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Best Hikes on Oahu: The Maunawili Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Maunawili Trail
  • Where: Kailua, Hawaii
  • Distance: 9.2 miles
  • Max Elevation: 1,229 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 1,023 feet
  • Time: 5-7 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • More Info: The Hikers Guide to O’ahu

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Topographic Map of the Maunawili Trail

Maunawili Trail Topo Map

Elevation Map of the Maunawili Trail

Maunawili Trail Elevation Map

Overview

The Maunawili Trail is one of the premier hikes on Oahu that will wow just about everyone with its incredible views of the steep cliffs of the Ko’olau Range and the beautiful Windward Coast. The trail is well maintained, but its distance, elevation gain, and slippery sections will still provide a nice challenge to intermediate level hikers.

Maunawili Trail Google Earth 1Maunawili Trail Google Earth 2

Directions

Getting to the trailhead for the Maunawili Trail is pretty easy if coming from Honolulu.  Take the Pali Highway towards Kailua and just after passing through the tunnels look for a sign for a scenic lookout.  The scenic lookout is located on a sharp turn and it is where the trailhead is located.  The trailhead cannot be accessed from the opposite highway lane.  For those coming from Kailua, they will be required to drive up the Pali Highway and then exit at the Nuuanu Pali Lookout and then turnaround into the eastbound lane to get to the trailhead for the Maunawili Trail.

Parking

There are about 10-12 parking spots at the scenic lookout.  I arrived at 7:30 AM and was the only car in the lot.  When I came back to the trailhead later in the day there were two other cars parked there.  I have driven by this look out more times than I can remember and there always seems to be parking available.

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Hawaiian Meaning

According to Stuart Balls book, The Hikers Guide to O’ahu the Hawaiian word Maunawili means “twisted mountain”.  After completing this hike I have to concur that this is an appropriate name for this trail considering how it continuously twists in and out of the various valleys below the pali cliffs.

Narrative

The Maunawili Trail is one of the hikes that many people on Oahu have heard about, but few have actually fully completed due to its length and the fact it requires someone to pick you up at the end of the trail.  I having been holding off on doing this hike until I had a good weather day and my wife’s schedule could match up with picking me up at the end of the trail.  Both requirements recently matched up and thus I found myself parked at the scenic viewpoint below the Pali Lookout at 6:30 in the morning watching the sunrise over Olomana peak:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After watching the sunrise I then walked across the parking lot over to the trailhead.  Above me I could see the highest peak in the Ko’olau Range, the 3,149 foot Konahuanui rising above me:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the parking lot the trailhead for the Maunawili Trail is accessed by taking a short path through the guardrail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

An official State of Hawaii sign points towards the trailhead since this an officially maintained trail that is part of the Hawaii’s Na Ala Hele trail system:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Just passed the arrow sign I could see the trailhead across this small bridge:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I walked over to the trailhead I noticed one of the ubiquitous leptospirosis signs that be seen all over Oahu:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can be found in the water and mud of Oahu that can make humans extremely sick.  The bacteria is caused by the fecal matter left by all the wild pigs that roam the island.  That is why people are warned to not drink the water in the creeks no matter how clear and clean it looks.  Chances are there was a pig further up the stream pooping into that water.

Here is the sign that marks the official start of the Maunawili Trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Right next to the trailhead was another ubiquitous sign on Oahu which warns hikers of the danger of falls off of the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Another sign next to the trailhead warned hikers to keep their dogs on leashes while another signed advised that the trail is a no hunting area:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After reading the signs I then proceeded up the Maunawili Trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At the start of the hike I had already crossed over two creeks.  Crossing creeks would become a reoccurring theme along this hike due to the amount of water that drains off of the adjacent Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I next came to yet another sign that warned mountain bikers to make way for hikers:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I next came to another stream crossing and this one had an explosive hazard sign next to it:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The other place I have seen this type of sign was over at the nearby Maunawili Falls Trail.  The signs were placed because unexploded ordinance has been found in area due to it being a military training camp many years ago:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Oh yeah, did I mention there is a lot of creek crossings on this trail?:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Something I liked about this trail was that in various areas that have a lot of mud, boardwalks have been constructed to assist hikers:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

