Located on the windward (north-east facing) coast of Maui, Lanilili (“Small Heaven”) is a ridge-point with about 280 feet of prominence on Kanoa Ridge, one of the many ridges emanating downward from the West Maui Mountains. The highest point of the West Maui Mountains is Pu’u Kukui, at 5,788 feet. However, this summit is closed to the general public (more information on that below). There are precious few trails or cross-country ways to get high into the West Maui Mountains save for this wonderful trail-hike up to Lanilili. The summit, at 2,563 feet, is roughly half as high as Pu’u Kukui, but is well worth the two hours of your day to visit it. The trail is well-constructed, gaining about 1,500 feet from the trailhead and following along narrow “knife” edges in places. Given its location on the windward coast, the area is almost always clouded and chances are good you will reach this summit in clouded, misty conditions.
Locate yourself along State Route 32 between Kahului and Wailuku. More toward the Kahului end, look for Kahului Beach Road, also signed as Kane Street and marked as State Route 3400. Turn northbound and drive about a mile to another right-turn, now onto State Route 340, signed for the town of Waihe’e. Shortly, come to a T-junction, and go right on Kahekili Highway (SR 340) and stay on it for another three miles or so. At about the 5-mile mark, the road narrows and starts to gain up the craggy coastline. You’ll come to the Mendes Ranch. Follow the road around a left-turn and immediately you’ll see the road for the Camp Maluhia Boy Scout Ranch. Make a hard left and follow this narrow paved road about a mile. You’ll come to the trailhead and a right-bend in this road. Go right and park in the gravel clearing.
A view back down the concrete path out toward the coastline
Pass through a pedestrian stile at the trailhead gate and follow a concrete “road” steeply up through a pasture. When the road starts to level and bend slightly right, find a good trail on the left, paralleling a fence line, and stay on it. Soon, you come to a second gate farther uphill. Pass through the pedestrian stile and then continue along the trail.
The trail switchbacks a couple times, coming close to some cliffs and spectacular overlooks with benches. Soon, the trail tops out onto the narrow ridge. Be careful here; although the trail is wide and lined with ferns, the shoulders are non-existent and a slip could mean a long way down the steep hillsides.
Tall pines and ferns line the trail.
At places along the trail, the drops can be steep and severe. The ferns give a false sense of security.
The last of three fences/gates that must be bypassed. This one is about halfway up.
Pass yet another gate and keep to the trail. It switchbacks up a hill, with steps put in on some of the steeper parts to obviate erosion. The route will pass to the right of one hill, cross a broad marshy saddle, then start up more long switchbacks before topping out on Lanilili’s summit, marked by a picnic table.
The one-way mileage is about 2.3, with mileage markers every half mile.
Even in mist, the views can be very nice, if ethereal. Larger trees include pine, eucalyptus and kukui (candle-nut). Ferns are everywhere and other small shrubbery too. Wildlife is limited to mongoose and, sad to say, rats. Obviously, clear weather is preferable, but you are at the mercy of the trade winds and the daily clouds that amass on the windward-facing coasts. The weather here is normally warm throughout the year, with highs ranging in the 70s to low 90s, lows about 10 degrees less. On a rare clear day, it will be a hot, humid hike. Even in the mist, it is very warm. Rain occurs almost every day, usually dropping in short spurts, although it can be heavy at times.
Beware the trail can be extremely slick if wet. Going down especially, be extremely aware of the slick rock and mud. It's as slick as ice, seriously.
The round-trip hike takes about 2 hours at a moderate pace.
I am pretty sure this is a kukui tree (candle-nut). Correct me if I am wrong.
The trail gets steeper. This is at about the 1.5-mile segment. Pines loom in the mist.
A picnic table sits here at the summit.
The gate at the base of Camp Maluhia Boy Scout Ranch Road is shut between 7 am to 7 pm daily. Plan accordingly so you don’t get locked in (or out). There are no fees or permits required to hike this trail.
When to Climb
All year. The weather stays the same in the general sense. It's probably going to be wet no matter what time you come here. I am not sure raingear is really necessary. Have a waterproof sack to carry your camera and other electronics. Otherwise, if it's warm, less is more... I wore swim trunks and a light t-shirt and was comfortable, even during the 15 minutes it downpoured on me.
There is no convenient camping nearby. Wailuku and Kahului have budget accommodations. There are numerous tourist-based destinations such as Kihei, Lahaina and Ka'anapali to select from for longer stays.
External LinksTrip Report (www.surgent.net) July 22, 2013
Pu'u Kukui - The Highest Point of the West Maui Mountains
The highest point of the West Maui Mountains, Pu’u Kukui, is usually visible on most days before the clouds roll in, especially from the leeward side of the island such as Lahaina and Ka’anapali. The summit appears as a slightly-pointed bump, but is surrounded on most sides by spectacular cliffs. It lies on land owned by the Maui Pineapple Company, which in recent years has sold some of its lands to the Nature Conservancy. Some of the higher mountain is “forest preserve” and almost all of the higher mountain is privately-owned, or inaccessible due to the extreme topography.
The summit at Pu’u Kukui holds a rain gauge and regularly receives about 400 inches of rain per year, comparable to Mt. Waialeale on Kauai Island. Interestingly, a metal boardwalk goes all the way to the summit, but the general public is forbidden. Some people are able to visit the top via helicopter via a lottery system. Unless you have a lot of extra money lying around and want to play the odds, Pu’u Kukui is probably not worth the hassle.