Rising from the low-lying lava fields is the landmark Puu Kuili. This ancient cinder cone has two trailheads and is 342′ above sea level, so you’ll have picturesque views of the Pacific, nearby volcanoes, and the surrounding landscape.
Puu Kuili is in the Kekaha Kai State Park along the Kona-Kohala Coast north of Kailua-Kona. The Kekaha Kai State Park is an undeveloped beach park and has some of the best beaches on the island. The park is open daily from 8 AM-7 PM except for Wednesdays.
The hike up Puu Kuili is on a dirt trail littered with lava stones, so wear closed shoe hiking shoes or boots. Be careful descending as the loose stones and dirt don’t provide good traction. There isn’t any shade, so wear sun protection and bring plenty of water.
There is little vegetation on Puu Kuili, but the reward is the view from the summit. You can see Maui and volcanoes like Mauna Kea on clear days. When the sky is crystal clear, you’ll even spot Lanai, the tiny island off Maui.
As mentioned, there are two trails to the summit. Here they are in more detail.
This northern trail is the shortest (.2 miles) to the summit but the steepest, with 175′ of climbing. To reach the trailhead, take HI 19 and look for the paved road to Kua Bay near mile markers 88-89.
Stay on this road for about half a mile, and you’ll pass Puu Kuili. Keep your eyes peeled for a small parking area just past Puu Kuili. You can also drive further, park at the Kua Bay parking area, and hike back to the trailhead.
The longest hike up Puu Kuili is 1.4 miles round-trip and has you climbing 155′. To get to the trailhead, take HI 19 and look for a dirt road to Makalawena Beach just south of the Kua Bay Road. It’s about a half-mile drive off to a 4WD road that veers towards Puu Kuili. If you’re in a 2WD vehicle, you should park on the shoulder before the road gets too rough. Some hikers take extra precautions and park near HI 19.
If you park off of HI 19, the hike is about 1.4 miles out and back. If you’re able to park closer, the distance will be less.
Now let’s look into what each hike offers.
The trailheads aren’t marked with signs, so they can be tricky to find. For this hike, you’re looking for a faint dirt path near the gravel parking lot on the side of the road. The trail meanders up through coastal vegetation.
Like the first hike, the trailhead isn’t marked. Keep your eyes peeled for a faint trail off of the 4WD road. The path meanders around the western side of Puu Kuili. Follow the dirt path up Puu Kuili until it forks. The left is a steep ascent, and the right has less gradient. Take the right side trail up to the summit.
What is nice about both hikes is how you can make variations depending on your timetable and fitness level. For instance, many hikers enjoy parking near the trailhead of Hike 1 for a short hike to watch the sunset. Trekkers wanting more adventure take Hike 2 but follow the Kua Bay road creating a loop.
We suggest arriving early to hike to avoid the heat and when views are clear. Another option is to come later to sip some wine and enjoy watching the sunset. Just remember the park closes at 7 PM!
Pack your swimming suit, towel, and umbrella to enjoy a dip in Koa Bay or Makalawena Beach! There isn’t a lifeguard on duty, and the surf can be rough, so swim at your own risk.
With a versatile hike up the cinder cone and the opportunity to enjoy the beach, we think visiting Puu Kuili should be a must-do in Kona!
Visitors agree that the easiest climb and trailhead to locate is Hike #1 near Koa Bay. It’s also idyllic because of the paved parking and the public restrooms.