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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Kulana’ahane Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Kulana’ahane Trail
  • Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Distance: 9.5 miles
  • Max Elevation: 1,654 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,283 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate+
  • Time: 6-7 hours
  • More Information: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Topographic Map of the Kulana’ahane Trail

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Google Earth Map of Kulana’ahane Trail

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Narrative

Hiking to the summit ridge of the Ko’olau Range on the Kulana’ahane Trail has been something I have attempted to do twice before, but was turned around both times due to heavy rain.  I do not see the point of walking all that distance in the rain to have no views from the summit due to the clouds.  Additionally I was concerned about the threat of flash floods since the trail follows a stream bed nearly the entire way.  My third attempt on the trail started in the early morning hours from the trailhead at the Moanalua Community Park:

The park is easily accessed off of the H-201 at the Salt Lake/Moanalua Valley exit. From the exit driving to the end of Ala Aolani St. that leads to the park.  I arrived at the park at 0530 in the morning and the gate to the park was locked.  The park officially opens at 7:00 AM, but I was able to find parking in the adjacent neighborhood and just walk into the park to the trailhead.  The trailhead is another locked gate at the back of the park.  It was pitch black when I arrived, but this is what the gate looks like during daylight hours:

The trail this hike starts on is actually the Kamananui Valley Road trail. This trail is part of the Na Ala Hele trail system which means it is maintained by the State of Hawaii.  You can read more about this hike at the below link:

Best Hikes On Oahu: The Kamananui Valley Trail

After about 30 minutes of walking the sun began to light the route ahead of me:

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I often use the road as a trail running route and my young kids like walking up it and looking at its various signs scattered along the way:

Picture of a Moanalua Valley Sign

There are many historic sites in the valley with its most iconic being the old carriage bridges the Damon family who once owned the valley built to access their property:

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However, the most historic site along the trail is the Pohakukaluahine Stone:

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This stone has petroglyphs from early Hawaiians on it that ultimately stopped the construction of the H-3 Freeway through the Moanalua Valley.  You can read more about this stone at the below link:

Places on Oahu: The Pohakukaluahine Stone

At the two mile mark the dirt road comes to a clearing known as Pu’upueo with views of the surrounding mountain ridges:

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The clearing gots its name from the endangered Hawaiian owl known as a “Pueo” that was once spotted here.  “Pu’u” is Hawaiian for hill thus the area’s name literally means “owl hill”:

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From Pu’upueo the weather was looking quite promising so I was confident that the third time was going to be the charm to complete this hike.  When I do trail runs up the Kamananui Valley, I always turn around at Pu’upueo because after the clearing many sections of the road turn into a muddy mess:

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Fortunately I was wearing my KEEN Men’s Liberty Ridge waterproof hiking boots along with gaiters that allowed me to tramp through the mud with no issues.  Just a short distance passed Pu’upueo there is a nice view of the Ko’olau summit ridge.  From the viewpoint I could see clouds coming in, but the Moanalua Saddle where the Kulana’ahane Trail ascends was still clearly visible:

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As I hiked up the road I hoped the clouds would not descend on the Moanalua Saddle and I would get some views of Oahu’s Windward Coast from this hike.  A short distance passed the viewpoint the dirt road turns into a regular trail due to a flooded out section that prevents vehicles from driving any further up the road:

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Despite no longer following a dirt road the trail section of this hike is still very wide and easy to follow:

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About 2.5 miles up the Kamananui Valley Trail is where the official trailhead for the Kulana’ahane Trail begins:

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Just like the Kamananui Valley Trail, the Kulana’ahane Trail is part of the Na Ala Hele trail system and thus well maintained by the State of Hawaii:

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Just like all other recreation areas in Hawaii the trailhead had its appropriate scary warning signs posted as well.  The scary warning sign for this trailhead warned of the dangers of flash floods which is a real danger to be aware of in the Moanalua Valley:

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So far the Moanalua Stream I was following up the valley had very little to no water in it.  At the Kulana’ahane Trailhead I crossed over a tributary creek for the Moanalua Stream that had no water in it.  After crossing the dry creek I entered into a thick forest:

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As I walked through the forest I came upon what I thought was an outhouse at first, however it ended up being a US Geological Service station:

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The USGS station is used to monitor the water levels along the creek in the valley to warn of floods:

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Passed the USGS station the trail continues to be well maintained and even has signage where appropriate to keep people on the trail:

