Waihe’e Ridge Trail- Everything You Need to Know About Maui’s Best Ridge Hike

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Along the Waihe’e Ridge Trail, you’ll have no question how Maui garnered the name,  “Valley Isle”, given its breathtaking views of the lush green West Maui Mountains.

Not only does this hike offer spectacular views of the Waihe’e Valley, but its trail is also incredibly unique- being one of the only hikes on the entire island to provide a bird’s-eye perspective of this rugged terrain. The extreme amount of precipitation and the prodigious growth of the flora here make it almost impossible to maintain any kind of foot trail, making it one of the few ridge hikes in Maui’s highlands. So if you’re in the market for a one-of-a-kind hike with stunning views, you’re in luck- here’s everything you need to know about the Waihe’e Ridge Trail. 

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About Waihe’e Ridge Trail

Location: The trailhead is located here, in the West Maui Forest Reserve.

Length: 4.0 miles

Elevation gain: 1,610 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Woman hiking on Waihe'e Ridge Trail with the Waihe'e Valley

How to Get to Waihe’e Ridge Trail

Whether you’re coming from the north or south of the island, you’ll get to the trailhead along the Kahekili Highway, a gorgeous, but nail-bitingly narrow and curvy road along the cliffs of the eastern portion of Maui.

To reach the trailhead, you’ll turn onto Maluhia Road, which, in a few sections, turns into a windy one-lane road- so drive incredibly slowly and carefully. At the end of the road, you’ll reach a dirt parking lot that holds about 40 cars.

If the lot is full, you can park at the overflow lot down the hill, located here. Word of warning, though- this will add a little under 2 miles roundtrip (and quite a bit of elevation gain) to the hike.

Sunlight on the Waihee Valley from the Waihee Ridge Trail

Parking in the main lot can get to be a squeeze on weekends during Maui’s busy seasons (winter and summer), so if you want to avoid resorting to the overflow lot, I’d suggest getting to the trailhead early!

What to Know Before Hiking the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

The West Maui Mountains (or Mauna Kahālāwai in Hawaiian) were- and continue to be- of great historical and spiritual significance in Hawaiian culture.

ʻŌhiʻa along Waihe'e Ridge Trail

Given the wide elevation range and unusual topography, the mountains have a variety of microclimates, which were recognized by Ancient Hawaiians as each having their own spiritual and practical purpose. In fact, within the mountains’ microclimates, there’s at least 18 plant species that can be found nowhere else on the planet!

That being said, alien plants, carried by animals or humans, have overtaken native flora and dominate vast swaths of the mountains, specifically in the lower elevations (see here for more information). Please prevent the future spread of invasive species by vigorously brushing off any mud or other kinds of debris from the soles of your shoes before you set off on the trail– there’s actually a handy little stand right by the trailhead with brushes, for this very purpose!

And while we’re at it, a friendly reminder to always follow the leave no trace principles while you’re on the trail.

Couple standing on Waihe'e Ridge Trail looking into the Waihe'e Valley

What to Expect Along the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

So you’ve made the harrowing drive to the trailhead and have aggressively brushed off the bottoms of your shoes- what’s next?

The trail starts off through a cattle gate and up a very steep concrete ramp for about 0.1 miles. While the hike doesn’t start off very scenic (trust me- it gets a LOT better!), the trail quickly veers off into a beautiful forest, full of lush guava and eucalyptus trees.

You’ll walk under the dense cover of these trees until, about 0.6 miles in, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the left- at this bend, you’ll have a spectacular view, off to your right, of Makamaka’ole Falls, a 270-foot two-tiered waterfall. Continue on through the forest for another 0.1 miles until you burst out of its canopy and onto the ridge itself. 

Here, you’ll instantly understand why Waihe’e Ridge Trail is consistently ranked as one of the best hikes in Maui, given the dazzling views into the Waihe’e Valley, formed by mountains that date back 1.7 million years and dramatically carved over the millenia by stream erosion.  Make sure to look behind you as well- you’ll have expansive views of Kahului and the Pacific Ocean stretching endlessly on.

