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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Mokuleia Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Mokuleia Trail
  • Where: Waialua, Hawaii
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Max Elevation: 2,307 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 2,334 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 3-5 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Topographic Map of the Mokuleia Trail

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Google Earth Map of the Mokuleia Trail

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Narrative

I recently began to training to run in the Honolulu Marathon again this year.  One of my favorite training routes is the Mokuleia Trail on the North Shore of Oahu.  The trail starts near the ocean and ascends over 2,300 feet to a ridgeline summit view of the beautiful Makua Valley.  The trailhead for the hike is located off the Farrington Highway just outside of the village of Waialua.

The easiest way to spot the trailhead is by looking for the large coconut tree grove on the left side of the highway with this locked gate:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Parking for the trail is located on the side of the highway since the gate is locked and prevents people from parking along the Mokuleia Forest Reserve Access Road.  After parking my vehicle I walked over to the gate and crouched underneath it to get by.  On the other side of the gate there is a sign that literally lays out the rules of the road:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The road is used for only bikers and hikers, any vehicles on the road need special permission to enter.  The Mokuleia Trail is accessed by the appropriately named Mokuleia Forest Reserve Access Road.  The road is paved for the first 3.5 miles of the hike up to the campground at Peacock Flats:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The first long stretch of the road runs adjacent to the large coconut tree grove on the right side of the road that is part of the Dillingham Ranch:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

For fans of the television series LOST, this grove should look familiar since a number of scenes from the show were filmed here. On the left side of the road I could see the tallest mountain on Oahu, the 4,025 foot Mt. Ka’ala:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The straight stretch of road lasts for about a half mile before it starts ascending up the foothills of the adjacent mountains:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

As the road switchbacked up the mountain I could see above me the Cook Pine forest where the Peacock Flats campground is located:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Despite the steep elevation gain I was making pretty good progress by jogging up the road in the early morning hours:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The steep elevation gain meant I was quickly rewarded with sweeping panorama views of Oahu’s North Shore:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

To the northwest I could just see Dillingham Airfield along the coast where another great hike into the Mokuleia Forest Reserve begins, the Kealia Trail:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Once I passed this old building this was my sign that Peacock Flats would be coming up:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

A short distance passed the old building I could see the beautiful Cook Pine forest ahead of me:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The Cook Pines are an introduced species of tree from the South Pacific Island of New Caledonia which is named after the great British explorer James Cook who died in Hawaii in 1779.  As I entered the Cook Pine forest I came to a locked green gate where the campground is located:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The campground at Peacock Flats is officially know as the Earl Pawn Campground:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The entrance to the campground has an informative signboard for visitors to read that explains the history of the forest reserve and the various trails in the area:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The signboard also had pamphlets that discussed the rapid death of native Ohia trees in the area:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the entrance to the campground the paved road continues straight towards the old Nike Missile Site which is another great hike to check out:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

I instead made a left on to a dirt road that leads to the Mokuleia Trail:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

As I jogged up the dirt road I passed through the campground which I found to be quite large with plenty of picnic tables and outhouses for campers:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

I also noticed a large group camping in one of the campgrounds when I jogged by.  I would later learn they were volunteers planting native vegetation on the upper slopes of the forest reserve.  The dirt road I was now jogging on led to the upper slopes of the forest reserve where they were working:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the end of the dirt road is where the official trailhead for the Mokuleia Trail is located at:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the trailhead there was a sign advising people to clean mud from their shoes to avoid seeds from introduced plant species from entering the Pahole Natural Area Reserve.  This reserve was set aside as a place for native plants to grow.  There was also a sign notifying mountain bikers that they are not allowed on the trail:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

After jogging up a paved road followed by a dirt road, it was a bit refreshing to now be on a real trail.  I planned to take this trail to the summit ridgeline where there is a viewpoint of the beautiful Makua Valley:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

A short distance from the trailhead there is a fence that was put up to keep wild pigs from entering the forest reserve:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

After passing through the gate for the fence I could immediately see the amount of work that has been done to reintroduce native plant species all along the trail:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

