Haven’t explored the windward side of Maui yet?
You’re not alone, most visitors to Maui head to Lahaina and the sunny, leeward side of Maui or to Haleakala National Park on the south side of Maui.
With its lush rainforests, spectacular mountain ranges and beautiful beaches, the windward side of Maui holds a special allure!
We make it a point to spend at least a day here, and usually that ends up as a hike on the Waihee Ridge Trail.
Situated in the West Maui mountains called Mount Kahalawai, the Waihee Ridge Trail hike is part rainforest, part view hike, and gives you flavor of what you are missing on this side of Maui.
The Waihee Ridge Trail hike is one of Maui’s most popular hikes, but if you are looking for an easy hike, this is not it.
Hiking the Waihee Ridge Trail is challenging and not for everyone. Apart from the climb of 1,500 feet, you typically have to deal with wet, muddy and slippery trails!
But those who can brave this conditions will definitely appreciate the payoff.
Lush valleys, dense green forests, and panoramic views of oceans and mountain ranges, you can see them all from the Waihee Ridge Trail.
Visiting Maui and enjoy hiking? Check out our in-depth guide to the best hikes in Maui! From rainforest, waterfall hikes like Twin Falls Trail and Pipiwai Trail to surreal landscape hikes like the Sliding Sands Trail, Maui has it all!
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Waihee Ridge Trail Hike: Fast Facts
Waihee Ridge Trail Difficulty
The Waihee Ridge Trail is rated as a hard hike.
You are mostly climbing uphill for two miles to the ridgeline summit and then descending two miles back.
But for the initial steep section, the climb is not overly difficult, and you definitely don’t need technical climbing skills, nor are there rope sections.
In fact, there are well-maintained steps on the steeper inclines within the ridge climb section, making it more manageable.
In my opinion, the primary reason hikers rate this hard is because it rains a lot in this area (the windward side of Maui, after all), and the trail gets slippery on the muddy and rocky sections.
Even when it doesn’t rain, the moisture from the low hanging clouds leaves the path quite wet.
Under these trail conditions, I recommend stepping with a great deal of caution, and I’ve found the descent to be much harder.
Waihee Ridge Trail Length
The Waihee Ridge Trail length is roughly 4 miles overall in distance, and the trail is out-and-back.
While the distance is not much, don’t underestimate the hike since it is all climbing, up or down.
If you park in the overflow parking lot, add an additional two miles to the hiking distance (one mile to the trailhead, and one mile back to the car).
Waihee Ridge Trail Elevation Gain
The Waihee Ridge Trail elevation gain is about 1,500 feet, and fairly evenly distributed. You are climbing roughly 800 feet per mile.
The first initial section off the parking lot, on the concrete paved path, is probably the steepest you’ll face, and once you’re through that, the rest of the trail has relatively easier inclines.
There are sections on the second half of trail, the ridge climb, that has steps. These steps actually help you with the hike up the trail, giving you better footing in wet conditions.
There are no flat sections to speak of, you are either climbing up or down.
Waihee Ridge Trail Time Taken
The Waihee Ridge Trail takes an average of about 3 hours to complete.
We stopped at multiple lookouts along the way to take photographs, and chatted with other hikers at the summit, which added about an hour.
Some people take four hours or more because on this hike you often tend to wait to see if you can get better views, especially on foggy, cloudy days.
The Waihee Ridge Trail is a very popular running trail, and you’ll often see some atheletic types zipping by, on their way to a personal best time!
What about Kids and Dogs on the Waihee Ridge Trail?
Dogs are welcome, but must be on a leash, and I did see a few on the Waihee Ridge Trail.
While we saw families with older kids, we didn’t see any with younger kids. The hike is hard, and you don’t want to end up having to carry toddlers up and down.
There are benches and even a picnic table at the summit, so families can enjoy a picnic with views from the top or take frequent breaks if the kids need them.
If the trail conditions are not good (wet and rainy), I would recommend against taking kids on the hike.
Getting to the Waihee Ridge Trail Trailhead
The Waihee Ridge Trail trailhead is located on the windward side of Maui, in the West Maui Forest Preserve.
Waihee Ridge Trail is about an hour from Lahaina and half an hour from Kahului. I usually put Waihee Ridge Trail Kahekili Hwy Wailuku HI 96793 on Google maps.
From Kahekili Highway (US 340), turn into Maluhia Road, directly opposite the Mendes Ranch. Keep a watch for this landmark (just before mile marker 7) or look for a red sign to Camp Maluhia (which is near the trailhead).
Continue uphill on Maluhia Road and in about 0.8 miles you will see the main parking lot for the Waihee Ridge Trail, just after you cross Camp Maluhia.
A sign on a fence marks the Waihee Ridge Trail trailhead. There are two porta-potties in the parking lot near the trailhead.
You will also see a sign requesting you to take precautions against spreading rapid Ohi’a death, a fungal disease that has already killed more than a million Ohi’a trees, the most abundant Hawaiian native tree.
Waihee Ridge Trail Parking
You have two main options for Waihee Ridge Trail parking.
The parking lot at the trailhead is the most convenient, but depending on when you hike, may be full.
Thinking of getting a very early start? Don’t bother! The gate to the parking lot is motorized and on an automated timer, and is open from 7 am to 7 pm.
By 10 am expect this small lot, which can probably hold about 40 cars, to be full. We just waited for someone to leave, which took about 15 minutes.
There is a small overflow parking lot after you turn onto Maluhia Road, but this is about 0.8 miles from the trailhead.
While that one usually has spots unless it is a busy weekend, parking there does add a couple of miles to your hike.