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According to the guidebook, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu, there are 25 stream crossings on the Kulana’anane Trail.  Since the water level was so low all the stream crossings were very easy, I just had to be careful of slippery rocks:

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About a half mile up the Kulana’anane Trail I came upon a clearing that appeared to be used by prior campers:

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Adjacent to the clearing was a nice waterhole with turquoise water in it:

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Passed the clearing the well maintained trail continued through the thick forest and even had a rope installed to help hikers pull themselves out of a deep creek bed:

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As I walked through this remote area of the Moanalua Valley I was impressed by how beautiful it was with its lush and scenic rainforest:

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Along the trail I also saw a lot of these red buds that looked like little ice cream cones scattered across the valley which I thought were pretty cool:

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However, the nonstop stream crossings were getting a bit annoying though:

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Another annoying aspect of this hike was that wherever there was standing water I would get swarmed by mosquitoes:

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Due to the mosquitoes I highly recommend wearing long sleeve pants and lots of bug spray.  The mosquitoes along this trail are not as bad as what I experienced along the Nakoa Trail in the Kahana Valley, but it was a close second:

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You can read more about the Nakoa Trail at the below link:

Best Hikes On Oahu: The Nakoa Trail

Towards the head of the valley it began to drizzle, but from a clearing I could see that the adjacent ridgeline was not clouded in yet:

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I could eventually see that the Moanalua Saddle was not clouded in yet either:

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I quickened my pace to try and get up to the summit of the Ko’olau before it did become clouded in.  I soon came to the 25th and final stream crossing.  I noticed that there was little water flowing down the creek, but with rain now falling I was concerned that a flash flood may cut me off if I continued up the trail.  I was well provisioned if I did get cut off and had to wait out a flash flood, so I decided to continue up the trail:

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At the last stream crossing there is a sign that warns hikers that the trail passed that point is no longer maintained:

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A short distance passed the last stream crossing I reached the end of the valley which meant I had to start hiking up the headwall of the Ko’olau Range.  The trail was steep and had some sketchy ropes installed in certain areas to assist with the climb:

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I never fully trusted my life to the ropes.  I always kept good footing and just used the ropes for assistance as necessary.  As I ascended up the headwall I noticed this waterfall shoot to my right:

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I had no idea that there was a waterfall here, especially one this big hidden in the back of the Moanalua Valley.  There was just a trickle of water flowing down it, but I wondered if the rain would give me a bigger waterfall show later?:

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As I continued up the headwall the views behind me of the Moanalua Valley became quite expansive:

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As I powered up the headwall the drizzle of rain continued, but I could see the summit just ahead of me:

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Reaching the summit from the last stream crossing took me less than 30 minutes, but it was a good cardio workout powering up the steep trail:

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The summit of course had more scary warning signs alerting hikers that falling off of the cliff would be a bad idea:

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On the summit there is a small clearing for people to hang out on:

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There is a second clearing across from the first clearing on the summit as well:

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Separating the two clearings is one of the countless waterfall shoots that compose the fluted cliffs of the Ko’olau Range:

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In a tree between the two clearings I found a coin that I suppose someone from the USS John Finn had left for whatever reason:

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It was not raining heavy enough for enough water to accumulate on the summit to form a waterfall yet.  It was just drizzling rain and it was very windy up on the summit.  Fortunately I was not completely clouded in because I could see the H-3 Freeway and the city of Kaneohe on Oahu’s Windward Coast below me:

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You can learn more about the H-3 at the below link:

On Walkabout On: Interstate H-3 on Oahu

Here is a picture of the H-3 running directly below the cliffs of the Moanalua Saddle:

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Here is a picture of the H-3 as it enters the Tetsuo Harano Tunnel located in the Haiku Valley:

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Here is a closer look at the tunnel entrance:

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Here is a panorama image of the view of the Haiku Valley from the Moanalua Saddle:

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Incredibly looking behind me I could see blue skies over Honolulu while having driving rain from the island’s Windward Coast hitting me on the ridgeline:

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Here is a panorama picture I took of the view down the Moanalua Valley:

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The view from the ridgeline was still pretty awesome to see despite the rain and wind.  I spent about 20 minutes up on the saddle taking pictures before deciding to head back down into the Moanalua Valley because of how bad the rain was becoming.  As I was descending, the trail had become extremely muddy and slippery due to the increasing rain.  I decided to stop and put on my microspikes to increase my traction on the trail:

