…or, “The Zigzagiest Road That Was Ever Built”

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If I go too long without escaping into the wilds to climb something, I get seriously antsy. And astonishingly, I haven’t done a legitimate hike since moving to Maui… and that was almost a month ago. Granted, I’ve been back and forth to Oahu three times during the past three weeks and have been busy getting business set up on a new Island and going on all sorts of work adventures like deep sea fishing, helicoptering over the tallest sea cliffs in the world, playing with horses and wild goats, etc. The usual. But still, that’s a long time, y’all. I was obviously way overdue. And while the remedy was easy (quit working, go hiking!) it involved a serious decision.

Not just any hike would do. It needed to be a hike of some length and significance, to make up for the serious deficit in my life.

I’ve driven by the stunning West Maui mountains with their towering windmills a countless number of times since moving to Maui, and ever since hearing someone mention something about a thigh-burning trail leading up to them three days after moving here, I’ve had a wee bit of curiosity in the back of my mind each time I drive by. While doing some research to make this decision, I looked up the details of the Lahaina Pali Trail and discovered that

A) It was the closest hike on the island to my house

B) It was 11 miles of vertical ruggedness, ranging from 100′ – 1600′ elevation

Combined, those two factors made the decision an easy one.

This hike comes with options. It’s a five-mile trail leading over the mountains from Maalaea to Ukumehame, with a steep climb from 100′ above seal level all the way up to the Kealaloloa Ridge (over 1600′ elevation). There are trailheads at both ends, so hikers have the choice of parking at one end, hiking halfway up (2.7 miles), and then returning to your car for a total of five miles (Option 1. Lame.)  Or, Option 2, walking the whole way across (5.5 miles) and either leaving a car at both ends, having someone pick you up, or hitchhiking back to your car. I went with Option 3, which is to walk the entire way across (5.5 miles), and then the entire way back across (still 5.5 miles, although it seems more like 25 on the way back) for a total of eleven miles. (*Pali means cliff or steep slope, both of which are very apt descriptions of the trail as a whole.)

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To sum it up: this trail involves 5-11 miles of rugged verticals, uneven terrain, loose rocks and dirt, scorching sun, no shade, and fierce wind. It also involves sweeping views of the coastline and Haleakala Volcano, windmills chasing each other’s shadows across the mountainside, softly-blanketed valleys that look like something from Lord of the Rings, peace and tranquility (at least, when you’re not in the fierce wind section,) and a killer workout.

But pay attention to the first set of descriptions when picking which option to go with. I absolutely do recommend going with Option 3, but only if you’re in great shape and feeling up for it. Remember, I was in a desperate situation. I needed those eleven miles of trail under my shoes. As always, keep in mind Gypsy’s Hiking-in-Hawaii Crash Course 101: Having to get airlifted off the side of a mountain is very costly. Having to hobble around for the rest of your vacation is no fun. Falling off a ridge-line or getting blown off a cliff is only exciting for a (very) brief stretch of time. The Sun takes its job extraordinarily seriously in the Hawaiian Islands and if you’re not used to it is likely to burn and dehydrate you beyond anything you may have experienced in your life thus far. Tourists overestimate their abilities and underestimate the potential dangers of Hawaiian hikes and outdoor activities all the time, which leads to an unfortunate number of serious accidents and even deaths every year. Don’t be included in that number.

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With that said… let’s get started!! As you can see, I was more than a little excited. You would be too, if you saw the landscape opening up in front of your rockin’ new trail shoes. Both trailheads can be accessed from Hwy 30. I started from the Maalaea side because there’s a large dedicated off-road parking space for the trail. If you’re heading toward Lahaina, it will be on your right. Watch for the dirt path leading up through the gates (if you get to Maalaea Harbor, you’ve gone too far.) It looks like the picture below. Once you pull off the road, you can hop out of your car and open the gate to drive through. Don’t forget to close it behind you (we have to keep the crazies out… or is it to keep them in?!)

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Follow the trail signs back toward the mountains and around a curve to the left, and you’ll come to this lovely parking area.

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Now all that’s left is to climb. And to keep climbing. In case you were interested (cuz I was) ~ The average person’s stride is 2.5 feet long, so a mile of strides of this length would amount to about 2,000 steps…and 10 miles would be 20,000 steps. When you’re climbing and descending this sort of terrain, most of your steps are going to be quite a bit narrower than 2.5 feet. I’m gonna estimate that doing the entirety of this 11 mile trail takes about 28-35,000 steps depending, of course, on a lot of variables such as height, level of excitement, amount of Protein Bombs weighing your feet down, number of people chasing you, etc.

