Puu Waa Waa Cinder Cone Trailhead

Puu Waawaa Trailhead in North Kona: Hike to a Volcanic Cone on Hualalai’s Flanks With Stunning Views
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The highly scenic and uncrowded North Kona lands of the Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve include a fascinating geologic feature: the namesake cinder cone on the flanks of Hualalai volcano. On volunteer-maintained trails, you can hike to the top of Puu Waawaa—the “Many-Furrowed Hill”—for an absolutely knockout view and also explore native ohia forest.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Among the more unique landforms on the Big Island awaits your appreciation in the Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve in North Kona. A fine collection of trails maintained by volunteers includes the Cinder Cone Trail leading to the summit of Puu Waawaa for an all-out stunning view. 

Reached via Volcanite Road off Highway 190 between mile markers 21 and 22, the trailhead lies amid extensive open grasslands and dryland forest on the western shoulder of Hualalai. Hualalai is the westernmost of the great shield volcanoes composing the Big Island. This sprawling country—part of the region historically known as Kekaha, “a dry and barren place”—is partly rangeland. The Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve accounts for close to 40,000 acres that once fell mostly within private ranches.

There is still private acreage in this region and even some grazing still occurs within the public parcels. Thus it’s important to stick to public roads and the designated trail system.

The namesake and a topographic centerpiece of the Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve is an eye-catching volcanic butte with some fascinating geologic history. Puu Waawaa is what geologists call a pyroclastic cone formed of explosively erupted rock fragments called pumice. Those rocks are not the usual basalt that covers most of the Big Island but a different volcanic variety known as trachyte. The nearby ridge of Puu Anahula is also composed of trachyte. 

Puu Waawaa and Puu Anahula are surrounded by much younger lava flows from Hualalai, representing islands of old trachyte amid more youthful basalt. Indeed, formed roughly 110,000 years ago, Puu Waawaa is the oldest identified feature of the Hualalai shield volcano. (The Puu Anahula ridge is thought to be a smidge younger, built from gentler, slow-moving trachyte flows.)

Runoff has carved the sides of the Puu Waawaa cone with deep gullies. Its apt name means “Many-Furrowed Hill.” (It has an apt nickname, too: “Jello-Mold Hill.”) It has something of a lopsided, horseshoe-type shape—likely due to prevailing winds piling up the pumice and other blasted-out fragments more thickly on the cone’s western slope.

Puu Waawaa is also significant for being the only place in the Hawaiian Islands where the dark, hard volcanic glass known as obsidian has been documented. Native Hawaiians harvested this valuable stone from the cone for centuries.

An unpaved parking lot marks the Puu Waawaa Trailhead. You’ll find a Hiker Check-in Station here. A number of well-marked trails interlace in the Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve, giving you the option of making a pleasant circuit. Walking Volcanite Road and the Cinder Cone Trail to summit Puu Waawaa makes for a moderate, roughly seven-mile day hike. You’ll be dealing with about 1,750 feet of elevation gain.

The trail will take you through grassy pastureland—watch for cattle, goats, donkeys, and feral pigs—and dry woodlands of both native and exotic species. (The Ohia and Halapene trails in the Forest Reserve are named for two important native trees well on display along with them.) 

You’ll wind your way up the nearly 4,000-foot crown of Puu Waawaa, where you’ll be mightily rewarded for the huffing and puffing. On a clear day especially, the panoramic views from the cone are absolutely superb. Gaze across Hualalai to bigger Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, see the Kohala and Kona coasts meeting the Pacific, and see if you can pick out the bulk of Haleakala to the west on Maui.

Returning to the trailhead, consider taking some of the other trails such as the Ohia route before ending your Puu Waawaa Forest Reserve ramble. This is a special, rather under-the-radar destination with expansive views and illuminating Big Island ecology and geology.

Insider Tips:
-You’ll pass through a cattle gate on the way up Puu Waawaa: Make sure you close it behind you! Remember, active grazing still takes place here.
-Along with plenty of water and sun protection, bring some layers and rainwear for this hike. Rain showers are commonplace here.