Manuka State Wayside

Manuka State Wayside – Immerse Yourself in Nature on the Big Island’s South Side
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Are you looking for a great place to explore the natural wonders across the south side of the Big Island? If so, you’ll want to swing by the Manuka State Wayside at least once on your travels. Although often used as a quick rest stop, this park has a long hiking trail, native plant arboretum, and camping spots available for your enjoyment.

- The Local Expert Team

When nothing else will do but a trip out into the Big Island’s natural landscape, put Manuka State Wayside on your itinerary. Although often used as a quick rest stop for road trip travelers, this Ocean View park offers a whole lot more. So, instead of just stopping by to use the restroom and stretch your legs, head over here when you want to go out on fun adventures.

Within the park, you’ll find a two-mile nature trail and native plant arboretum awaiting your explorations. There are also plenty of open and covered picnic tables available if you want to sit down for a tasty lunch before you walk the trail. Want to stay overnight? Just get a permit and set up your tent in one of the open shelter camping spots.

If you plan to explore the park, you’ll want to get properly geared up for your trek. The hiking trail can prove rather rough at times, so wear good-fitting closed-toe shoes to start. If it’s been raining recently, consider bringing hiking poles for a little extra support. Don your rain gear as well, putting it over light layers that allow you to adjust your comfort level on the go. Don’t forget snacks and plenty of water plus sunglasses, sunblock, and bug spray.

Despite getting used as a brief rest stop more often than not, the park actually stretches across 13.4 acres along Mamalahoa Highway. The 25,000-acre Manuka Forest Reserve surrounds the wayside park, creating a huge natural habitat for the island’s wildlife. So, as you travel down the tree-lined highway, you’ll want to watch for the appearance of the trailhead parking lot between mile markers 80 and 81.

Once you see it, just slowly pull into the rest stop and find a parking space. You’ll then want to remove all your belongings and lock up tight to deter car prowlers. The restrooms are located nearby if you need them before hiking along the trail. Just be forewarned that they’re not cleaned very often, so they’re often rather stinky at best. After freshening up, you can find the trailhead on the opposite side of the parking lot from the bathrooms.

As you walk down the trail, the pathway will take you through the hand-curated arboretum. The caregivers of the park planted nearly 50 native plant species and 130 other tropical plants in the 1930s. Although you can find most of them throughout your Big Island travels, there’s perhaps a no better place to see them all on one walk.

While traveling along the trail, you’ll hike uphill first for a little less than a mile. Near the top, you’ll see a short trail leading to the edge of the forested pit trail. Follow that path to look into the crater to see all the vegetation growing inside along with the lava tube segments around the edges. Then, head back to the main trail to hike toward the rest area at the top of the hill. Once you get there, you’ll see many ancient structures left behind by the farmers who used to live in the area.

Upon reaching the high point, it’s all downhill from there. You’ll want to watch your step because the lava rock debris makes for a slippery trek back to the parking area. Upon exiting the trail, you’ll end up a bit west of where you parked. Just make your way along the grassy path to the parking lot to reach your car.  

Insider Tips:
-Slather on the locally sourced bug spray before trekking into the rainforest. Then, reapply it as needed to keep the bugs at bay.
-The trees provide lots of shade, but it’s still best to put on reef-safe SPF 50+ sunblock every two hours while exploring this park.
-To avoid damaging the plants, only traverse the trail on foot. Do not ride bikes or motorized vehicles through the park.