However, this trail is so long it is impossible to provide boardwalks for all the muddy areas.  That is why I wore my gaiters for this hike.  My gaiters were also useful in keeping debris from the surrounding foliage from falling into the tops of my boots:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

A short distance down the trail I passed by this really cool water tank:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I am not sure what this water tank is for, but it looked really old and had this sign posted on it calling it “Public Water System No. 314”:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

It is a bit ironic that a sign says it is part of a public water system when there is another sign posted warning that the water has not been tested for drinking:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

There was another sign posted warning hikers that tampering with the water tank is a federal offense:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the water tank there is a really nice view looking towards the Windward Coast city of Kailua in the distance:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a panorama picture of the view from the water tank:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I continued down the trail I eventually came to a clearing where I had a great view of the 2,486 Mt. Olympus across the valley from me:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

You can read about my prior hike up Mt. Olympus at the below link:

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Kolowalu Trail to Mt. Olympus

The Maunawili Trail follows the edge of this cliff line and eventually passes right below Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I continued down the trail I came to a section that was overgrown with this distinctive purple flower:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I am not sure what this purple flower is, but it appeared to be a weed like plant that was consuming the other vegetation around this section of the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Another weed like plant that I saw often around the trail was the invasive Christmas Berry which is native to Brazil, but was brought to Hawaii for decorative reasons.  The bright red berries on the plant are quite striking, but are not edible for humans:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Though most of the trail is a dirt path there are small areas where the trail had to cross over some rocks that can be slippery if wet:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I neared the back of the valley I came to another clearing that had a view of the 1,643 foot forked peak called Olomana which means “divided hill” in Hawaiian:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I also had a view of Konahuanui towering above me:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The views were short lived as the trail once again descended into the thick rain forest:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I entered the rain forest I noticed for the first time Hawaiian ti plants that were growing along the side of the trail.  These plants were brought to Hawaii by the early Hawaiian voyagers who used them for various purposes such as cooking and clothing:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Throughout the hike I also saw a number of massive fern trees that thrive in the moist environment at the base of the Ko’olau Range:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The new ferns that were growing I thought looked almost like some kind of alien species:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The moist environment was also very conducive for growing a mushroom like fungus that I often saw growing on trees along the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At the back of the valley I came to another viewpoint that looked out towards ocean:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Out in the distance I could even see the islet of Manana which is more popularly known as Rabbit Island since it was once home to a population of introduced rabbits:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the back of the valley the Maunawili Trail continues to wrap around the base of the Ko’olau Range as it travels to the southeast:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a wider angle view of the Ko’olau Range from the viewpoint:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I continued to walk down the trail the peaks above me were extremely steep and littered with waterfall shoots:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The further down the trail and deeper into the valley that I went the vegetation tended to become extremely thick in some sections.  This made me glad I was wearing pants to avoid getting my legs scratched:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Another annoyance I began to run into was downed trees.  A week prior to my hike there was a major rain storm which may have been responsible for all the downed trees I saw along the Maunawili Trail when I hiked it:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At the 2.2 mile mark I came to the intersection with the Maunawili Falls Connectors Trail that was marked with a large sign:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Maunawili Falls is one of the most scenic waterfalls on Oahu that I highly recommend people to check out:

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Maunawili Falls Trail

The primary trail to this waterfall can be packed with people, but visiting the falls via the connector trail is an alternative route with few people on it, but a longer approach.  From what I could see from the trail intersection, the connector trail looked quite overgrown:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

