Those stream crossings explain one name for this moderately challenging, two-mile round-trip route: the “13 Crossings” Trail. It’s also sometimes called the Makamakaole Stream Trail (or simply the Makamakaole Trail). Much of it falls within the rugged, gulch-ridden West Maui Forest Reserve.
Located not far from Waihee in northeastern West Maui, the trail would likely get more traffic if it were easier to find. The somewhat obscure trailhead is on the south side of the Kahekili Highway over the Makamakaole Stream. This is a narrow, twisty paved road, much of it one-lane. There’s a rare bit of shoulder on the west side of the highway south of the bridge. This is the parking area for the 13 Crossings Trail, which tunnels into the understory tallgrass here.
You can have fun counting all the stream crossings on this roughly two-mile trail to see if there are indeed 13. (We won’t spoil the fun.) In normal conditions, these crossings aren’t a problem. Depending on conditions, many can be done dry-shod by rock-hopping.
That said, prepare to get muddy and wet all the same. Water shoes or heavy-duty hiking sandals are the best footwear. A trekking pole or two will come in handy.
But you need to really be aware of the weather if you’re thinking of tackling the Makamakaole Gorge. Like many steep-gradient Hawaii canyons, it’s prone to flash-flooding. More than a few people have become stranded up the gorge by floodwaters in need of rescue. You don’t want to be caught by a deluge in the often-tight gulch sections the stream runs through.
So: If there’s major rain in the forecast—and certainly if there’s a flash-flood advisory—avoid this hike. And turn back if the first stream crossing you come to looks iffy; sometimes there’s just too much water flowing for a safe hike. If the water seems to be rising in the stream during the course of your trek, it’s time to beeline for the trailhead.
The hike falls into a rhythm of stream-ford after stream-ford. Watch your step—things can get slippery!
Breaking up the routine is a lovely grove of bamboo you tunnel through. It doesn’t quite have the stature of the famous “Bamboo Forest” on the Road to Hana’s Pipiwai Trail, but it’s still pretty dreamy.
After the last “official” stream crossing, you’ll find a fork. Both directions are worth taking, as they both lead to falls.
The right-hand fork is the main attraction, bringing you to a beautiful waterfall chute and plunge pool. Adventurous types who carefully clamber farther upstream—there are ropes installed in places—find more falls, including some real whoppers. But be very careful climbing up, and be aware some of the ropes may be old and frayed.
Back to the split in the trail: The left-hand path—ignored by some hikers—terminates at a handsome horsetail-fan waterfall. You’ll be glad you spared some love for that fork!
Although the mileage of the 13 Crossings Trail isn’t much, you’ll want to give yourself on the order of two hours at a minimum for it. It’s not the quickest-going, given all the streams you ford and the potential muckiness. And, naturally, you’ll want time to appreciate those sublime waterfalls (not to mention the mesmerizing bamboo grove).
Where Else Can I Park?
If you’re not interested in driving the twists and turns of the one-lane highway, park at the overflow parking of the Waihee Ridge Trail which is only 20 minutes walking-distance away.
For a more zoomed-out view of the Makamakaole Gorge—and the tiered drop of Makamakaole Falls—be sure to hike the Waihee Ridge Trail to the south.