Waihe’e Ridge Trail is one of the most popular hikes on Maui, and while it’s not for everyone, this was one of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever done.
This out-and-back trail ascends ~1450’ in just over 2 miles along a ridgeline of the West Maui Mountains to the trail’s summit before descending back to the parking lot. This trail has it all, offering views of Waihe’e Valley, Haleakala, Makamakaole Waterfall, the pacific ocean, and lush rainforest greenery.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll be reviewing everything from trail stats, need-to-know tips, wildlife, and everything in between.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail Snapshot
|Distance||2.5 miles one way (5 miles out and back)|
|Difficulty||4 out of 5|
|Duration||2 to 4 hours|
|Trail type||Out and back|
|Seasons||Year-round. However, you’re more likely to encounter rain from November to March.|
|Bathrooms||Porta-potties at the trailhead/parking area|
|Activities||Hiking, trail running, photography, bird watching, horseback riding|
|Special attributes||Spectacular views and waterfall (in the distance)|
|Hours||Parking lot is open from 7 am to 7 pm|
Waihee Ridge Trail Overview
The Waihee Ridge Trail is a heavily trafficked, easy-to-follow, moderately difficult trail. The whole way out is a climb as you ascend the ridgeline to the summit. It’s tough going up but doable.
While the ascent may be challenging, it’s the terrain that makes this trail moderately difficult. It’s pretty rocky and slippery in some areas, so you need a good deal of coordination to attempt this trail. You wouldn’t want to get injured while on vacation!
In my opinion, the descent is more challenging than the ascent (I may be in the minority though!). Just go slow and be careful.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail is part of Na Ala Hele, the State of Hawai’i Trail and Access Program. This program works to maintain, preserve and keep the hiking trails of Hawai’i safe.
Access to the trail is open from 7 am to 7 pm. However, the parking lot fills up quickly, so it’s best to get there at 7 am. The morning also tends to be less hot, and there’s less chance of cloud cover obstructing some of the amazing views along this trail.
This trail does follow the ridgeline (as the name implies), so always use caution. If you’re scared of heights, you may want to sit this one out or just complete the first half of the trail.
Stay on the main trail at all times. Any trail that branches off the main trail may be private property. Please be respectful of locals and do not trespass. There is also hunting permitted in the area, so wear bright clothing.
Waihee Ridge Trail Location
Waihee Ridge Trail is in the northwest part of Maui off Kahekili highway in Wailuku. It’s about an hour from Lahaina and about 20 min from Kahului.
The trail is in the West Maui Forest Preserve, in the West Maui Mountains. The Territorial Government of Hawai’i created the Forest Reserve System to protect, restore, and manage the forests and resources of Hawaii.
West Maui Mountains
While the Road to Hana and Haleakala on the island’s east side get the most notoriety with visitors, a drive through the West Maui Mountains definitely rivals the island’s east side.
If you want to experience the West Maui Mountains, also known as West Maui Volcano or Mauna Kahālāwai (which translates to “holding house of water”), hiking the Waihe’e Ridge Trail is one of the best ways to do that.
Google maps takes you right to the trail, but it can get a little confusing, and cell service is spotty, so make sure you download the map beforehand.
The road that takes you to the Waihe’e Ridge Trail parking lot is just before mile marker 7 on Kahekili highway, across from Mendes Ranch. It is easy to see, but we drove past it the first time. You’ll spot Mendes Ranch first on the right side of the road, so you can use that as a landmark to know where to turn.
Parking and Facilities
Once you turn onto the road that leads to the trailhead, you’ll come to a small parking lot. This is the overflow parking lot. It’s about 0.8 miles away from the main parking lot, so you won’t want to park here if you don’t have to!
Continue along this narrow gravel road for just under a mile, and you’ll come to the main parking lot, which holds about 35-40 cars. There are porta-potties at the entrance to the parking lot.
The parking lot is open from 7 am to 7 pm, but because of the popularity of the trail, it may be full.
If the parking area is full, you’ll have to park in the overflow lot, which will add an extra 0.8 miles to your hike both ways unless you can catch a ride with someone (at your caution). Your other option would be to wait it out until a parking spot is available.
Hiking Waihee Ridge Trail
The Waihe’e Ridge trailhead is easy to find at the parking lot entrance. From the parking lot, it’s to the right, past the porta-potties behind a cattle gate.
