Kamakou Preserve

Kamakou Preserve – Take in the Beauty of a True National Treasure on Molokai
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

Want to see over 250 rare Hawaiian plants plus birds and wildlife galore? Just head toward the summit of the island’s tallest mountain, Kamakou, to visit the beautiful Kamakou Preserve. You’ll need a 4x4 vehicle, your best hiking shoes, and plenty of gear though if you want to experience all this Molokai treasure has to offer.

- The HawaiianIslands.com Local Expert Team

Do you want to go deep into the natural landscape while visiting Molokai? If so, you’ll want to put a trip to the Kamakou Preserve on your itinerary. Set near the summit of the island’s tallest mountain, Kamakou, this national treasure offers virtually endless wondrous sights to enjoy.

In fact, there are over 250 different types of Hawaiian flowers plus tons of wildlife rustling through the forest. Out of all those flowers, nearly 220 species are endemic to the island, which means you cannot find them anywhere else in the world. On top of that, rare birds regularly sound off from the treetops, including the nearly extinct Molokai Creeper (kakawahie) and Molokai Thrush (olomao).

To get a chance to walk the trails, you’ll have to carefully make your way down the deeply rutted roadways going up the mountain. A 4×4 vehicle rental is a must then or you’ll likely end up stuck in the mud without a hope of getting back down the mountain without a tow. Just be sure that your rental agency allows you to venture off to this remote area to avoid landing in hot water if anything goes awry.

In addition to a 4×4, you’ll need excellent hiking shoes with good grip, long pants, rain gear, snacks and plenty of water, and locally sourced bug spray. Don’t forget your sunblock as well plus hiking poles if you’d like a little extra support while walking the trails. Although you should plan on not needing it, always bring a flashlight when going into the forest for any length of time.

Once you’re geared up for the trek, take the road past the Waikolu Valley Lookout to the Pepeopae Trailhead. Take it slow and steady the whole way, especially as the ruts get bigger past the gate. If you’re already having trouble by the time you reach the gate, it’s likely best to turn around at that point. If you keep going, you’ll eventually reach the lookout point where you can park and get to hiking.

Upon starting the hike, you’ll land on a breathtaking boardwalk trail through the rainforest. The huge tree ferns and moss-covered trees create an otherworldly aesthetic that makes you feel like you’ve landed on a distant planet. As you follow the boardwalk through the forest, it’ll take you on a three-mile round-trip hike to remember.  

Take plenty of time to gaze in awe at the wonders all around you while listening for birdsong in your midst. Keep your eyes peeled for the signature tree of the island, the ohia lehua, which often has bright yellow, orange, or red blossoms fluttering in the wind. If you’re truly lucky, you’ll get to see the bright red apapane gently sipping nectar from the ohia blossoms before flitting away through the sky.

Although you can definitely appreciate the beauty of the landscape on your own, in-depth exploration is a must if you don’t want to miss a thing. To do that, join the Nature Conservancy on their monthly hikes along the boardwalk. Weather permitting, their crew takes all their guests on a three-mile educational journey of a lifetime. You’ll get to see the rainforest in a whole new light as their guides point out all the major sights, sounds, and scents of the region.

Insider Tips:
-Skip the trip if it has been raining in the past week. The ruts on the dirt roadway fill with water, which creates thick mud that’ll trap even the most capable 4×4 vehicles.
-Watch the time as you hike around to avoid getting stuck in the forest after nightfall. Both the trail and rutted road are tough to travel in the daytime, much less at night.
-Always stay on the trail while you walk through the forest. Otherwise, you could easily damage the plants and even get lost.