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Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kealia Trail (Adventure Loop Variation)

Basic Information

  • Name: The Kealia Trail (Adventure Loop Variation)
  • Where: North Shore, Oahu
  • Distance: 8.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,143 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Topographic Map

Kealia Trail Loop Map

Google Earth Map

Kealia Trail Loop Map

Basic Information

The Kealia Trail is in my opinion one of the best hikes on Oahu due to its beautiful scenery, views of the remote Makua Valley, quality of the trail, and the reasonable effort needed to complete the hike.  The standard trail is 7-miles roundtrip with 2,182 feet of elevation gain.  However, for anyone looking to add a little more challenge to the hike there is the option to add what a call an “Adventure Loop” to the hike that can be seen in the maps above.  For those that have not been to the Kealia Trail it is accessed from Dillingham Airfield located on the famous North Shore of Oahu:

From my house in Honolulu it took me about 45 minutes to make the drive up the H-2 Highway to the airfield. I entered the airfield from the western most gate and parked in the parking lot on the left near the tower.  Unlike other trailheads on Oahu this one has plenty of parking.  From the parking lot I walked across the road to find the sign below that marks the trailhead for the Kealia Trail:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

From the trailhead the views of the cliffs of the northwestern Waianae Range are quite impressive:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Here is a panorama of these beautiful cliffs:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

From the trailhead I followed a paved road that led to the base of the cliffs:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The trail at the base of the cliffs is well marked which makes it impossible to make a wrong turn here:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

From the base of the cliffs the trail quickly ascends up the side of the mountains by way of numerous switchbacks.  The trail was rock in some section, but overall in great shape the whole way up the mountain:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The quick elevation gain this hike has means that I was quickly rewarded with beautiful views of the North Shore:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I also had bird’s eye views of Dillingham Airfield down below me as well:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I could also see the lake that has formed next to the airfield in what appears to be an old quarry:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

It took me about 40 minutes to ascend the cliff line and reach the picnic table on top where many hikers call it a day and head back down the cliff from here:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

However, I intended to keep going and followed a dirt road located behind the picnic table:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

As I walked up the dirt road I soon passed this distinctive water tower painted with what I believe is the symbol for the Kahuku Red Raiders:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Something I really enjoy about hiking in this section of the island is how strong the smell from the eucalyptus and pine trees are along the trail:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

A little over an hour into the hike I reached a fork in the road marked with signs:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The sign in front of me pointed out the direction to the Kuaokala Trail which the Kealia Trail intersects with to reach the Makua Valley Lookout:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Instead of following the sign I went the opposite direction and made a right down a four-wheel drive road to begin the “Adventure Loop” variation of this great hike.  The trail initially followed a ridgeline that had good views of the hills I would eventually hike up to reach the beautiful Makua Valley Lookout above me:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

However, first I would have to follow the trail down into the the valley below before ascending up the adjacent mountains:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

As I continued down the trail it began to steeply descend through the thick forest:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The trail came to another fork where I had to make a left to continue to descend down the valley.  However, I took a right and made a short walk down the trail to a lookout where I could see the ocean below me:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Here is a close up of a beach I could see below me as well:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Here is a panorama picture I took of the lovely view:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

After taking a few pictures from the lookout I turned around and headed back to the fork in the trail and followed the trail down into the depths of the valley:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I found the bottom of the valley to be extremely lush and I could here the sounds of what I believed to be pigs running away into the forest as I approached:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I surprised to find though that the bottom of the valley did not have running water despite its lushness:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I was thinking a steep valley like this would of had a permanent creek running through it, but it appeared to only run when it rained.  From the bottom of the valley I next had to ascend up the below mountain to reach the lookout of the beautiful Makua Valley:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

From the bottom of the valley I followed the trail up the mountain:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

It was extremely muddy in some sections, but overall a great trail to follow:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

This is the part of the hike that adds approximately a 1,000-feet of elevation gain to the standard hike, but the great trail makes it quite easy to ascend up the mountain.  The below trail sign is where the Adventure Loop variation intersected with the original Kealia Trail:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Now that I was back on the standard Kealia Trail I followed it up through a thick pine forest:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The trail lead to yet another signed intersection that after a short walk I reached the Makua Valley Lookout:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

The Makua Valley is one of the few on the island that has not seen development because it is used as a US Army training range.  During ancient Hawaiian times this lush valley was once filled with farms and homes.  There is an even the remains of heiau (temple) that the Army maintains on the property as well.  As I took in the views a party of three other hikers eventually arrived at the lookout and they were the first people I had seen all day on the trail.  So I let them enjoy the lookout by themselves and headed back down the trail:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

To get back to the trailhead it is a 3.5 mile walk from the lookout.  There are a variety of forks in the road due to all the side four-wheel drive trails used by hunters.  However, the Kealia Trail is well marked and easy to follow:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I jogged most of the way back down the trail and seen found myself back at the picnic table and then descending down the cliff face again :

Picture from the Kealia Trail

I once again enjoyed the views of the North Shore as I hiked back down the cliff face and to my truck parked down below to end the hike:

Picture from the Kealia Trail

Conclusion

This variation of the Kealia Trail hike is for those that want a little extra challenge. This variation adds 1.6 miles and nearly a 1,000 additional feet of elevation gain.  There are few hikes on Oahu that feature over 3,000-feet of elevation gain and this is one of them.  With the many four-wheel drive roads in this section of the Waianae Range I look forward to exploring more variations of the great Kealia Trail hike.

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