My goal here was to apply the same wilderness exploration strategy I use in the vast wilderness around Las Vegas to an entirely new and unknown area. The goal was to find the best daily trail running conditioning course that could be accessed by foot from the commercial tourist area of Kahana. I quickly found that running on the beach was out due to the steep incline that would only have worked had one leg been about 6-10 inches longer than the other! In addition, the beaches were 1oo yards long or less, bordered by sections of large boulders. Running on the streets was unsatisfying due to the joint-damaging surface of concrete and asphalt in addition to the need to dodge fairly heavy noisy traffic.
Of course, there are many wild areas and trails to explore on Maui, but these require traveling miles by car to get to the access points. My goal was to find the best daily conditioning running course approachable on foot from the tourist area in Kahana. I wanted to discover interesting, peaceful, beautiful running courses I could experience during the first early morning hour or so of the day while the rest of the non-hiking, non-running family was still asleep.
Viewing two close neighboring islands to Maui – Moloka’i and Lanai – it was clear these volcanic islands had a steep incline from the coastline that rapidly rose to the higher volcanic mountains that had formed the islands. The same must be true of Maui. This meant one would be able to quickly ascend to a spectacular view. The road system in Western Maui is mainly along the coastline, leaving large sections of the vast interior unapproachable by improved asphalt roads, which means little to no traffic, peaceful surroundings and spectacular views.
The only problem was to find access to the interior above Kahana. So I set out to explore potential access points. What I discovered went way beyond expectations including a seemingly endless network of unpaved roads with a perfect surface for running, spectacular views of the ocean West and Northwest of Maui including the islands of Lanai and Moloka’i, total peace entirely devoid of any traffic. In my miles of exploration on these beautiful unpaved roads I never once saw a vehicle or a human. There were even large jungles to explore. It was like being in another world from an access point only a quarter mile from the commercial tourist area along the coastline.
There are two access points to the vast unpaved road system above Kanana:
The video and slide show on this page give vivid pictorial documentation of the area and my travels there.
There are a series of parallel canyons that drain the distant mountains to the South as they continue downward to the coastline in Kahana. There is an extensive unpaved road system that skirts the rims of the canyons and at points crosses down into the canyons and then upward to the opposite rim. There are jungle areas at the base of the canyons and long dormant, apparently once agricultural land above the canyons and in some areas in the base of the canyons. One could potentially travel on the unpaved road system and along trails in the canyons all the way to the distant mountains. This would definitely take an entire day or more and would reveal a huge untouched area in the Western portion of the Island of Maui. My series of brief explorations only touch the very beginnings of such an adventure.
It appeared to me that the roads were public due to the presence of a few “private no access” signs in a very few areas to the right or left of the roads. This indicated a difference between the roads (public) and a few adjacent private areas (including the drainage area and the airport and a few other areas. I saw no buildings on the entire road system (except for the buildings in the airport area). There were no “private road” signs at the access points to this road system or blocking advance along the roads. Of course, you are in an area where you might be the only human within miles. This means you are isolated and your safety is entirely in your own hands. I did notice a few recent tire tracks on some of the roads, so someone travels them in 4WD vehicles, ATVs or on dirt bikes. I can’t vouch for the character of these travelers. You traverse these roads at your own risk. I was on the roads doing conditioning runs in the early morning hours and saw no people or vehicles. Perhaps later in the day vehicles pass along the roads?
There was no sign of agricultural use of the land. The land had lain dormant and, though it may have once been used for agricultural purposes, it was clearly being reclaimed by nature. There were a few cars here and there that had apparently experienced a violent demise and were on their sides or tops. Some were fairly new models! One can only speculate. Otherwise, the entire area along this unpaved road system appeared to be unused. I can only imagine that the agricultural use in past years ended when the tourist industry in Maui became a much more lucrative source of income.
From the Northern Access (above), continue upward and take the first right in about 1/2 to 3/4 miles. Continue for another mile or so along the top of the Kapalua Maui Airport. Then take a right downward. Turn right when the road “t’s” out just above Honoapiilani Hwy. Parallel Honoapiilani highway on this unpaved road, then turn left on Akahele St. to cross Honoapiilani Hwy. Here you’re basically taking the Southern Access (above) in reverse.
These loops basically follow the same course as the three-mile conditioning loop, but instead of taking the first right above the airport, continue further upward to higher, wider right turns that will parallel the airport at higher elevations. Once you have reached the far side of the airport, take a right downward back to the Honoapiilani Hwy access road.
Begin as you would with the 3-mile conditioning loop. This time instead of turning right above the airport, continue as far as the roads will take you along the upper rim of the canyon to your left. When you reach the furthest point along the top of the canyon, take a left downward to the base of the canyon, then the first right which will travel along the edge of a jungle. There is a trail access to the jungle area. Alternately, you can continue on the road system and wind upward to the far side of the canyon. There are many split-off roads there. I did not explore them all.
Take the Northern Access (above) as you would in the Three-Mile Loop (above). But this time, instead of ascending all the way to the road above the airport, take the first left into the base of the canyon. Continue on the roads angling right and upward to the opposite side of the canyon. You will find yourself skirting the upper rim of the next much larger canyon. Eventually you will come to a road that descends into the base of that canyon where you will find the deeper jungle. It appears you can take a right at the base of that canyon into the deeper jungle and continue for miles. I did not have time to do this, but it would be an amazing day-long adventure. Just keep track of time and know your turn-around point so you don’t end up in the jungle at night!