Maunawili Falls Trail
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TRAIL GUIDE

How to get to the falls without tresspassing or getting lost... PLEASE CHECK TO MAKE SURE THE TRAIL IS STILL LEGALLY OPEN BEFORE HIKING. It could close temporarily or permanently at any time.

QUICK TIPS FOR USING THIS GUIDE:

If you learn nothing else from this page, please know this: Maunawili is a MUDDY and potentially dangerous trail. Really really muddy! Dress for mud, and don't go on a rainy day. Today (5/25/2014) there were THREE helicopter rescues on the trail from people getting lost or injured. That's a lot of pain, frustration, and taxpayer dollars!

This is the MUDDIEST trail you will ever experience!!!

Make sure to see my list of helpful tips to keep this trail comfortable and manageable, and be warned that even if you are very careful, you will get slathered with mud from your knees down. If you want a less wild hike to a waterfall, try either Manoa Falls or Waimea Falls, both of which are developed trails that are currently (as of May 2017) in MUCH better condition that Maunawili Falls. When I first moved here, this was a much nicer hike. While much of the scenery is still lovely, the actual trail is a HUGE mess, so get prepared!

Take a GPS device to utilize the GPS coordinates in the guide. Most smartphones can download a free app that will allow you to view your current GPS coordinates. Once you have those, this guide will be a very useful tool to choose the best trail forks. There are a lot of trails, shortcuts, and pig paths in the Maunawili area. It can be completely baffling to find your way efficiently to the falls. Some of the trails dead end, end up on private property (thus inadvertenly causing you to tresspass), or meander across the river too many times. This route I will describe is the official trail. It has a beautiful and interesting agricultural section, and some lovely rock walls and ancient rock-paved trails that many people miss by taking a shorter path or crossing the river way too soon.

If you want the least amount of river crossings, and the best scenery, this is the way to go! All photos in the guide have been photographed as of 2014, so please keep in mind that the appearance of the trail may vary, but this particular trail was the "official" trail for a couple of decades, so it is likely still the same GPS coords.

At the Bus Stop

1. The starting point of the trail for many begins at the bus stop on the corner of Aloha Oe and Maunawili Road. When facing the stop sign and the bus stop on the corner, walk up Maunawili road to your right.

GPS Coords: 21° 21.722'N 157°45.928'W

Walk up the hill to the trailhead 2. This is Maunawili road. The gate to the trailhead is 1/3 mile up the road on your left. Be careful because the road is narrow.
The Trailhead Gate

This is the Maunawili trailhead gate. Walk around the left side of the gate and up the road for about 100 feet. UNLESS THERE IS SIGNAGE NOTIFYING YOU THE TRAIL IS CLOSED. The trail's future is very tenative. It could close at any time. It may be permanent or temporary. If so, do not tresspass, instead you can drive to Manoa Falls (about 30 minutes away), and have a similar but much more maintained hiking trail that ends in a bigger waterfall.

Coordinates: 21°21.542'N 157°45.806'W

Trailhead is visible on the right The trailhead is on your right after walking less than 100 feet. THERE IS NO NOTICEABLE SIGN TO HELP YOU SEE THE TRAILHEAD (May 2017). It has been vandalized and removed. Watch for a wide path on your right. It is pictured here at the right of the photo.
The Maunawili Falls Trailhead

The Maunawili Falls Trailhead. There are three small signs that describe some of the significance of the trail. Some people leave a selection of walking sticks here which you are welcome to take and use. If you leave a walking stick, please do not lean them on the signs, instead you may lay them on the ground.

Coordinates: 21°21.542'N 157°45.751'W

Stay on the trail

The first of many minor forks occurs only fifty feet into the hike. As a general rule, always stay on the trail that is widest and try to avoid little shortcuts. In this case, there is a shortcut to the road below, but you should stay straight on the trail. The road leads to private property belonging to the golf course, agricultural researchers, and private citizens. Please don't walk on the road or disturb them because it is their hospitality that allows hikers access to the trail.

