Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area

Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area: Explore Upcountry Maui’s Fog-belt Forests
Local Expert's Rating:
4 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The remote Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area within the Kula Forest Reserve offers rich Upcountry Maui solitude. Its primarily non-native stands of trees—heavy on conifers such as redwoods, pines, and cypresses—call to mind the Pacific Northwest. A well laid-out trail system makes a rewarding loop, while a primitive campground and cabin provide overnighting opportunities.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

The 10-acre Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area lies within the much larger (nearly 5,000-acre) Kula Forest Reserve in Upcountry Maui’s leeward Haleakala highlands. Reachable by 4WD or high-clearance vehicle, this remote tract has a nice trail system and cool, dark forests of non-native conifers. 

Close to 30 miles from Kahului, the recreation area is accessed via Highway 37, Highway 377, and Waipoli Road. The final several miles are rough and not very well-suited to a passenger car. Much of the drive up is through wide-open country—cattle included—with far-reaching views to the central valley, West Maui Mountains, and Molokai. 

Much of the Kula Forest Reserve was cleared of its original forests and woodlands of koa, ohia, mamane, and other native trees back in the late 19th century. These high slopes were thereby converted to pasture.

Beginning in the mid-1920s, reforestation efforts—mainly carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—introduced a slew of non-native trees to the landscape. Along with tropical ash, these included a host of conifers: redwoods, Monterey pine, maritime pine, Monterey cypress, Port-orford cedar, Japanese sugi, and others. The idea was not only to establish commercially valuable timber but also to safeguard the freshwater resources of these highlands.

Waipoli Road leads through the Kula Forest Reserve to Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area. Here you’ll find a primitive camping area, a single cabin available for overnight stays, flush toilets, as well as non-potable water. A well-marked trailhead delineates the main hiking routes here: the Plum, Polipoli, Haleakala Ridge, and Redwood trails. These are easily combined into a 3.5-mile-long loop. 

Because Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area and the surrounding forest reserve are often roamed by pig and bird hunters, it’s a good idea to wear brightly colored clothing on any hikes up here.

Trekking these Polipoli trails, you’ll have to keep reminding yourself you’re in the Hawaiian Islands, given much of the mileage takes place in those planted conifer stands. (As the Plum Trail’s name suggests, it varies the vegetative scenery with some fruit trees as well.) The Upcountry mists furling through the needle leaf trees definitely evokes the Oregon Coast or California’s redwood kingdom more than tropical Maui. 

The Haleakala Ridge Trail climbs into more expansive scrubland viewsheds that, in clear weather, can include the huge shield-volcano mountaintops of the Big Island. You can also use the Haleakala Ridge Trail to reach the Skyline Trail, which mounts the southwestern ridge of Haleakala amid barren cinder cones and stunning panoramas. Mountain bikers often ride the Skyline track and link into the Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area trail system.

While you may well see a mountain biker or two, perhaps a fellow hiker, Polipoli is generally a quiet, solitude-rich destination. Outdoor enthusiasts will relish the off-the-beaten-path feel, the exotic dark forests, and the long Upcountry vistas.

Insider Tips:
If possible, aim to start hiking Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area’s trails in the morning for the best views. You’re more likely to get socked in by clouds later in the day. (This is up in the Kula Forest Reserve’s “fog belt,” after all.)