Hoapili Trail

Hoapili Trail: Walk the “King’s Highway” Through South Maui’s Lava Fields
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Traverse austere coastal lava flows and reach hidden beaches via South Maui’s Hoapili Trail. This ancient, hardscrabble pathway, also known as the King’s Trail, demands sturdy hiking boots and plenty of water, but it offers a delicious sense of getting away from it all. Remnants of ancient Native Hawaiian structures add to the mystique.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Part of the Na Ala Hele State of Hawaii Trail & Access System, the Hoapili Trail is also known as the King’s Highway. This old name references the route being blazed centuries ago by Maui ruler Piilani as part of a broad footpath encircling the island. The official name, meanwhile, acknowledges the trail’s broadening in the 1820s by the Royal Governor of Maui, Hoapili.

The trailhead lies at the end of Makena Alanui Road, along La Pérouse Bay. The extensive raw lava in this area marks the most recent eruptions on Maui, possibly as recent as the late 18th century. The King’s Highway proceeds eastward into those barren, jumbled lava flows: an inhospitable but strangely seductive landscape. 

There’s a bit of skimpy shade at the beginning of this hike offered by stands of kiawe: a common coastal tree on Maui, though it’s an exotic from South America. Shade is very much at a premium on the Hoapili Trail. Along most of it, there’s none at all—just the sun-baked, black-rock expanse. So wear sun protection and bring lots of water, and get an early start on the trail to avoid the worst of the day’s heat if you can.

Also, expect windiness along the Hoapili Trail. This part of the South Maui coast in general is a decided breeze shore.

You definitely want hiking boots for this trek. Much of the tread is hard basaltic cobble that’ll be tortuous in light-duty footwear. 

After initially edging the La Pérouse bayfront, the Hoapili Trail heads inland into the lava wastes. A side trail, though, turns south to follow the protrusion of Cape Hanamanioa. If you take that route, you’ll pass by interesting tidepools and, at about the two-mile mark, the Hanamanioa Light. You then connect back to the main King’s Highway, altogether adding about a mile to the outbound hike. Otherwise, stay on the main trail.

Eventually, you’ll see a notable swath of vegetation in the direction of the ocean. A discernible spur trail breaks off the King’s Highway toward that vegetation, and if you follow it—avoiding the fainter manways branching away from it—you’ll come to Keawanaku Beach. It’s a detour well worth taking: This is a beautiful beachfront made all the more so given the lava badlands surrounding it. 

Returning to the Hoapili Trail, you’ll follow it eastward through the lava fields and more kiawe trees. It hits the ocean again at Kanaio Beach, another lovely and lightly visited strand. Remnants of stone walls and other structures attest to the village that once stood here. 

Many hikers will turn back at Kanaio Beach, but trekking farther eastward you’ll come to a third stellar beach: this one composed of white coral fragments. Situated a bit west of Pohakueaea Point, it’s a striking, gleaming cove, complete with an ancient Hawaiian sacred spot: a heiau. (Don’t even think about disturbing this or any of the other old structures along the King’s Highway.)

The King’s Highway actually continues in harder-to-follow fashion all the way to Highway 31, but we recommend turning back at the white beach. This makes for about a 5.5-mile hike. The official Na Ala Hele description for the Hoapili Trail suggests allotting about six hours. You’re likely to want to dally awhile at the beaches.

Get an early start so you’re back at the trailhead before the full heat of the afternoon, stay hydrated, and you’re liable to have a mesmerizing time on the King’s Highway.

Insider Tip:
There’s good snorkeling off the left side of Keawanaku Beach when the nearshore waters are calm.