Best Time to Hike the Waihee Ridge Trail
Early morning is the best time to hike the Waihee Ridge Trail.
The parking lot gate opens at 7:00 am, so no point starting before that. But parking will get difficult later in the day.
But the main reason to hike at 7:00 am or morning is the weather. Early morning, the weather is usually nice, and you have the best chances for enjoying the views along the ridge and the summit.
By late morning and afternoon, the clouds roll in and your views are usually obstructed by fog.
Also, you have no shade for half the hike (the ridge part), and early morning is usually the coolest. Later, you have to deal with the heat and humidity.
Waihee Ridge Trail Map
The Waihee Ridge Trail map shown below indicates the location of the trailhead, the trail and other points of interest.
Waihee Ridge Trail Information
The Waihee Ridge Trail starts off from the parking lot at an elevation of roughly a 1,000 feet.
You start immediately with a short, steep climb (300 feet) up a concrete, paved path along a fenced, private property. This is the hardest incline of the trail, so don’t get discouraged!
You pass through a second cattle gate onto a mud trail through a beautiful forested section.
Evergreen trees in a tropical rainforest? Yes, and these are not native, they were planted by sailors years ago, needing wood for their masts.
Shortly into the forest, you will encounter this grove of Cook’s pine trees, and though out of place, is very beautiful. You can tell they were planted by the near symmetrical lines of trees.
After that, you move to a more traditional rainforest with lush vegetation of grass, ferns, ohia, orchids, eucalyptus, kukui nut tree and fruit trees like guava and ginger.
Your first view of the stunning, two-tiered, 270-foot Makamaka’ole waterfalls comes around 0.8 miles into the Waihee Ridge Trail hike, and this is your best view of this waterfall.
There is a little bench at the overlook, so you can rest and admire the views.
Midway Viewpoint (roughly a mile)
About a mile into the Waihee Ridge Trail, you will enter the ridgeline section and come to a viewing platform (with safety fencing).
The views from this point are amazing, with the lush Waihe’e valley below you and the Waihe’e river snaking through the valley.
On a clear day, you should be able to see Kahului, the biggest town in Maui, and the Haleakala area, though the crater summit is usually covered with clouds.
You can still see other waterfalls, but not as well as at the earlier viewpoint.
From the viewpoint, you can see the Waihe’e Ridge Trail winding its way up the ridge of the mountains.
As with other Hawaiian ridge hikes, you need to have a steady head for heights, as in many places, the drop off is quite steep and abrupt.
The trail is well-maintained and reasonably wide, we didn’t think it so narrow as to be dangerous or scary. You will take sets of steps at some steeper parts of the ridge.
Both on this ridge section as well as the forested section, you will see many birds, such as the common myna, warblers, apapane, the amakihi and the iiwi.
Some of these are endemic to Hawaii. They are endangered and protected, view them from a distance.
As you hike along, the trail will take some switchbacks and lead you to a couple of false summits, before you eventually reach the end of the trail.
The Waihee Ridge Trail ends at the summit of a hill called Lani-ili, for “sky skin” in Hawaiian. At the summit, you are at the highest point of the trail, an elevation of 2,563 feet.
The viewpoint has a wooden viewing platform surrounded by safety railing. You also have a full-sized picnic table and benches, wonder how they got up there?
The views are spectacular and 360 degree panoramic. You can see the ocean waters far below, beyond the lush Waihee valley.
Turn around, and you can see the Haleakala side of the island of Maui, though the crater is usually shrouded behind clouds.
On the sides you can see the West Maui mountain ranges covered with lush, rainforest vegetation, and deep valleys with streams and rivers winding through the base.
Be cautious on the hike back, especially if muddy and slippery!
Tips for Hiking the Waihee Ridge Trail
The most basic tip for hiking the Waihee Ridge Trail is be aware of the weather conditions.
The weather can change quickly, and be prepared for rain. I usually take a light poncho with me.
Make sure you wear sturdy hiking shoes, and trekking poles will help as well. Expect the trail to be muddy and slippery.
I recommend you use bug spray and mosquito repellent, especially at dawn or dusk, since part of the trail is forested.
On the ridge section, there is no shade. Bring sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Bring lots of water and snacks. Expect hot and humid conditions, and you can get dehydrated fast, especially while climbing.
Start early, as close to 7:00 am as you can, for the best hiking experience and views.
Cell service is non-existent on the trail, so download the maps and directions. For the most part, the trail is well-marked, and very unlikely you will get lost.
What Else to Do near the Waihee Ridge Trail?
Feeling peckish after the hike?
Check out the Ula Ula Cafe along the Kahekili Highway near the golf course. A farm-to-table food truck serving delicious Hawaiian food from locally sourced ingredients.
We loved their acai bowls, macadamia nut encrusted mahi-mahi and the tropical macadamia nut smoothie.
If you want an afternoon activity after the morning hike, check out the horseback riding tours offered by the nearby Mendes Ranch.
Our kids loved this popular, highly rated Maui Horseback-Riding Tour run by Hawaiian cowboys called paniolos. Our guide took us through scenic trails with spectacular views of the ocean and the countryside.
More Maui Travel Inspiration
If you are considering a trip to Maui, read some of our other comprehensive guides to craft the ultimate Maui itinerary!
- Haleakala National Park: A First-Timers’ Guide!
- Best Snorkeling Spots near Lahaina
- A Complete Guide to Whale Watching in Maui!
- Snorkel with Green Sea Turtles in Turtle Town Maui!
- The Best Stops on the Road to Hana!
- How to Visit Maui’s Black Sand Beach
- Molokini Crater Snorkeling Maui
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