Protecting the trails
Help stop the spread of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, a disease caused by two fungal pathogens that kill ʻōhiʻa, Hawaiʻi’s most abundant native tree.
Before and after hiking, make sure your shoes are clean, especially if you’ve been hiking on other Hawaiian islands. Brush all the dirt off your shoes and spray with 70% rubbing alcohol. There are stations at the trailhead for you to wipe your shoes clean before and after hiking.
As with all trails, follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Leave the trail better than you found it.
The trail starts at 1000’ elevation and quickly continues to climb. Once you pass through the cattle gate, you start with a steep 200’ climb up a cement road for about .20 miles. This first hill is arguably the steepest part of the trail, so don’t get discouraged! Once you make it past this part, it levels off a bit.
This first part of the trail passes through private property, and you may see cattle grazing nearby. Be respectful, don’t disturb the cattle, and they won’t bother you.
Continue along the trail slightly to the left and onto a dirt road. Shortly after this, you’ll go through a second cattle gate and enter the forested part of the trail. This part is less steep, and the trees provide some shade from the sun.
Though you don’t have the stunning ridgeline views on this part of the trail, it may be my favorite because you get to see all kinds of tropical vegetation and wildlife.
Keep trekking through the forest until you get to an overlook with a little bench (about 0.6 miles in) offering stunning views of Makamaka’ole falls. This is a good place to stop and catch your breath while taking in the beauty of Maui.
Midway Viewing Platform
After about ¾ of a mile, you leave the forested area and come to a viewing platform. There are spectacular views of the West Maui Mountains and Waihe’e Valley from here on out. In the distance, you can also see the town of Kahului and the summit of Haleakala.
The rest of the trail can be treacherous as it is steep, rocky, and potentially slippery. If you stop here and turn around, you still experience the best views the trail has to offer.
There are a few stairs at about 1 ¼-mile that make the trail a little easier to climb by providing some traction.
Slightly past that, you enter another forested area for just a short bit, providing some welcome relief from the sun.
The last chunk of trail snakes up Lanilili hill before ending at a wooden platform with a picnic table. If the clouds haven’t rolled in, you can take a well-deserved rest with views of the West Maui Mountains and Maui coastline.
Follow the trail back down the way you came, but be very careful!! As I said before, going down is a lot harder than going up.
We went on a dry day when the trail wasn’t muddy but still slightly slippery in some spots. I can see how it’d be a lot more difficult if it were muddy. I consider myself to be fairly coordinated and in good shape, and I slipped a couple of times on the way back down. Go slow, use caution, and take breaks. Hiking poles would be a huge help on this trail.
What to Bring
In addition to the ten essentials for hiking, you may want to bring a couple of other key items to help you with this hike.
- Hiking poles: This trail is steep and slippery. Hiking poles can provide some stability and help you keep your balance on this rocky terrain.
- Hiking shoes or boots: Again, because of the steepness and terrain, I recommend doing this hike with a good pair of hiking boots or shoes. While it’s probably doable in sneakers if you’re coordinated, and it’s not too muddy, hiking shoes would be a better option.
- Camera: The views on this trail are like nowhere else. These are moments you’ll want to capture.
- Raincoat: This one and the following items are on the ten essentials list, but important to reiterate for this trail. This part of Maui rains a lot, so a rain jacket would be handy to have. It also is a bit chillier at the top of the trail.
- Sun Protection: This is imperative in the Hawaiian sun! Make sure to pack sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses!
- Bring a snack or picnic lunch: There are a few ideal spots along the trail to stop and have a bite to eat.
- Water: It can get quite hot, so you definitely don’t want to forget your water.
Quick Tips and What to Know Before You Go
Best time to Hike Waihe’e Ridge Trail
- Time of day: This is a very popular trail on Maui and can get busy. You’ll want to go early to ensure a place to park and less crowds. It’s also a little cooler in the morning, and there is less chance of cloud cover obstructing the views. The trail opens at 7 am, so that’s the best time to get there.
- Time of year: The trail is spectacular year-round, but the summer months are drier, making the trail a bit less slippery and treacherous.
