Sea Caves and Black Sand Beach Trails

Waianapanapa State Park Coastal Hike: Enjoy a Rare Black-sand Beach, Sea Caves, and Sea Arches
Local Expert's Rating:
4.5 / 5
The Bottom Line:

East Maui’s Waianapanapa State Park is one of the gems of the famous Road to Hana. A short hike along its coast shows off some of its magic, including one of Maui’s few black-sand beaches and dramatic sea caves and arches.

- The Local Expert Team

There’s quite an extensive trail system in this lush park, including the Ke Ala Loa O Maui/Piilani route that partly shadows the ancient King’s Highway. This was a track blazed centuries ago around the perimeter of the island by the Maui ruler Piilani.

You can do about a three-mile round-trip hike along this trail in the park. But if you just want a stretch-your-legs sort of sampler, a roughly 0.6-mile route takes you to the park’s most famous feature and then shows off some of its additional coastal splendor.

From the parking lot, you can drop down to the signature landmark of Waianapanapa State Park: the black-sand cove of Pailoa Bay.

Pailoa Beach is one of the very few black-sand beaches on Maui. Its sooty shore derives from a centuries-old lava flow that disintegrated in the surf. The contrast between the black sand and the lush green of naupaka, palms, and other surrounding vegetation—all backdropped by the ocean blue—is marvelous.

Head to the east side of Pailoa Beach to seek out its lava-tube cave. It’s possible to carefully wend your way through this tunnel to the other side.

If the surf’s rough, you should confine your appreciation of Pailoa Bay’s cove to the black sands. Swimming here in those conditions risks tangling with some powerful nearshore currents.

Continuing eastward on the coastal trail, you’ll enjoy other beautiful features of the Waianapanapa oceanfront. Those include some beautiful dark sea arches: testament, like the sea cave and black-sand beach, to the relentless erosive force of the breakers.

There’s also a blowhole along the state park’s rugged shore, marked with a sign that also warns you to stay back from it. This blowhole is often inactive, but when the surf’s cranking you may luck out and see it spout. (From a safe distance, naturally.)

This short walk provides a nice taste of Waianapanapa State Park’s beauty. Hiking farther east on the Ke Ala Loa O Maui/Piilani Trail delivers additional rewards, including a huge grove of native hala (also called pandanus or screwpine) and an ancient pictograph.

You can also hike north of Pailoa Beach on the Kipapa o Kihapiilani Trail to Pukaulua Point. A loop trail near the parking lot, meanwhile, explores the well-known Waianapanapa Caves. These caves’ anchialine pools—inland bodies of water connected to the ocean by subterranean passages—may be the origin of the name Waianapanapa, which means “glistening waters.” (They’re connected to a rather grisly Native Hawaiian legend: Chief Kakae’s murder of his wife Poalaea.)

Some quality time on the black sands of Pailoa Beach and Wainapanapa’s coastal trail is sure to be one of the standout memories of your Road to Hana tour!

Insider Tips:
Hikers keen for more mileage can actually continue on the Ke Ala Loa O Maui/Piilani Trail outside the state park: A fainter shoreline route leads all the way to Hana Bay.