Hiking on Lanai is a bit different from the other Hawaiian islands that are 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 95% of the roads you need a 4×4 to drive on!
There are only a handful of what I would call hiking trails on the island, and some of these are really roads that would be better to be biked than hiked.
I was able to do a number of 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
Lana’i has some of largest pine forests in Hawaii – yes, pine forests in tropical paradise! There’s no better way to see them than by on foot – where you can slowly take in their majestic beauty, aroma, and texture. But there’s also a number of other diverse landscapes to see on these 5 trails I cover! You’ll be able to hike on 5 diverse trails for hiking on Lanai. Hike on beaches, ridges, through ruins, pine forests, coastal cliffs, and the Garden of the Gods!
1. Koloiki Hiking Trail
Koloiki Ridge hike is a 4.2 mile moderate out and back trail. It’s probably the most popular trail on the island.
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, 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 had any technical hiking and it was short. The rest was a nice meander through forests.
Why are there Pine Trees on Lanai?
The Koloiki trail is a perfect place to experience the pine trees of Lana’i. Just how did these pine trees make it to Hawaii you ask? You can learn of the story at the Lana’I Culture and Heritage center in Lana’I 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 along side 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 simply 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 about 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 Lanai’s Koloiki Trail:
This hike can be found on AllTrails with ample information and reviews.
2. Kaunolu Trail
This historic trail on South Lana’i is only accessible by 4 wheel drive so I hired guide, Steve Gelakoski, to lead me through this hike and provide me some history and information along the way about what I was seeing.
Steve knows the island so well, it was quite amazing to simply hear his stories and learn more about the landscape, the wildlife, and the conservation/eco projects that were happening in Lana’i. 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’ plans.
Steve and I started at the top of the ridge hiking down the red dirt road ruts until we arrived at some old placards pointing out some historic sites. The signs and sites had honestly not been kept up to well, but you could see the outlines of some of the fishing village stone foundations. The old fishing village has a royal past that Lana’i is quite proud of.
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
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 in order to get to the sacred heiau. The heiau had a beautiful view of the sea and we stopped and gazed out on all of the fishing boats who seemed to be having a great day fishing based on the shear number of them working in the channel. The area also was dotted with petroglyphs from ancient times. Some of the first inhabitants of Lana’i lived here. But be warned – this is a sacred place and visitors should not be climbing 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.
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 aprox. 70 feet into the ocean below. I walked up to the edge gingerly, took a deep breath, and simply 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 – which is what made it even more breathtaking. It is said that the water below is only about 15 ft. deep – and one must take a running start in order to clear the rocky coast below. Jumping off this cliff is something I will be happy to NEVER do.
However for those of you who get jazzed by heights and don’t need a barf bag – take a look at the Red Bull Cliff diving competition held in Lana’i 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 lots of opportunities to rest and take in water else my stubbornness would have had me powering through and dehydrated I’m sure. 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 actually 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 quite 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 intrepretive hike is on the right.
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3. Munro Hiking Trail
This trail is a multi-use trail taking you through forest, past wildlife, and up and over the highest point in Lanai at 3,370 ft. This 12 mile trail begins just north of Lanai City and ends in the Palawai Basin. It’s a moderate trail with a 1600 ft gain. I didn’t actually hike this trail, but the Koloiki Ridge trail does go on part of the Munro Trail.
It’s basically a rough, rutted 4wd road and might better biked if you want to do the entire 12 miles. If you do plan on hiking 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, the who brought the island Cook Pine trees! And on a clear day, you can see all six Hawaiian islands at once!
4. Polihua Trail
Polihua Trail is a 9.5 mile out and back trail/road that takes you from Lanai City out to a beautiful secluded Polihua beach. I didn’t hike this trail, instead I rented a jeep and drove this trail out to the beach. It’s a rough road and slow going – but it was still faster than walking!
We drove through old pineapple plantation fields and forests making a stop 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.
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 literally sculpt each rock formation (perhaps explaining why there is no vegetation in the Garden of the Gods).” – via Aloha-Hawaii
To me it felt like a giant game of marbles which would mean 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 crash of waves in the background.
5. Puupehe Trail to Sweetheart Rock
If you are looking for a coastal hike that is easy with incredible views, then check our Pu’upehe 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!
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 of course – 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. It’s an amazing site to see these giant schools relax and have fun in the bay as you hike along the coast!
Sweetheart Rock 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 a 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 whenever he laid eyes upon her they would mist up in tears. 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 out 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 different sides of this fascinating island.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Lana’i 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 Lana’i.