For example here are the blossoms from a native Ohia tree:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The ohia tree has an interesting legend associated with it due to its bright red flowers.  The legend states that if you pick the tree’s lehua flower it will rain on the same day.  This belief goes back to a legend involving Hawaii’s goddess of fire Pele.  She wanted a great warrior named Ohia to marry her.  He refused because he was already in love with a woman named Lehua.  Pele was angry and turned Ohia into a twisted tree called the ohia tree today.  Other Hawaiian Gods took pity on Lehua for losing her lover and thus turned her into the Lehua flower so she could forever be with Ohia.  So if you pick the Lehua Flower you are separating Lehua from her lover which will cause it to rain due to Lehua’s tears.

Image of Pele from Hawaii.com.

Here is a picture of a native ti plant which early Hawaiians used for making hula skirts, leis, and for cooking:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The next landmark I came upon on the Mokuleia Trail was this park bench:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The bench is supposed to have a view of Mt. Ka’ala, but it was covered in clouds at the time that I walked by:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

From the park bench I could see the summit ridgeline for the Makua Valley I was hiking to just a short distance ahead of me:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

A short distance after the park bench I reached an old shelter:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

To reach the ridgeline summit I had to walk in front of the shelter and follow a faint trail across the meadow into the tree line:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Once I was in the tree line the trail was much more visible as I followed it to the ridgeline:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the ridgeline I reached the fence that encircles the entire Makua Valley.  The Makua Valley is a US military firing range and its ubiquitous fence was installed as a safety measure to keep people as well as wildlife out of the firing range:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the ridgeline I made a left and followed the fence up a steep and sometimes slippery trail:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

At the top of the ridgeline I came to a overlook with two park benches:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The view from the overlook of the Makua Valley down below was spectacular:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

I could see all the way down to the end of the valley to the ocean along the Waianae Coast:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

“Makua” is the Hawaiian word for “parent”.  It is believed that the valley received this name because this is where the first Hawaiian was created.  Today the valley is a training range for the US military.  For decades bombs and ordinance was dropped into the valley.  All live fire training ended in 2004 due to legal challenges from environmentalists and Hawaiian cultural groups trying to protect the valley.  The military still trains in the valley, but only using blanks.  Ironically this live fire training in my opinion has ultimately helped to protect the valley because it is one of the few valleys remaining in Oahu with no development:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The Makua Valley is also one of the areas in the Waianae Range where the mountains do a good impersonation of the much more well known Ko’olau Range on the east side of the island:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

The mountain sides look just like the fluted cliffs of the Ko’olau Range, just not quite as green since this side of the island is much drier:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

I spent about 30 minutes hanging out at the lookout taking in the views before deciding to head back down the trail due to the rain clouds I could see coming in:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

As I began to retrace my steps back down the steep slope along the fence line, I could see ahead of me the hill where the lookout for one of my favorite hikes on Oahu, the Kealia Trail is located at:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

As I retraced my steps along the Mokuleia Trail I quickly found myself back on the dirt road surrounded by Cook pine trees:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Once I was back at the campground at Peacock Flats I then proceeded to jog down the paved road back to the trailhead.  As I took in the scenery along the road which in the near future may be covered in housing plots if a proposed plan to develop the Dillingham Ranch property is approved:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

As I jogged down the road I noticed the ridgeline above me where the lookout of the Makua Valley was located that I had just been at:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Here is a closer look at the ridgeline which I could see was now having rain falling on it:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

I also took in more views of the North Shore and the rain clouds that were now descending on me:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Before the rain began to fall on the lower slopes of the mountain I was back near sea level and jogging by Dillingham Ranch again back to my truck:

Picture from the Mokuleia Trail

Conclusion

Overall the Mokuleia Trail is a long, but enjoyable 10-mile hike with over 2,300 feet in elevation gain.  The forested scenery almost gives the hike a mainland feel to it, but once you reach the lookout of the Makua Valley there is no doubt you are still in Hawaii.  Some people may be turned off by the long approach up the mountain on a road, but for me it makes for a great training route for long distance running.  I think whether walking or running up the Mokuleia Trail most people will enjoy this great hike in a remote area of 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:

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