Lahaina Pali Trail from the Ukumehame (West) Trailhead

Lahaina Pali Trail From the Western Trailhead: Bask in Ocean Views From a Windswept Coastal Slope
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Lahaina Pali Trail is one of Maui’s more challenging day hikes, but also among the more unique given the landscape it traverses. Tackling half of it from the western trailhead provides a great taste of this historic track crossing the arid, sun- and wind-blasted south slope of the West Maui Mountains. Far-reaching island and ocean views are the reward for all the grinding and sweat.

- The Local Expert Team

The Lahaina Pali Trail runs some five miles between its western (Ukumehame side) and eastern (Maalaea side) trailheads. To do the full length would realistically require arranging a shuttle. (Only a glutton for punishment would hike the whole way as an out-and-back.) Many hikers opt to do one half or the other, given the midway point of the trail is the grand lookout atop Kealaloloa Ridge. 

In this trail review, we’re describing the Lahaina Pali Trail as hiked from the Ukumehame trailhead to the turnaround up the 1,600-foot top-out on Kealaloloa. You ideally want to start this strenuous five-miler early in the morning, or choose a cloudy day. The sun can be absolutely brutal on the mostly bare mountainside. (Lahaina actually means “cruel sun,” if that’s any indication of the conditions.) Bring (and drink!) lots of water, and wear a good sun hat and sunscreen. 

Also, expect wind! Trade winds streaming through Maui’s central valley, between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala, blast over this south slope on a near-constant basis. It can be nagging, but on this trail those mountainside gusts are more helpful than not: They keep you a bit cooler as you huff and puff your way uphill.

You’ll want sturdy hiking boots for this hike, and trekking poles would certainly help.

You might also consider picking up the official Na Ala Hele State of Hawaii Trail Access System trail guide, Tales From the Trail, which offers some fascinating insights on the track’s history and ecology corresponding to numbered posts along the way.

As that trail guide emphasizes, the 19th-century bridle road traced by the modern trail wasn’t likely the first version of this demanding but strategic route. It’s thought that the King’s Highway, a trail scouted out centuries ago by the Maui ruler Kiha-a-Piilani which ran the perimeter of the island, passed along here.

Long after, travelers on the Lahaina Pali bridle road were occasionally troubled by bandits staked out along its remote way. Fortunately, that’s not a problem today!

Rubbly rock and grass dominate the slope, made dry by its position in Maui’s leeward rainshadow. But you’ll see some admirably tough, picturesquely poised trees scattered along the mountain flank, namely dryland sandalwood and wiliwili trees. A lone wiliwili offers a precious bit of shade on the trail at the great Manawainui Gulch, the biggest of a number of gullies and draws furrowing this part of the slope.

Before Manawainui Gulch, you’ll see some water tanks below the trail, evidence of this slopeside grassland’s use as cattle pasture.

After crossing Manawainui Gulch (a scenic highlight), you won’t be long from the 1,600-foot lookout on Kealaloloa Ridge. Wind turbines of the Kaheawa Wind Farm line this ridge. But the real delight is the sweeping viewshed: You can see from the great bulk of Haleakala to well offshore, including to Molokini and Kahoolawe. The lighthouse at McGregor Point at the wave-lashed foot of this slope is another landmark.

The trail continues eastward, dropping via switchbacks to the Maalaea trailhead, but you’ll turn back here. At least you’re going downhill now!

Where Should I Park?
While there are no distinct parking locations on site, there is a parking area off Highway 30 at Manawaipueo Gulch. Look for an opening of trees.

Insider Tips:
-The Lahaina Pali Trail offers awesome opportunities for whale-watching in the winter. Bringing a pair of binoculars along will help you better zero in on humpbacks in the Kealaikahiki Channel far below.
-After a hot and grueling hike on the Lahaina Pali Trail, consider a swim at Ukumehame Beach Park not far from the western trailhead!