Exploring the Poamoho Trail

After four years of waiting, the public can now access this stunning Wahiawa hike.


photo by Sheila Sarhangi

Up until July 1, hikers and hunters who wanted to reach Oahu’s Poamoho trailhead faced a conundrum: Even though the trail was open, accessing it was a no-no because it meant traveling through the property of Dole Foods/Castle and Cooke Hawaii, which had been off-limits to the public since 2002. Thanks to an agreement between the landowners and the state Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the public is being welcomed back into the area.

I wanted to experience this elusive trail firsthand, so after I received a hiker’s permit and recruited a friend, we followed the directions to the red-dirt access road, located just before the Helemano Military Reservation. Secured by three locked gates, the six-mile road wanders past abandoned pineapple fields, before it dead-ends near the start of the 3.5 mile trek.

The trail winds along the side of a ridge, allowing for unimpeded views of the Ewa Forest Reserve and the Wahiawa- watershed. Quickly, the sensation that we are in the middle of nowhere sets in. Waves of native uluhe ferns flow across the Earth. Koa trees radiate upward and the rushing waters of the Poamoho Stream are revealed.

It had rained the few days prior to our outing, and after about 10 minutes of traversing around huge mud puddles—blurting out kung fu-like noises with each close fall—we gave up, and trudged through the sometimes calf-deep sludge.

photo by Sheila Sarhangi

Less than three miles into the trail, a sign warns hikers that “hazards may exist” if they decide to travel further. Curt Cottrell, program manager for the state Na Ala Hele Trail and Access Program, later says this last three quarter mile hasn’t been maintained for some 20 years to protect the endangered land snails, Achatinella sowerbyana, found only in the Koolaus.

The path was shockingly narrow at times. A chilly fog brought an ethereal quality to the forest, and the ohia-covered hills slowly rose and fell around us. Soon after we crossed a trickling creek, which provides a home for a few pritchardia, or native palms, we reached our destination: the summit of the Koolau Mountains.

Of all of the trails that reach the summit, Cottrell says that this is the shortest authorized route. It had taken us three hours, and even though our pants were completely caked in mud, the views of Kahana and Waika-ne Valleys were well worth it. After eating, resting, and feeling the rush of 40-mile-per-hour winds zip through the mountain’s fingers, we made our way back down.



Get a permit. Call 973-9784 or visit www.hawaiitrails.org for an application, and fax or mail it 10 days before your desired excursion. Vehicles must be four-wheel drive, and permits are only issued for weekends and holidays.

Pack smart. You’ll need lunch, energy bars and two to three liters of water per person. Also, a small first-aid kit, rainjacket, cell phone and flashlight.

Know your limits. The first three miles can be classified as novice to intermediate, while the final trek to the summit is for intermediate and advanced hikers only.

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Honolulu Magazine March 2018
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