The Aiea Loop Trail is to the Pearl City area as the Manoa Falls Trail is to Manoa. Both of these trails are very accessible, popular with locals, and relatively easy to hike. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a new hike, one that I had not done before. Strangely enough, I had never done the Aiea Loop Trail, despite it’s local popularity. With this in mind, I decided to explore this centrally located trail and some of its side trails.
Going into this hike, I knew nothing more than that it was considered an easy, valley type hike. In many ways, it was indeed a simple hike. The Aiea Loop Trail reminded me a lot of the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Makiki portions of the Honolulu Mauka Trail. The Aiea Loop Trail is well-manicured, very open, and lacking any real steep or narrow inclines or declines.
The trail starts at the top of Aiea Heights Drive. I recently moved to the lower Salt Lake area and so I thought that it would be a good idea to become familiar with the neighboring trails. The Aiea Loop Trail seemed liked a good place to start. At the end of Aiea Heights Drive and after you enter Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area. At the foot of the part will be the Keaiwa Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian healing heiau. Follow Aiea Heights drive up through the park and you will find two places in which you could potentially start the Aiea Loop Trail. You could either start at the lower camping grounds, which is located 3/4 of the way inside the park. Just after you reach this camping ground, which is equipped with a restroom, you drive just further up the hill and you will reach the official start of the Aiea Loop Trail. I believe that the trail was designed for hikers to start at this upper location and end at the lower camp grounds. But really, one could start and/or end at either location.
One thing that you’ll notice as you work through the trail, are the numerous powerlines and water tanks. It seems as if powerlines pop into sight with every turn. At the very start of the trail, we noticed a makeshift memorial of plastic flowers on a tree. This is believed to be a memorial for a little girl, Kahealani Indreginal, that was found dead on the trail in 2002. About 45 minutes, or so, into the trail, we noticed a side trail that deviated to the left of the maintained Aiea Loop Trail. We explored this side trail a bit and got our first glimpse of the H3 freeway. We continue to explore and realized that this side trail turned into a ridge trail. We were on the Aiea Ridge Trail. We explored Aiea Ridge a bit, but decided on this day not to go too far. I knew that this ridge trail was a grinder and if we continued, we would be on the trail for hours before reaching the terminus, overlooking the Byodo-Inn Temple. With that in mind, we turned around and looked for the remnants of an airplance that crashed in 1944.
Just a few feet past the junction to the ridge side trail, we encountered our second glimpse of the H3. In fact, from this point on the Aiea Loop Trail, you sort of follow the H3 as you make your return trip back to the start of the trail. Follow the graded trail until you reach a lookout point of sorts. Here, you will have the best glimpse of the H3, looking toward the Windward side of the island. It is at this point that we encountered the most hiking traffic. There were multiple groups of people that honkered down here for lunch while soaking in the birds eye view of the H3, which seemingly blends in quite well with the lush green backdrop of the Koolau’s and surrounding mountains.
We spent a few moments at this lookout point, and for a short while, we had it all to ourselves. We enjoyed some beef jerky and chocolate covered acai berries, which were very tasty I might add. From this point, the trail meanders, taking you into the valley and then out, and then in again. Eventually, you will reach a signed junction, indicating the Keaiwa Heiau Loop Trail. We explored to the right of this sign for a bit and encountered some powerlines and an area that was marked off by the US military. We followed this trail a bit more and then reversed out tracks and headed back toward the Keaiwa signed junction and proceeded to the right of this sign. Continue along this trail and you will begin to lose elevation. This portion of the trail began to resemble part of the Waimano Falls trail. Eventually, you will begin to gain elevation again and then finally reach the lower camp grounds. From this point, it’s an short uphill climb to your car, but one that fill like a lifetime.
The Aiea Loop Trail is a nice, “beginners” friendly trail. It’s an excellent trail to bring your children on. In fact, for most of the trail, we hiked alongside a family that consisted of two kids, roughly ages 8 and 4. They handled the 4.8 miles like champs. For me, Aiea Loop, acts as a gateway trail to a few more interesting sights, ridges, and waterfalls. I’ll definitely be revisiting Aiea Loop to see if I can spot the airplane crash of 1944, Aiea Ridge, and Kalauao Falls. I’ve got my foot-in-the-door, and now I’d like to explore this central location a lot more.
Explorers: Coty Gonzales and Joel Sabugo.
Total Time: Between 2-3 hours.
Aiea Loop Trail Tips:
- Mud wasn’t an issue for us on this hiking trip, however, this trail is known for being quite muddy. Come prepared with the appropriate footwear.
- This trail is great for children. We came across a couple of families along the way. It is a long trail, especially for younger kids, so remember that you can always turn around at any time.
Directions to the Aiea Loop Trail: Follow H-1 to Moanalua Highway (Hwy. 78). Take the Aiea cutoff to the third traffic light, make a right turn at ‘Aiea Heights Drive and follow it about 3 miles up to the end of the road. The trailhead to the Aiea Loop Trail is located at the end of the road.