In days of old, foot travel was de rigueur. But even on the small island of Oahu (16-miles wide at its narrowest), it was no easy feat to get from one side to the other, especially if you factored in getting over a 2,000-foot mountain range. The Pali Road (RT 61) was their answer.
Crawling under the current Pali Road. Don’t worry. It’s safe.
Meaning “the cliff,” this road has been rebuilt three times over what was the ancient pathway that led through the lowest part of the ridge line to reach the eastern part of the island. The current four-lane road was last upgraded in 1953, but its predecessor dates back to 1898. In 1919, it was rebuilt, and this is the segment that makes up most of the “trail” on this hike. These old unused roads still wind down the ridge line, clinging to the face of the mountain and have become a very popular walk that allows you to peek into the past while enjoying amazing vistas not seen by car and dense forests of vegetation that have almost enveloped the remaining pavement.
I have done this walk several times and highly recommend it. While I prefer starting at the bottom (the parking lot of Ko’olau Golf Course), I’d suggest visitors do the top/down route as it’s easiest to access. Park at the Pali Overlook on the windward side, enjoy the view, then walk to the right, down a paved trail to what is obviously a small road leading off to the southeast. Go through a metal gate, and as soon as you make the first major hairpin curve, everything changes. The wind dies, exotic vegetation is at your fingertips, and the vistas are enough to stop you in your tracks. You might even sight a waterfall if it has been raining. Enjoy the views, as well as the plethora of trees and flowers.
This hike is very family-friendly since there is adequate remaining pavement to walk on. You will hear the birds, and find that something is always in bloom. The lowest levels of the hike are a favorite of mine because there are parts of the lane where the pavement gives way to the old, original stone-covered pathway. My imagination always runs wild when I reach this part, thinking of Hawaiians of old who traversed these ridges to get from seashore to seashore. I can’t give you a hike time estimate because every time I do it, there is something that catches my eye and slows me down. Some websites say it takes about 3.5 to 4 hours, round trip. Just do whatever part of it you can, and you’ll take away a memory that is only possible if one seeks out this hidden part of Oahu’s history.
The decrepit road leads to interesting landscapes that’s home to this little guy, the Jackson Chameleon.
OLD PALI TRAIL
• Windward, Oahu; starts at Pali Lookout • Takes about 3.5 hours • Difficulty Level: Easy • Hike with a buddy, water, snacks, cell phone & flashlight • Free parking available; near bus route.