For its relatively small size, Maui packs in a lot of diverse scenery—and plenty of off-the-beaten-track wonders. Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area offers some of the island’s most unusual scenery and a remote, tranquil vibe worlds away from crowded beaches and scenic viewpoints. The Redwood Trail provides a short (1.7-mile) introduction to its misty magic.
The 10-acre recreation area, situated above 5,000 feet, falls within the much larger expanse of the Kula Forest Reserve. This is in Upcountry Maui on the leeward slope of Haleakala. It takes some effort to get here, given it’s a nearly 30-mile drive from Kahului. The final, unpaved four-mile stretch of Waipoli Road, which ends at Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area, requires a 4WD or high-clearance rig.
(That said, visitors OK with a longer walkabout can reach the recreation area by parking before Waipoli Road becomes 4WD only and hiking in along the four-mile-long Boundary Trail. This lower-elevation trail meets the Redwood Trail at its northwestern terminus, a three-way junction also marking one end of the Plum Trail.)
Much of the Kula Forest Reserve was cleared of native woodland in the late 1800s for pasture. Indeed, you’ll still pass through actively grazed rangeland on your drive up—wide-open country offering huge Maui views.
In the 1920s and 1930s, extensive reforestation efforts were undertaken to protect the watershed and produce commercial timber. Tree-planting efforts—much of it the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—introduced a diverse cast of non-native species. Along with eucalyptus and tropical ash, many of these were conifers, including coast redwoods, Port Orford cedars, Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, and sugi. These exotic imported trees thrived in the cool, wet conditions of the Upcountry Maui fog belt.
If you’ve got an adequate vehicle, you reach the Redwood Trail trailhead at Waipoli Road’s dead-end in Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area. This trailhead lies at some 6,200 feet. Given the fog-belt climate, you’ll want sturdy waterproof boots and rain gear for this hike. Wear bright colors, too, because hunters use these extensive state lands.
From the trailhead, the Redwood Trail descends about 900 feet to the aforementioned three-way junction. Along the way, it passes through a mixed forest dominated by imported species. These include the trail’s namesake, the coast redwoods, native to the faraway maritime drainages of Northern California, and extreme southern Oregon.
These magnificent conifers are famous as the tallest trees in the world: They historically likely reached 400 feet or so. Some evidence suggests they’re also the biggest of all trees, as there are reports of historical specimens girthier than the redwood’s close relative, the sequoia, which currently holds the title of the world’s most massive tree.
You won’t see titans quite of that order along the Redwood Trail, but there are definitely some whopping-sized, thick-trunked redwoods in excess of 100 feet tall. Looming into the Upcountry mists, they transport you to the Pacific Northwest of the North American mainland. It’s hard to believe you’re so close to coconut palms and pandanus!
Where the Redwood Trail meets the Plum and Boundary trails, you’ll see a rundown structure that once served as a ranger cabin. From here, you could turn around and climb back to the trailhead the way you came down.
But if you’ve got the time and energy, it’s definitely worth looping back to the trailhead via the Plum, Haleakala Ridge, and Polipoli trails. You also could take that roughly five-mile loop in the reverse direction, clockwise, ending with the uphill hike on the Redwood Trail.
And if you came in on the Boundary Trail for want of a 4WD vehicle, you could do the Redwood Trail as an out-and-back for a long day hike of a bit more than 11 miles total.
The solitude and deep—sometimes towering—forest you’ll enjoy on the Redwood Trail make a visit to Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area a fascinating adventure.
One of the truly great hikes on Maui can also be worked into your Polipoli Springs State Recreation Area visit. The Polipoli and Haleakala Ridge trails provide access to the Skyline Trail, a scenery-drenched track that climbs a ridgeline to the Haleakala summit area. You could combine this with the Redwood Trail and the Polipoli Springs loop for a great workout and wide-ranging scenery. That’d be most feasible for folks who overnight in the recreation area: With a permit, you can stay in the primitive campground or the cabin near the trailhead.