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Best Hikes In Hawaii: The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail
  • Where: Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park
  • Cost: Free
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 128 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • More Information: National Park Service website

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Map of the Hike

Kaloko Honokohau Trail Map

Google Earth Image of the Trail

Kaloko Honokohau Google Earth Image

Narrative

One of the places my family and I visited during our trip to the Big Island that ended up being a better experience than we expected was our hike around the Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park.

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The park appears to be a desolate lava field, but looks can be deceiving as this lava field was once a thriving Hawaiian community for approximately a thousand years:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Like most Hawaiian State Parks the visitor center was quite nice, informative and the park ranger was very friendly.  An additional bonus is that visiting this park is free:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

After talking with the park ranger we decided to take a loop hike that included a long stretch on the famed Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail that passes through the park.  This 175 mile long trail was an ancient Hawaiian highway that allowed different communities along the Big Island’s coastline to interact with each other.  As my two kids and I exited the visitor center towards the trail we spotted this memorial to murdered park ranger Steve Makuakane-Jarrell:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Mr. Jerrell was killed by a homeless man from California while responding to complaints about the man from park visitors.  The man was actually acquitted of murder due to reason of insanity and remains committed in a mental hospital.  This is a very sad story and wish all the best to Mr. Jerrell’s family.  His wife interestingly enough is also a park ranger and is the current chief of visitor services and educational and cultural programs at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  After the memorial we followed a paved path through the lava field that had various interpretive markers to read along the way:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

This paved trail is called the Ala Mauka Makai Trail which means Mountain to Ocean Trail.  This trail leads from the visitor to the coastline where it intersects with the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

One of the other signs along the trail described why ancient Hawaiians decided to live in a landscape as inhospitable as this lava field.  One of the main reasons was access to fresh water from an underground spring:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

When looking at this lava field if I was an ancient Hawaiian I still would not want to live here even if there was fresh water available:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The trail eventually turned from a concrete trail into a high quality dirt path:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

After a short hike down the trail, my kids and I came to the hole in the ground that served as the fresh water spring for the ancient Hawaiians that once lived here:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

It was easy to tell there was ground water available here because the terrain had much more plant life to include even fruit trees:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

As we neared the coastline we came to the ruins of what was once a structure to store canoes in:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

From the canoe house we followed a short path to the coastline:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Looking south from the coastline we could see a small peninsula of land where an ancient Hawaiian temple called the Pu’uoina Heiau:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Here is a closer look at where the remains of the temple are located at:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Along the shoreline there is not an actual trail, instead hikers walk across a mixture of sand and lava rock:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Here is a panorama picture of the coastline:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

As my kids and I walked along the coast we saw plenty of birds:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

We also saw a number of sea turtles hanging out on the rocks:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

We also saw turtles hanging out on the beach:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Based on the one day experience we had hiking this trail this appears to be a great place for anyone looking to spot sea turtles during a visit to the Big Island.  As we continued north of the coastline most of the walk was through thick sand.  Walking through the sand for an extended distance ended up wearing out my three year old son.  So I had to carry him for quite a ways.  My six year old daughter though handled the beach well.  As we trudged through the sand we eventually came to the Aimakapa Fishpond:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

This fishpond was formed by Hawaiians who dug a channel that allowed fresh water from the ocean to circulate into the lake.  The lake was then used to raise fish that were caught and served to Hawaiian chiefs. As we continued down the beach we spotted what appeared to be another large lava rock structure which I was not sure what it was:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

As we continued to hike passed the fishpond the sand eventually became more firm and thus easier to walk across:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The trail then eventually became composed of carefully placed lava rock which made hiking much easier for my three year old:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The trail then dipped inland a little bit where we saw multiple lava rock walls that made me wonder if was where animals were perhaps kept at?:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Here is a panorama picture of this area of lava rock walls:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The trail then returned to the shoreline and we were once again trudging through sand again:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Fortunately after a short distance we reached where the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail intersects with the Ala Hu’ehu’e Ranch Trail:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

This trail headed inland across the lava field:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

As we crossed the lava field the temperature was very hot because there was no shade and little to no ocean breeze:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

However, we were not walking across sand anymore which meant my kids were moving at a much faster pace on the well constructed trail through the lava field:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

The trail eventually intersected with the Mamahaloa Trail that led back to the visitor center:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

In less than a mile we were back at the visitor center.  Here is a panorama picture that shows the lava field and in the distance the coastline that looped around during our hike:

Picture from Kaloko Hanokohau NHP

Conclusion

In total we hiked three miles on this loop trail, but it actually felt longer because of the stretches of deep sand that proved challenging for my kids to cross.  However, we had a great time on this hike mostly because of all the birds and sea turtles that can be seen on the shoreline.  Learning more about how ancient Hawaiians lived in such a harsh landscape was also interesting to see.  For anyone visiting the Big Island and looking for a moderate level hike that allows you to learn more about native Hawaiian culture and see wildlife, the Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park is a place I recommend checking out.

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