Haleakala National Park
From the lushness of Paliku to the dry, rocky coastline of southeast Maui, the Kaupo Trail descends 6,100 feet in 8.4 miles. The steep drop is matched by rugged volcanic scenery and spectacular ocean vistas.
The hike begins in the east corner of Haleakala crater near Paliku Campground (0.0 miles, elevation 6,380 feet). Short switch-backs alternate with moderately steep to level stretches of trail during the first 3.7 miles. Conditions are good, with some rocky or rutted sections requiring slower travel. Large trees provide patches of shady cover. Waterfalls are often visible on the east wall.
At the park boundary (3.7 miles, elevation 3,880 feet), the trail crosses onto private land and becomes a jeep road. This point is marked by a fence and gate designed to keep ranch cattle, feral goats and pigs from entering the park. For the next 2 miles the trail drops relentlessly down through mostly open, grassy country. Round rocks on the steep trail act like ball bearings, making footing unsure and travel slow. Sun can be intense on this southern exposure.
Water tanks on ranch property at mile 4.0 (elevation 3,840 feet) and 5.3 (elevation 2,280 feet) are for cattle, not people. This water is not potable. Only boiling, or a sophisticated filtration system, can kill or remove human pathogens such as giardia and leptospirosis.
At about mile 6.0 you leave the jeep road and turn right to follow a footpath through thickets of alien guava, Christmas berry, and java plum. Watch for signs as the trail meanders up, down, and around, before reaching Kaupo Ranch (6.8 miles, elevation 1,040 feet). From here it is another 1.6 miles along the county jeep road to the coast highway and the village of Kaupo (8.4 miles, elevation 280 feet). See map on reverse side for a detail of this area.
Beyond Kaupo Trail
The Kaupo Trail ends on Highway 31 at the tiny settlement of Kaupo where very limited roadside parking is available. Do not leave any valuables in parked vehicles.
The road leading east and west from Kaupo is a poor quality dirt and rock road. It is frequently closed to all vehicles due to landslides and flash floods following heavy rain. Even moderate rainfall at higher elevations may make stream crossings along the road impassable to vehicles. Check with Maui Police Department (244-6400) regarding road conditions before starting your trip. A weather report can be obtained from the National Weather Service at 871-5054.
Kaupo Store is located just west of the jeep road- highway intersection. The store is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cold drinks, candy bars, and a limited supply of food items are available.
Huialoha Church, 1 mile east of Kaupo, currently allows overnight camping on church property outside the church walls. There are no restrooms or water. Treat the beautiful grounds and 1859 structure with respect. All trash must be carried away with you.
It is 10 miles from the town of Kaupo to the park 'Ohe'o campground at Kipahulu. No water is available along the road or at the 'Ohe'o campground. It is another 10 miles beyond 'Ohe'o to the town of Hana.
Vegetation, Wet To Dry
The pall, or cliffs, at the top of the gap are influenced by the moisture-rich trade winds spilling over from the northeast side of the island. Rainfall approaches 100 inches per year and afternoon fog is common. Native trees, 'ohi'a, 'olapa, and the rarer kolea, clothe the slopes. Dense thickets of 'akala, the native raspberry, grow on moist flat areas adjoining the trail. Mamane, seen as a shrub in the crater, reaches tree height. This high quality native plant habitat sustains birds unique to Hawai'i. Watch for 'i'iwi, 'apapane, and 'amakihi feeding on nectar or flying overhead. Pueo, the Hawaiian short-eared owl, and nene, the Hawaiian goose, are also commonly seen.
Very quickly, as you descend, lush plant cover gives way to a drier savannah-like community . Native koa trees more than five feet in diameter with sprawling canopies are seen along the trail. Once expansive koa forests covered much of mid-elevation Hawai'i. Easily destroyed as a seedling by grazing animals, the koa has become a rare tree today. These Kaupo trees, and the young offspring scattered around them, survive because they are protected within the National Park boundary.
As you pass on to ranchland, the climate continues to become noticeably drier. The trail passes through pastureland with a mixture of non-native grasses and shrubs.
There is geologic evidence that Kaupo Gap was once Kaupo canyon, a 6,000 foot deep erosional feature cut into the then dormant volcano. Subsequently a tremendous rock and mud slide filled the canyon and flowed down the mountain into the sea. The fan shaped shoreline area visible from the top of the gap is evidence of this gigantic landslide. When volcanic activity resumed, lava flowed from the area west of Paliku, obscuring both the canyon and the landslide. It is this great lava spillway that you follow when hiking the gap.
The trail ends at Kaupo, an area that supported a thriving Hawaiian community for perhaps a thousand years. Kaupo means "night landing place", presumably a reference to canoe travel, once so important to the lives of the area's residents.
Introduced diseases that decimated the Hawaiian people, and legislated changes in land ownership during the 1800's, altered long followed life ways. Kaupo Ranch, established in 1929, and in single family ownership since that time, provides employment today for most members of the small community.
Keep in Mind
For the unprepared hiker, however, Kaupo Trail can be an experience in misery: blistered feet, tortured knees, intense sun or torrential rain, and no available drinking water. The steep, rocky terrain in Kaupo Gap makes it essential that you be in good physical condition. Weak knees, bad backs, and new boots are not compatible with this trail. Bring a first aid kit that includes moleskin for treating potential blisters. Plan on carrying at least 1.5 quarts of water per person. Allowing extra time to rest and take in the scenery will make this a more enjoyable trip.
For personal safety and conservation reasons please stay on the trail. This rule helps prevent erosion and limits trampling of native plants. Camping is allowed only at the designated campgrounds, Paliku and Holua. You must obtain a free camping permit at Park Headquarters or the Kipahulu Ranger station to stay in these campgrounds.
The lower half of the trail is on private land. Permission to pass is extended to hikers as a courtesy. Do not bother cattle or ranch employees. No camping or vehicle parking is allowed on ranch land.
Fire is a serious threat to the survival of the unique dryland forest of the Kaupo area. Building fires is strictly prohibited on both park and ranch land.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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