Trail Closures and Announcements
The trail is typically open daily but may be closed for various reasons. Before driving to the trail, check for announcements and closures.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail is located in a rainy part of Maui. It can get over 400 inches of rain per year. Make sure to check the weather ahead of time and choose a dry day to hike.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail Map
While the trail is heavily trafficked and easy to follow, it can still be nice to have a trail map. You may not have great cell service, so downloading the map beforehand or having a paper copy is always a good idea.
Waihee Ridge Trail Elevation
The trail begins at ~1000’ elevation, and the peak is ~1563’ higher at 2563’ elevation. The elevation gain is 1610’, so it is a steady climb to the top. It’s an out and back trail, so you descend the whole way back.
It’s Free to Park and Hike
Traveling to Hawaii and experiencing Maui can be pretty pricey. However, this is one of the best things to do that doesn’t cost money!
Makamaka’ole falls is one of the only waterfalls on the island’s west side that you don’t need to take a helicopter ride to see! Instead, you can catch some great distant views of Makamakaole Falls from the Waihe’e Ridge Trail.
It’s is a multi-tiered waterfall that’s over 270’ tall. You don’t have to hike the whole trail to catch a glimpse of the Makamakaole Falls. The best views are between ½ to 1 mile.
Flora and Fauna on Waihe’e Ridge Trail
There are more non-native plants at the beginning of the trail, but as you hike further along the trail, you’ll find more native Hawaiian plants. There are more than 50 different species of native plants as you go further along the trail.
As you start, you can expect to see purple vervain, tall cane grass, balloon plant, Brazilian pepper, and more.
Other plants along the trail include wild orchids, shampoo ginger, various species of ferns, and a few flowering plants.
For more about the plants, pick up the Waihe`e Ridge Trail Native Plant Guide at the State Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Kahalui.
Along the Waihe’e Ridge Trail you can expect to see Cook pines, `Ohi`a, guava, Kukui, passionfruit, and Eucalyptus trees.
Some birds you may come across on the Waihe’e Ridge Trail include:
- Japanese bush-warblers
- Common myna
- Hawaii amakihi
Waihee Ridge Trail Tours
If you prefer to have a tour guide, there are a few options. This is an excellent way to learn the area’s history and more about the native plants and wildlife.
I personally did not do any of these tours, so I can’t review any of them, but I ran into some people that did and said it was well worth the money!
Make a Day of it: Nearby Activities
Most of the beaches near Waihe’e Ridge Trail are local hangout spots, not typical tourist beaches. So if you’re looking for bigger beaches, you’ll have to travel a bit further.
Waihe’e Beach Park
Distance from the trail: 11 min drive time
Entrance/parking fee: None
About: This is a small beach that locals visit more than tourists. It can be a bit too rough for swimming or snorkeling, and there is no lifeguard on duty, but it is a great place to catch a sunrise or sunset. It’s advised to keep your car doors locked in this area.
Waiehu Beach Park
Distance from the trail: 12 min drive time
Entrance/parking fee: None
About: This small beach is not great for swimming but is off-the-beaten-path and not usually busy. It’s not a tourist beach, so if you’re looking to avoid crowds, this is a good spot. Because of this, you may share the beach with some people that are living off the land.
Kahana Beach Park
Distance from the trail: 21 min drive time
Entrance/parking fee: None
About: This beach is right by the airport, so you get a bit of noise from the planes flying overhead. This is a good beach for kiteboarding, windsurfing, and fishing.
Places to Eat Nearby
‘Ula ‘Ula Cafe
‘Ula ‘Ula Cafe is the place to eat after hiking Waihe’e Ridge Trail. It’s a short 8-minute drive from the trail to this little food truck/farmstand Cafe.
Look no further if you want farm-to-table, local Hawaiian food. This is a foodie’s paradise. They offer Acai bowls, fresh fish, and burgers made from local beef.
I recommend this food stop even if you’re not hiking. You won’t regret it!
The Bamboo Grille is about a 15-minute drive from the trail and serves up an array of Hawaiian, American, and Japanese food. You can stop here for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The restaurant has a chill vibe, so you can definitely stop here after a hike. You won’t be underdressed.
Tiffany’s Bar and Grille
Tiffany’s Bar and Grille offers Asian Fusion food with a Hawaiian spin and is a favorite for both locals and tourists. You can get from the trail to this restaurant in about 15 minutes.
