Kahaualeʻa Trail

Trail in Kahaualeʻa Natural Area Reserve


  • Directions

    Geolocation is not allowed
  • Distance

    4.28 miles


The Kahaualeʻa trail, also known as “Captain’s Trail,” begins at the dead-end of Captain's Drive. The trail starts off with a slightly elevated pāhoehoe lava flow and takes you through a lush forest filled with ʻōhiʻa and a heavy undergrowth of ferns and other shrubs like the native ‘uluhe fern. As you continue your way on the trail you will be greeted by other plants that may not be easily noticeable at first. You can find the native ʻieʻie entwining amongst the ʻōhiʻa trees, hāpuʻu ferns big enough to provide shade, and some ʻōlapa dancing in the breeze along the trail. Travelers should be aware that this trail does have some hazards like cracks along the pāhoehoe portions, pits that may not be easily noticeable as vegetation has started to grow in and around them, and muddy portions that may leave travelers in a struggle to get their foot free. Being that the Kahauleʻa Natural Area Reserve is dense in ʻōhiʻa trees, this becomes an ideal habitat for some of Hawaiʻi’s native birds. Listen carefully as you walk the trail, you may hear some ‘elepaio singing. The trail ends at the vast sight of Puʻu ʻŌʻō and the hardened pāhoehoe lava flows that have happened in recent years. On these lava fields you can start to see new growth of kupukupu ferns and small ʻōhiʻa trees breaking through the cracks of the pāhoehoe.

Difficulty: moderate

Highest Point: 2,469 ft.

Lowest Point: 2,304 ft.

Allowed Activities
Rifle Hunting
Wildlife Watching
Rules & Regulation
No Biking
No Motorized
Allowed Access

Additional Information


  • Nature Study
  • Open Views
  • Sensitive Area


  • Parking


  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Sightseeing
  • Wildlife Viewing


  • Dangerous Footing
  • Hunting Area
  • Uneven Surface


  • No Bicycles
  • No Camping
  • No Commercial
  • No Horses
  • No Motorized Vehicles
  • No Open Fires
  • No Plant Sand Dirt Rock Removal
  • No Smoking

Simple Trail Tips

  1. Stay on the trail. 
  2. Check the weather 
  3. Watch the time 
  4. Avoid undue risk 
  5. Read all posted signs 
  6. Respect other trail users 
  7. Pack out at least what you pack in

Special Conditions

This trail is within the Kahaualeʻa Natural Area Reserve. 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


The moku (district) of Puna is heavily known for its rugged terrain of lava flows and dense forest, making it difficult and dangerous for canoe landing and launching sites along the coast. Because of this, Puna residents resorted to the trail system, this was the ultimate system for residents to trade, communicate, and transport goods from one village to the next. The Kahaualeʻa ahupuaʻa (land division from mountain to the sea) consisted of several old trails that are known today. One of these trails being the Kahaualeʻa Trail or, also known as, “Captain’s Trail.” In 1840 a Captain Charles Wilkes along with his party was said to have traversed this trail that passed north of Kalalua crater. Wilkes referred that there was a “direct path” and recorded on his map two trails that paralleled each other from Makaopuhi to beyond Kalalua Crater. With the dense and extensive ʻōhiʻa canopy, this provided the ideal habitat for native birds. Surveyor, R. A. Lyman recorded in 1873 about a Kamaʻaina known as Kalakolohe. He was said to have been the kia manu (bird catcher) for Kahaualeʻa. Scholar N. B. Emerson also writes about bird catching happening in Kilauea, Puna, and upper Hilo being the most desirable location for bird catching. Bird catching was essential in olden days as the feathers were used to make ‘aʻahu (regalia) for the aliʻi (chief)--ʻahuʻula (capes), mahiole (helmets), and kāhili (a feather standard that signified royalty.)