Makiki Valley Trail: A Walk Through History

Makiki Loop Trail
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Makiki Valley Trail on Oahu is one of the island’s most popular hiking trails. It’s well-maintained and clearly marked, making it a great choice for smart visitors who don’t want to risk trespassing, getting lost, or encountering off-trail dangers. 

Here’s everything you need to know about this great hiking trail!

Makiki Valley Trail: Know Before You Go

When people talk about the Makiki Valley Trail, they are probably referring to the full Makiki Loop Trail, which includes three different hiking trails forming a complete loop. 

The Makiki Valley trail is just one part of the loop.  That makes it a kind of “choose-your-adventure” proposition for hikers of all ages and abilities. Some bits are more challenging than others, so know your limits and don’t tempt fate by making poor decisions in the wild.

After trekking about a mile on the Makiki Valley Trail route, you can turn around, or continue onto the connecting trail that will eventually take you to a complete loop (about 2.5 – 3.5 miles, depending if you take detours onto other trails). 

It’s moderately challenging due to its steep grade and muddy conditions. But many visitors really like it since it’s part of the State DNLR’s Na Ala Hele trail system. These are official hiking trails that are maintained and marked. 

How to Find This Oahu Hiking Trail

Makiki Valley Trail is also a great hike because it’s so close to Honolulu. If you’re staying in Waikiki, it’ll take about 20 minutes to get here. 

There is a parking lot for the trail on Tantalus Drive. For those taking the full loop hike, there is access at the Hawaii Nature Center as well. 

Makiki Valley Loop Trail segment

Makiki Valley’s Ancient Past

An archaeological survey conducted by the State of Hawaii in 1980 indicates numerous “prehistoric” sites throughout Makiki Valley Trail. Taro farms of early Native Hawaiians were located in the flatlands at the mouth of the valley, stretching into the entrances of adjacent Manoa Valley and Pauoa Valley. 

The southeastern tip of the walls of Makiki Valley was called Pu’u ‘Ualaka’a, which translates to “hill of the rolling potato.” Early Hawaiians used the area to farm sweet potatoes hundreds of years ago.

Neither taro nor sweet potatoes are native to the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii’s first settlers brought them here about the same time Western Europe was plunging into the Dark Ages. Archaeologists have estimated that by the 1600s, about 80% of the land in Makiki below 2000 feet had been altered by human activity.

The area around Makiki Valley Trail was once home to a quarry for stones used to make fishing lures for octopus fishing and hunting. Historians believe the name “Makiki” refers to that type of quarried stone.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail root formation

Makiki Valley Trail’s Not-So-Ancient Past

The arrival of Captain James Cook and subsequent European voyagers (read: colonizers) further altered the landscape of Makiki. The introduction of livestock had dire consequences: erosion and the propagation of invasive species crowding out and praying on native flora and fauna. 

The sandalwood trade all but eliminated the species in Makiki in the years between 1815 and 1826. The cargo hold of a single merchant ship could transport up to 6,000 trees in a single voyage at that time. By the late 1800s, the forest in Makiki was simply…gone.

Reforestation efforts in Makiki Valley began in 1910 after a series of land transfers. In 1913, the territorial government declared Makiki-Tantalus a Forest Reserve. Thankfully, the forest has returned to Makiki Valley Trail, albeit with species not native to Hawaii. They were imported from Australia, Asia, and beyond.

The Valley Today

Eucalyptus is fairly abundant in the valley. The trails within the Nature Center meander through lush jungle, alongside the babbling Moleka Steam and Kanealole Stream. That “babbling” can turn into “roaring” quickly, so situational awareness of weather and ground conditions is vital for keeping safe even on the easier trails.

While most of the native bird species of Makiki Valley have long since vanished, a couple of them remain in small numbers. It takes bird watchers’ keen eyes and ears to spot them in the wild. But the songs of the Oahu Amakihi and the Apanepane can still be heard in the valley, along with the calls of exotic new arrivals like the ring-rose parakeet, white-rumped Shama, and red-crested Cardinal.

Makiki Valley Loop Trail apanepane bird

The Makiki Valley Trail is popular because of its proximity to Honolulu-proper and Waikiki, its easy accessibility, and its offering of a relatively safe stroll through the tropical jungle. But it was once home to some of Hawaii’s most valued species (including the now precious Koa tree). And that’s something to ponder as you meander these forest paths.