Trail, but decided we’d try something a bit closer and found a bamboo forest trail 30 minutes away on HI-360 and Kaupakalua Road. Google maps led us to a pullout near a waterfall on Hana Highway, but this was not the correct location to start the run. Instead, we continued east about a mile and spotted quite a few cars parked along the roadway. We saw a short path on the west side of the Highway and presumed it was the “bamboo forest” trail since we saw some other hikers heading down the path into a dark canopy of bamboo.
We ventured onward and headed down a slippery, rock-strewn single-track trail winding through bamboo overhead with puddles at various intervals along the trail. We could hear rushing water and presumed a waterfall was in the offing. Sure enough, after some twists and turns including some grasping of bamboo stumps, and slick, muddy steps, we arrived at a small waterfall. We continued on and left the bamboo behind us as we made our way to a cow pasture in the clearing. Not knowing where we would go from here, we periodically consulted our Google Map to locate where we had parked our car and All Trails to see if we were indeed on a trail. We climbed and descended through a mostly deciduous-tree lined forest on a 4-wheel drive path, reached a few more waterfalls, crossed a stream bed and ended up doing and out and back loop finishing back at the bamboo forest via a short jaunt through the Painted Forest (Rainbow Eucalyptus trees at Mile Marker 7 on Hana Highway).
There was a wide variety of surfaces on this nearly seven-mile run with a mixture of single track on dirt, natural and man-made steps, leaves underfoot, puddles, rocks, and grass. In total, we climbed more than 1200 feet. We only saw a few hikers during our three hours on the trails, which included time stopping to take pictures, check our maps, and relish in the scenery.
[Pro Tips] Careful of the rhizomes underfoot. These feeder roots from bamboo can trip you up, so be aware of where you plant your feet by keeping your eyes on the trail. Not well marked. No signage on the trail.
Halemauu Trail on Haleakala
Haleakala is one of the three tallest mountains on earth when measuring the elevation from the ocean floor to the summit. At 10,023 feet, other mountains may rise above the viewable summit, but think about the additional feet to the ocean floor below and you have quite a mountain. The summit of Haleakala was visible from our lodging – and many others spots on the island of course – and was seemingly luring us to its trails. We did a bit of research to find the best trails to explore and opted to try the Halemauu Trail, an 11-mile point-to-point route starting at around mile 14 on the paved road to the summit. There is a ranger station at the entry to the park with a $30 daily use fee per vehicle ($25 for motorcycle and $15 for bicycle or pedestrian).
We picked a day with a sunny forecast, but on Haleakala, the weather can be varied and change in a few minutes from sunshine to clouds, wind, and rain. We were prepared with hydration, snacks, spare jacket, a paper map (we also had a photo of the map), sunglasses, and sunscreen for what was potentially a four or five-hour adventure. There was ample parking at the trailhead, a restroom, and signage featuring a map of the various trails in the park.
We set off on a single track, rocky trail at nearly 8000 feet of elevation and knew we’d have a significant descent into the crater, some rolling terrain, and then a long, grinding climb to reach the summit. We also had the option to turn around at any time, but once we reached the halfway point, we were all in and ready to make the summit knowing that we would have to either run about six miles back down the road to the car, or seek a ride from a friendly tourist.
To say the route was stunning would be an understatement. From the expansive view to the crater below and the summit in the distance, the lava fields, flowers, and ferns it was indeed a spiritual place. We saw few hikers until the last few miles and had many contemplative moments. Total run time was 2:45 and with stops for photos and video, and the return to our start point (we got a ride back to our car from a newly married couple happy to hear about our adventure), we were out for just under five hours. Total elevation in the 11.2-mile route was 3,400 feet.
[Pro Tips] Be alert to weather changes on Maui. We started out in sun and a cloud bank followed us up the mountain. By the time we got back to the car, fog had rolled in. Trail running shoes are advised for the rocky terrain on the descent to the crater, and are best throughout the varied surfaces encountered along the way. Trail was well marked with sign posts and mileage at each trail intersection.
Makawao Forest Loop
Makawao Forest Reserve encompasses 2,093 acres and is located near the small town of Makawao, about 20 minutes from the Kahulu Airport. Equally inviting for bipeds, equestrians and mountain bikers, the area offers about 10 miles of trails and several skill areas for cyclists.
We opted to run the Kahakapao Loop, a 5.4-mile route in the forest comprised of Eucalyptus, Cook Pine, (and many other tree species), ferns, and lush greenery. Terrain underfoot alternated between a pine needle-strewn carpet, fallen leaves, dirt (and occasional mud from collected moisture), and exposed roots. Mostly single track, the trail does widen at several junctions and is very well marked. With climbing and descending, it is a very rolling trail and rather peaceful. We saw just a few people on the trail, even though this is one of the top trail suggestions on the Island. There is a restroom at the trailhead parking lot and ample spots with some overflow parking. Elevations ranged from 2700 to just under 3700 feet with the total climbing on the route at 961 feet.
