Kaunala Trail (West)
Trail in Pūpūkea Forest Reserve
Length (one way): 2.5 mi / 4.02 km - Elevation Change: 600 ft / 182.88 m
Kaunala trail is a 2.5 mile trek through many gullies surrounded by lush plant life ending in a dirt road at it's peak.
For additional information refer to the "Route description" section below.
Rules & Regulation
Hunting may be in progress on or near this hiking trail. Hunting dogs may be off-leash while engaged in the hunt. Hikers must keep their dogs leashed at all times and remove dog waste while on this trail.
Territorial Forestry built the Kaunala Trail in 1933 to provide access to the Pupukea section of the Paumalu Forest Reserve for reforestation efforts. In February, trail crews started work at Owl Flat near a newly planted section of paperbark seedlings. After the crew finished the trail in May, Territorial Forester Charles S. Judd erected hand painted wooden signs identifying 23 native trees and shrubs along the route. Unfortunately, most of the native plants are gone, but the trail remains generally wide and well-graded.
Simple Trail Tips:
- Stay on the trail.
- Check the weather
- Watch the time
- Avoid undue risk
- Read all posted signs
- Respect other trail users
- Pack out at least what you pack in.
This trail is only open on weekends and State and National holidays. Do not use any trail or access road that is not delineated by name and color and that may also be displayed on these maps. The marked features are managed for public recreational use. Other trails or roads that branch off from the public features may be on private property, and are not managed for any public recreational use. Access is subject to adjacent landowner approval, and if used without authorization, you will be trespassing and possibly putting yourself at risk. Downloadable resources are provided below
- Dog Hunting
- Dogs on Leash
- Nature Study
- Open Views
- Sensitive Area
- Dangerous Footing
- Hunting Area
- Narrow Trail
- Stream Crossing
- Uneven Surface
Plants & Birds
On the trail look and listen for the white-rumped shama. It is black on top with a chestnut-colored breast and a long black- and-white tail. The shama has a variety of beautiful songs and often mimics other birds. A native of Malaysia, the shama has become widespread in introduced forests such as this one. On the initial switchbacks and in the gulches, watch for hala pepe, a tall, slender native tree. The narrow leaves hang in bunches from the branch tips. The tree produces clusters of yellowish blossoms and then red berries. Early Hawaiians used the flowers in making lei (garlands). Lining the many small gulches are ki (ti) plants. They have shiny leaves, 1-2 feet long, that are arranged spirally in a cluster at the tip of a slender stem. Early Polynesian voyagers introduced ti to Hawai`i. They used the leaves for house thatch, skirts, sandals, and raincoats. Food to be cooked in the imu (underground oven) was first wrapped in ti leaves. A popular sport with the commoners was ho`ohe`e ki or ti leaf sledding. The sap from ti plants stained canoes and surfboards. After crossing the stream in the large gulch, listen for the Japanese bush warbler (uguisu), a bird often heard, but rarely seen. Its distinctive cry starts with a long whistle and then winds down in a series of notes. The bush warbler is olive brown on top with a white breast and a long tail. Beyond the clearing on the last side ridge are a few native `iliahi (sandalwood) trees. Their small leaves are dull green and appear wilted. `Iliahi is a partially parasitic, with outgrowths on its roots that steal nutrients from nearby plants. Early Hawaiians ground the fragrant heartwood into a powder to perfume their kapa. Beginning in the late 1700s, sandalwood was indiscriminately cut down and exported to China to make incense and furniture. The trade ended around 1840 when the forests were depleted of `iliahi. On the return look for native koa and `ohi`a trees along the dirt road. Koa has sickle-shaped foliage and pale yellow flower clusters. Early Hawaiians made surfboards and outrigger canoe hulls out of the beautiful red brown wood. Today it is made into fine furniture. `Ohi`a has oval leaves and clusters of delicate red flowers. Early Hawaiians used the flowers in lei (garlands) and the wood in outrigger canoes. The hard, durable wood was also carved into god images for heiau (religious sites).
Terrain and Trail Environment
Mountainous, Mixed forest and tree types
Campers must find legal parking in the adjacent neighborhood. Please park responsibly and do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
Always yield to hikers. Do not slide around corners or slide down the trail. Careless mountain biking damages the trail and causes erosion. If accidents are reported or damage to the trail is extreme, the trail may be closed to mountain bikers.
- No Alcohol
- No Commercial
- No Horses
- No Littering
- No Motorized Vehicles
- No Open Fires
- No Plant Sand Dirt Rock Removal
- No Smoking
If driving on Kamehameha Highway, from Haleiwa heading towards Sunset Beach, turn right on Pupukea Road (at Foodland). Continue up the road, past the Pu`u `O Mahuka Heiau, until the road ends at a gate and Camp Pupukea. Park below the Boy Scout camp along the road. Now Proceed on foot down the dirt road. The Kaunala Trailhead will be on your left about 3/4 mile down.
Proceed along the dirt road past the Boy Scout camp, following the route of the old Pupukea-Kahuku Trail. Go through a locked yellow gate and enter Kahuku Range, an Army training area. Sign in at the hunter-hiker check-in mailbox on the left. Reach a junction. Keep left on the main road, which has become paved. Shortly afterward reach a signed junction at the edge of a grove of paperbark trees. Turn left on the wide Kaunala Trail. (The paved road curves to the right and is the return portion if you decide to make a loop hike.) Immediately take the left fork to contour around a hill. Descend gradually on four switchbacks through a eucalyptus forest. Ignore trails going straight down the side ridges. Cross over a side ridge and begin to contour into and out of several gulches. Descend into the second gulch on two short switchbacks and cross tiny Paumalu Stream. Cross over a side ridge in a paperbark grove. Descend gradually through several more gulches. After crossing a small stream, climb gradually to an open area covered with uluhe ferns. Ascend the right side of a side ridge through native koa and `iliahi (sandalwood) trees. Contour briefly and then switchback once. Reach the end of the Kaunala Trail at a signed junction with a gravel road in a grove of paperbark trees. To make a loop hike, turn right on the road and climb steadily along a wide ridge past native `ohi`a and koa trees. Reach a flat, cleared area and then descend steeply, but briefly to go through a locked gate. Presently reach a junction with the original paved road near a stand of Cook pines. Turn right on the road. Descend gradually along an up-and-down ridge passing a covered picnic table on the right. Reach the familiar junction with the Kaunala Trail at the far edge of the paperbark grove. Retrace your steps to the Boy Scout Camp.
Kaunala Trail begins in a stand of paperbark trees and contours in and out of several gulches. It is a good combination of ridge and valley trail and offers great views of the north shore and Waianae Mt. Range. There's an interesting combo of native and introduced vegetation along this trail. The last portion of the hike is along a dirt road. When you break out of the forest onto the dirt road, go right. About 0.25 miles up the road, you will come to a large iron gate. Continue around the gate and go right at the intersection. Continue down the road, past the trailhead to the entrance gate and your parked vehicle. This trail traverses a public hunting area - hikers should exercise caution. Wear bright colored clothing and be aware that you may encounter hunters who may be hunting off trail - stay on the trail.
Descriptions for route, history, plants and birds were provided by Stuart Ball, author of The Hikers Guide to Oahu and other hiking books.