Hau’ula Uka Loop Trail

The Hau’ula Uka Loop trail is an extension to the Hau’ula Loop State Trail that used to be popular in the 90’s and up till around 2002. Since that time, the HTMC has ceased maintenance and the trail has largely been left to overgrowth and time. Still, if one can brave the sea of uluhe and is comfortable facing a fair amount of danger, Hau’ula Uka does offer some spectacular views towards Laie, Hau’ula Town, and into the scenic depths of Kaipapa’u Gulch. Please enjoy my adventure has I travel the once popular trail known as Hau’ula Uka.
Hau'ula Uka View

For the last couple days, Oahu had been getting some voggy weather but when I heard that the trade winds were coming back it felt like it was finally time.

You see, I have been researching this trail for quite some time as I have a bit of a fascination with this side of the island. In my opinion, the trails around Hau’ula are the finest on the island. I mean, nowhere else on the island can you see such rugged trails, deep gulches, massive waterfalls, and quiet country atmosphere. I love this area! (:
Hau'ula Sign
So, when my bus arrived in this country town, I was ready to go. The last time I was here, I went up the Ma’akua Ridge trail all the way to Castle. This time, I would investigate the alternate way from the opposite loop.
Hau'ula Loop Sign
The Hau’ula Loop trail is a sanctioned and heavily maintained state trail that was wonderful from the start. It’s an easy trail that is perfect for beginners because there is little elevation gain. Today, I would be taking the clockwise direction of the loop which is actually the better way as everything from the overlook is down hill in the second half of the loop. (:
Odd Plant
On the way to the top of the loop, I ran across a small papaya tree.
Return Loop
At the top of some short switchbacks was a vague trail branching off, continuing up the ridge. I believe (but I’m not certain), that this is the return portion of the Hau’ula Uka Loop. Instead of venturing down it, I continued climbing to the Kaipapa’u Gulch overlook at the top of the loop (before it starts to head down hill).
Dark Forest
Eventually, the loop trail goes through a dark and humid forest that was loaded with mosquitoes. Thankfully, I had a full can of repellant on me. ^^;
Kaipapa'u Overlook
Looking out at Kaipapa’u Gulch.
At the Kaipapa’u Overlook, there is a sign suggesting that you should go left or right. And, you should if you want to stay on the safe state trail.
However, those with lots of experience hiking in Hawaii and who are wearing long pants may take the trail heading up ridge just beyond the sign.
Hau'ula Uka Easy Start
The Hau’ula Uka trail starts off as an easy to follow trail heading along a broad ridge. This doesn’t last long however as the trail will show its true colors just beyond a certain large tree.
Large Tree
This is that “certain large tree”. You have to climb over it and beyond it is the start of a sea of uluhe which will scratch up your legs, arms, and hands if you are not protected. As I type this, my hands and arms have numerous scratches all over them so I recommend long pants, long sleeve shirt, and gloves to attempt this old trail. Otherwise, you are in for a world of hurt. ^^;
See what I mean about overgrown?
Hau'ula Uka Overgrown
As I went, even though it was overgrown with head high uluhe, the trail was still possible to follow. It was just really slow going.
Kaipapa'u Gulch
Eventually, the trail became more difficult to follow and it took some trail finding skills to find my way. I left some ribbons in the upper sections so, if you do this, it is a little easier.
Pig Growl
Suddenly, I heard a growl in the uluhe that sounded like it came from one large and angry pig. At that moment, I relied on reflex and promptly barked in my loudest and deepest voice. Thankfully, that was enough to send the pig running the other way. Had he charged instead, one or both of us might have been sent over the cliff into the abyss. ^^;
My goal for today was to reach the “three ribbons” summit. It’s called this because when the HTMC hiked this trail, that is where they would typically stop to have lunch (while more adventurous hikers ventured further up the ridge to reach Castle).
Broken Rope
In the later parts there are ropes. I mean, there were ropes….in 2002. ^^;
Hau'ula Uka Summit
When I finally got to the summit, it took me about 20 minutes to find the faded ribbons that the HTMC had left in the 90’s.
Three Ribbons
They are still there but they are not really noticeable and one of them was falling off. I added three of my own ribbons to let hikers know that this is the end of the trail and it’s horribly dangerous beyond here. ^^;
Budding Flower
After locating the 3 ribbons, I tried to find the way down on the opposite ridge to complete the Hau’ula Uka Loop. Sadly, I could not even find a sign that anyone had been through there at all. There’s no trail swath and no ribbons. So, I would have to head back the way I came. But, before that, I wanted to see how bad Hau’ula Loa was.
Death Drop
Hau’ula Loa is the extended portion of the trail continuing along Hau’ula Uka Ridge. It’s very sketchy as you see in this photo.
An over 1,000 ft drop straight to the bottom of Kaipapa’u Gulch. If you venture on this trail and continue onwards you will be risking life and limb. Pu’u Manamana has nothing on this hike. ^^;
Deep areas of Kaipapa'u Gulch
Where the trail dips down, you get a pretty good view of upper Kaipapa’u Gulch though. I didn’t see any waterfalls but maybe I would if I had continued further?
Hau'ula Loa
The overgrown peaks of Hau’ula Loa loomed in the distance. Maybe another time.
Going Back
On the way back down, I had to make sure not to slip off the mountain. Several section of the trail look like they are there….but they are not. If you put any weight on some sections of the trail, it will send you tumbling down into Kaipapa’u Gulch. On the way back, one section had me worried as I was hanging on to uluhe and not much else.
Hau'ula Uka Way Back 2
That said, if this trail was maintained and cleared, it would actually be a very nice little hike. A 6 mile loop in the foothills of Hau’ula with spectacular views of Kaiapapa’u Gulch. What more could you ask for?
Hopefully, someday, the HTMC will pick Hau’ula Uka back up on their hiking schedule but until then, this ridge is for the experienced and beyond Uka is for the extreme hikers. If you go, I wish you the best, but be careful out there, practice your dog bark, and, if you head to Castle, wear bright colors and be sure to have your last will and testament and advanced medical directives in place.

Till next time.

Hike Time: 5 hours
Directions here

4 comments on “Hau’ula Uka Loop Trail

  1. Mark says:

    I was stationed in Hawaii from 1978-1982 and again from 1988-1992. My first few years there i was in a combat arms unit and we did a lot of training all over the island of Oahu, Big Island and Kaui I later changed my MOS (job) to that of a helicopter crew chief/mechanic. I got to fly all over the island of Oahu and the Big Isle and see some really great places to explore. Your site has given me some enjoyment in seeing some of these places from a hikers point of view. Even though we did military manuevers there….there were a lot of places that were restricted from us to visit.

    • punynari says:

      Hi Mark. Oahu is a beautiful place. I’m glad you are enjoying this little “picture diary” of Hawaii from a hiker’s perspective. (:

      Also, I know what you mean about restricted areas here. Although I am adventurous, there will likely be a few places that I will never experience such as Battery Pennsylvania, Waikakalaua, and Kawai Iki/Kawainui/Kawailoa/and Opae’ula hikes. Who knows though. Maybe I’ll get lucky and the HTMC will be doing one of those on one of my days off. I hope so! (:

  2. Thank you for sharing. That’s such a short walk from my house, but I have rarely ventured much beyond the sea of uluhe…but now my curiosity is piqued.

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