Coordinates: 21°21.522'N 157°45.803'W

The mud begins! The mud begins almost immediately. You should turn back and try a tamer trail if the mud is bothering you. It gets much worse later on the trail. You will be soaking your feet in mud during much of the hike. It is very slippery and slimy after rain.
Never take the minor pig paths off the trail The tiny path you see on the left of the photo is an example of a pig path (a small trail). The smaller trails usually lead to a dead end or private property. Always stay on the main path. The widest path is almost always the correct fork of the trail.
The path widens - stay straight

The path widens to a ridiculously wide width and gets a little confusing. Walk straight ahead and avoid turning onto the smaller trails.

Coordinates: 21°21.484'N 157°45.851'W

Take the left fork

Stay towards the left just a little further up the trail

Coordinates: 21°21.484'N 157°45.861'W

Stairs

Follow the stairs down and to your right. Stay on the stairs, don't take any of the offshoot trails. The stairs can be very slippery, be careful.

Coordinates: 21°21.408'N 157°45.85'W

Don't Cross the River Yet When you reach the bottom of the stairs, do not cross the stream yet. Stay on the path and keep Maunawili Stream on your right side for a long time. You will see a few minor trails run to the stream's edge, but keep going and don't use them or else you miss some of the most scenic trail segments.
Muddy messy trail Around here is where my feet found a deceptive mud puddle. I ended up getting caked in mud ankle deep. A friendly (and unleashed) dog came and jumped on my leg. My plans to stay somewhat clean this trip were futile. I had mud from hip to ankle! Thankfully I knew to dress in grubby clothing, so it was not a problem. You should definitely plan for getting mud all over! And you should keep your dog on its leash because there will likely be a lot of other hikers.
Take the middle fork

MAJOR FORK: The most confusing point of the trail is a three-forked trail. One smaller branch goes to the left and uphill, one medium-sized path which is still the widest goes straight to the middle, and one fork crosses to the right and meets the stream. The river is very distinctive at this point. A spring meets with Maunawili Stream. Take the widest middle fork. It will quickly narrow, making you worry you have chosen the wrong path. Some people choose to cross the stream to another path here, but not only is that path muddier, but it will force them to make an extra stream crossing later on, and they miss seeing a beautiful segment of trail.

Coordinates: 21°21.369'N 157°45.883'W

The spring and Maunawili Stream meet MAJOR FORK (detail): Here is a photo of the river looking to your right so you can see the meeting of the two rivers. The third fork of the trail runs to the stream, but it isn't the best way to go. Stay on the middle path (pictured above), heading straight forward. The stream should stay on your right side.
small stone structure

Your choice to take the middle path will quickly pay off. You will start to notice the first traces of ancient rock walls and stone paved paths. Some of them were made by Hawaiians many hundreds of years ago, while others were erected by ranchers in the 1800s. This little stone structure is something I need to ask our local archaeologist about. It looks like an oven, but the opening is only the size of a loaf of bread. Please look, but don't disturb any stonework. There is a lot of mana (spiritual energy) in this area, and much respect should be given to all the structures. This part of the forest was used in ancient times for fertility worship and later for farming because of the springs that permeate the region.

Coordinates: 21°21.347'N 157°45.886'W

coffee trees are plentiful here You will pass through an area with a few impressive drifts of beautiful red heliconia on the sides of the trail, and then enter an area where you can view the overgrown remnants of a coffee farm. Coffee trees have thin trunks and long, shiny, dark green leaves. In the winter you will see red berries. The seeds on the inside are the coffee beans, but most of the flavor of coffee is derived from aging and roasting, so it is sadly not at all flavorful when it is straight from the tree. The berry flesh is edible, and is initially delicious but possesses an odd aftertaste that I would describe as similar to eating rose-scented soap. I am not sure why I know what rose-scented soap should taste like, but I assure you, it is a strange taste. Please make sure to identify the tree very carefully before tasting any berries because there are poisonous red berries in Maunawili too! Check at least two sources for any plant identification.
rock walls

Some mighty fine rock walls for your enjoyment

Coordinates: 21°21.343'N 157°45.933'W

Stay stright at the rock wall opening

Go through the rock wall opening and stay straight on the trail (don't take the stream crossing). Don't worry about the small trees that have been dragged or have fallen across the trail (as of May 2014). Just cross over them.

