Destination Run: Waihe’e Ridge Trail, Hawaii
One of the things that makes Hawaii so special is its unique beauty. Did you know that the Hawaiian islands are home to 10 of the 14 different types of climate zones in the world? Those ten climate zones are known as Tropical Continuous Wet, Tropical Winter-Dry, Tropical Summer-Dry, Tropical Monsoon, Hot Semi-Desert, Hot Desert, Continuously Wet Warm Temperate, Summer-Dry Warm Temperate, Summer-Dry Cool Temperate, and Periglacial Climate. That’s right, you read the word “glacial” to describe a Hawaiian island climate zone! The Big Island’s volcanic mountain Mauna Kea stands at an impressive altitude of 13,800 feet.
Fun fact: when measured from base to summit, Mauna Kea is considerably taller than Mount Everest. This is because the base of Mauna Kea lies far below sea level, but when measured from sea level, Mount Everest is higher. The lowest temperature on record on the summit of Mauna Kea is just 12 degrees, and there has been many a tourist shocked to drive from the sunny tropical beach to the summit to find that it’s almost too cold to get out of the car!
A Special Hawaiian Delight
All on one tiny island, you can go from tropical rainforest to arid desert to alpine tundra. If that’s not special, I don’t know what is. There are a few reasons the Hawaiian islands have been able to maintain much of their pristine and isolated beauty despite the astronomical levels of tourism, but the main one is the guiding principle of the native Hawaiians – “Malama Ka ’Aina”, which translates roughly to “Care for and respect the Land”. They believe they are the caretakers of their beautiful islands and must live in harmony with the land, and it shows. So if you do decide to visit Hawaii, be sure to respect the land just as the Hawaiians do.
For a destination run, Waihe’e Ridge trail on the island of Maui packs in all the best features of an iconic Hawaiian run. Nestled in the West Maui Mountains, there are steep razorback ridges leading into deep gorges, misty covered mountain summits, waterfalls in the distance, the ocean far below, mysterious jungles and valleys, and a bird’s eye view of the island. You’ll also pass through several different climate zones and get to see many different types of flora on the 1,500ft ascent to Waihe’e Ridge. For best results, try to start your run as early as possible. The clouds may begin to move in as the day progresses, and you want a clear sky for the best views!
The 4 mile out-and-back trail usually takes about three hours to hike, or if you are a runner in pretty good shape (and don’t make any stops), it’ll take about an hour there and back. You’ll definitely want to make a couple of stops though. The trail is newly renovated with several viewpoints and benches along the way, not to mention a picnic table at the top with the best views for lunch or a snack. There are several spots on the mostly hard-packed dirt trail that are often muddy, in addition to areas thick with ancient gnarled tree roots zigzagging across the trail, so be prepared with your good trail running shoes and stay alert. Despite a few steep sections, the well-marked trail is rated as moderate and easy to navigate. You can bring your dog with you on your run, as long as they are kept on a leash. There are no facilities on this trail.
What to Pack
- Waterproof running shoes
- Lots of sunscreen and a hat. The sun exposure is strong on this trail!
- Insect repellent (Optional, but always a good idea in Hawaii)
- A picnic lunch or snacks to enjoy at the picnic table at the end of the trail – with great views!
- A little trash bag – pack it in, pack it out
- A camera. This trail is picturesque, and you’ll be kicking yourself later if you don’t get a few photos.
- Lots of water. It’s a steep, sweaty ascent, much of it in the sun.
- Hiking poles (Optional if you are hiking. Some prefer it to help them through the steep sections.)
How to Get There
First of all, make sure you download your GPS instructions or take a map with you. There’s no reception a few miles before you get to the trailhead.
From the town of Wailuku, head north on Kahekili Hwy, aka Hwy 340 and continue for about four miles. Turn left at the sign for Waihe’e Ridge trail at mile marker 6.9 (It’s a small sign easily missed, so keep a careful eye out for it! The turn is right across the street from Mendes Ranch). Drive up this road to the second parking lot and park your car. From here, you’ll see the trailhead and two gate options. Take the gate and paved path that lead steeply uphill. This paved road will soon turn to dirt, and you will enter the forest. From here on the trail is clearly marked and hard to miss.
Aloha, and enjoy the one of a kind beauty that the Hawaiian Islands offer!