Kahuku Unit

Hiking around the Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park and enjoying wild nature at this park area (updated 2023)

If you have extra time from your visit to Volcanoes National Park and want to explore another gorgeous facet of the park to explore then you need to check out the Kahuku Unit. One of the most underrated areas of the national park to explore, the Kahuku Unit used to be an old ranch that was eventually taken over by the national park with it’s over 116,000 acres of land open for the public to visit and hike through.

Visitors can explore lush areas of green hills, valleys and trails filled with lush Ohia forests and Koa along with other native plants from the area.  Entering the park entrance, there is a visitors’ center that is filled with information and you can pick up a map of the opened trails or even go on a guided tour or an orientation talk of the history of the area, culture and a Volcano update.

There are a variety of different hikes and lengths you can choose from depending on the length and elevation challenge you are up to doing for each hike. Here is a brief overview of the main hikes to explore in the park.

Hiking around the Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park

A brief history of the Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island

The Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii holds a rich history deeply intertwined with the island’s geological and cultural past. Here’s a brief overview:

Ancient Hawaiian Settlements: The Kahuku area has a history of human habitation dating back over a thousand years. Native Hawaiians settled in this region, utilizing its fertile lands for agriculture and its forests for resources.

Volcanic Activity: Kahuku rests in the shadow of Mauna Loa, one of the world’s most massive volcanoes. Over centuries, volcanic eruptions have shaped the landscape, creating vast lava fields and diverse ecosystems.

Ranching Era: In the 19th century, European settlers established cattle ranches in Kahuku, introducing new agricultural practices to the area. The remnants of these ranching operations can still be seen today.

World War II: During World War II, the Kahuku Unit was home to a military training facility known as Camp Kahuku. The remnants of military infrastructure, such as bunkers and roads, are now part of the historical landscape.

National Park Inclusion: In 2003, the Kahuku Unit became part of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, expanding the park’s boundaries and preserving the area’s cultural and natural significance.

Visitors to the Kahuku Unit can explore its diverse landscapes, from lava fields to lush forests, and gain insight into the island’s geological history and the cultural heritage of the Hawaiian people who called this area home. It’s a fascinating destination within Volcanoes National Park that offers a glimpse into the complex story of Hawaii’s past.

Hiking trails at the Kahuku Unit

At Kahuku Unit, located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, hikers can embark on a captivating journey through nature and history. This area offers a range of trails that traverse lush rainforests, ancient lava fields, and significant cultural sites. Whether you prefer an easy stroll or a more challenging hike, there are options available for every skill level. Along the trails, hikers will encounter diverse plant and animal life, stunning vistas, and the awe-inspiring volcanic formations. Exploring Kahuku Unit provides a unique opportunity to connect with the island’s natural wonders and rich cultural heritage.

Check out these hikes below for inspiration.

HIking trails at the Kahuku Unit

Puu O Lokuana Cinder Cone

The shortest hike in the park to do that is only .4 miles as a loop with an elevation gain of 100 feet.  With a quick accent to the top, you’ll get some spectacular views down into the Kau region below and some spectacular landscapes to admire.

Pali O Ka’eo Trail

The most challenging trail with an elevation hike of 410 feet and 2.1 miles in distance that showcases amazing views of the Kau area and coastline. The hike is through shady and secluded meadows making this a pleasant trail to hike on without exposed sun typical of these area hikes.

Kamapa’a Trail

A short hike up a cinder cone that is about. 5 miles and ends up at the top of the cinder cone with views

Puu O Lokuana Trail

Puu O Lokuana Trail

Traversing over an old ranch road, this two-mile route is mostly shady with old growth trees, lava tree molds and beautiful pasture land you’ll pass through along the way.

Pit crater trail

The longest trail and most challenging covers 1165 feet in elevation and 4.8 miles in a loop trail. You get to see a collapsed pit crater and views to a pristine native rain forest inside the crater.

Palm Trail

Palm Trail

Another old ranch road that that is quite scenic and an easy hike in the park at 2.6 miles, the Palm trail passes through mostly old growth ohia trees and other native plants and some gorgeous pasturelands in the area. The trail follows some old ranch roads going up and down the contours of the hills and meadow areas.  Along the way, you’ll see some old fissures from the 1868 eruption of Mauna Loa in the area

Weather at the Kahuku Unit

Weather at the Kahuku Unit

It is typically cooler mauka or towards the mountains and the weather patterns always change here from blue sunny skies to stormy conditions. Dress in layers and rainproof outer coat to protect from the elements.

