Lahaina Pali Trail from Maalaea

Lahaina Pali Trail From the Maalaea Side: 4.8-Mile Ridge Climb on West Maui’s South Slope
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Following a 19th-century bridleway, the strenuous Lahaina Pali Trail on the southern slope of West Maui is intense and sun-beaten. But those who brave its steep grade and exposure enjoy long views and some surreal scenery, including towering wind turbines.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

This roughly five-mile-long trail runs across the slope with trailheads at either end. Most hikers don’t do the full end-to-end trek, which necessitates a shuttle. Rather, the typical approach is to hike one-half of the trail to its top-out on Kealaloloa Ridge. Coming from the western, Ukumehame side is certainly an option, but the views are arguably better from the eastern half, which is what we describe here. 

The trailhead is reached from Maalaea via a somewhat rough road. Given you’re starting near sea level and reaching about 1,600 feet up top, there’s quite the grade involved. Sturdy hiking boots are best, given the loose rock, you’ll be dealing with on the switchbacks. You need lots of water (and sunscreen) for this one.

The history of the Lahaina Pali Trail is interesting. Lahaina, by the way, means “cruel sun”—a good descriptor of this environment. Pali means “cliff.” Part of the Alaloa—the centuries-old “long road” circling Maui commonly credited to the ruler Kiha-a-Piilani—likely crossed the southern footslope of the West Maui Mountains. But many of the earliest travelers probably ended up swimming around the most precipitous cliffs to round the bottom of West Maui. 

To improve travel between Wailuku and Lahaina, a road was blazed out over the arid flank in the 1800s. This footpath-turned-bridle road is today’s Lahaina Pali Trail.

In 1841, the missionary Laura Fish Judd described this road as “the crookedest, the rockiest ever traveled by mortals.” Laura was exaggerating a bit, but, then again, you might think the same thing in the midst of the relentless switchbacks.

The switchbacks are still tough—but hey, at least you don’t have to worry about the banditry for which the Lahaina Pali bridle road was notorious for back in the day!

Two other elements that have defined passage over the Lahaina Pali Trail since the 19th century: sun and wind. You definitely want to do this hike in the early morning or in overcast weather: It’s brutal in the full heat of the day. 

Meanwhile, the wind on this wide-open slope is just about omnipresent, especially on the Maalaea side. (The scattered, gnarled sandalwood and wiliwili trees speak to this.) Winds funnel through Maui’s central valley and then sweep along this flank. But even if you come off this trail a little wind-scoured, you’ll probably appreciate the gusts overall, given their cooling effect.

As you climb up, you’ll have an ever-increasing view to make up for your sore calves and strained lungs. Across the central valley, Haleakala looms. If you got a really early start, you might see the sun come up over that great shield volcano’s flanks.

The grade eases as you get higher, thankfully. You crest Kealaloloa Ridge around the two-mile mark after crossing Malalaowaiaole Gulch. This ridge marks the southern rift of the West Maui Volcano. A dramatic sight awaits up here: the ranks of Kaheawa Wind Farm wind turbines running down the ridge. 

Here on the ridgeline at roughly 1,600 feet, the panoramas are fantastic. From Haleakala to the island of Kahoolawe, it’s a stunning viewshed indeed. Look for the lighthouse down at McGregor Point where West Maui’s south slope meets the Pacific.

This makes for an awesome turnaround point! You worked for that view, and it feels good to have earned it.

How To Get There:
South of Hwy 30 and Hwy 380. There’s a dirt road leading to the trailhead that four-wheel drivers can drive on. Two-wheel driving vehicles can find parking on the side.

Insider Tips:
-In winter, the slopeside Lahaina Pali Trail provides a knockout vantage for whale watching. Bring a pair of binoculars in your daypack to scan for humpbacks offshore.
-There’s some interpretive signage on the trail. But for more detailed info, check out the official Na Ala Hele guide to the Lahaina Pali Trail. It corresponds to the numbered posts along the way.