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Mauka Report: 5 Best O‘ahu Hikes to Spot Butterflies

These trails are prime for getting a peek at winged beauties.


Photos: Nathan Yuen


Heavy is the head that wears the crown (or super-cute fedora). For a princess like yourself, you need to make sure you keep company with those worthy of your court. Rakes and vagrants in your palace? Lord, no!


And the same goes for the great outdoors. Subjecting yourself to common creatures is such a yawn, and trying to find one worth getting off your throne for almost impossible.  


SEE ALSO: 20 Great O‘ahu Hikes


We’re making a decree: Spring into the season with a hike worthy of your majesty, i.e. one that is the perfect place to spot monarchs—of the butterfly type, that is—and other butterflies, especially the official state butterfly, the Kamehameha. Because we live to serve you, we’ve tapped the mind of William Haines, researcher at the University of Hawai‘i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, one of the masters from Pearlridge Center’s BUTTERFLIES exhibit for tips on which spots rule when you’re seeking out these royally beautiful creatures.


Of course, if you want to skip right to the butterflies, this week is your last chance to visit the exhibit at Pearlridge Center, which is open 10 a.m.–8 p.m. through Saturday. For $3, you’ll be able to come nose-to-nose with monarchs, feed the butterflies, participate in workshops by local experts including Haines, and learn how to propagate your own butterfly gardens.


You’ll be just about ready to hold court.


Maunawili Trail

This trail is accessible via multiple trailheads off the Pali Highway and in Waimānalo. Although Kamehameha butterflies have not been recently seen here, the māmaki plant—the butterflies’ favorite feeding place—is fairly common.


Kaunala Trail

Located on the North Shore in the Ko‘olau Mountains, this hike is only open on weekends and state holidays. Butterflies have been sighted farther up on the ridges—incentive to commit to going to the very top of the trail.


 Kulana‘ahane Trail

Deep at the back of Moanalua Valley, you’ll be following a stream on this trail—so don’t try to attempt it on rainy days, as it is very prone to flash flooding. Look for butterflies flying along the water, and look for māmaki shrubs, where caterpillars might be feeding. 


Mokulē‘ia Trail

Kamehameha butterflies are often found in the forests along this trail in the northern Wai‘anae Mountains. However, it is only accessible by four-wheel drive (from the west side with a permit) or by a long, hot hike on foot along a steep road (from the east side).


Koko Crater Hike

Talk about a prime spot for butterflies in general. While butterflies are most active on sunny days, and are not as active in the rain, many butterflies respond to rainfall, because their caterpillars feed on weeds. In dry areas, these tend to sprout up after wet weather. The best time to look for butterflies is several weeks after a lot of rain, when the hills and fields have had time to green up.


Heads up! It is totally, completely, absolutely illegal to collect the Kamehameha butterfly or caterpillars, since all native wildlife, including insects, are protected by state law. So no matter how pretty they are, resist. However, if you do see the butterfly, caterpillars, or even feeding damage on māmaki, you can submit photo observations to kamehamehabutterfly.org.




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