Tackle The Lahaina Pali Trail

Lahaina Pali Trail

While there are numerous must-see destinations and amazing experiences in West Maui that are easily accessible by road, the Lahaina Pali Trail gives you a different way to enjoy a remote, natural experience on the island. Trail conditions are arduous, so this is not suitable if you are in the mood for a leisurely stroll. The trail is five miles from point to point or 10 miles total if you go over and back.

Without a flat section to speak of, you'll be going uphill for half of the hike and downhill for the other half. You can also shorten your trek by turning around at the top and making the hike around 5 miles. As one of the most exposed and challenging trails on Maui, what should you know about the trail before you set off for an adventure?

The History of the Lahaina Pali Trail

Pali Trail in Lahaina Maui

One of the first things to know is a little about the history of this unique West Maui trail. Throughout Hawaii’s early history, Hawaiians got around Maui only by boat on foot. Rather than travel along the winding coastline known by all as the "Pali", the Hawaiian word for cliff, they opted to take a shorter and more direct path across the rugged terrain. While rocky, this inland terrain, where the Lahaina Pali Trail exists, was more hospitable than the cliffs and lava rocks closer to the shore.

Over many years, a footpath was carved into the landscape by the native residents. This path was further worn once European settlers arrived on the island in the 1900s. The settlers often traveled on wagons and saddleback between Lahaina and Ma’alea at the beginning and end of the trailhead. Today, most people travel between these areas by car on the Honoapi’ilani Highway, which runs along the coastline. However, the original trail provides modern hikers with a way to get a great workout, take in amazing views, and travel along a historic path that has been used for centuries.

About the Lahaina Pali Trail

Lahaina Maui Pali Trail

While the Lahaina Pali Trail starts at an elevation just above sea level, it ascends dramatically over hillsides. In fact, you will reach an elevation of 1,600 feet within the first 2.5 miles as you ascend toward the wind turbines. The next 2.5 miles take you back down almost to sea level. Amidst these ascents and descents are several other elevation dips as you cross through gulches.

Depending on your pace, it may take you four hours or longer to walk from trailhead to trailhead. If you take a roundtrip journey, on the Lahaina Pali Trail, you can double this time. While the distance may not seem long enough to warrant that period of time, the terrain is strenuous. Frequent breaks may be required based on your fitness level.

See Some of the Best Ocean Views on Maui

Lahaina Pali Trail

Most of the trail is not heavily treed, unlike other Maui hikes like the Makawao Forest Trail. While the absence of trees allows for incredible views of the countryside, ocean, and neighboring Hawaiian islands, the lack of cover also adds to the strenuous nature of the trail. The islands that you can spot in the distance include Lanai, Kaho’olawe, Molokini, and Haleakala.

As you climb higher on the trail the views just get better and better. As a bonus during the winter whale season, there are amazing opportunities for whale watching from the trail. On any given day during whale season, you'll see numerous breaches, spouts, and tail slapping/fin slapping out on the water. Aside from whale watching, you'll also see a lot of boats out on the water.

There are Two Different Trailheads (One on the Lahaina Side and One on the Ma'alaea Side)

The East Trailhead is located near Ma’alea and is accessible just off of the Haoapi’ilani Highway, and the West Trailhead is near Lahaina and Papalaua Wayside Park on the same highway. As you ascend up the hillside, you can appreciate views of the Kaho'olawae and Molokini. You will also reach the top of Kealaloloa Ridge. Your ascent also gives you expansive views of a green valley and the Pacific ocean.

The Lahaina Pali Trail takes you close to parts of the original highway, and it includes numerous interpretive displays that tell you more about the trail’s impressive history. While the trail is mostly clear of trees, and thereby mostly clear of shade, you will find stubborn, thorny Kiawe trees scattered throughout. There are also several sandalwood trees that dot the landscape, but these are few and far between. Much of the trail is marked by yellow grass and volcanic rock.

