Malama Trailhead

Malama Trailhead - Flat, Technical Hiking Trail Through Puako Petroglyphic Park
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Malama Trailhead and Trail is a short if technical trail that offers hikers a unique glimpse into another side of Hawaii. Go here to experience petroglyphs amidst an ancient lava field; just make sure to bring the sunscreen and a solid pair of shoes and a hat. 

- The Local Expert Team

Located on the west coastline of Hawaii, the Malama Trailhead and Trail offers visitors a sunny hike through a very unique part of Hawaii’s past. Here, you will see petroglyphs, lava rocks, and the scenic rocky shoreline of Holoholokai Beach Park.

To reach the Malama Trailhead, you will follow signs for Holoholokai Beach Park. The road for this park, Holoholokai Beach Park Road, meanders just north of the resort Fremont Orchid, with their golf course on the southern side and the Puako Petroglyph Park on the right. You will find that this road dead-ends at a small parking lot and roundabout. Park anywhere here, and walk to the northeast end of the lot where you will find the signs indicating the start of the Malama Trailhead.

The entirety of the Malama Trail is 1.38 miles (round-trip) with an elevation gain of just 171 feet. In other words, this is very flat terrain. However, there are two parts of the Malama Trail and due to the conditions of the secondary trail, it is important not to come here expecting a simple walk along a flat, easy route. You can complete the entirety of this trail in about thirty minutes if you walk briskly, closer to an hour if you do a more meandering, taking time to soak in the various petroglyphs you will find along the way. 

The very first 0.2 miles of this trail consist of a paved, wheelchair-friendly path. This is the flattest, the easiest part of the Malama Trail, and it will lead to a pretty collection of petroglyphic reproductions of the most popular authentic petroglyphs that lie further within the Puako Petroglyphic Park. For many, this will be a sufficient experience before they continue on to enjoy the sun and shoreline at the neighboring Holoholokai Beach Park.

For those who want to continue on the Malama Trail, be wary that things are going to get a bit rough for the remainder of this trail. Despite there not being much of an incline, you will not want to continue on without proper shoes. No sandals or flip-flops. Part of the reason for this will become very apparent as soon as you walk beyond the paved part of this trail. That’s because the non-paved part of the trail breaks off from the paved one on the edge of a kiawe grove. Kiawe trees are those spindly-looking trees that shed massive thorny spines that can easily and painfully pierce through thin sandals as well as the flesh of that skin not protected by hardier footwear.

Other conditions that make the Malama Trail more challenging include the uneven path and the fact that there is no shade once you walk past the kiawe grove. The unevenness of the path is due to it largely being pitted lava rock and loose stones. You will want to watch your step, especially in the first part of the trail as you may have to clamber under and over tree limbs and gnarled roots. Once you’ve passed this part of the trail, on clear days, the sun can feel unbearable as it bakes the land around you. Wearing a hat and sunscreen is absolutely recommended for those venturing past the paved part.

But going beyond the easy portion of the Malama Trail is not for nothing. The beauty of this trail is that it meanders through the globally unique Puako Petroglyph Field. The Puako Petroglyph Preserve boasts over one thousand petroglyphs, which are carvings ancient Hawaiians once made into the lava rocks here. These carvings feature a great array of images, including people, animals, gods, and much more. This is not only the largest naturally found collection of carvings across the Hawaiian islands, but is among the largest of such in the world. 

The worst time to visit Malama Trail and Trailhead is during the hottest summer months, especially during the day. The weather out on the lava fields can simply be too unbearably hot and can hamper your ability to enjoy the petroglyphs as well as the hike to them. If you must travel during the summer months, go early in the morning or late in the evening. For the best experience, however, we recommend going during the slightly cooler months of fall and early winter, before the rains and storms come but when you can also enjoy a lazy, sunny day picnicking at the nearby beach as well. 

Insider Tips:
-Don’t just rush to this trail and out. Spend some time exploring the shoreline at Holoholokai Beach Park. This park boasts full bathroom facilities and outstanding picnic facilities with tables and barbecue grills and grassy areas with shade trees perfect for hammocks.
-Unfortunately, swimming here is often a no-go unless the waters are exceptionally calm and there are no lifeguards posted.