Hiking on Lanai Hawaii: These 5 Trails Will Show You the Entire Island Paradise

February 15, 2024   5 Comments »

Hiking on Lanai differs slightly from the other Hawaiian islands filled with lush rainforests and palm tree-strewn beaches. There are some forested areas – but much of the island is barren and treeless. It has 400 miles of roads on this little island, but for 95% of the roads, you need a 4×4 to drive on!

There is only a handful of what I would call hiking trails on the island; some of these are roads that would be better to be biked than hiked.

I did several hikes on Lanai, some on my own and a more obscure one with a guide. In addition, I drove portions of other hikes.

5 Hiking Trails on Lanai to Not Miss

Lanai has some of the largest pine forests in Hawaii – yes, pine forests in tropical paradise! There’s no better way to see them than on foot – where you can slowly take in their majestic beauty, aroma, and texture. But there are also many other diverse landscapes on these five trails I cover! You’ll be able to hike on five diverse trails on Lanai. Hike on beaches, ridges, ruins, pine forests, coastal rocky cliffs, and the Garden of the Gods!

1. Koloiki Hiking Trail

koloiki hiking trail lanai best lanai hikes

Koloiki Ridge hike is a 4.2-mile moderate out-and-back trail. It’s probably the most popular trail on the island.

map of koloiki trail

The trail takes you from the forested center of the island, starting at the Sensei Four Seasons Resort, winding you deep into the pine trees, and finally depositing you out in the open along the ridge of the island with spectacular views of Hawaiian islands and deep valleys.

I walked this trail by myself and ‘checked in’ with the front desk at the resort so they knew of my solo presence on the trail. They even offered me a walking stick and a map which I gladly took. The route was extremely well marked with numbers and signs – in fact – I think it would have been impossible to get lost. There was only one steep area that required technical hiking and was short. The rest was a nice meander through forests.

Why Are There Pine Trees on Lanai?

lanai pine trees
Cook Island Pines on Lanai.

The Koloiki trail is a perfect place to experience the pine trees of Lanai. How did these pine trees make it to Hawaii, you ask? You can learn the story at the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center in Lanai City:

“It was a lone Norfolk Island Pine, planted at Koele in 1878, that in 1911, alerted ranch manager, George C. Munro, to the importance of the fog coming off of Lanai Hale as a producer of valuable water in the form of fog drip. Hearing the constant drip of water on the corrugated roof of the ranch house situated alongside the Norfolk Pine, Munro realized that the pine boughs collected water from the fog and clouds. As a result, Munro initiated a program of planting pines across Lanai. The pines seen around Lanai today, are Cook Island Pines which were initially planted under Munros’ management.”

While on the Koloiki trail, I loved stopping, standing completely still, looking up at the towering pines, and listening. It’s not often that I take the time to slow down and listen to the world around me. The tall pine trees rustled in the wind, birds chirped, the pine aroma filled the air, and it was peaceful – a perfect getaway for a couple of hours to remind me of what’s important in life.

Photos of Koloiki Trail

More Information on Koloiki Trail:

This hike can be found on AllTrails, with ample information and reviews.

Norfolk Island pine trees on Lana'i, Hawaii

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2. Kaunolu Trail

This historic trail on South Lanai is only accessible by 4-wheel drive, so I hired a guide, Steve Gelakoski, to lead me through this hike and provide me with some history and information about what I saw.

Kaunolu Trail overlooking the ocean
Treeless trail.

Steve knows the island so well; it was quite amazing to hear his stories and learn more about the landscape, the wildlife, and the conservation/eco projects happening in Lanai.

On a side note – one of the things that the new owner of the island (billionaire Larry Ellison) wants to do is make it a laboratory for sustainability. He has some big plans, and I found most of the locals cautiously optimistic about his ‘green’ ideas.

Read about how to visit Lanai on a budget.

Steve and I started hiking down the red dirt road ruts at the top of the ridge until we arrived at some old placards pointing out some historical sites. The signs and sites had not been kept up too well, but you could see the outlines of some fishing village stone foundations. Lanai is quite proud of the old fishing village’s royal past.

Kaunolu Trail ruins historical site
Steve showed me the ruins.

Kaunolu Historical Site

The ruins of King Kamehameha’s favorite summer fishing retreat can still be seen in South Lanai. Called Kaunolu, this sacred spot and fishing village has been registered as a National Historic Landmark. Home to Halulu heiau (religious temple), you can also find ancient petroglyphs carved into the stones here.” –from GoHawaii.com Lanai History.

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Once we arrived at the village, the landscape near the sea changed – it was very rocky, and we had to scramble up and down some steep rocks to get to the sacred heiau. The heiau had a beautiful view of the sea, and we stopped and gazed out at the fishing boats that seemed to be having a great day fishing based on the sheer number of them working in the channel.

The area also was dotted with petroglyphs from ancient times. Some of the first inhabitants of Lanai lived here. But be warned – this is a sacred place, and visitors should not climb on these sites or the heiau. I talked to a few locals who actually won’t visit this area of the island since it gives them an ‘uneasy’ feeling.

Warrior’s Leap

Steve then led me to Kehekili’s Leap (aka Warrior’s Leap), where cliff diving was supposedly ‘created’ when King Kamehameha’s warriors proved their bravery by leaping approximately 70 feet into the ocean below.

I gingerly walked up to the edge, took a deep breath, and peered over the rock to the turbulent ocean below while I had a death grip on the rock next to me. This cliff seemed to come out of nowhere, making it even more breathtaking. It is said that the water below is only about 15 ft. deep – and one must take a running start to clear the rocky coast below.

Jumping off this cliff is something I will be happy NEVER to do.

