Molokai Forest Reserve Hike

Hike (or Drive) to the Amazing Waikolu Lookout in the Molokai Forest Reserve
Local Expert's Rating:
5.0 / 5
The Bottom Line:

The Molokai Forest Reserve covers close to 12,000 acres in the interior highlands of East Molokai. While much of this disjunct reserve isn’t readily accessible to the public, parts of the western sections are. The hike along the Molokai Forest Reserve Road to Waikolu Lookout shows off the Friendly Isle’s backcountry ambiance and big-time scenery.

- The Local Expert Team

Way back in 1912, Hawaii set aside a number of good-sized tracts of land in the highlands of East Molokai to protect watersheds. Several units compose the 11,690 non-contiguous acres of the Molokai Forest Reserve, an exciting destination for more adventurous visitors to the Friendly Isle.

Much of the reserve is too rugged, remote, and inaccessible for public use, especially in the wetter eastern reaches. But the better-developed western part of the Molokai Forest Reserve does allow some public access. Among the standout experiences here is following the Maunahui Road—also known as the Molokai Forest Reserve Road—to Waikolu Lookout.

This is a roughly 10-mile-long 4WD track that isn’t well suited to normal passenger vehicles. It’s also part of the State of Hawaii’s Na Ala Hele Trail Access Program, and hiking is a great option whether or not your car’s up for the drive. Obviously use caution if hiking the road, given the potential of encountering vehicles. But nobody really ought to be driving at a fast clip on this rough, often muddy track, and you should hear oncoming traffic coming well in advance.

Wear bright colors when walking in the Molokai Forest Reserve, as hunting for birds as well as feral pigs, goats, and deer are allowed here. That’s another reason to stay on the designated roads and trails.

Accessed about 3.5 miles from Kaunakakai, the Molokai Forest Reserve Road runs 5.5 miles through pasture country before hitting the boundary of the reserve. This is specifically part of the Kapaakea/Kamiloloa/Makakupa unit, which is mostly defined by tree plantations and other exotic vegetation. That said, some native forests and shrubland persist here, especially in the ravines.

A bit more than three miles into the reserve, the road reaches a historic pit used in the 19th century as part of Molokai’s sandalwood trade. Then, a mile further, you reach the big payoff: the Waikolu Lookout.

Set on the southwestern rim of the Waikolu Valley, this observation site gazes down that yawning gulf toward the Pacific Ocean against East Molokai’s north shore. The steep green walls of the valley are grooved from erosion and often include several impressively tall, ribbon-like waterfalls. The distant oceanfront shows off the soaring sea cliffs for which that remote northern coast is famous, with even a sea stack in view.

Fairly remote as it is, the Waikolu Lookout includes an established overlook as well as a picnic shelter and several tables. It’s a pretty unforgettable spot for lunch, whether you’ve hiked or driven up that somewhat tricky access track. The Lookout also hosts the only officially designated campsite in the Molokai Forest Reserve.

A number of tracks and trails intersect in the vicinity of the Waikolu Lookout, and it’s possible to hike from here into the Kamakou Preserve. That’s a Nature Conservancy property with a boardwalk trail and fine mountain rainforest. But it’s best to contact the local Nature Conservancy office to inquire about access, as this is mainly an ecological refuge.

The Maunahui Road continues southward all the way back to Highway 460, but that section of the road is closed to vehicle traffic.

Hiking the Maunahui Road in the Molokai Forest Reserve to the Waikolu Lookout is one of Molokai’s hidden-gem adventures. The spectacular vista at the end of that journey is well worth a day’s adventuring!

Insider Tip:
The trade winds often gather up clouds in the upper reaches of the Waikolu Valley in the afternoon, commonly obscuring the view at the Waikolu Lookout. If you can, aim for an early start so you can get to the observation point in the morning, when it’s more likely to be clear. That said, even a mist-scrawled panorama from this high point is beautiful!