Koolau Forest Reserve

Koolau Forest Reserve - Gorgeous Forests on Haleakala's Windward Slopes
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Koolau Forest Reserve consists of over 31,000 state-protected acres in East Maui. Much of this reeve borders Hana Highway, offering visitors several easy access points into its rich tropical forests. You will see plenty of these lands if you traverse the Road to Hana, why not get out and explore one of the trails on foot? 

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

If you are a person who loves being outdoors, surrounded by a non-manmade environment, and far and away from other people, then you probably already know the secret wonder of state forests. If not, now is a perfect time to get on the action. State forests and forest reserves, which is what Koolau Forest Reserve is, generally won’t have big and grand wonders that draw people to state and national parks (which is why those areas get preserved under that heading). But because of this, the big perk of state forests is that fewer people thus flock to them (especially when they have limited time such as with tourists) and those who do go, get to enjoy a wonderful serenity.

Koolau Forest Reserve is located in East Maui on the windward slopes of Mount Haleakala and stretches along much of the western side of Hana Highway. These lands were set aside in August of 1905 via Governor’s Proclamation and, in total, consists of a whopping 31,104 acres. This massive number of preserved acreage makes the Koolau Forest Reserve the largest reserve in all of Maui. When you zip and zoom along Hana Highway, most of those forested ridges on the inland side will be a part of this fantastic reservation.

There are a lot of things to do and see in the Koolau Forest Reserve, including hunting. It is important to check Hawaii’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s website for available hunting seasons before venturing far into the Koolau Forest Reserve (or any state reserve). Hunting is available to both residents and non-residents with a valid hunting license from their state of origin, with some animals available per count and others only available via a lottery system. Hunting mammals like the axis deer and feral pigs in forest reserves like Koolau Forest Reserve is an important way to keep their numbers in check for the betterment of the entire environment. 

Some of the exciting activities and places to explore within the Koolau Forest Reserve include:

Wailua Iki Trail 
This is an official forest trail, but it isn’t well-marked on any map, including Google. You will find the trailhead and limited streetside parking at (20.82219, -156.13612), just around the corner from Puaakaa State Wayside Park. This hike follows the Kopiliula Stream bed uphill and onto a series of waterfalls. 

Waikamoi Nature Trail
Located on the westernmost end of the Koolau Forst Reserve where Hana Highway serves as its northern border, you will find this short looped trail. Waikamoi Nature Trail does have a more sizable parking lot, but unfortunately no waterfalls along the way. it does, however, have some excellent vantage points up the ridge that makes for wonderful photography and pure nature enjoyment. 

Keanae Arboretum & Trails 
Okay, part of this unique Maui location isn’t going to be all-natural like other areas of the Koolau Forest Reserve, but that doesn’t make it any less desirable. The Keanae Arboretum lies along the Piinaau Stream and boats two trails that venture within its own gardens and the rainforest itself. Part of these trails are paved and many flora species along both trails are labeled with their common name, scientific name, and place of origin. 

Insider Tip:
Check the weather and always bring a good pair of hiking shoes. Maybe they should have changed the name from Koolau Forest Reserve to Koolau Rainforest Reserve because this area is certainly part of the latter. This area gets a lot of rain, which means that a lot of the trails can get difficult to traverse with slick rocks and thick mud.