Hiking the Kealia Trail | The Wai’anae Mountains of Oahu
If you look at our map of hikes done on Oahu, you would notice that it is very disproportionate on East vs. West hikes. We clearly spend way more time in the Ko’olaus than the Wai’anaes. The reasons for that are that it’s easier and faster for us to drive to those trailheads, they are more familiar, and there’s more easily accessible information about the Ko’olau mountains. On this weekend, we put a little extra effort in and drove further to hike in the Wai’anae Mountains. We still didn’t technically go to the Leeward coast — we just saw it from a distance.
Today’s focus was the Kealia Trail, which begins behind the Dillingham Airfield along the North Shore. When we arrived around 8, the parking lot was fairly filled and the sun was already high in the sky, promising a hot day for hiking. I was concerned because I imagined this trail to not have much shade, but thankfully I was wrong and we were able to avoid direct sun exposure for the majority of the hike. However, starting early is definitely a good idea!
We followed a gravel road back to the start of the trail. This trail was built by the CCC, and along the way you can see some initials and dates carved into the cliff walls. The first mile and a half of the trail switchbacks back and forth up the cliff. I loved this hike right from the start. It was in the shade, yet had breaks in the trees for gorgeous views of the North Shore. The ground was rocky and reminded me of hiking in the Southwest. It was hot, but a dry heat, not too uncomfortable for a hike. We drank plenty of water and made it to the top of the cliff within 45 minutes. Once there, we sat down in the shade of some ironwood trees and enjoyed the breeze.
At this point we had gained 1000 feet of elevation, and had about another 1000 to go. There were no more switchbacking sections though, instead the trail wandered up and down further into the Wai’anaes. It was all beneath the shade of tall pine or eucalyptus trees, and overall a pleasant hike. There were long periods where all we could hear were birds chirping and the wind blowing over us. When walking beneath the eucalyptus trees, there was the calming scent and there were colorful leaves scattered around the ground. Knowing that peacocks are found in these mountains, we listened and kept an eye out for them, but didn’t see any today.
Eventually the Kealia trail turned into the Kuaokala Trail, there were a few signed intersections but we had no problems finding our way up to the overlook. At the last fork in the trail, we went to the right, up a final uphill stretch and came to a pig fence. It was a little unclear which way to go, but we found the overlook by going through the gate, taking a few steps to the left, and an opening on the right led to a small window facing Southwest over Makua Valley and the Leeward Coast. It’s no bald peak, but the view is worth it. We waited for another group to vacate the spot before going down and taking it all in. The visibility was good, and the colors were vibrant. We had a snack, took some pictures, and then we began our trek back.
When we came to the fork in the trail, we were curious about what was in the opposite direction further into the mountains. Our hiking book seemed to indicate that an old Nike Missile site from the 1940-50’s, so we began hiking that way. We soon realized that the ‘trail’ is actually an ATV/4WD accessible road that begins on the Leeward side and leads back to campsites at Peacock Flats. and ran into several trucks and SUVs heading back there. We just enjoyed the easy, shaded walk and extra views to the North and West. We ended up walking at least another mile before deciding to turn around and head back. We had previously believed the Wai’anaes to be more inaccessible than the Ko’olaus, but after this hike it would appear to maybe be the opposite case. We later researched how the trails and roads connect and have future plans to look for peacocks and missiles.
As we hiked back to our car, we saw many more groups than before. Up until this point, we had been impressed by the lack of litter found on the path — that is, until Curtis attempted another geocache and came upon a whole 12 pack thrown aside. Hey, at least they left one unopened for our troubles… We descended the switchbacks, now less shaded than before, and made it back to our car. In all, we had hiked 9 miles in 4 ½ hours, including breaks. It was an enjoyable hike and we’re looking forward to returning to the area and trying out other trails. If you’re interested in seeing our AllTrails recording for the Kealia Trail, click here.