Other Hikes Nearby
ʻIao Needle Lookout Trail and Ethnobotanical Loop
If you’re worn out from hiking the Waihe’e Ridge Trail, then this is a good option for you. It’s about 20 minutes away and definitely worth seeing while you’re on Maui. The ‘Iao Valley is like being in another world.
The hike is very easy and suitable for most people. It’s a 0.6 mile primarily paved loop.
Waihe’e Coastal Dunes & Wetlands Refuge
The Waihe’e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge is less than 10 minutes away from the Waihe’e Ridge Trail. This land is owned by the Hawaiian Land Trust and is home to many endangered native Hawaiian birds and plants.
13 Crossings Trail
If you still have a good bit of energy left after hiking Waihe’e Ridge, this trail is less than 10 minutes away. It’s is only a 2-mile out-and-back trail but is moderately difficult since you’ll be crossing over many streams and rocks. You’ll want water shoes for this hike. This trail offers close-up views of Makamakaole falls.
Other things to do Nearby
What could be more convenient than taking a horseback ride before or after your hike? The Mendes Ranch is just across the street! Although you will want to book this in advance.
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens
Maui Nui Botanical Gardens is a short 15-minute drive from Waihee Ridge Trail. Take a tour and learn about native Hawaiian plants.
Maui Mall Village
In the mood for some shopping? The Maui Mall Village is about 20 minutes away from Waihe’e Ridge Trail.
Maui Historical Society
Maui Historical Society is about a 16-20 minute drive from Waihe’e Ridge Trail. Stop by and learn all about Maui’s history. Make sure to call in advance and set up an appointment.
Maui Tropical Plantation
Support the local farmers and head to the Maui Tropical Plantation. You can take a tour, zipline, pick up some fresh produce, or grab a bite to eat here. Call ahead for reservations.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail Reviews
I thought the trail was excellent and a must-see in Hawaii, but everyone has a different perspective, so check out these other reviews for another point of view.
More Maui Hiking Trails
Maui is full of fantastic hiking trails ranging in difficulty. Here are a few of my favorite hikes on Maui.
Honolua Bay Access Trail
Honolua Bay Access Trail is an easy 0.6-mile out-and-back trail through a moss-covered enchanted forest on the northwestern coast of Maui that leads to the infamous Honolua Bay Beach.
This hike encapsulates the essence of Maui with lush rainforest greenery, lava rock cliffs, and sparkling ocean views.
Kapalua Coastal Trail
The Kapalua Coastal Trail is a paved 3.2-mile out-and-back trail (1.6 miles one way) that follows along the coastline offering spectacular views the whole way.
Dragon’s Teeth Trail
Dragon’s Teeth Hike is a short 0.6-mile out-and-back hike (0.3 miles one way) on Maui’s northwestern shore at Makaluapuna Point in Kapalua. This trail leads to a lava rock point that resembles the mouth of a dragon.
Sliding Sands Trail
The Sliding Sands Trail is an 11.2-mile out-and-back trail that starts near the summit of Haleakala Volcano at nearly 10,000’ above sea level and descends towards the volcano crater.
Pa Ka’oao Trail
The Pa Ka’oao Trail is also near the Haleakala summit. If the Sliding Sands Trail seems a bit too daunting, you can do this shorter and easier 0.5-mile trail (0.25 miles one-way) and still catch all the same views of the Haleakala crater.
Waihee Ridge Trail FAQ
2 to 4 hours
Moderate to difficult
-Hiking shoes or boots
-A hat for sun protection
-Breathable clothing since it gets pretty hot
-A raincoat in case it rains
There are porta-potties at the parking lot by the trailhead.
You can see Makamaka’ole falls in the distance from the trail.
No, but it’s a good idea to get there early because the parking lot fills up quickly.
Yes, parking is free.
The elevation gain for Waihe’e Ridge Trail is 1610’
It can be. I recommend avoiding the trail if it has just rained because it can get very muddy and slippery. Otherwise, if you stay on the trail and stick to your ability level, you should be fine. It is also a hunting area so use caution.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail is in Wailuku, roughly 10-15 minutes from downtown. It’s about 20 minutes from Kahului, 30 minutes from Paia, 40 minutes from Wailea, and 45-60 minutes from Lahaina.