More details to visiting the Kahuku Unit

Gorgeous wildflowers and other native species in the park area

Gorgeous wildflowers and other native species in the park area

More details to visiting the Kahuku Unit

This part of the park is located further away from the park and just outside the town of Na’alehu and located between mile markers 70 and 71 on Hwy 11

Open Days – Wednesday through Sundays

Hours 9 -4pm, entrance gates are closed at 4

Park entrance is free

There are shoe cleaning stations at the rangers station and most of the hiking trails to prevent spreading contaminants to the Rapid Ohia Death. Please take the time to clean your shoes before you go on the trails.

Other places to visit in the Kau or Volcanoes National Park area

How to get to the Kahuku Unit at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

To reach the Kahuku Unit at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, follow these directions:

Start by heading south from the main entrance of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Highway 11.

Continue driving south for approximately 43 miles (69 kilometers) until you reach the intersection of Highway 11 and Mauna Loa Road.

Turn left onto Mauna Loa Road and proceed for about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers).

Look for the Kahuku Unit entrance sign on your left-hand side.

Turn left into the entrance and follow the designated road to the parking area.

Once parked, you can explore the Kahuku Unit by following the marked trails and signs provided.

It’s advisable to check the official Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website or contact park authorities beforehand for any updates or specific instructions regarding access to the Kahuku Unit. Enjoy your visit to this unique and scenic part of the park!

Other tips to visiting and hiking the Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park

Certainly, here are some additional tips to enhance your visit and hiking experience at the Kahuku Unit in Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii:

  1. Check Park Hours: Confirm the operating hours of the Kahuku Unit, as they may differ from the main entrance of the park. It’s essential to know when the unit is open to plan your visit accordingly.
  2. Visitor Center: Start your journey at the Kahuku Unit Visitor Contact Station. Here, you can obtain trail maps, park information, and get updates on trail conditions and any potential hazards.
  3. Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided ranger-led hike or program. Park rangers provide valuable insights into the area’s geology, history, and ecology, making your visit more educational and engaging.
  4. Pack Essentials: Prepare for your hike by packing essentials like water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat, comfortable hiking shoes, and a rain jacket. The weather can change quickly in Hawaii, so be prepared for varying conditions.
  5. Stay on Marked Trails: Stay on designated trails and respect trail closures. This helps protect fragile ecosystems and ensures your safety in the park.
  6. Safety First: Inform someone of your hiking plans, including your expected return time and the trails you intend to explore. Cell phone reception may be limited in some areas.
  7. Lava Tubes: If you plan to explore lava tubes, bring a flashlight or headlamp for better visibility inside these dark and fascinating natural formations.
  8. Trail Difficulty: Be aware that some trails at the Kahuku Unit can be challenging due to uneven terrain and elevation changes. Choose a trail suitable for your fitness level and experience.
  9. Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for native Hawaiian flora and fauna. Birdwatching and plant identification can add depth to your hiking experience.
  10. Respect Cultural Sites: Be respectful of cultural and archaeological sites you may encounter. Do not disturb or remove any artifacts, and leave these areas undisturbed for future generations.
  11. Carry Out Trash: Practice Leave No Trace principles by carrying out all trash and waste. Leave the Kahuku Unit as beautiful as you found it.
  12. Photography: Capture the stunning landscapes, unique geological features, and vibrant flora and fauna with your camera. Share your photos responsibly to promote the preservation of the park.
  13. Time Your Visit: The Kahuku Unit offers different hiking trails of varying lengths. Plan your visit with enough time to explore your chosen trail and enjoy the experience fully.
  14. Weather Awareness: Be aware of changing weather conditions, as rain and fog can affect visibility. It’s advisable to check the weather forecast before your hike.

By following these tips, you’ll have a safe and enjoyable visit to the Kahuku Unit at Volcanoes National Park. It’s a place where nature, culture, and history converge, providing a unique and memorable hiking experience in the Hawaiian wilderness.

Other places to visit in the Kau or Volcanoes National Park area

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

HIke Punalu’u to Kamehame beach

A visit to Na’alehu town

Visit to Punalu’u black sand beach

Whittington Beach in Kau

Conclusion to visiting the Kahuku Unit

Conclusion to visiting the Kahuku Unit

Visiting the Kahuku Unit at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers a captivating experience of natural beauty and cultural significance. Exploring the lush rainforests, ancient lava fields, and cultural sites within this unit allows visitors to immerse themselves in the rich heritage of the island. Whether you choose an easy stroll or a more challenging hike, the trails in Kahuku Unit offer diverse landscapes and breathtaking vistas. Witnessing the unique plant and animal life, as well as the volcanic formations, provides a profound connection to the island’s natural wonders. By venturing into the Kahuku Unit, you embark on a memorable journey that celebrates the remarkable diversity and history of Hawaii.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.