[Pro Tips] Tree roots abound from the numerous Eucalyptus and other varieties of trees. Fragrant, rather tranquil and cooler than running at lower elevations.
Kula Forest Reserve
This very inviting, yet tucked-away spot on the leeward side ofMaui’s Haleakala, covers 21,000 acres and offers numerous trails with elevations ranging from 6,000 to 10,000 feet and includes the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area.
We visited this venue for two different runs and the experiences were very different. The first run was on the 2.8-mile Waiakoa Loop Trail accessed from an out-and-back on the Linear Trail at the Hunter’s Station on Waipoli Road making the run just over four miles. Keep in mind there are just a few parking spots to be had.
The route starts on a 4-wheel drive road to the trailhead meandering through forest. The first day, the clouds and mist were rolling in which made for a very ethereal feel. We ran the mostly single and double-track loop clockwise and gained about 800 feet of elevation for the entire route including the out and back on the linear trail. The terrain included dirt, leaves, tree roots, and pine needles and was marked every .5 mile. There were some downed trees to navigate and some mushrooms underfoot.
Our second visit was to be a longer run with the same start point and then continuing on the Upper Waiakoa Trail to the Upper Waiohuli Trail, connecting to the Boundary Trail and back to the car on the Waipoli Road. In total, the run was 12.75 miles with 3100 feet of climbing.
The weather was much different for this outing as we started in full sunshine for the first eight miles running in and out of the forest with a long stretch over the lava field with a view of Haleakala summit in the distance – our high point was just over 8000 feet on this run. When we reached the Boundary Trail, the mist started to roll in and we ran the remainder of the run through light fog including just over 1.5 miles on the Waipoli Road which started as dirt and transitioned to pavement. The changes in the terrain and scenery were welcomed as were the surprise sighting of two pheasants and some wild goats in the lava fields, and two wild pigs in the latter stages of the run through the forest.
[Pro Tips] Although the trail was well marked for the first few miles, once we got in the lava rock, the markings were a mix of hard-to-locate cairns and small pieces of pink construction flagging tied around rocks and bushes. We consulted the All Trails app and our map several times in this area to insure we were on the right track. Ironically, there was a team from the Forest Reserve hiking up the opposite direction marking the trail so our route back down to the forest was much easier to follow. Be sure your phone is full charged and turn on airplane mode when you are not using it to save battery life. There are many areas in the forest where there was little, or no signal.
Waihee Ridge Trail
Probably the most highly trafficked trail on the Island – be advised if you don’t arrive early, you won’t find a parking spot at the trail head and will have to park about ¾ of a mile down the road and hike up to start this 4 mile out-and-back route.
Starting on a paved surface for the first half mile, the trail has grades up to 22 percent, but averages about 10 percent to the halfway point at 2 miles where much of the 1400 feet of elevation is achieved. The views are amazing to the ocean below and even include some waterfalls in the distance on a clear day. There were some clouds rolling by, but this did not detract from the scenery and in fact made a nice contrast with the greenery of the nearby hillsides.
Some natural steps are cut into the hillside to assist with footing and there are also some manmade steps constructed midway on the route. The falling leaves are beautiful and provide a nice carpet underfoot on the forested sections of the trail.
[Pro Tip] Be alert as there is two-way traffic on this trail with many hikers and runners.
Makamakaole Stream Trail
We happened upon this trail while driving around the north side of the Island after the run on Maui’s Waihee Ridge Trail. We noticed some cars parked on the shoulder and decided to check it out. A young couple was heading to a trail marker and had a map pulled up on the All Trails app showing and out-and-back two mile route to a waterfall.
We decided to head out on the trail. The footing was not conducive to running so we mostly hiked. The trail was not marked so we had to do quite a bit of navigating, and with multiple stream crossings – 13 to be more precise – we went from visible trail to haphazardly placed rocks across the stream and a search for the trail on the other side. Some downed trees and slippery rocks in spots made for slow going. There was a short stint through a bamboo grove and at the turn around spot, a dead end to a waterfall and a small swimming hole. A rope ladder up the waterfall appeared inviting, yet dangerous so that was pretty much off limits. The hike took about an hour and gained about 500 feet.
[Pro Tip] Enjoy some quiet, hiking time in between running to give your legs a break.
In addition to spending time on the trails, be sure to include some beach time to enjoy the ocean waves and beautiful sunsets. To plan your trip to Maui (or any of the Hawaiian Islands), be advised of COVID-19 travel restrictions on the Maui County website.