Walking so far up into the clouds along steep switchbacks and knife-edge ridges that the view below is hard to distinguish between sea and sky. This is the Waihee Ridge Trail on Mauna Kahalawai, also called the West Maui Mountains. The 2.5-mile hike is known as one of the most scenic treks on the island, and it deserves every bit of that praise, beginning at 1,000 feet and zigzagging upwards to 2,563 feet. The three-hour, round-trip journey is challenging, but worthy of each of the miles you walk and all of the 1,500 feet you ascend.
The stunning views start at the parking lot with sweeping ocean panoramas amidst farmland. The trail allows dogs, but they must be on leash. The first five minutes of the hike are up a steep cement walkway that lacks in aesthetic value but gets the heart pumping and calves burning. Eventually you'll reach the terrain and note: There will be mud. Embrace it, or bring a second set of shoes for particularly wet days. The intricate maze of roots in the ground will keep you alert during the first three-quarters of a mile.
The trail has a nice rhythm to it, alternating short and flat scenic spots with steep, muddy inclines that is a reminder you are in fact climbing a mountain. There are benches at all the right places to catch your breath. At the end of the first mile, the trail narrows. Five-thousand-foot mountains and views of the waves of the north shore are visible on the left, with rocky cliffs, blue sky, and ocean water to the right. Makamakaole Falls is sometimes visible just before the first mile marker, falling in two or more tiers and totaling almost 300 feet in height. When dry, the lush Waihee Valley and pointy peaks are just as impressive.
The trail is straightforward and nearly impossible to get lost on, with mile markers every half-mile.
At about 1.5 miles, the trail becomes extremely steep as you move into the clouds. The abrupt incline is lined with paved stairs and mud holes, but there are amazing views in all directions. The trail is rich with sounds of birds (…and helicopters), which frequent Waihee Valley. Almost the entire trail is rugged and exposed to the elements. Sun protection, mosquito repellent, hiking boots, snacks, water, and even trekking poles, are recommended.
Waihee Ridge Trail is not for the novice hiker, but most can safely maneuver it with a little common sense and proper footwear. Allow about three hours, and start as early in the day as possible, as clouds move in by mid-morning and obstruct the good stuff.
To reach the trailhead, take Kaahumanu Ave. in Kahului towards Wailuku. Turn right on Kahului Beach Rd. and then right on Waiehu Beach Rd. At the end, turn right onto Kahekili Highway. When you reach the Mendes Ranch, make an immediate left at the Waihee Ridge Trail sign. Gate open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit hawaiitrails.e.hawaii.gov for more information.