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The microspikes helped and the ropes were useful as well to descend down the trail:

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Even with ropes and microspikes it was still slippery and to be safe in the steepest areas I did a crab walk on my butt to slowly descend down the trail:

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During the descent I was surprised to notice a non-native African tulip tree located this high up in the Ko’olau Range where I usually do not see them.  I have one of these trees in the backyard of my house in Honolulu:

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Also as I was descending I noticed that more water was now flowing down the waterfall shoot I had saw earlier:

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The view of the waterfall looked similar to a Manoa Falls on steroids due to how big it was.  As I continued to descend I would occasionally look over to checkout the waterfall.  As I was watching it, a huge surge of water came rushing down it:

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Here is a picture of this waterfall with a native Ohia tree in the foreground:

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I have checked all my maps for a name of this waterfall and could not find one so I decided to just call it Moanalua Falls:

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Moanalua Falls is the biggest and most impressive waterfall I have seen yet in Hawaii:

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I thought it was even more impressive than Akaka Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii:

Best Hikes In Hawaii: Akaka Falls Trail

What makes this waterfall even more incredible is that I had no idea it was even here.  It was an amazing bonus to add to an already great hike.

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Here is a panorama view of Moanalua Falls with the Moanalua Valley visible to the right:

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Here is a picture I took before descending into the rainforest that shows how large and beautiful the Moanalua Valley is:

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Here is a panorama of this incredible view with Moanalua Falls still visible to the far left:

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After descending into the forest I soon found myself back at the last stream crossing.  Instead of a trickle of water the stream was gushing with water:

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The water in the stream was coming directly from Moanalua Falls further up the valley.  I definitely plan to return up here one day to hike to the base of the waterfall.  For now though I made my way across the stream with no issues:

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Something I noticed as I was walking back was debris from a September 2, 1948 airplane crash of a F-47N Thunderbolt:

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The plane caught fire and the pilot was able to successfully parachute out before the plane crashed.  He ended up walking out of the valley and was picked up at the Moanalua Golf Course.  The crash site is supposedly located further up the valley where Moanalua Falls is located at.  As part of a future hike to locate the waterfall I also plan to look for the crash site.  However, debris from the explosion can still be seen from along the Kulana’ahane Trail:

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As I hiked further down the valley the water level in the creek dropped substantially:

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I was making good time getting back down the trail and I soon hiked passed the USGS station:

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I next came to the intersection between the Kulana’ahane Trail and the Kamananui Valley Trail.  The stream bed at the intersection I had to cross was still completely dry despite all the rain:

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From the trail intersection I still had 2.5 miles to go to get back to the Moanalua Community Park.  However, the relatively flat trail on a dirt road made the miles speed by quickly:

Picture from the Kulanaahane Trail

Here is a view looking back towards the Moanalua Saddle that about an hour earlier I was standing on top of:

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Here is a panorama picture of the view:

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As I continued down the trail I next came back to the clearing at Puupueo:

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At the clearing the rain had stopped and it was actually hot out which I did not mind since it was drying out my clothes.  After passing Puupueo I next began to cross the various carriage bridges located along the old carriage road:

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After passing the carriage bridges it was a short walk down a straight path back to the trailhead:

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I soon found myself back at the locked gate at the trailhead:

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Here is one final picture as I walked back into the Moanalua Community Park:

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Conclusion

My guidebook listed the Kulana’ahane Trail as being 11-miles in distance, but according to my GPS I hiked 9.5 miles.  So the trail was a bit shorter than I was expecting and the elevation gain of 1,283 feet was slight less than what was in the book.  In total it took me 6 hours to complete the hike, but in dry weather I could have easily done this in 5 hours or less.  For difficulty I rate this hike a moderate plus if it is raining.  This is because the headwall of the valley is very slippery when trying to descend it in the rain. This is the only section of the trail that I recommend wearing mircrospikes for if it is muddy.  It is also important to be aware of flash floods on this trail.

Overall I rate the Kulana’ahane Trail as being an Oahu classic considering the beautiful valley hike, the expansive views from the Moanalua Saddle, and then the incredible waterfall.  The best trails are ones that I would be willing to do again and this is one I would do again.

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

The Oahu Trail Finder

Note: Further information about hiking on Oahu can be found in the below book:

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