Coordinates: 21°21.322'N 157°45.949'W

Trail narrows

At this point, the trail will narrow until it feels like you are on the wrong trail. You are on the correct trail. Someday, hopefully other parts of the trail will be lush and in better condition like this. There are more rocks and a little less muddiness.

Rock terraces If you look to your left, you will see glimpses of beautiful rock terraces on the hillside.
Ape Springs

The trail crosses Ape Springs (pronounced AH-pay). The trail will be wet like a tiny streambed.

Coordinates: 21°21.297'N 157°46'W

Rock paved trail

These sections of rock lined trail are very old. Hawaiian canoe plants such as kukui, breadfruit, hao, and ti are present.

Coordinates: 21°21.292'N 157°46.037'W

stone irrigation structure

Auwai

You will soon reach a cool landmark on the trail. There is a stone and cement irrigation canal (auwai).

The first stream crossing

The time has finally come to cross Maunawili stream. It is very shallow here unless it is raining heavily (in which case, it is not a day to attempt this hike anyway) I like to wear reef walker shoes that can wade into the water, but others prefer to use the rocks in the stream as stepping stones. Both options are excellent here.

Coordinates: 21°21.207'N 157°46.094'W

The other side of the stream

Once you cross the stream, you will climb the bank and curve to the left. This is one of the most ravaged parts of the rail, sometimes 30 feet wide and muddy like chocolate pudding, but just keep going on the wide trail and try not to widen it further. People have accidentally made this part of the trail very unpleasant by trying to shortcut around the edges, thus widening the trail. Try to stay as central to the trail as you can tolerate and always choose the widest fork.

 

Example of the muddy wide trail

This is a typical looking part of this trail. Keep close to the center of the trail. The trail is very wide and muddy. Please don't shortcut and make it worse.

Coordinates: 21°21.16'N 157°46.118'W

stairs up the hill

up the stairs

Make your way to the stairs. Stay on the stairs to avoid eroding the hill.

Coordinates: 21°21.073'N 157°46.161'W

Koolau Mountain view at the top of the hill

Once you get to the top of the hill, go left. The view of the Koolau mountain range is very beautiful on the ridge.

Coordinates: 21°21.089'N 157°46.262'W

Panoramic view on Maunawili Falls trail This is a great place to take a photo! (It's not very far from the prior coords)...
PHOTO PENDING

You will follow the trail until you arrive at a fork where there is an odd "bench"- it has tons of graffiti on it, and it's not knee height, but rather sort of a waist-height thing. You can't miss it! The trail splits in two at this point. One fork continues ahead and becomes the Maunawili Demonstration Trail hike, but there are stairs to your left going down the hill to the waterfall. Follow the stairs down.

 

Maunawili Falls

From here, the trail is much more obvious. You will follow the stream against the current until you reach the falls. There are not as many shortcuts and varying paths as the prior parts of the trail, so it is thankfully quite easy to get to the falls once you reach this part of the trail. The remainder of the route contains two stream crossings, both of which are quite obvious and a little more tricky than the super tame crossing #1. When you get to the falls, be careful to watch for people jumping into the pool so you don't collide. Often you will be sharing it with a lot of people. It's hard to have quiet time at the falls these days. This photo is circa 2012. It is a small falls, about 15 feet tall. The pool is nice and deep and has little fish that nibble at your toes.

Coordinates: 21°20.927'N 157°46.342'W