Please note the impressiveness of the above paragraph. I’m not normally a mathematician.

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This trail is great because it is wide-open the whole way… Or at least, the views are wide open. There are areas where deviating off the path will send you catapulting off the side of the mountain. But for the most part, it is easy to explore off-path areas that happen to catch your interest without having to, say, machete-hack your way through rainforest.

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Every once in awhile, you’ll come to a tree like the one above. Beautiful, but zero shade. Use these as reminders to hydrate. See that sun? It’s relentless.

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Post marker #13 is significant because it is where you will first be greeted with the sight of the windmills charging up toward the sky beyond the next ridge. (*Note: In case you’re confused by the post markers, as I was — they are not mile markers. They correspond to a trail guide, “Tales of the Trail,” which can be found here.) The area around the windmills is, obviously, WINDY! Please try not to blow off the mountain. Also, remember that even though the wind is keeping you cool, the sun is still doing its whole scorching thing. Keep drinking. And hold onto your hat! (Which, by the way, you should always wear when hiking in Hawaii. Having to peel layers of dead skin off one’s scalp makes one feel like a snake. That’s a creepy and undesirable feeling.)

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The Lahaina Pali Trail is one of the spots on Maui where you can see Petroglyphs hailing back to to the legendary, mystery-filled old Hawaii. Keep an eye out as you make your way past the numerous rock-walls throughout the trail! And if you feel an urge to add to the petroglyphs (see below), please resist. Thanks.

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Historically, the Lahaina Pali Trail was built for horse and foot traffic between Wailuku and Lahaina. It was hand-built and treacherous, but the only direct path cutting through the steep mountains of West Maui and as such, was quite the bustling “highway.”  In addition to the killer views of Haleakala, hikers can usually see the nearby islands of Kahoolawe and Lanai.

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The path heads straight through the Kaheawa Wind Farm, which is home to 34 of these impressive turbines. Construction on the windmills was completed in 2012, and they provide power to 19,000 Maui homes. We get fairly consistent trade winds here in the islands, and harnessing that wind to be used as an alternative energy source like the Kaheawa Wind Farm does is awesome, despite criticism from some folks’  that they’re “an eyesore.” I hope that alternative, clean energy is something that Hawaii sees even more of in the coming years.

Stay on the correct trail to avoid getting sucked into a windmill!

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Just kidding. That wouldn’t happen. But you might get electrocuted. True story. Also, if you have to pee, don’t do it here. There are cameras. Do notice the windmill shadows chasing each other across the mountain with each rotation… It’s a little mesmerizing.

I felt rather netherland-ish as I traipsed through this mountain of windmills… although the old windmills dotting the Holland landscape have so much more character. (No offense to the builders of the West Maui Windmills… you did a great job. Although I think they would make an amazing canvas-scape for some of our talented local muralists…)

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Watch out for these guys! They lay in wait along the path for bare and unsuspecting legs, and then grab on and don’t let go. Most of them are covered in leaves and look much “friendlier” than this dead one, so keep an eye out.

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The terrain constantly changes from semi-wide dirt paths to narrow, steep, uneven ground with sheer drop-offs. The variety is nice. Good trail shoes are also nice… and very essential. This isn’t really a slipper-friendly hike! Occasionally you’ll come to a tree or rock wall that actually does provide some shade. These spots would have been where the Hawaiians of Old stopped for a water and snack break, so it’s a great place to do the same… and look for petroglyphs, while you’re at it!

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When you finally get to “the end” and realize that you’re only half way (if you’re doing the entire thing), it would be really nice to have a cookie to eat. Or maybe Five. I had none. If you ever see me out hiking, please feed me because there’s a 99.9% chance I forgot a snack.

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Depending on where you start and which option you choose, the pictures above are of either the beginning, end, or halfway-point. Apparently some people miss the trailhead and keep right on walking, so they’ve marked it with a massive red arrow. Please don’t miss the massive red arrow. I’d be a bit embarrassed for you. On the way back, the trail seemed to have grown much longer and steeper, and basically to have quadrupled in intensity in every way. Although strange things do happen in Hawaii, I’m guessing this was all in my head. Take your time… and don’t forget to look up every once in awhile to enjoy the view 🙂

And that’s it! Maui’s Lahaina Pali Trail, The Zigzagiest Road That Was Ever Built!

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Have you done this trail? What did you think?