Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Trail Update: Mahana Ridge Trail Closed, Maunalei Arboretum Shuttle Changes at Kapalua Resort

At West Maui's Kapalua Resort, I'm sorry to report that hikers no longer have access to the summit-to-sea Mahana Ridge Trail. Hikers may still access the Maunalei Arboretum and part of the Honolua Ridge Trail, according to resort representatives. All of these trails are covered in my book, Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, published by Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook.

The Mahana Ridge Trail was originally scheduled to be closed for only six to eight weeks while the Mahana Estates residential development was being built. But what started as a temporary restriction on trail access has unfortunately become an indefinite closure. There is no expected reopening date for the Mahana Ridge Trail, although it may become accessible once again after construction has finished - the jury is still out on that point.

In the meantime, shuttle service for hikers to the Maunalei Arboretum, leaving from the Kapalua Resort activities center next to the golf course, has been reduced to just two round-trips daily. Call (808) 665-9110 to check current trail conditions and shuttle schedules, and to make shuttle reservations (seating is free, but limited).

If you know of any other trail closures on Maui, let us know by leaving a comment. Mahalo!

Related links:
Haleakala National Park Trails Re-Open
Maui's Best Walks for Wildlife Watching
Do You Need GPS to Hike in Hawaii?

Photo credit: West Maui Mountains (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Haleakala National Park Trails Re-Open Today

Now that the federal government shutdown is finally over, US national parks and other federal recreational lands are slowly reopening to the public in stages. On Maui, Haleakala National Park has already re-opened to visitors, although some buildings and visitors services will not resume until 24 or 48 hours from this morning, October 17.

On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has also reopened to the public, as has Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. On Oahu, boat tours of the USS Arizona Memorial, part of WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, will resume tomorrow, after the monument's visitor center and museum also re-open. Online boat tour reservations are already sold out for Friday, but a limited number of first-come, first-served tickets are available for walk-up visitors starting at 7am.

You'll find all of the information you need about Maui's national park trails in my book, Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, published by Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook.

Other links you might like:
I Am a Park Ranger: Views from Behind the Federal Shutdown's Locked NPS Gates
How-to Tips for Epic One-Way Hikes in Hawaii
Do You Need GPS to Hike in Hawaii?

Photo credit: Haleakala National Park (Michael Connolly Jr.) 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Haleakala National Park Trails Closed Temporarily

During the ongoing US federal government shutdown, all National Park Service (NPS) areas are closed indefinitely. Currently you can't visit some of Hawaii's most popular visitor attractions, including the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island and Haleakala National Park on Maui.

Until the US Congress reaches agreement on the federal budget, which would allow NPS sites to reopen, many of my favorite hikes - such as the Sliding Sands Trail into Haleakala volcano and the Pipiwai Trail through the bamboo forest past Hana - are off-limits inside Maui's national park. (At least the park's resident endangered nene are safe from being hit by tourists' cars for now....) 



But island hikers still have several other trails to tackle. In Kapalua, you can stroll around an arboretum and climb to a lush cloud forest summit in the West Maui Mountains, then trek all the way downhill to the Pacific. Near Maalaea, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge has a wildlife-watching boardwalk that's still open to the public. Outside Hana, Waianapanapa State Park's coastal hiking trail along an ancient Hawaiian footpath awaits.

You can find out more about all of these hikes and many more in my book, Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, available in print from Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook.

Other links you might like:
The Best Hike on Maui Is...
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui
Maui's Best Walks for Wildlife Watching

Photo credit: West Maui Mountains (Michael Connolly Jr.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

How-to Tips for Epic One-Way Hikes in Hawaii

This week, a vacationing hiker asked me about a one-way hike inside Haleakala National Park. A local hiking guide service on Maui had quoted him an outrageously high price of over $2000 for an overnight guided hike with transportation! He wondered if there was a cheaper way to do it.

Some of the wildest, most memorable hikes I've taken in Hawaii have been one-way trails, but transportation was usually a thorny problem. Here are my top tips for solving that issue:

1. Make friends. Nothing beats an island friend who is willing to drop you off at one trailhead and pick you up at another. But this isn't an option for most hikers, especially first-time visitors to Hawaii.