There was also a very nice view from the trail intersection looking towards Windward Oahu:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At the intersection I also noticed a very large and impressive native koa tree.  Early Hawaiians used the wood of the koa tree to make their canoes:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After taking in the views I then entered back into the thick jungle:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Something else I noticed as I hiked deeper down the trail was that the trees had become much larger indicating they must be older trees that were not cut down when the Maunawili Valley was once a ranching area:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I got deeper in to the jungle the trail definitely was becoming rougher in some sections:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

There were also areas were minor landslides had blocked the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Being as big as I am it was difficult to work my way through all the debris:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

However, I successfully got through the debris and then had to occasionally crawl under and over random trees that had fallen down:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

It appeared some mountain bikers just gave up on the trail and just left their bikes:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

In the current state of this trail I do not recommend mountain biking.  If I was frustrated crawling through debris and under downed trees I could only imagine how miserable it would have been trying to do it with a mountain bike.  When I wasn’t having to deal with downed trees the trail was mostly in pretty good shape:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a view looking across the valley towards where I started the hike at the base of Konahuanui at the far right:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the lookout I also had a great view of the Kawainui Marsh and the city of Kailua:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After the lookout I was once again dealing with more downed trees:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

And more landslide debris:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I next came to a section that was a dry creek bed that had become part of the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

With all the creeks that I had to cross during this trail I do not recommend hikers attempt this hike during a rain storm.  All these creeks would likely become areas of flash flooding.  That is why I waited for a good weather day to hike the Maunawili Trail.  Plus the good weather allowed me to better enjoy the views of the Ko’olau Range.  For example here is the view looking straight up at Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The trail passes by Mt. Olympus at about the four mile mark.  After having hiked up Mt. Olympus before, it was pretty cool to see it from this perspective 2,000 feet below it:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a zoomed in picture looking directly at the summit of Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From Mt. Olympus the trail continues to hug the bottom of the cliff line with a steep drop off to the left:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is the view from trail looking out over the Maunawili Valley:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The trail next passes by the section of the Ko’olau Range that has two large power line poles on it:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

On the opposite side of the two power line poles is the Ka’au Crater, which is one of the coolest natural features on Oahu to see.  Below is a picture of the Ka’au Crater as seen from the summit of Mt. Olympus:

From the power line viewpoint, the Maunawili Trail once again entered back into the thick jungle:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The trail became increasingly muddy in sections since there was no longer any boardwalks constructed to aid getting by them:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I continued down the trail I came upon an orange ribbon that designated what appeared to be an unimproved trail heading up the side of the cliff line.  I did not attempt to follow the trail because of how overgrown it was.  If anyone knows what this trail is please leave a comment:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

When people think of Hawaii one of the things they picture is palm trees.  Hawaii actually does not have that many palm trees and the vast majority of the vegetation around the Maunawili Trail has no palm trees.  However, occasionally I would spot a random palm tree growing in the middle of the jungle:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I came to about the 6-mile mark I found that the trail was in pretty good shape though quite narrow at times as it hugged the steep cliff line:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Then at about the 7-mile mark I came to a landslide area that had its own warning sign:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The landslide made the trail quite narrow, but it was still easy to cross this section:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Next the trail began to pass below the summit of the 2,520 foot Kainawa’auika.  This peak is where the Lanipo Trail ends at:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The Lanipo Trail is known as a rollercoaster hike due to the up and down nature of the ridge it follows to the summit of the Ko’olau.  However, this trail offers fantastic views of the Kau’au Crater and Windward Oahu:

Best Hikes on Oahu: The Lanipo Trail (Mau’umae Trail)

As I looked up at the imposing cliff line I noticed the red lava rock visible among the mountains green cloak of vegetation:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a closer look at the lava rock:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

On this last portion of the Maunawili Trail is passes directly under a number of waterfall chutes.  Most of these chutes were just dripping with water, but would be mighty waterfalls during an actual rainstorm:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Some of the chutes actually did have flowing water down them:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a picture of the view looking back towards Mt. Olympus on the far right and the ridge that connects it to Kainawa’auika on the far left:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a closer look at the power line poles visible on the ridge:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Here is a closer look at the summit of Mt. Olympus:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At about the 7-mile mark the Maunawili Trail entered into a small forest of eucalyptus trees.  These trees are not native to Hawaii, but can be commonly see growing throughout the state:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After walking through the eucalyptus forest the trail then comes to the base of the most impressive waterfall chute along the hike:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

