The Pololu Trail is a short but challenging hike, a hike with a lot of beauty but one that doesn’t require a significant time investment, making it a good choice for those looking to pack a lot during a trip to the Big Island’s North Shore.
This Big Island hiking trail is in fact located along one of the island’s northernmost stretches. You will want to take Highway 270 just about all the way to its end at the Pololu Valley. Here, you will find a fantastic overlook and signs pointing to the Pololu Trail, also referred to as the Pololu Valley Trail.
The Pololu Trail is just .45 miles in length, for a full 0.9 miles out and back distance. But don’t think that this is an easy mile trail. You will experience an impressive 344 foot elevation gain across its short length, which translates to some pretty steep areas of the trail and most will find this to be a moderately difficult hiking path. You will want appropriate hiking boots for this one.
The first part of the trail is the most strenuous part of the trail. You will begin at a lookout point on the coast that overlooks the Pololu Valley and beaches, and the trail goes down into that valley and across those beaches. This initial decline is steep but so long as you take your time, it is not overtly strenuous. Most people will complete the entirety of the trail, going out to come back in, within 40 minutes… if they don’t linger at the beaches or elsewhere en route.
During the descent, stay aware of loose rocks. This trail is a hodge podge of ancient cobblestones, packed clay, and broken lava rocks. After rainfall, all of these mix together to make a slick and muddy route. Most will find going down trickier than going up due to this path’s unique condition. A good walking stick goes a long way in mitigating this. While you will want to keep an eye on your footing, make sure to pause and enjoy the sweeping vistas here. This part of the trail has wonderful open views of the surrounding landscapes, making it an ideal place to really get a good sense of the area and all of its beauty.
And the beauty just keeps coming. Once you’ve made your way down the slick cliff-like route, you will find yourself on a gorgeous black sand beach. This beach is tucked away from the more urbanized and commercialized parts of Hawaii. Here, you can stand atop fine grain black sands and enjoy being surrounded by lush green hills and the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean.
Yes, you can swim at the beach at the end of the Pololu Trail, but it is not really safe. The smashing waves, no lifeguard, limited cell service, and common rip currents make swimming here generally dangerous. There is a small pond that leads into the ocean which is good for wading.
The best seasons to take the Pololu Trail are spring and fall. The heat here can get really bad as so much of the trail is open, although there are shaded areas along the valley that the Pololu Trail runs beside (bringing ample water any time you is highly recommended). Meanwhile, heavy winter storms can make the lower part of the route more dangerous with high surf conditions and heighten risk of flash flooding.
The best time of the day to take the Pololu Trail is in the earliest dawn hours. Enjoy slowly ambling down the trail while the colors of the sky change as the sun softly rises above the horizon. Then, once you get down to the valley floor, you will have beat the big lunch hour rushes of crowds and get to enjoy a peaceful beach in the more temperate morning hours.
You are likely to notice some campsites within the Pololu Valley and along the trail, but camping here requires very specific and special permitting that is generally not available to the public.
Note, there are no bathrooms at the trailhead nor on the beach. You can find the closest, best public toilets at Kamehameha Statue (North Kohala Civic Center) in the nearby town of Kapau.