The Puu Waa Waa Cinder Cone State Park takes its name from a Hawaiian word meaning “many-furrowed hill”. That “hill” is the massive cinder cone that rises at the heart of the park, appearing to many as a large lump of jelly (earning its nickname of “jello mold hill”) or a half-baked loaf of bread. Whatever you see when you visit, make sure to enjoy the most of the park by taking the short hike up the hill.
You will find the Puu Waa Waa Cinder Cone State Park on the western side of the Big Island. You’ll need to take Highway 190 inland and will find signs indicating the turn of the park just before (or just after depending on which way you’re coming) Makani Golf. This is not a manned recreation area, but there is an automatic gate that will prevent access outside of the park’s opening hours (those open hours are 6 am to 6 pm, Sunday through Monday). Additionally, while you will not have to pay, park rangers do request all visitors make a note of the time they arrive in the event of a natural disaster where rescuing will be necessary.
The entirety of the Puu Waa Waa Cinder Cone State Park covers approximately 37,600 acres, but most of this is going to be inaccessible to the average day-tripper. What is readily accessible are three trails that cover some of the most picturesque parts of the park. The most popular of these trails is an 8-mile round-trip trail that takes hikers to the very top of Puu Waa Waa.
This primary trail starts simple but note that things are going to get more challenging pretty quickly. That’s because, within the last mile, you will make an elevation change of 2,000 feet in order to get up to the top of the mound. That’s some pretty serious climbing!
Before that part of the trail, however, you have two choices to go from the parking lot to the base of Puu Waa Waa. You can choose from either a paved roadway that’s been converted into a trail. This paved trail is flat and level, leading directly to the base of the mound. Or, for a more scenic and slightly longer route, take a side trail called the Ohia trail.
The Ohia trail is a dirt path that meanders through a high desert environment. Walking amidst tall grasses and beneath old gnarled trees and unique native plant species is a given any time of the year you walk the Ohia trail. However, for a truly magical experience, go during spring when the plants are in blossom and the trail comes alive with wildflowers.
During the course of your hiking to the base of the Puu Waa Waa cinder cone, whichever way you go, you will encounter a gate with a general warning about cliff rocks. You will need to go through this gate, and it is okay to go through this gate, but it is important to close the gate behind you because this portion of the recreational area is multi-use with ranchers often having their cattle graze here. If you encounter any cows, be respectful and give them space.
The final part of the trail is the hardest as you climb the steep side of the mound. But once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be afforded fantastic views of the surrounding areas. Take a seat at one of the available benches and soak up those fantastic vistas.
The automatic gate opens at 6 am and getting to the park as they open is truly the best time of the day. Such an early morning start means you’ll be walking in the beautiful dawn hours and will reach the summit before clouds start accumulating (which is common). The latest you will want to go to ensure quality views is 9 am.