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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kaena Point Trail (Mokule’ia Trailhead)

Basic Information

  • Name: Kaena Point Trail (North Shore Trailhead)
  • Where: Mokule’ia, Oahu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 128 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • More Information: Oahu Trails

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Kaena Point Trail Topographic Map

Kaena Point Topo Map

Kaena Point Google Earth Map

Kaena Point Google Earth Map1

Kaena Point Google Earth Map2

Narrative

There is one area along the shore of the Hawaiian island of Oahu that is not accessed by a paved road.  This area is called Kaena Point and is located on the extreme northwestern section of the island.  It is shaped like a spear pointed northwestward towards the distant island of Kaua’i.

The Kaena Point shoreline is protected as a State Park which means that it can accessed by the public.  There are two ways to access Kaena Point; from the south from the Waianae Coast or from the north from Mokule’ia.  I decided to take the longer nearly 6-mile trail from the north and save the shorter 4-mile trail from Waianae for my kids and I to try some day.  To access the trailhead I drove up to the North Shore and followed the Farrington Highway westward until it ended at this gate marking the entrance to Kaena Point State Park:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Beyond the gate is the four-wheel drive Kaena Point Road that can only be accessed via a permit system setup by the Hawaii Division of State Parks:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Considering that this is a protected State Park I would end up being surprised how poorly managed it is.  Most of the shoreline has been tore apart by the four-wheel drive vehicles.  For example this is what the start of the Kaena Point Road looks like:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The whole road does not look like this, but due to the roughness of the road people in an effort to get around rougher sections have continued to make the road wider and wider thus expanding the erosion:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

To make matters worse all along the shoreline people take their four-wheel drive vehicles and park them there which has only extended the destruction of the vegetation along the shoreline.  People have even killed themselves by driving off of the designated dirt road.  The park is real mess and it appears this section of the island has just been given up to the four-wheel drive enthusiasts to possibly better protect other areas on Oahu.

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

What most of the drivers appear to be doing at Kaena Point though is sea fishing because just about every beach or inlet seemed to have someone parked there with multiple fishing poles:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Four-wheel drive vehicles though were not the first means of transportation to access this area of the island.  The old Oahu Railway and Land Company (OR&L) completed a railway through the area in 1898.  The railroad ran all the way from Kahuku in northeast Oahu around Kaena Point all the way to downtown Honolulu.  The train’s primary purpose was to haul sugarcane, but it also moved passengers and regular freight as well.  Sections of the railway can still be seen along the side of the road such as the foundation of this long destroyed bridge:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The railway operated until 1947 when it closed due to the expansion of roads and the decline of agriculture on Oahu. The Hawaii Railway Society has restored and operates a tourist train in Western Oahu on part of the old OR&L rail line.  I have always thought that restoring the entire rail line from Honolulu to the North Shore would make it a popular tourist attraction.  Maybe we will see it one day.

Anyway as devastated and eroded as the Kaena Point shoreline may be, the cliffs that rise above Kaena Point appear nearly untouched and quite stunning to see:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a panorama of the cliffs near the start of the hike:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

There were some areas along the cliffs where it looks like some foot trails traversed them:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

However, I have never seen any official trails accessing these cliffs from Kaena Point which means these are not maintained thus not recommended.  As I continued down the dirt road I did eventually see the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The tracking station opened in 1959 and is used by the US Air Force to command and control various defense communications satellites:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

As I continued down the road I did notice a very narrow canyon that had been carved into the cliff line that looked like a neat place to check out some day:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is another panorama picture of these beautiful cliffs:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Kaena is Hawaiian for “heat” which is an understandable name for this part of Oahu because it was very hot the day I did this hike.  Fortunately there was a nice breeze coming off the ocean that mitigated the heat a bit as I walked down the dirt road:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

I then passed through a very large grove of agave plants which I was surprised to see.  I have to think that someone intentionally planted them here years ago for whatever reason:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

I next came to a major Hawaiian archaeology site called Leina-a-ka-Uhane:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

This rock in Hawaiian mythology is where departed souls leaped from to enter the underworld after they died:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Soon after passing the mythic rock I entered into the only area really protected within the State Park:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The tip of Kaena Point State Park is completely fenced off in order to keep predators from killing albatross birds that nest there:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Hikers have to open and close this gate to enter the protected area and dogs are not allowed in:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is the large sign at the entrance to the protected area that describes the various plants and animals protected here:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

From this point there was no more dirt road to follow, but instead a sandy trail.  I could not help, but think that this is what the whole State Park should look like instead of this tiny sliver of land:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Along the trail I read a signboard that described how this is one of the few nesting areas for albatrosses:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The albatrosses are actually hard to spot, but I was fortunate enough to see one during my hike and was impressed by how large the bird was:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The sandy trail ends at the farthest west point on Oahu which is capped by a light beacon:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a close up look at the light beacon on the extreme edge of Oahu:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is the view looking back towards the cliffs from the light beacon:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Next to the light beacon was another signboard that described how Kaena Point is one of the few locations where the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal will congregate at:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The coastline here is composed of black lava rocks that I looked at very closely trying to spot a monk seal:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Unfortunately I did not see a monk seal.  However, what I did find of interest was how the black lave rocks end in a spear point just like the shape of this section of Oahu:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a panorama picture of the northwestern end of Oahu:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

After checking out the shore line I then proceeded to follow the loop trail around the protected area and back to the gate.  On this section of the trail I had some impressive views of Oahu’s Waianae Coast:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The trail next came to what looked like a cut in the rock where the old railway line was once located:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Soon enough I found myself back at the gate where I exited and proceeded to begin the long walk back down the dirt road to the trailhead:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Conclusion

The hike ended up being 5.7 miles in length and an easy 128 feet in elevation gain.  I was actually a little tired after this hike because the fenced in section required me to walk in the sand which tired my calf muscles a little bit and it was hot the entire way.  Due to this intense sunshine I highly recommend wearing plenty of sunscreen for this hike.  Despite the heat the Kaena Point Trail is overall a pretty easy hike that most people should complete in 2-3 hours.  I look forward to coming back here again sometime with my kids when we hike in from the Waianae trailhead.  Hopefully there won’t be as many four-wheel drive vehicles to get out of the way of on that trail.

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

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