Pololu Valley Overlook and hike (Updated 2021)
A gorgeous hike from the top to the gorgeous black sandy beaches of Pololu Valley, the drive alone and panoramic views of the cliffs and coastlines impresses the moment you park on the end of road. This is a relatively short hike to the bottom and nice to explore the slowly rambling stream that ends at the ocean or just amble from one end of the black sand beach to the cliffs on the other side and maybe do a climb to another gorge beyond if you feel challenged to do more exploring. Check out all the fun details of this Big Island hike to Pololu Valley.
How to get to Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley is an easy drive from Highway 270 through idyllic towns like Hawaii and Kapa’au. After you pass mile marker 28, you’ll get some peak a boo views to the cliffs of Pololu. Make sure you find parking even from a distant walk to the entrance of the trail since parking is limited right at the entrance.
History of Pololu Valley
Pololu Valley was formed over 250,000 to 300,000 years ago when the Kohala Volcano experienced a huge collapse and landslide with a large part falling into the ocean and creating this massive gulch and valley that we see today.
The cliffs of Pololu and valley are unspoiled and have been natural until the first arrival of humans into the valley around the 15th Century. Polulu Valley meaning “Long Spear” is revered in ancient history. The early settlers grew taro farms in the area and is still grown to process poi – a staple root plant eaten by locals on the island.
Even now, the natural beauty of Pololu looks untouched in the ages with the rugged cliffs, black sand beach and huge ocean waves crashing on the beach.
Pololu Valley Weather
The weather at Pololu Valley is variable from cloudy and windy to stormy clouds and rain and then to blue sky, and you can even get all three happening on the same day. Best bet is to check the daily weather patterns for the day and see if it works with your plans to visit for the area.
Hiking to Pololu Valley and beyond
Not only is Pololu valley scenic as an overlook at the end of road, but the hike and views going downhill, the walk across the gorgeous black sand beach is a wonderful experience. If you feel challenged, you can even go beyond to the other valleys beyond Pololu on a day trip or overnight stay.
The hike down is mostly gravel and soil and relatively easy to climb down depending on temperature and wetness factor. You should hike down with sturdy shoes or boots for the variable rocks, steps and slope factor. It’s a relatively easy 30 minute hike down to the floor and then to the black sand beach which you can hike from end to end.
The seven gulches of the Kohala Volcano
Pololu valley is one of the gulches at the tail end of gulches that were formed with the erosion of the Kohala Volcano. The rest of the gulches follow in order from:
- Pololu Valley
2. Honokāne Nui
3. Honokāne Iki
6. Waimanu Valley
7. Waipi’o Valley
Arriving Pololu Valley and parking
Parking is just at the end of road with most day trippers coming to take pictures and leave, so there is a lot of turnover for the parking spots. You can also park further out and then walk to the end where the trail begins.
The hike downhill on the trail is rocky and wide with some nice spots for views and picture taking. The roundtrip hike goes down about 420 feet to the valley floor and is only about a half hour hike to the bottom of this .6-mile hike.
It is wide enough for both uphill and downhill traffic to the bottom but give some clearance to people struggling uphill.
The black sand beach of Pololu
Once you get to the bottom, head for the black sandy beach (the small trails that follow the stream inland ends and is mostly private lands that are off limits to explore. Views of the beach with the impressive 500 foot cliffs make for a fantastic photo opportunity in the area.
The expansive black sand beach is fantastic to walk through and check out the rock sculptures and enjoy the beach. There are no lifeguards on the beach and the surf breaks and the beach with undertow is treacherous so swimming is not encouraged on the beach. It is not considered a swimming beach and sometimes inundated with Portuguese man-o-wars, so do not try to swim this dangerous beach especially with no resources for helping in drowning conditions.
There is a trail that leads through the canyon gulch at a distance but visitors are not allowed to pass beyond a certain area since it is private lands. There are are group tours that lead visitors directly to see the waterfall at Pololu called Kapoloa Falls, this is managed by Hawaii Forest and Trail.
Is camping allowed at Pololu?
Most people visit just day camp on the valley floor into the late hours. Camping is not allowed at Pololu since it is on private land and permits only issued for specific research studies.
Along the river bank are tall ironwood trees with swings set up for some casual fun and really high swinging.
You can take a short stroll along the river bank before it stops with warning signs of private property beyond the trail areas.
Additional hike to Honokane Nui trail
If you’re challenged to extend your hike, consider going beyond to the next valley on the Honokane Nui trail to reach the Honokane gulch. The trail is located about a hundred feet from the shoreline with a small trail located with low lying ferns and on the eastern ridge of Polulu. You climb over 750 feet with many switch backs for about one mile. You’ll finally get to a high ridge with magnificent views of Honokane and the other cliffs of the Kohala mountains. Currently, there are no trails leading to the valley floor of Honokane so you return back to Pololu and up to the Pololu lookout point.
More details to hiking Pololu
The trail is steep with 13 percent grade going down to the valley floor and is only .6 miles to reach the bottom
On rainy days, it is muddy and extremely slippery
Look to visit on sunnier days when the trail is dry and easy to hike below
There are no public services or lifeguards at the beach
Bring plenty of water with you on the short hike and sun screen for hot days
Trail and rocky and rough so hiking shoes or tennis shoes are necessary
Other things to do in the Kohala area
If you’re done with your hiking adventure, check out all these other fun things to explore and see in the area.
Keokea Beach park – a beautiful park with nice views of the coastline with picnic grounds and public services.
ATV tours in Kohala – ATV outfitters take you on tours on private lands for 1.5 to 3-hour scenic tours and outdoor ATV experiences between Hawi and Polulu. Check out the details here for more images and inspiration to doing this tour.
Check out the Kamehameha statue in Kapaau – at the Kohala civic center sits the original statue of Kamehameha 1st who united all of the Hawaiian Islands. You can find more details about the original Kamehameha stature here for more information. The small town of Kapaau has many unique galleries and shops worth exploring while you are in the area.
Explore the western town of Hawi and try some local food and snacks. Also, home to some unique art galleries, boutiques and restaurants located in old plantation style buildings, you can easily spend a few hours exploring and eating your way through town.
Directions to Pololu Valley
Drive down the Akone Pule highway 270 and past the small town of Hawi. From there its s another 8 miles until you hit the end at the Pololu Valley Look out point.
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