You’ll need a 4-wheel drive truck to get to the trailhead for this hike.
Hike for 3.5 miles along a well maintained trail that’s cut into the side of the mountain (see top left section of photo).
Hiking the Poamoho Trail with Josh Serrano, Kaleo Lancaster, Nate Yuen and Ryan Chang. Oahu, Hawaii.
In a short while you’re at the summit looking at this. (Pictured above: Josh Serrano.)
The Poamoho Trail is part of the “Na Ala Hele” Hawaii Trail & Access System. That means it is a state sanctioned trail, maintained by the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and open to the public. You do need a permit to hike this trail though, but obtaining one is an easy task. You can learn about how to get a permit here.
Starting in Wahiawa (Central Oahu), you drive in 6 miles to the trailhead. The Poamoho Trail takes you up to a peak on the Kooloau Mountains where you’ll be treated to a massive panoramic view of the east side of Oahu.
If you talk to any avid hiker in Hawaii and mention the name Poamoho, they will usually pause and then talk about the trail with glowing praise. It’s no exaggeration. The whole experience, starting from the drive along the dirt road up to the approach to the summit, makes for a great day of getting in touch with nature. But, here’s the catch: you gotta go when the summit is clear. And in this particular part of the island, that can be a total crap shoot.
We had a huge crew for this hike. I’m working on another video project with my buddy Brad Watanabe of Berad Studio (we created the Hawaii Bouldering video together) and the crew was here to shoot video. More info on the project coming soon.
On this outing Aaron (green shirt), the trail expert for the DLNR, offered to guide us. It was a real treat as he was able to point out a lot of interesting sights on the trail and educate us on a ton of history behind the Poamoho Trail and the Na Ala Hele trail system in general.
The dirt road is fairly well maintained as it’s used frequently by the DLNR, researchers and hunters.
There are three gates along the 6 mile drive to the trailhead. When you are issued your permit, it’ll come with the codes you can use to unlock them.
You’re gaining elevation during the drive. The road is taking you from Wahiawa deep into the Ewa Forest Reserve.
You’ll see an obvious parking area just before the trailhead.
From there the view is pretty great already. Ryan Chang and Nate Yuen (HawaiianForest.com) watch as the crew gears up. Kaleo Lancaster (Island Trails) looks off towards the summit to see if the clouds look like they are clearing.
The Poamoho Trail. This would be my first time doing this trail that everyone raves about. I was excited.
On every trail, it’s super important to brush your shoes before entering the forest so you don’t risk introducing invasive species of plants.
The first half, maybe a bit more, of the Poamoho Trail is totally groomed. The trail was carved out of the side of the mountain and is nice and wide. We got lucky and the uluhe (the green fern that is everywhere) had just been bushwhacked by the DLNR so we had a nice clean trail to hike on. Josh (808 Goonies) joined us on this hike as well.
Views of the valley appear right away. There’s no civilization in sight up here.
Nate talked to us a bit about koa trees as we hiked since they can be found all over this area.
As the uluhe grows over the trail, it forms overhangs that provide some nice shade. It was hot this day. But hot is good because the heat could help burn off any cloud cover at the summit.
The sun was beating down on us.
Looking back toward central Oahu you could barely see the city. We’re deep in the forest at this point.
The trail curves around the side of a ridge and the elevation gain is gradual.
It’s a relaxing hike compared to many others I’ve done but the heat can wear you out.
The summit appears to be clearing. We are all stoked.
Imagine trying to negotiate this uluhe had it not been cleared with weed whackers for us.
More overhanging vegetation.
And now the trail changes. Once you reach a certain point, the trail is no longer maintained.
The Poamoho Trail takes you into an area that’s protected to help preserve the habitat of the Kahuli, small native Hawaiian snails. They are near impossible to spot so just do your best not to thrash around too much on this part of the trail. Try to hike without disturbing the plants around you.
I hear that if it’s raining, this part of the trail turns into a stream as water drains off the summit. And even if it’s not raining, there will probably be plenty of mud when you’re up here.
The water has eroded the trail enough in some parts that you can only fit one foot on it at a time.
We’re getting closer to the summit now.
Taking a break, Aaron and Josh look down into the hanging valley below.
Kaleo approaches this sharp turn in the contour trail.
The valley is so lush here. I have never seen a view like this on the island.
Just before you hit the summit you’ll descend into small gulch and cross a stream.
You turn a corner and enter the this gulch.
The stream crossing is right in front of Kaleo (orange shirt).
Hike up one last incline and you’ll see the approach to the summit.
The way this trail is set up, the approach to the summit is quite dramatic. We are actually on the summit right now but cannot see a thing.
An incredible view is waiting for you just past this meadow.
As you walk up the meadow you realize that it takes you to a cliff. And with each step you take closer to the cliff, the view gets revealed little by little.
Walk up to the edge and you’ll see this. This is Punalu’u Valley and Kahana Valley on the North Eastern side of Oahu. Some of the mountains you see here are Pu’u Piei (left), Pu’u Manamana (middle) and Pu’u Ohulehule (the pyramid looking peak).
Walk up here to get more of a view.
We waited up here as our crew made it up to meet us. We then shot a bunch of video, ate lunch and rested up for the hike back down.
On the Poamoho Trail you hike down the same way you came up.
As the sun lowers the forest looks even more lush.
A haze in the sky made it feel like we were deep in the middle of nowhere.
These ribbons marked the end of the maintained trail.
Heading back, the groomed trail felt great under our feet.
The sun started to set.
We rounded a few more bends in the trail.
And then it was time to pack it all up and drive out of the forest.
Kaleo took some video with his GoPro and made this edit. Might be the best way to get an idea of how expansive the view at the summit is.
- Watch it on Vimeo: Island Trails – Poamoho Ridge
- Get official info (including permit info) on the Poamoho Trail on the Hawaii state Na Ala Hele website.