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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kaena Point Trail (Southern Trailhead)

Basic Information

  • Name: Kaena Point Trail (Southern Trailhead)
  • Where: Yokohama Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 5.0 miles
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • More Information: Oahu Trails

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Topographic Map

Kaena Point Maps

Google Earth Map

Kaena Point Maps

Narrative

On a recent weekend I took my two kids aged six and three on a hike out to Kaena Point located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to hopefully spot endangered Hawaiian monk seals.  I head previously hiked out to Kaena Point via the Mokule’ia Trailhead on Oahu’s North Shore.

This time I decided to hike out to Kaena Point via the southern trailhead located adjacent to Yokohama Beach in western Oahu:

The trailhead is accessed by simply driving to the end of the Farrington Highway (Highway 93) and finding a place to park in the lot where the road ends:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

From the parking lot a rough dirt road continues north to Kaena Point:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The trailhead is marked by this state park sign that lists the various regulations that govern Kaena Point, most notably no pets are allowed in the park:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

From the trailhead the rough dirt road hugs the coastline with almost no shade the entire way:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

With the lack of shade that means this hike is very hot which is why I recommend bringing plenty of water because you will need it on this hike.  The coastline along the trail is rugged and features large waves crashing on the rocks:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Near the start of the trail there is a sign warning hikers to be careful of the waves:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The view though looking back down the Waianae Coast from the trail is really outstanding:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a picture of kids enjoying the views along the coastline:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Above the trail there are steep imposing cliffs that are quite scenic to see:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Because of the lack of rainfall at Kaena Point, these cliffs look like they belong in a desert in the American Southwest instead of in Hawaii:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

On the top of the cliffs the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station eventually came into view:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The station was built all the way back in 1959 to track early reconnaissance satellites that were part of the CORONA program.  Back in the early days of satellite reconnaissance actual film was used by the satellite to take intelligence pictures.  This meant the film had to be jettisoned back down to the Earth and retrieved.  The Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station would help Air Force planes triangulate where the film would land over the ocean after being jettisoned from the satellite and descend via parachute after reentry.  The Air Force plane then had a hook that would grab the parachute off the coast of Oahu in mid-air.  This whole operations was pretty amazing when you think about it.  With the advancements in radio and digital technology the actual recovery of film is no longer needed.  Today the tracking station is used to send data to command and control Department of Defense satellites.

Up on the cliffs I was able to see high-tech technology at work while below my feet I was able to see reminders of past technology.  The old dirt road is actually not a dirt road, but instead the remains of the rail bed for the Oahu Railway and Land Company.  On certain sections of the trail the old railway ties from this railroad can still be seen:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The railway was built in 1889 by businessman Benjamin Dillingham.  The OR&L once extended from downtown Honolulu all the way around Kaena Point to Oahu’s North Shore.  Dillingham’s railroad provided a critical mass transportation option for residents and for the various farms and business that used the train to transport goods.  The railway even proved critical during the defense of the island during World War II.  The railway became the main means of transporting military personnel to various installations around the island.  The advancement of the automobile made the railway obsolete and no longer profitable.  Railway operations around Kaena Point ended in 1947 leaving the dirt road seen today:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

As we continued down the trail was passed by this large and impressive rock arch:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Passed the arch we also could hear the sounds of a loud blowhole in the rock.  I told my kids it was the sound of a sea monster which got them moving up the trail very quickly!  Towards the end of the trail our pace though had to slow down as we had to cross an eroded section of the trail:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Shortly after this section what appears to have been a trestle section of the old railway comes into view:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Since the trestle is long gone the trail hugs a slippery rock slide area of the cliff.  I made sure I held on to the hand of my three-year old on this section to get across it.  Both he and my six-year old crossed this section with out incident.  After crossing the rock slide area we approached the tip of Kaena Point State Park:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

This section of the park is completely fenced off in order to keep predators from killing the albatross birds that nest there.  We entered this section through a portal that had a big sign saying dogs are not allowed in the protected area:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

In the protected area we were able to see the bend in the old railway line that traveled towards the North Shore that was dug into the solid rock:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

The trail to the tip of Kaena Point left the old railway bed at this point and passed through a sandy area towards a remote light beacon at the end of the island:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

This sandy area is the only location on Oahu where the albatross bird nests:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a signboard that educates visitors about the albatross birds:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

It is a good thing that this section of the park is fenced off because we saw multiple baby albatross birds in their nest right along the trail:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

We saw one that was out of its nest and hanging out next to the trail:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

These birds would be easy prey for any dogs or other predators that enter this fenced in section.  We additionally saw other nests that had eggs sitting in them:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Walking through this area served as a useful reminder of how vulnerable the albatross bird is to population decline if it loses habitat like this to reproduce.  Fortunately the State of Hawaii is doing a good job protecting this nesting area.  At the end of the trail through the nesting area we arrived at the light beacon located literally on the edge of Oahu:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Adjacent to the light beacon was this concrete shelter covered in graffiti which provided the only shade that can be found in the area for those who needed to get out of the sun:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is the view looking across the albatross nesting area and back towards the cliff line from the light beacon:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

From the light beacon we made our way down to the rocky beach that featured some calm tidal pools for visitors to wade in:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Among the rocks we spotted what we had hiked out to Kaena Point to see which was a rare Hawaiian monk seal:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Here is a closer look at the face of the monk seal who seemed so peaceful sleeping on the rocks:

Hawaiian Monk Seal at Kaena Point

The Hawaiian monk seals are considered an endangered species largely because of the loss of habitat caused by the development of the Hawaiian islands.  On Oahu since Kaena Point is a protected state park the monk seal has this part of the island to use as part of its habitat.  The trade off though is that the monk seals have to put up with gawkers like my kids and I taking picturesof them.  He did not seem to mind though since we were very careful to not go near him or touch him which is illegal in Hawaii.

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

I spent about 45 minutes at the tidal pool letting kids splash around in the tidal pools, but it was hot and we were running low on water.  So I told them we had to head back.  So we once again hiked across the albatross nesting area and then carefully walked across the rock slide area:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

After the rock slide area it was easy hiking back to the trailhead.  Something we spotted on the way back was the remains of an vehicle that had fallen off of the trail at some unknown time:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

We also spotted another sea arch in the rocks below:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

We made really good time walking back since my kids were eager to get back into the air conditioning of my truck.  Before we knew it we could see Yokohama Beach in front us:

Picture from Kaena Point, Oahu

Conclusion

The roundtrip hike was a total of 5 miles which my two kids handled quite well.  My three-year old was pretty tired afterwards, but he did it.  To include the time we spent at the tidal pools we spent 4.5 hours out on the trail moving at three-year old speed which means many people can probably move much faster on this hike.  However, fast you move though make sure to bring plenty of water because I am not exaggerating how hot this trail gets.  Despite the heat I do highly recommend hiking out to Kaena Point.  The Mokule’ia Trailhead I believe is a more scenic hike, but you have to put up with four-wheel drive vehicles and many more people compared to the trailhead at Yokohama Beach where we saw only a handful of people on the trail all day.  The most important thing we saw on the trail though was the Hawaiian monk seal which really made the entire hike worth the effort in the first place.

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

Note: More Oahu trail information can be read in the below book:

 

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