However, for those who get jazzed by heights and don’t need a barf bag, look at the Red Bull Cliff diving competition in Lanai in 2000 off of Kahekili’s Leap.

Finally, the hard part of the hike came – the walk back up the treeless, barren landscape back to the truck. Steve was great and took many opportunities to rest and take in water. I’m sure my stubbornness would have had me powering through and dehydrating.

The hike left me exhausted, thirsty, and covered in red dirt – but I loved the chance to get out to this remote village and glimpse into the past.

Sure – you can drive down to Kaunolu Village – but where’s the fun in that?

More Information on Lanai’s Kaunolu Trail:

Difficulty: Medium (mainly because there are no trees to shade you, and the walk back up the hill from the old fishing village is exhausting with no shade.
Distance: About 3 miles round trip – but it depends on where you start from on the ridge.
Landscape: Dry, barren, brushy landscape, old ruins, heiaus (old sacred temples), and shocking cliff views
How to Get There: Take Highway 440 west out of Lanai City toward Kaumalapau Harbor. Go past the airport turnoff and take the next left, Kaupili Road, an unmarked dirt road. Travel approximately 2.5 miles to a yellow standpipe on the right. Turn right on this rocky road which descends downhill about 3 miles to Kaunolu Village. The interpretive hike is on the right.

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3. Munro Hiking Trail

This multi-use trail takes you through the forest, past wildlife, and up and over the highest point in Lanai at 3,370 ft. This 12-mile trail begins north of Lanai City and ends in the Palawai Basin. It’s a moderate trail with a 1600 ft gain. I didn’t hike this trail, but the Koloiki Ridge trail goes on part of the Munro Trail.

It’s basically a rough, rutted 4wd road and might be better by bicycle if you want to do the entire 12 miles. If you plan to hike here, just be prepared for motorized vehicles on the road too. When I was on the trail for a short time, I had a motorcycle and an ATV go by me!

The trail was named for George Munro, who brought Cook Pine trees to the island! And on a clear day, you can see all six Hawaiian islands simultaneously!

Read about the two Four Seasons Resorts on Lanai | Book a room at Four Seasons Resort Lanai here

4. Polihua Trail

Polihua Trail is a 9.5-mile out-and-back trail/road that takes you from Lanai City to a beautiful secluded Polihua beach. I didn’t hike this trail. Instead, I rented a jeep and drove the trail to the beach. It’s a rough and slow road – but it was still faster than walking!

Jeep rental for Polihua trail lanai

We drove through old pineapple plantation fields and forests, stopping at Garden of the Gods. Don’t let the name fool you – there’s nothing lush and green – this is a rock garden – formed by wind erosion. The alien-like landscape is stunning to take in and walk around, and you’ll have lovely views of the island and Molokai.

Polihua Trail garden of the gods lanai

Why is it called Garden of the Gods?

There are varied explanations for this ‘divine’ rock garden:

“One Island legend tells us that the rocks and boulders were dropped from the sky by the gods tending their gardens. Another ancient tale explains that the rocks house the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors. And still, another legend says that the gods enjoyed creating art, and this spot on the island is where they made their favorite sculptures. They created powerful winds to sculpt each rock formation (perhaps explaining why there is no vegetation in the Garden of the Gods).” – via Aloha-Hawaii.

garden of the gods on Polihua Trail

It felt like a giant game of marbles, meaning that the area should be called the Game of the Gods if you ask me.

We continued further down a deteriorating road and finally came to Polihua Beach, where the road ended, and a sign instructed us to park our rental vehicle. Now, this was paradise – a huge beach all to ourselves. We sat and took in the view with the smell of salt air and the crash of waves in the background.

polihua beach on lanai
Polihua Beach.
Sandy beach on Lana'i, Hawaii

5. Puu Pehe Trail – How to Get to Sweetheart Rock

If you want an easy coastal hike with incredible views, check out Puu Pehe Trail near the Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay.

This is a 0.9-mile moderately trafficked out-and-back trail that is very easy. It’s a wonderful place to stop and check out the tidepools, do bird watching, and keep your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins!

Spinner Dolphins play in the bay lanai
Spinner Dolphins in Manele Bay.

Spinner Dolphins

In the mornings, you’ll see schools of spinner dolphins arrive in the bay after hunting all night. They come to the bay to relax and be away from predators….and play. It’s easy to see how they have earned the name spinner dolphins as they jump out of the water and do spins and flips. Seeing these giant schools relax and have fun in the bay as you hike along the coast is amazing!

Sweetheart rock on lanai
Sweetheart Rock.

Sweetheart Rock

This place is a sight to see! It lies 150 feet off the coastline between Manele and Hulopoe Bays and rises 80 feet out of the water. It has fascinating Hawaiian folklore surrounding it.

Legend tells of two lovers, a Hawaiian maiden named Pehe from Lahaina and a young warrior from Lanai named Makakehau. He was so taken with her beauty that they would mist up in tears whenever he laid eyes upon her. Hence his name: Maka (eyes) Kehau (mist). He took her back to Lanai and hid her in a sea cave at the base of Manele’s cliffs.

“One day, while gathering supplies, he noticed a storm brewing and started back, only to find Pehe drowned by the surge of the storm waves. Stricken with grief, Makakehau gathered his beloved in his arms. He wailed to the gods and his ancestors to help him climb the steep rock island where he eventually buried her. He then jumped from this 80-foot summit into the pounding surf below.” from GoHawaii.com.

Hiking is just one of the many things to do on Lanai Island. Whether you hike on these trails, bike, or drive – you’ll see all the different sides of this fascinating island.

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Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Lanai as a part of their New Media Artist in Residence Program. All views expressed here are my own honest opinions and do not reflect the views of Visit Lanai.

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