2. Call a taxi. This strategy has never worked for me. But I know hikers who have arranged in advance for a taxi to pick them up at the end of their hike, then drive them back to where they started hiking and parked their rental car. If you ask a tour company or hiking outfitter to do this, they'll usually agree - but it won't be cheap. 



3. Hitchhike. While you are always putting yourself at risk by hitchhiking, and I can't personally recommend it (nor can I be held liable for anything that happens if you do try it), it's a fact that many hikers do hitchhike in Hawaii.

In Haleakala National Park, rangers have signposted a roadside hitchhiking zone near the Halemaumau Trailhead parking lot. It's used by hikers who want to hike one-way down the Sliding Sands Trail and across the volcano, then exit via the Halemaumau Trail. I've used this hitchhiking zone several times, and never waited more than 20 minutes for a lift up the mountain. It helps that I always bring a hand-written sign spelling out "SUMMIT VISITOR CENTER" so drivers know where I'm trying to go. 

On the other hand, hitchhiking did not work for me when I hiked from Waianapanapa State Park to Hana Bay, then needed a lift back to my campsite at the state park. I ended up walking several miles along the narrow highway unsafely after dark because no day-tripping tourists were willing to pick me up as they rushed back to Paia from Hana.



4. Hike halfway, both ways. For some trails, like the Kaupo Gap Trail and Skyline Trail starting inside Haleakala National Park, I've ended up hiking twice as far just to experience the entirety of these trails. If you're exiting at Kaupo or inside Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, it's tough to find someone who will pick you up, even if you offer to pay them, and it's too remote to hitchhike. My solution was to start at the top of each trail, hike halfway down, then turn around and hike back up. Then I drove around the island to each exit trailhead, hiked halfway up the trail and back down again. It's more effort than most vacationers will want to make, but I did get to hike 100% of both of these beautiful, mostly untrammeled trails, which I comprehensively cover in my hiking guidebook Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone.

Do you have suggestions for arranging transportation for one-way hikes on Maui or any of the other Hawaiian Islands? Please share your ideas and tips by posting a comment. Thanks!

Related links:
Do You Need GPS to Hike in Hawaii?
The Best Hike on Maui Is...
How Not to Hike on Maui & in the Iao Valley

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park (Sara Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.) 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Do You Need GPS to Hike in Hawaii?

Maybe you've never been hiking before in Hawaii, or perhaps you're tackling a trail for which the latest USGS topo map dates from the 1970s. If so, you might be wondering if a GPS device or smartphone could help you out. On faint footpaths over lava fields marked only by ahu (cairns) or into valleys usually only visited by pig hunters, could GPS save you from getting dangerously lost?

Let's cut to the chase: to hike the most popular, easily accessible trails on the main Hawaiian Islands, you don't need GPS. (In fact, you might not even need hiking boots - but the 'rubbah slippah' debate is a subject for another post!) Just pay attention to roadside mile markers to find the trailhead, then follow the all-ages crowd ambling into the ferny forest for a waterfall swim.

Trails managed by the state-wide Na Ala Hele: Hawaii Trails System & Access program are often marked with signs not just at the trailhead, but at key junctions along the way. It'd be difficult to get lost, given how well-trod many trails in Hawaii are. In quite a few places, your smartphone or GPS device won't work anyway, making the point moot.


When I was researching my book Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, I carried a handheld GPS device on every hike. I found it useful for pinpointing exactly where remote or badly signposted trailheads are. I also found it helpful for navigating little-traveled trails, for example, the Kaupo and Skyline Trails [PDF] on the backsides of Haleakala volcano. Both of those trails end in places that feel eerily like the middle of nowhere (respectively, Kaupo town off the remote Piilani Hwy and Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area). It also helped to know how far I'd already hiked and what elevation I was at, to keep from being misled by confusing trails-of-use. Being at such a high elevation on these trails also ensured that the GPS reception remained strong and clear enough. 

I'd used a GPS device before on the summit trail up Mauna Kea, Hawaii's highest peak, and when trekking across lava flows and cinder deserts inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, both on the Big Island. On Kauai, GPS prevented me from getting lost on a network of trails inside Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks. On Oahu, GPS was essential for trekking overgrown trails to summits in the Koolau Mountains above Honolulu (at that time, Na Ala Hele didn't post Oahu trail maintenance updates on Facebook like they do now).


