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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Nakoa Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: The Nakoa Trail
  • Where: Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park
  • Distance: 4-miles
  • Elevation Gain: 543 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Information: Hawaii State Park website

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Nakoa Trail Topographic Map

Nakoa Trail Topo Map

Nakoa Trail Google Earth Map

Nakoa Trail Google Earth Map

Narrative

One of the most beautiful locations on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu is the Kahana Valley in the Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park:

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]

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

At Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park there are two main trails that are maintained by the park service.  I had already previously hiked the shorter 1-mile Kapa’ele’ele Trail and recently returned to hike the longer 4-mile Nakoa Trail.  This is another trail that is featured in my hiking book, “Oahu Trails: Walks, Strolls And Treks on the Capital Isle“.  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

I followed the road until it reached a stop sign that notified hikers to park their vehicles and walk through the neighborhood populated by native Hawaiian families:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The parking area is a grassy pull off where probably 10-15 vehicles can park.  On the Saturday I went hiking there was plenty of parking available:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Near the parking area is a signboard with a map of the Nakoa Trail:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Here is a closer look at the trail which is officially a 3.5 mile loop hike, but using my Garmin Fenix GPS watch I measured the hike as being actually 4-miles long when the walk through the neighborhood is included:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Kahana Valley was once used as a jungle warfare training area for the US military during World War II.  I think that is why many of the homes in the valley look like log cabins, maybe they are old barracks buildings for the World War II soldiers?:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

At the end of the neighborhood there is a locked gate:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The road continues past the lock gate and through the dense rainforest:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

After a short distance the road comes to the trailhead for the Nakoa Trail:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The signboards at the trailhead provided more maps and information about the plants in the Kahana Valley:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

From the signboard I proceeded to follow the trail into the dense jungle like environment:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

There are very few viewpoints along this hike and near the start there is one lookout where some of the surrounding mountains can be seen:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

As I continued to hike down the trail I was happy that I had wore my KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge waterproof hiking boots because the trail was a muddy mess and would remain that way for the entire hike.  Due to the mud I do not recommend wearing tennis shoes on this hike.  After walking about a half mile I reached a section of the trail engulfed with mountain apples:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The apples were everywhere and covered the trail in some sections:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I actually packed a number of the apples in my bag to eat later.  Something else I saw a lot of on this hike was mushrooms:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I have no idea of the mushrooms are edible so I did not touch them.  As I got deeper into the jungle I noticed that more fallen trees were blocking the trail:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Fortunately most of them were easy to get around, but some of them were much more annoying to get by:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Something else that was annoying was the pandanus trees:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

In most areas of Hawaii the pandanus trees are not an issue, but for whatever reason this trail had a lot of pandanus trees.  The leaves of this tree have cerated edges that can stick into a person’s flesh:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Fortunately I had on long pants, but my arms got a few scratches on them from these trees.  Something else annoying on this trail were the horrible mosquitoes.  The Kahana Valley has the most mosquitoes of any other location I have been at in Hawaii.  They even seemed to be ambushing me whenever I stopped to work my way around a downed tree.  I would look at my clothes and they would just be covered with mosquitoes.  This is another reason why I recommend wearing long pants and a shirt for this hike.

The reason for these mosquitoes is because the Kahana Valley is one of the wettest areas in all of Oahu.  It receives so much rain that multiple creeks are crossed during the hike:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The rain also supports the very large koa trees located along the trail that give the Nakoa Trail its name:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Koa trees are what native Hawaiians used to construct canoes long ago.  The koa trees along the trail were some of the biggest I have seen in Hawaii and could easily be used to build a canoe with.  After passing the section of large koa trees, the trail then came to a large clearing:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

From here a branch off of the main trail headed south deeper into the jungle:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

After a short distance I found a bunker complex that was likely used by the jungle warfare school to train soldiers during World War II:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

This was a nice little bonus to find all the way out here in the middle of the jungle:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

From the bunker complex I backtracked on the path and followed the directions on this sign to get back on to the Nakoa Trail:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

The trail was still well defined and surrounded by lush foliage:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I then came to the major river crossing with Kahana Stream:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

There was no getting around this river crossing without getting water into my KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge hiking boots because of how deep the water was; so I took off my boots and rolled up my pants legs to cross the river:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

As soon as I took off my boots the mosquitos were waiting for me and started swarming my feet.  I plunged down into the water before any of them could bite me.  As I walked across Kahana Stream the temperature of the water was actually quite nice:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

On the other side of the river I quickly put my socks and boots back on as the mosquitos began to swarm around me again.  After getting my boots on I left Kahana Stream and continued down the Nakoa Trail:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

At this point of the hike I had some obscured views of one of the most scenic mountains on Oahu,  the pyramid shaped Pu’u Ohulehule:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

For those that don’t know “Pu’u” is the Hawaiian word for mountain that often used to name mountains in the Ko’olau Range.  As I continued to hike down the trail I came to another opening in the foliage where I had a good view of the mountain I believe is called Pu’u Piei:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Here is a closer look at this pointy mountain:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

After enjoying the views I continued further down the trail and was engulfed in dense foliage again:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I next came to another crossing of Kahana Stream:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

At this crossing I was able to walk half way across the concrete dam wall without my hiking boots getting water in them since they were waterproof.  Here is the view from the middle of the dam:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

However the water flowing over the second half of the dam was too deep to walk across.  I decided since I had almost completed the hike I would go ahead and get my boots wet.  So I quickly jumped in and out of the water to get to the other side.  Some water did get into my boots, but it was no where near as much as I expected.  These KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge hiking boots continue to impress me.  Anyway after crossing Kahana Stream I continued to follow the Nakoa Trail through the dense jungle:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I eventually popped out of the jungle and found myself back at the trailhead:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

From the trailhead I proceeded to walk back down the road to the Hawaiian village:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

I then came to the locked gate; I walked around it and passed through the Hawaiian neighborhood again:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

As I walked through the village I enjoyed the views of some of the nearby peaks that were not obscured by clouds:

Picture from the Nakoa Trail

Conclusion

After 2 hours and 15 minutes of hiking I found myself back at the trailhead.  The hike is listed as being 3.5 miles long, but in actuality it is 4-miles long when the distance to and from the parking area is included.  The elevation gain was a modest 543 feet.  It should take most people 2-3 hours to complete the walk.  I would not call this hike a must do for people visiting the island, but the Nakoa Trail is a nice conditioning hike to get used to the mud and foliage of the Ko’olau Range before attempting a longer hike.  Just make sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellant because you will need it!

 

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