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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kapa’ele’ele Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Kapa’ele’ele Trail
  • Where: Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 325 feet
  • Time: 30 min – 1 hour
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • More Information: Division of State Parks website

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Topographic Map of the Kapa’ele’ele Trail

Topographic Map of Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Google Earth Image of the Kapa’ele’ele Trail

Google Earth Image of Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Narrative

On a recent weekend I decided to drive up to Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park on Oahu’s Windward Coast to do some hiking:

The park is 26 miles from Honolulu and located in a beautiful mountain valley.  Here is a brief description of the park from its website:

An ahupuaʻa includes lands from the mountains to the sea (mauka-makai), encompassing all of the resource zones needed for subsistence. The ahupuaʻa of Kahana encompasses almost 5,300 acres, ranging from sea level at Kahana Bay to 2,670 feet at Puʻu Pauao on the crest of the Koʻolau mountains. Kahana is one of the wettest valleys on Oʻahu. Overcast skies and showers are frequent, with an average annual rainfall of 75″ along the coast to 300″ at the back of the valley. Temperatures can range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s.  [Division of State Parks]

I was definitely experiencing the rain this park regularly receives during my visit.  I originally planned to hike the longer Nokoa Trail, but it was raining heavily and that trail featured a couple of stream crossings.  Due to the rain I decided to hike a safer trail instead, the shorter Kapa’ele’ele Trail.  This is another trail that is featured in my hiking book, “Oahu Trails: Walks, Strolls And Treks on the Capital Isle“.  This trail is only one-mile long and features no stream crossings.  The trailhead was very easy to locate due to this large sign that can be seen shortly after pulling into the park:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The visitor center building looked like it was under renovations, but outside of the building are three signboards that provide a cultural history of the park:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Something I found interesting about Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park is that it is considered a “living park” because there are 31 native Hawaiian families that live within the park’s boundaries.  In return for living within the park the families help with various interpretive programs that promote native Hawaiian culture.   One of the families in the park had a unique way of promoting native Hawaiian culture with the posting of a various signs:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The below map at the visitor center gives a good idea of how expansive Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park is.  The Nakoa Trail I originally planned to hike is visible in the center of the valley while the Kapa’ele’ele Trail can be seen on the very bottom of the map:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

After checking out the signboards I then parked at a large green community center building:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Near this building a large sign marks where the Kapa’ele’ele Trail begins:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The trail starts off quite promising with a wide, solid path:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

It did not take long though before it turned into a muddy mess:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Due to the amount of mud that can be found on this trail I highly recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots.  After walking through the extremely muddy section the route turned into a grass trail:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Of interest is that this first section of the route has such a wide trail because it used to be part of the former “Ko‘olau Railway” which hauled sugar cane grown in Kahana to the Kahuku sugar mill in the late 1800s.  At the end of the grass section, the trail then descended into the forest:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Inside of the forest the Kapa’ele’ele Trail once again turned into a muddy mess.  What made matters worse was that the trail began to ascend up the hillside thus making sections of the route very slippery:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Things got even worse when I heard the sounds of a really upset pig.  I then saw up the trail a huge pig come running towards me and then veer to right into the jungle.  Soon after that pig I saw another huge pig come running down the trail and veering off to the right as well.  I could still hear the pigs moving around and making angry noises in the nearby jungle.  I started throwing rocks in the direction of the pigs to get them to go away.  I did not want to proceed up the trail with angry pigs waiting to charge me.  The rocks seemed to work because I could hear the pigs moving deeper into the forest and away from the trail.  When I could not hear the pigs anymore I moved as fast as I could up the trail and away from the pigs.

The trail eventually came to a clearing with a small park bench:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

From the park bench there was a nice view of Kahana Bay down below:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

From the park bench I think many people turn around and go back the way they came because the trail after the park bench was quite faint:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The trail parallels a small creek and I actually missed the turn off to cross the creek.  I ended up having to back track once I realized my mistake.  I did end up spotting the creek crossing point which allowed me to get back on the main trail:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The trail through the jungle was very much overgrown with brush and not well maintained:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

There were also social trails going off in different directions that could cause confusion for some people.  I knew what direction I needed to go and continued that way:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

The trail then came to a clearing that was the location of the Kapa‘ele‘ele Ko‘a fishing shrine:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

There was one sign at the location warning hikers that this was a sensitive cultural area:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

For being such an important shrine there was not much to see other than a few rocks lying on the ground:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

It seems to me that if this was such an important cultural site that a fence should be put around the rocks and an information marker built explaining the significance of the site.  Anyway I followed the trail a short distance pass the shrine and made a left on this trail marked by a big, black rock:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

This trail leads up to the Keaniani Kilo which was a historic fishing lookout.  Spotters here could signal to personnel below on the location of fish in Kahana Bay.  To get to the lookout I first had to pass through this forest of pine trees:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

From the pine trees the trail is marked with pink ribbons:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

I followed the pink ribbons to a large, eroded area free of the surrounding trees:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

From the clearing I had a sweeping view of Kahana Bay down below:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

I could also see arguably the most stunning peak on Oahu the pyramid shaped Pu’u Ohulehule that was unfortunately covered in clouds:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Here is a panorama of the view from the lookout:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

After taking in the views from the lookout I then descended back down to the main trail.  From there I descended down a trail marked with this broken wooden pole:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

This trail was a steep muddy mess that required me to hold on to any tree I could get my hands on to maintain my balance:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

To make matters worse the trail was littered with broken trees from either a past storm or landslide:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Once I got to the bottom of the hill I once again heard angry pig noises.  I prepared myself for yet another pig encounter by grabbing stones and throwing them in the direction of the pig noises.  I saw two pigs bolt and run away.  I also saw two baby pigs come running in my direction.  They took one look at me and then ran away in the opposite direction.  Before they ran off I was able to get one quick shot of them:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Not wanting to press my luck any further with the wild pigs I quickly made my way towards the nearby highway and climbed up a concrete culvert to get out of the jungle:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Once I was out of the jungle the Kapa’ele’ele Trail becomes a simple walk along the highway back to the state park grounds:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

I walked a short distance along the side of the road and then eventually crossed over to walk along the beach at Kahana Bay.  The beach was quite nice, but I don’t recommend swimming here because the water was quite muddy due to the nearby river flowing into the bay:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Here is a panorama picture I took of the beach at Kahana Bay:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

As walked along Kahana Bay I passed one of the park’s fish ponds that native Hawaiians once used:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

From the beach I then crossed back over the highway to the park entrance.  At the park’s entrance I actually had a view of the prior clearing I was standing on.  From that clearing I could have actually worked my way up to the summit of the ridgeline though it would have likely been a steep and muddy mess:

Picture from the Kapa'ele'ele Trail

Conclusion

From the park’s entrance I walked back down the road to the green community building where my car was parked.  The Kapa’ele’ele Trail is listed as being one mile long, but due to visiting the lookout and then exploring the beach at Kahana Bay I actually walked 1.5 miles.  The highlight of the hike was definitely the lookout since it had the best views of the area so I recommend making that side trip.  The Kapa’ele’ele Trail may have been a short, muddy mess to hike, but it did provide a nice introduction to Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park and I look forward to more future exploring of this beautiful valley.

Note: Many more great trails on Oahu can be found by checking out my Oahu Regional Trail Finder at the link.

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

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