Double Check The Weather and Conditions Before You Go

Ma'alaea Side of Lahaina Pali Trail

If you travel the trail in the winter, it is more likely for the terrain to be damp or to get wet on your journey that at other times of the year. This is because winter is the rainy season on the island. On the other hand, if you take the trail during the warmer months of the year throughout the summer, it may reach 90 degrees or more while you are exploring the countryside on foot.

Also to consider, especially during the summer months, is that this area receives almost zero rain for months at a time and can be at high risk of catching fire. If there is any indication that there may be a high chance of a fire or any type of fire in the area, it is best to stay away and wait or find another hike. There are many other great Maui hikes around West Maui such as the Kapalua Coastal Trail or Ka'anapali Boardwalk Trail.

Side note, several years ago I was working in Lahaina but had a first date planned at Haliimaile General Store in Makawao that evening.  I left work early because I heard there was a fire around the Pali and once that happens, the road closes and it's game over. I literally drove through the Pali while it was on fire and got to Ma'alaea just before they closed the road. I'm glad I did though, that first date was with the woman who would become my wife and now we have hiked the Lahaina Pali Trail several times over the years!

Tips for a Great Hike

It is advisable to arrive at your preferred trailhead, Lahaina side or Ma'alaea side, as early in the day as you can for a few reasons. The first reason is that parking is limited. For example, at the West Trailhead, the parking lot accommodates roughly 15 cars. The second reason is that the sun and the heat grow more intense as the day wears on, and this can make the already strenuous hike much more challenging. The word "Lahaina" actually describes the brutal intensity of the sun. Plus, it may be difficult to assess upfront how many water and snack breaks you will need along the way. You may find yourself spending the better part of a day on the trail if you're going for the whole thing.

Making Transportation Arrangements

You should plan your transportation to and from the Lahaina Pali Trail ahead of time. If you intend to hike the entire trail, but don't want to add the extra 5 miles of going out and back to your car you will need to have a car parked at both ends of the trail. Otherwise, you should make arrangements for a friend or a family member to drop you off or pick you up at the end of the hike. Some people also take the full route, and they hitchhike back to their car at the beginning of the trail.

There aren't many residential areas nearby, the closest being Launiupoko. If you're staying at somewhere like Kihei, you're only about a 10-minute drive to the Eastern Trailhead. If you're staying on West Maui around Ka'anapali, it can be about a 20 minute drive the Western trailhead. 

Protect Yourself From the Elements

Pali Trail Lahaina Maui

Because of the length of the trail, you should plan to spend several few hours exposed to the elements, primarily direct sun. As you prepare for your hiking trip, check weather conditions to plan accordingly. In addition, bring along plenty of water and a few snacks. I prefer using a Camelback Hydration pack as it can hold your water and snacks easily. Carrying a small bottle of water in your hand on this hike isn't going to last long.

Because shelter from the sun is in very limited supply, sunblock, a hat, and even a long sleeve sun shirt are recommended. This is also why its advised to get an early start while the sun is still low in the sky. The presence of windmills along the journey is a solid reminder that windy conditions can often be expected. Because of the wind and the possibility of rain, bring a waterproof, lightweight jacket and a waterproof bag for snacks and electronics. In addition, the terrain is rugged, so you may prefer to wear sturdy hiking shoes.

Are You Ready to Take the Challenge of the Lahaina Pali Trail?

While a hike on the Lahaina Pali Trail can be physically draining even if you are in great health, the rewards are well worth the effort. As a reward, go take a dip at Ukumehame Beach State Park located next to the trail on the West side of the trail. After the hike and a dip in the water, you'll be ready to enjoy some serious calories at one of Lahaina's best restaurants. Then, you can continue exploring the best things to do in Lahaina.

If you are looking for a different way to experience Maui’s beauty and history, this is a great time to start planning your next hiking trip on the Lahaina Pali Trail.

Get In Touch!

Evan Harlow Maui

Evan Harlow is a Realtor on Maui who has the expertise, experience, and work ethic to help you achieve all of your real estate buying or selling goals. We promise exceptional service and support from the beginning of the process through closing and beyond.

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Posted by Evan Harlow R(S) 82003 on


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