Overall, on 90% of hiking trails in Hawaii, you don't really need GPS. It'll be just another electronic device weighing down your pockets. But if you're planning on doing any wilderness hiking, GPS might be your next best hiking friend in the islands.

Do you hike in Hawaii with or without a GPS? Which smartphone apps do you find most useful for hiking? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Related links:
Maui's Best Walks for Wildlife Watching
How Not to Hike on Maui and in Iao Valley
Big Island's Volcanoes & Valleys - My CNN Story

Photo credits: West Maui Mountains, Haleakala National Park & Kihei (Sara Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Maui's Best Walks for Wildlife Watching

Some tourists visit Hawaii just for the scenery: think sunsets on the beach, towering volcanoes and rain forest waterfalls. But if you take a closer look at the landscape on foot, you'll be amazed by the biodiverse wildlife living on these Polynesian islands. Hawaii's flora and fauna spectacularly show off the same evolutionary principles that naturalist Charles Darwin famously found in South America's Galapagos Islands.

Evolving in isolation, a single kind of honeycreeper that arrived in Hawaii centuries ago eventually became dozens of new species, each better adapted to its new island home. Today few places in the world offer such a variety of biomes and wildlife as do the Hawaiian Islands - and there's no better way to see it all than by hiking.

On Maui, Haleakala National Park is has many of the island's top trails for wildlife watching. To spot a rainbow variety of bird life, start with the short loop around Hosmer Grove or sign up for a longer guided hike into Haleakala's wet, wild Waikamoi Cloud Forest, managed by the Nature Conservancy. Day hikes and overnight treks around the park's volcanic summit will bring you almost nose-to-beak with nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose. 



Back along the central Maui coast, Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge has built a boardwalk that lets you spy on not just rare native and migratory Pacific birds, but also sea turtles basking down below on golden sands. In West Maui, the Kapalua Resort's hiking trails are open to the public. Explore the shady Maunalei Arboretum of native and exotic trees, then trace the coastline of Kapalua Bay, where humpback whales swim and give birth in the warm offshore waters in winter. 

You can find out more about all of these hikes in my book Top Trails Maui: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone, available in print from Wilderness Press and as an Amazon Kindle ebook. 

Related links:
Slow Down, Save an Endangered Nene on Maui
Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui
The Best Hike on Maui Is...

Photo credits: Haleakala National Park, Kihei & Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge (Sara J. Benson & Michael Connolly Jr.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Not to Hike on Maui & in the Iao Valley

Every week on Maui, 911 dispatch operators get a phone call from a lost, stranded or injured hiker. On a tropical island that seems so small and innocuous, hundreds of tourists every year are tempted to hike off-trail, maybe to reach that hidden waterfall, to see that next beach or recently, to find a back door into the Iao Valley.

In central Maui, Iao Valley State Monument is where you'll find that iconic postcard shot of the Iao Needle, a jungley spire covered in thick vegetation that shoots up skyward. The paved walking trails that lead around the park, past an ethnobotanical garden and a freshwater stream, are so tame that I wondered if I could even classify them as hikes in my book Top Trails Maui.


So it's not surprising that some hikers - typically young men between the ages of 18 and 35 years old - would try pioneering another way to explore the valley on foot. Usually I see tourists start hiking beyond the "No Trespassing" signs to ascend the needle itself, an attempt that's foolhardy given the chance of flash floods, crumbling mountainsides and no maintained trails.


Over on Maui Now, Vanessa Wolf has written a hilarious guide about what not to do while hiking on Maui, including how trying to hike from Olowalu to Iao Valley can kill you. Her tongue-in-cheek advice ("Water is for cowards" and "By all means, wear inappropriate footwear") is a fantastic anti-checklist that you can use to prepare yourself for your first hike in Hawaii's wetland forests and lush stream-fed valleys.


As Wolf points out, Maui EMS will "thank you in advance for not getting airlifted." Besides, isn't calling search-and-rescue embarrassing when the situation is pretty much your own fault?

Related links:
Dear Would-Be Olowalu to Iao Hiker
Men Attempting Olowalu to Iao Hike Rescued
Our National Parks: So Wild That You Should Sue?

Photo credit: Iao Valley State Monument (Sara J. Benson)