Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hidden Hiking Trails in West Maui

Spring break means peak tourist season on Maui. That makes it key to find places where you can escape the crowds and be immersed in nature --  a lonely but beautiful beach, a remote rainforest waterfall or a hiking trail with no one on it.

On the west side of Maui, you don't have to be a guest of the Kapalua resort to set your boots on its groomed hiking trails. Kapalua's Coastal Trail, which stretches for 2 miles along prime beachfront, is always busy with walkers, runners and cavorting kids. But high in the hills above the golf course, the historical Maunalei Arboretum is practically deserted. Here gentle footpaths wind through shady groves planted with native and non-native arboreal species. Even kids will enjoy the 0.5-mile Lower Loop, or the 1-mile Banyan Loop that passes by those exotic gargantuan trees.

More of a cardio workout, the 1.25-mile Honolua Ridge Trail climbs from the arboretum's tangled maze of shorter trails to an impressive forest lookout. If you want a real adventure, follow the epic Mahana Ridge Trail another 6 miles downhill to the ocean, treating yourself to gorgeous views of Lanai along the way. When I hiked this trail, I didn't see another sunburned soul. A side loop through a sugi pine grove was a cool, shady relief, but the spur through overgrown pineapple fields was a bush-whacking waste of time. Still, this was one of the most memorable hikes I've done on Maui.

If you plan to do the entire 7-mile Honolua & Mahana Ridges route, wear shoes with good traction and bring plenty of water. When you get to the end of the trail at D.T. Fleming Beach Park, you'll need to march your muddy, sweaty self for another 10 minutes uphill through the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton hotel and back to the Kapalua Adventure Center. Prepare yourself for disapproving looks from resort guests by the pool.

The Kapalua resort provides a free shuttle service from the Kapalua Adventure Center, near the driving range and golf course, uphill to the arboretum a few times daily. Private vehicles are not allowed to access the arboretum or its trailheads. Make sure you sign a liability waiver and pick up a free hiking guide booklet [PDF] at the check-in desk inside the Kapalua Adventure Center before boarding the shuttle and hitting the trail.

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Photo credits: West Maui (Michael Connolly, Jr.)

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