This water fall chute is huge and I could not get it to fit into one picture.  This waterfall would be pretty amazing to see during a rainstorm.  As I continued down the trail I knew I must be getting close to the end of the trail at Waimanalo because I passed by a “No Horses” sign:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Waimanalo is well known for its various horse ranches and is home to the state’s largest rodeo.  After the large waterfall chute I came to the last view from the trail that I would have of the massive Konahuanui which is where I started my hike from:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

After the viewpoint I then came to vehicle turn around point with a no trespassing sign at about 8-miles into the hike:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The vehicle turnaround point also had another explosive warning sign:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the turnaround I followed the trail into a dense jungle that would offer limited views for the rest of the hike:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From there the trail ascends up a small hill to get over to Waimanalo.  On top of the hill I had a nice view looking down on the town:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

From the viewpoint the trail once again descended into a thick jungle:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I then came to the one and only distance marker on the entire 9.2 mile long trail.  The marker said I had .8 miles to go to reach the end of the trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

You would think with a hike this long the state of Hawaii would install mileage markers along the trail.  There were plenty of Maunawili Trail signs installed so it seems it would easy to add a mileage marker to each trail sign:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

As I descended down the hill, the trail became a wide dirt road:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

I then passed the trailhead for the Maunawili Ditch Trail.  This intersection also had a sign pointing towards the Maunawili Demonstration Trail which is the official name for the Maunawili Trail:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The demonstration trail moniker comes from the early days of constructing the trail in 1991 as part of the Na Ale Hele trail program.  The trail was a demonstration of the value of the state partnering with volunteers groups.  Initially the Sierra Club helped to organize volunteer groups to construct the trail.  Later prisoners from the Oahu Correctional facility, Boy Scouts, and Marines from the nearby base in Kaneohe would help to finish the trail in 1993 in Waimanalo:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

The trail ended at the Waimanalo Trailhead that is marked with a big yellow gate and a number of signs warning hikers of vehicle break ins:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

At the end of the trail I called my wife who went and picked me up and then drove me back over to the viewpoint on the Pali Highway to get my truck.  From the viewpoint I now had a day time view of Olomana compared to the sunrise view I had earlier in the morning:

Picture from the Maunawili Trail

Conclusion

According to my GPS the hike was 9.2 miles long with just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.  This distance means the Maunawili Trail many not be a hike novice hikers will enjoy.  The distance and landslide areas likely also make this hike one young children many not enjoy either.  Despite the downed trees and landslide areas most of the trail is in good shape and safe to hike.  My only caution would be the weather because flash floods are a real threat on this trail.  With these precautions in mind I highly recommend this hike.  The Maunawili Trail has an amazing abundance of great views of the Ko’olau Range and Windward Oahu that caused me to continuously stop and take pictures.  It is truly one of Oahu’s wow hikes that I recommend any intermediate level hiker visiting or living on Oahu to check out.


Disclaimer:  On-Walkabout is a website about outdoor activities that is not affiliated with any state or national government.  The articles on this website are for informational purposes only and to inspire others to get outside.  The activity descriptions are given to showcase the beauty and fun of experiencing the outdoors.  The writer of On-Walkabout is not responsible for any accidents, injuries, rescues, legal issues, or loss of life by anyone attempting the activities listed on this website.  Outdoor activities can be dangerous which is why it is the responsibility of the reader to use common sense and understand their own abilities before attempting an outdoor activity inspired by this website.  Most importantly parents need to understand the ability of their children before attempting an outdoor activity.  Just because my young children completed a hike mentioned on this site does not mean your children can as well.  Be safe and I hope this website inspires others to go and enjoy the outdoors as much as I do.  

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: