Destination Run: Pipiwai Trail, Maui
Winding slowly around the jaw-dropping beauty of the southeast side of Maui, the famous Hana Highway is nothing short of a drive to remember forever. And it’s no exaggeration about the “slowly” — the word highway is used very lightly here. This special road is sixty long, beautiful miles of curves, sharp turns, and single lane bridges (620 curves, and 59 bridges to be exact). You know the saying, “It’s not the destination, but the journey that’s important”? Well, this is the perfect example. Your destination will be the isolated beauty of the Pipiwai Trail in the Kipahulu district of the Haleakala National Park, but the road you’ll be taking to get there will be just as exciting, if not more than, the trail itself. This is a true destination run, where you will be happily forced to immerse yourself in the land you’re visiting.
Unfortunately, the nearby Pools of ‘Ohe’o (also known as The Seven Sacred Pools) are closed indefinitely for safety reasons. There have been several serious landslides and flash floods over the past few years, and it’s just not safe enough to allow people to swim and play in the pools anymore. But they still make for a stunning view and photo, easily taken from one of the lookout points. And don’t worry, there’s more than enough beauty to go around. Along the incredible coastline, you may have the opportunity to see dolphins, sea turtles, monk seals, and even humpback whales (they’re mostly seen from December through April). The freshwater streams and pools you come across can have exciting inhabitants too, like the amphidromous and endemic goby fish‚— not only do these little guys move from salt water to fresh water as they grow, they can even climb rocks!
Why the Kipahulu District and Hana Are So Special
Towering over the Kipahulu District is the 10,023 ft dormant Haleakala Volcano, steeped in local mythology, legend, and the big-hearted love of many a hiker and biologist. Due to the nature of an isolated island chain (Hawaii is, in fact, the most isolated inhabited land mass in the WORLD), there are many species of flora and fauna that are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. The Haleakala National Park works tirelessly to ensure the respect and protection of The Kīpahulu District as a part of its 33,000 acre Park. This is because this area is ahupua’a, a time-honored and ancestral Native Hawaiian land division that protects all resources from sea to summit. This is a big part of what makes Kipahulu District and the Pipiwai Trail so special – and the Hawaiian belief that humans are caretakers of the land and should live in harmony with it.
The translation of the Hawaiian word “Kipahulu” is “fetch from exhausted gardens”, referring to the plentiful flowing clean fresh water, the abundant flora, fertile soil, and pristine ocean here.
The 3.4 mile moderately trafficked trail is well maintained, thanks to the trusty NPS (National Park Service). It’s an out and back trail, with about an 820 ft elevation change each way. The trail even features a boardwalk to cover some muddy sections of the bamboo forest you’ll pass through. There are also some stone steps in the first section, which is reasonably steep so you will get some solid cardio. There are many spots on the trail that are covered in tree roots, so definitely watch your step and wear your trail running shoes!
There are many special things you’ll see along the trail. One of my favorite ones is an ancient, giant banyan tree. Take a minute to be a kid again and climb this tree. I promise you won’t regret it.
Another jaw-dropping, photo taking moment will be when you pass by the stunning Makahiku falls. At about 200ft, the falls look like a jewel set into the intense greenery of the surrounding cliffs. At this point, you may start to wonder just how special the actual Waimoku Falls must be, for this to just be a precursor. You’ll cross two stone bridges in another section, which looks like a fairy tale. Then there’s the magical forest, with the bamboo soaring off into the sky, high enough for you to get a crick in your neck as you walk through the opening and wonder at the wonder of it all.
Along the way, you’ll see the long-leafed, red Ti plants (used in many traditional Hawaiian practices), the beautiful, broad-leafed taro plant (almost looks like a lily pad growing out of the ground, used in almost every facet of Hawaiian life including food), many species of ferns, and the unusual awapuhi ginger flower. The awapuhi ginger flower is a red, solidly built bloom (no delicate petals here), and cone-shaped. If you see one close to the path, give the entire bloom a little squeeze with your hand; some sweet smelling “soap” will come out.
The trail culminates at the gorgeous, 400 ft Waimoku Falls. After snapping your pictures and drinking in the beauty, take a moment to dip your feet in the cool waters of the stream here. This area is said to contain great mana, a kind of positive energy force that can be absorbed from nature. You may scoff, but if you leave this place feeling anything less than peaceful and rejuvenated I’ll eat my hat.
While You’re There
Let’s be honest, this is more than a day trip. The drive from Paia to Kipahulu is roughly 3hrs, and the run up Pipiwai Trail is going to make you break a decent sweat. Why not make a real adventure out of it and spend the night at a very special campground! You can simply drive up with your car and pitch a tent, just make sure you bring enough water, food, and a tent if you plan on camping. There are picnic tables, grills, and pit toilets available. Alternatively, there a few unique hotels and rental options in nearby Hana.
Pipiwai Trails & Kipahulu Campground
Haleakala National Park
Kipahulu District, Maui
Mile marker #42
Drive south on the Hana Highway from the town of Paia. Once you reach the small town of Hana, Kipahulu is just 12 miles further. You will see a sign on your left for Kipahulu— turn left here, and pay the park entry fee of $25 per car. From here, there is clear signage and information for reaching the trailhead and campground.
This is of utmost importance. About halfway to Hana, you will see a little ice cream stand on the side of the road. It’s called Coconut Glen’s”(photo below). This iconic little shop has been serving up THE most delicious coconut ice cream you’ve ever had. (You will not believe it’s vegan!) Just make sure to bring your cash; they don’t accept credit cards.
These helpful reminders are important to remember for the whole journey: driving down Hana Highway, running up the Pipiwai Trail or any other trails you may consider, and if you choose to camp at Kipahulu Campground.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Don’t leave anything or take anything. This is sacred land.
- Download your GPS and music before you leave Paia! I can’t stress this enough. There is no reception for much of this journey.
- Driving there: if you love road trips and long drives, you’re in for a treat. If you get queasy or nauseous on long or winding drives, you may want to take some anti-nausea medication or ginger with you. (Ginger is great for relieving nausea.)
- You’re going to want to wear clothes that are appropriate for hot, humid, and rainy weather. It can also seem a little bit chilly in the evening, depending on the time of year. A light rain jacket is the perfect Kipahulu accessory.
- Fill up on gas in the town of Paia at the beginning of the Hana Highway. The next gas stop is not until you reach the tiny town of Hana 60 miles later.
- Bring lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, mosquito repellent! Again, there are not stores of any kind between Paia and Hana, and none at Haleakala National Park either.
- There is a $25 entrance fee to enter Haleakala National Park, where the Pipiwai Trail and Kipahulu Campground are located. It’s a $25 pass per car, not person, and includes camping.
- Keep in mind that this area is very remote, so bring any medical necessities you may need.
- Take every single warning sign seriously. They’re there for your safety. There have been many rock slides, landslides, and flash floods in this area. These natural phenomenon can easily cause serious injuries and even death.