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Into the Woods: Mountain biking in Maui's Makawao Forest Reserve

Mountain bikers on the Kahakapao Loop Trail in Makawao Forest Reserve. Photo by Sue Hudelson for HAWAII Magazine.

Just as certain as there are surfers flocking to Maui’s best surf breaks when waves are up, when the weather is clear in the dense forests of Upcountry Maui, outdoor adventurers are headed up the slopes of massive Haleakalā volcano.

Here, high above the island’s vast central plain, upland pineapple fields, former sugar land and family farms meet the five forest reserves of Haleakala’s west-facing slopes. I’m winding my car up several rural Upcountry roads, past gulches and ranching pastures, to one of them: the Makawao Forest Reserve. The adventure awaiting me today? An afternoon of mountain biking in the reserve’s Kahakapao Recreational Area.

Kahakapao’s trails wind beneath a verdant forest canopy of fragrant pine and eucalyptus trees—the latter towering over bikers and hikers. By morning, rays of dappled sunlight scatter between the thousands of close-set eucalyptus trunks that create blissful paths for mountain bikers. For afternoon hikers, clouds settling on the high-elevation forest bathe its mahogany-colored floor in a mist of fog, creating the effect of trekking a moody maze.

I’ve hiked the trails of the Kahakapao Recreation Area many times in my 20 years as a Maui resident, often witnessing mountain cyclists negotiating its twists and turns. Today, however, will be my first turn on the trails as one of them.

I meet my best friend, an expert on biking these trails, at the recreation area’s gravel parking lot. It’s an excessively warm Saturday afternoon on much of Maui today. But here, the forest reserve’s high-elevation location and shaded canopy create a temperature bubble 15 degrees cooler than even the Upcountry cowboy town of Makawao four miles downslope.  My friend has assured me that we can go at my pace, a big reason I’ve agreed to do this at all.

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