Subscribe!Get all the best of On Walkabout by subscribing.

Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kealia Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Kealia Trail
  • Where: Dillingham Airfield, Oahu
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,182 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Kealia Trail Topographic Map

Kealia Trail Topo Map

Kealia Trail Google Earth Maps

Kealia Trail Google Earth Map

Kealia Trail Google Earth Map 2

Kealia Trail Elevation Map

Kealia Trail Elevation Map

Narrative

I have spent most of my time on Oahu hiking in the Ko’olau Range due to its proximity to Honolulu.  I decided I needed to get over to the other side of the island and explore more of Oahu’s Waianae Range as well.  After reading various trip reports I decided I would try out the Kealia Trail as my first hike in the Waianae Range.  According to my guidebook “The Hikers Guide to O’ahu” the hike was going to provide some nice views of the North Shore and of the remote Makua Valley on Leeward Oahu.  The trailhead for this hike is located at Dillingham Airfield in northwestern Oahu:

From my house in Honolulu it took me about 45 minutes to make the drive up to the airfield. As I drove towards the trailhead I knew it was going to be a good day as I saw a rainbow form above Dillingham Airfield and the cliffs the Kealia Trail traverses:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

There are multiple entrances into Dillingham Airfield.  The entrance to access the trailhead is the very last one on the Farrington Highway that passes the airfield.  There is a big yellow sign that says West Gate hanging on the fence:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

There is also a Kealia Trail sign in front of the fence as well:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

My guide book “The Hikers Guide to Oahu” stated that the gate is open from 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM daily, but I arrived at 6:45 AM and it was already open.  I followed the paved road around the runway and then parked inside of the large parking lot adjacent to the control tower:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The parking lot is quite large so finding a place to park for this hike is no issue.  Across the street from the parking lot is where the trailhead is located:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

A paved road on the other side of the street leads to a fence line where this trailhead sign can be seen:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

According my guidebook “Kealia” is Hawaiian for being encrusted with salt which is probably referring to the ocean spray from the pounding waves in this area.  Directly in front of the trailhead the cliff that the trail switchbacks up towered above me:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

From the trailhead I followed a well established path towards the cliff:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The well established path ended at this fence line:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

At the fence line there is another Kealia Trail sign pointing which way to go along with various signs warning of falling rocks:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

I found through out this hike that the trail is pretty well marked which is needed because there are many turns that have to be made on this hike:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

From the fence line the trail begins its ascent up the cliff:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The trail has a total of 19 switchbacks and I found it to be in great shape the entire way up the cliff side:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After hiking just a short distance I quickly had some nice views of the surrounding area in the early morning light:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Something I noticed on the way up the trail was that an old rocky quarry has turned into a large man made lake below the cliff line:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Near the top of the cliff the trail passes this small cave which I wondered if it had any use possibly as a look out for ancient Hawaiians?:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

As I neared the top of the cliff I had more expansive views of Oahu’s North Shore:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is a panorama picture of this view:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

At the 1.5 mile mark I reached the top of the cliff where this sheltered picnic table is located at:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Hiking just to the picnic table is something that most people were doing the day I hiked the Kealia Trail.  This does make for a great family friendly hike.  This is what I plan to do with my kids in the future since the hike would be 3 miles round trip with just under 1,000 feet in elevation gain which I know my 3-year old son can handle.

For those that want to continue up the trail from the picnic table this is where the dirt road portion of the hike begins:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

I have read in various trip reports online that people did not like hiking on the road, but I actually quite enjoyed it.  It was not muddy, in great shape and easy to follow:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Though the road was easy to follow there are various turns that need to be made to stay on the trail.  The first turn is made to the right which is marked by this arrow:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The road makes a steady ascent up into the Waianae Range where the environment noticeably changes into forests of pine and eucalyptus trees:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The next landmark I saw after the right hand turn was this large water tower with what appears to be a Native-American painted on it for some reason:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

