Mount Ka'ala Trail in Waianae, Oahu

Posted Tuesday, December 12, 2017 by Brittany Anderson

Photos courtesy of Sugarhillfarmstead

The Mount Ka’ala trail head can be found past beautiful white sand beaches, tucked away at the back of west Oahu’s Waianae Valley. The trail is technical and only the most seasoned hikers attempt this 6.5-mile hike which goes from sea level to approximately 4,000 feet above sea level. The reward is the astounding panoramic views of North Shore Oahu, Waianae Coast, and Honolulu.

Waianae is known for its arid landscape and breathtaking beaches, but it’s surrounded by lush towering mountains and ridgelines begging to be explored. The trail should only be attempted during dry times, as the trail can be overcome with pounding storms without warning, making for dangerous conditions. Many a hiker has been rescued in their attempt to hike to the top of Mount Ka’ala. 

Start the trail on a steep one lane asphalt road surrounded by tan barren scrub brush. Then, entering the forest, purple caps nailed to trees mark the path – straying from them could be a recipe for disaster. Ti plants dot the trail, and several terraces signal that a community must have lived here at one time, growing taro at the base of Oahu’s tallest peak.

Native forest surrounds the trail with koa and ohia trees, and you can even catch a glimpse of native birds like the rust colored elepai‘o or crimson ‘apapane. The incline increases significantly, as you press on further to the first ridgeline. Forestry land goes beyond a hog fence that lines the ridge. Follow the fence, leading to boulders begging to be scaled.

Climbing the sand colored boulders to the next ridgeline is both exhilarating and petrifying. Ropes stained by dirt and use hang against the rocks to assist with the ascent. The mountain breeze rolls down your back as you reach the top. Looking back, a distant view of Keawaula Beach (Yokohama’s) and its turquoise waters shows just how far you’ve come.

Follow the ridge further as it becomes narrow and even more challenging. Brambles and blackberry bushes often swing onto the trail and can easily scratch up hands and shins, it is best to bring gloves and wear long pants for this journey.

Views are overwhelmingly beautiful in this raw wilderness, just 40 minutes outside of bustling Honolulu. It is inconceivable that someplace this rugged exists on Oahu. The incline becomes steeper, and the summit feels closer. A vertical boulder climb puts your calves to the test after an already arduous climb. ‘Olapa leaves hula effortlessly in the breeze, a reminder to stop and connect with how far you’ve come.

Strangely, there is a bog at the summit. Marshy, wet, and eerie – the bog has a series of boardwalks through a moss laden forest. Emerge from the bog forest to the Hawaii Air Defense Radar Installation, a towering sphere surrounded by barbed wire fence. Walking around the fence provides breathtaking views of Wahiawa, Waialua, Haleiwa and Mokuleia.

The descent begins, a trek almost more difficult than the way up. Through the bog, down the rocks, and over the forest – back to civilization we go. Looking back at the great accomplishment, clouds begin to hang at the top of Mount Ka’ala. It is best to start the hike early in the day, returning to the car as the midday heat begins and clouds accumulate on the peak.


Hike: Mount Ka’ala

Location: Waianae, Oahu


Recommendations: Water, gloves, long pants, hat, snack, cell phone. Only attempt hike during dry conditions. Call 9-1-1 if you become lost or are overcome with fog. Stay on marked trail.

Stay nearby: Oahu Vacation Rentals

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