The Waianpanapa Coast Trail South is a short trail that starts near the north entrance of the Waianapanapa State Park and meanders a mile down (for a two-mile out and back again trek) along the coastline. While not a walk noted for tropical backdrops, this hike does offer stunning vistas of craggy sea cliffs and black sand beaches.
First things first, to access the Waianpanapa Coast Trail South, you will need to make a reservation to visit the Waianapnapa State Park. This reservation system is a new system implemented in the spring of 2021 to help preserve the natural spaces of Hawaii by preventing overcrowding. You must make a reservation via the state park’s website and that reservation will require you to choose one or more of the following “time slots”: 7:00 to 10:00 am, 10:00 to 12:30 pm, 12:30 to 3:00 pm, or 3:00 to 6:00 pm. While you can readily complete the walk in just one of these time slots, if you want to swim or explore the park more in full, we recommend making two back-to-back reservations. This trail is less trafficked than others on Maui overall, but in general, you’ll find that the buffer spring and fall months are the best times to go as the weather is nice and the crowds are a bit smaller.
With your reservation made and paid, the state park officials will guide you to the correct parking area once you arrive at the park. You are sure to be wowed by this area from the moment you step out of your vehicle. The parking area here overlooks the black sand beach and the Pacific Ocean that laps at its shores — but we promise the vistas only get better once you get on the Waianapanapa Coast Trail South.
The Waianapanapa Coast Trail begins just north of the black sand beach, where you are apt to see people lounging, swimming, sunbathing, and exploring the nearby area. There are several smaller trails winding away from the beach that are worthy of exploring as they lead to various sea pools and caves.
Once done at this beach, continue on along the Waianapanapa Coast Trail South as it meanders south along lava cliffs and coastal vegetation. The elevation gain throughout the entirety of the trail is just 160 feet and the inclines and declines are gradual enough for even the most novice of trail aficionados. That said, this trail is rated as moderate because of how slick and sharp the rocks tend to be here. You will want to wear sturdy hiking boots with non-slick soles to help prevent slip and falls.
After the Waianapanapa Coast Trail South passes the Waianapanapa State Park Campground, you will come round to another one of the park’s most fascinating natural marvels. That marvel is a massive blowhole that fountains out from a rocky lava outcropping. This blowhole happens due to the ocean’s waves getting caught inside an underground chamber. When those waves crash and churn just right, they get forced out of the lava rock and spray upwards in the sky like the water ejected from a dolphin’s blowhole.
Of course, the wonders aren’t over on the Waianapanapa Coast Trail South. Visitors will continue on to enjoy other fascinating sights like hidden coves lined with more black sand beaches and stunning lava rock arches. Finally, the trail will meander to a close at Pukaulua Point. This is a historic Hawaiian location that served as a sacred temple and burial mounds, also known as a heiau.
The best time of the day to hike the Waianapanapa Coast Trail South is in the morning or late afternoon. During these times of the day, the way the light reflects from the crashing surf and black lava rocks is most striking. Plus, these times of day offer a bit of respite from the harsh mid-day sun (there isn’t any shade on this trail nor potable water available).