As I passed the water tower there was a few spots where I could see just how lushly forested these mountains are:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The road next comes to the Kuaokala Public Hunting Area which is marked with the weathered brown sign shown below:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The smell in the air of the pine and eucalyptus trees as I walked up the road was just incredible.  I wished could bottle up the smell and bring it back home with me:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

At this point of the hike the trail changes to the Kuaokala Trail which has signs showing which way to go:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

I next came to a couple of very steep sections followed by steep descents as the trail followed a rolling ridgeline:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The next major point the trail came to was a T-intersection.  At the T-intersection I made a left to continue towards the Makua Valley lookout:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The T-intersection is marked with this public hunting area sign:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After making the left the road then passed through an especially lush area of the forest:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Something I was surprised about was that despite being lush I had no mosquito issues during my entire hike compared to areas in the Ko’olau Range where I was swarmed by mosquitos.  The next landmark along the trail that can be seen is this rain catchment tank that provides an easy water source for local animals:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After the catchment tank the trail comes to another intersection where the Kuaokala Trail sign must be followed towards the right:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Shortly after making the turn on to the trail a fence and gate come into view:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After walking through the gate I was treated with this incredible view of the Makua Valley:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is a wider angle photograph of this view:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The view was stunning and the only time I have looked at the Waianae Range and actually saw part of it that reminded me of the Ko’olau Range with its steep pali cliffs:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The fence at the lookout ran in both directions and I followed it for a short distance in both directions to seek better views:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is another view of the valley I was able to come up with:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The Makua Valley is a military range so it is best that hikers try not to descend down into this valley due to the unexploded ordinance hazard:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After spending about 15 minutes taking in the view the clouds began to role in which obscured the view.  So I turned around and began to retrace my steps back to the trailhead:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

As I headed back most of the turns had Kealia Trail signs, but not all of them so I paid extra attention to make sure I made the correct turns back to the trailhead:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

For most of the return hike the wide road allowed me to jog back to the cliff line:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

As I neared the cliff line views of Oahu’s North Shore became visible in a few areas:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

The return jog felt extremely quick and before I knew it I was back at the picnic table:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

During my return hike something I noticed near the picnic table was this US Geological Survey marker which are always fun to find:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

After passing the picnic table hikers are warned once again about the potential for falling rocks on the trail that switchbacks up and down the cliff:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is the incredible view I had as I began my descent down the cliff:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Down below me I could see Dillingham Airfield:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is a closer look where the parking lot adjacent to the control tower can be seen.  There was a lot more cars in the lot now compared to earlier in the morning:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

In fact on the hike down I probably saw four times the amount of people heading up the trail compared to the numbers of hikers who began the hike earlier that morning.  Here is the view looking up the North Shore with the cloud covered Ko’olau Range in the distance:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

I could also once again see the man made lake created by the gravel pit:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

On the way back down the cliffs the temperature was much hotter compared to when I started my hike at 7:00 AM.  Due to this I highly recommend getting an early start on this trail.  At exactly 2 hours and 38 minutes after beginning my hike, I found myself back at the trailhead looking up at the beautiful cliffs I had ascended:

Picture fro the Kealia Trail

Conclusion

Overall the Kealia Trail ended up being one of the best hikes I have completed on Oahu.  It is challenging without being overly difficult at a 7-mile distance and just over 2,000 feet in elevation gain.  The trail also rewards hikers with great views of both the North Shore and the Makua Valley.  Another bonus is that the trailhead is easy to access with no parking issues.  For those with small kids doing the 3-mile round-trip hike to the picnic table makes for a great day out with the family as well.  There is just so much to like about this hike that I highly recommend it to anyone visiting or living on Oahu

YOU CAN FIND MORE GREAT HIKES AT THE OAHU REGIONAL TRAIL FINDER:

The Oahu Regional Trail Finder

Note: Further information about the Kuli’ou’ou Ridge Trail can be found in the below book:

 

2 Comments
  1. Dobbs

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *