Kealia Trail: 19 Switchbacks to a Remarkable View of Makua Valley

The Kealia Trail is one of the few hikes that you can do on the North Shore of Oahu. Located in Mokuleia, the Kealia Trail is comprised of nineteen gradually climbing switchbacks. Yes, nineteen switchbacks. Nineteen. If you’re looking to increase the firmness of your gluteus maximus [NSFW link] then consider the Kealia Trail.

Directions: To access this hike, you’ll need to make the drive out to Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia. If you’re coming from downtown Honolulu, you will drive toward Dillingham Airfield on Farrington Highway. After passing Mokuleia, you will make a left at the third gate into Dillingham Airfield. This is the public access gate and you will also see a sign indicating the Kealia Trail. Follow the Kealia Trail hiking signs to the designated parking lot. Directly across the parking lot is the mountain that you will be climbing.

The view from the parking lot. That’s the mountain you’ll climb. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Joel looking stoic and Mark looking dignified at the Trailhead. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Before reaching the Kealia trailhead, you’ll encounter a large open lot, with a lot of forgotten items. Two things that caught our eye were an old aircraft and a rusty boat named the Slo Poke. Poke (pronounced poh-kay), or raw fish (sashimi style), is one of my favorite foods. It’s often served as a pupu (appetizer) here in Hawaii, but also goes well with a cold beer while sitting on the beach. When I eat poke, I prefer to eat it with chopsticks. Shoyu (soy sauce) poke, spicy ahi (tuna), tako (octopus) poke, and salmon poke are some of my favorites. So good. I could only imagine what it must have been like to catch a fresh ahi on the Slo Poke and then eat up the catch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with an ice cold brew in hand.

A forgotten aircraft. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Slo Poke. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

As you gain elevation, this is the view that you’ll begin to see. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A few more switchbacks up and this is what you’ll see. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The trail mentioned in this post consists of three parts: the Kealia Trail, the Kealia Access Road, and the Kuaokala Trail. The Kealia Trail consists of the nineteen switchbacks. At the end of the switchbacks will be a picnic table. We started the trail at around 1:00pm and reached the picnic table at around 2:10pm. The trek from the start of the Kealia trail to the picnic table is an uphill climb from the start. The trail itself is fairly wide, so no real risky business here but you should be aware of potential falling rocks. We did not encounter any. Because of the lack of trails in the surrounding area, you’ll be treated to a hardly seen view of the North Shore. Most noticeable will be Dillingham Airfield, one of five airports on the island of Oahu, bordering the deep blue North Shore waters.

Mark and Joel take a break from switchback hell. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Mark invented Mermaiding on this day. Note the concealed fanny pack Camelbak. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

At the end of the Kealia Trail you’ll reach this picnic table. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

The Beatles got it right with their song, The Long and Winding Road. Follow the dirt road past the picnic table and you’ll be on the Kealia Access Road en route to the Kuaokala Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

And more walking. I wish there was a way to bypass the Kealia Access Road! Photo by Joel Sabugo.

Joel decided to climb the water tank. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

From the picnic table you will be mostly walking along a dirt road, this is the Kealia Access Road. As you make your way along this paved dirt road, keep an eye out for the occasional hunting truck. You’ll also pass a large water tank. Joel climbed to the top of the tank and found out that it’s not covered and is probably no longer used. The journey along the Kealia Access Road is quite mundane. The red dirt road will be your companion the entire way. This particular third of the trail is devoid of any interesting flora or scenery. However, this portion does include the steepest (yet boring) climbs of the trail. Some of these steep climbs seem to go on forever. After a couple of junctions (keep on the main dirt road), you will eventually reach a sign indicating the Kuaokala Trail [see below for in depth directions for the Kealia Access Road Trail]. Walk a few feet up the steep hill after reaching the Kuaokala Trail sign and you will reach an awesome lookout point with a great view of Makua Valley. We reached the lookout point at around 3:15pm and of course relished in the views of Makua Valley.

The Kuaokala Trail does continue on for an additional 2.5 miles, however, we made this lookout point our final destination for the day and made our way down the trail the same way that we had come up.

Makua Valley. Don’t venture down when they’ve got live firearms going down there. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

I guess they were excited to finish? Photo by Coty Gonzales.

A vertical panorama of Makua Valley. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Follow the signs back to the Kealia Trail. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Tree snot. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Closeup. Photo by Coty Gonzales.

Explorers: Mark DeBlois, Coty Gonzales, and Joel Sabugo.

Total Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes (including a 15 minute break at the lookout overseeing Makua Valley). 1 hour and 10 minutes from trailhead to the picnic table at the end of Kealia Trail. 1 hour from the picnic table to the Makua Valley lookout.

Kealia Trail Tips:

  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen!
  • Save this trail for a day when you don’t mind walking long mundane roads.
  • This trail is popular amongst dog walkers, trail runners and mountain bikers. Keep an eye out for them.

Directions: For driving directions to trailhead see above. The following set of directions will help you go from the picnic table at the end of the Kealia Trail and through Kealia Access Road to the Makua Valley Lookout.

After you pass the picnic table you will continue on to the dirt road on your right. Follow the road until you reach a three way intersection and then follow the tractor sign arrow right. Walk up a long and arduous hill. You will pass a hunting sign. Continue walking along the road. Eventually you will pass an old Kealia Trail sign on your left before reaching a T junction. At the T junction after the old Kealia Trail sign you will turn left up the long arduous hill. Once you pass the hill you will turn left at the the Unit A No Dog Hunting sign. Continue on the road and you will eventually see a sign indicating the Kuaokala Trail. Just pass the Kuaokala Trail sign will be the Makua Valley lookout that we stopped at. For the trip home you will return the same way that you came. Or, you can choose to continue on the Kuaokala Trail right out the lookout.

About Coty

Founder of Exploration: Hawaii. Adventure, Minimalism, Vinyl, Typography, and Coffee + Matcha. A single space after a period, please.