From here on out, your hike will be along an exposed ridgeline, with no shade. You’ll continue climbing up the spine of the mountain along switchbacks, with the pathway alternating between steep inclines, stairs carved into the clay-like hills, and very welcome flat sections. During your climb, you’ll see dozens of helicopter tours zooming by- and while those folks paid hundreds of dollars to get views into Waihe’e Valley, you’re getting a spectacular view too- all for free!

Helicopter flying along the Waihee Valley in Maui

Eventually, after about 2 miles of hiking, you’ll reach the very top of the ridge, called Lani-ili, with panoramic views of the island, all the way to Molokini- that is, if the summit isn’t totally covered in clouds! There’s a picnic table here where you can take a breather, have a snack, and take in the magnificent vistas of Maui and the surrounding islands before you follow the pathway back to the trailhead.

When to Hike the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

As mentioned above, the West Maui Mountains are quite wet- in fact, they get over 300 inches of rain per year! And while the Waihe’e Ridge Trail is usually moderately challenging, the rain can make the tail absurdly muddy, causing the steep inclines and almost vertical drop-offs along the trail to be quite dangerous.

As such, I’d highly recommend avoiding the trail in the rain or immediately afterwards. The rainiest season here tends to be from November through March, although this area receives a hearty amount of precipitation year round.

Additionally, clouds usually roll into the West Maui Mountains, including along the trail, by mid-afternoon most days, so if you’d like unobstructed views of the dramatic green ridges, I’d recommend coming in the early morning.

Another bonus? You’ll have better lighting if you’re into photography like us- while my husband, Justin, and I lucked out with perfectly dry weather (in January, no less!), a lot of our photos along the trail were pretty washed out, given the harsh lighting of the midday sun during our visit.

Woman looking from the Waihe'e Ridge Trail into the Waihe'e Valley

Tips for Hiking the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

  • The parking lot, gate, and trail are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. Please respect these hours- part of this trail passes along private property and it’s only because of the kindness of the property owners that we’re allowed to enjoy this spectacular trail.

    Similar hikes that cross private property, like the famed Swinging Bridges (which you can actually see from Waihe’e Ridge), have been closed to the public, due to people not following the rules. Let’s make sure that Waihe’e Ridge stays open for all to enjoy for years to come!
  • Along well over half of the trail, you’ll be directly exposed to the sun, with no shade. So slather on that (reef-safe) sunscreen before you hit the trail.
  • If you’re in a rush or just don’t feel like exerting yourself too much, turning around once you’ve reached the first viewpoint over the ridge (around a mile in) isn’t a terrible idea– we noticed many hikers doing this while we were on the trail.

    While your perspective of the valley certainly gets more and more dramatic the further up the ridge you climb, your ability to see into the valley doesn’t materially change- and, in my opinion, the view into the valley from along the ridgeline is more breathtaking than the other vistas provided at Lani-ili.
Man hiking down the Waihe'e Ridge Trail

What to Bring Along the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

The Waihe’e Ridge Trail isn’t overly long so thankfully, you don’t need too much gear, but there’s a few things I’d suggest to make sure are included on your Hawaii packing list to ensure your hike is as epic as possible:

  • Actual hiking shoes: Most visitors to Hawai’i only bring a pair of flip flops or at most, hiking sandals to walk around the island. Given how muddy and slippery the trail can get, though, I’d strongly recommend bringing along actual hiking or trail shoes (like these hiking boots for men or these for women), especially if you’re considering exploring any of Maui’s other awesome hiking trails. 
  • Rain jacket: 300 inches of rain per year? ‘Nuff said- bring a waterproof jacket (like this one for men and this one for women). The weather can change pretty quickly in the West Maui Mountains!
  • Water: Between the elevation gain, the sun exposure, and the fact that you’re literally in a tropical jungle, this hike can get pretty sweaty. So be sure to bring along lots of water- I always carry one of these big Nalgene bottles on our hikes. Since they’re refillable, they’re better for the planet than disposable plastic bottles- plus, they’re kinder to your wallet!
Man hiking up stairs along Waihe'e Ridge Trail

Enjoy the Waihe’e Ridge Trail- it offers one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. Are there any other epic hiking trails you love on Maui? Let me know in the comments below!

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