The Mountains of Hawaii •
Lanilili • Small Heaven • Kanoa Ridge, West Maui Mountains
• West Maui Forest Preserve
• Island & County of Maui


The concrete pathway

Looking back down toward the ocean

Large pines and ferns line the trail

The trail becomes narrow atop the ridge. Here you see how dramatic the drop-offs can be

The third gate I passed

I think this is a kukui tree

Starting to get steep again

The last hill to be climbed

The lonely picnic table atop the summit

Another shot of how fast the cliffs give way so close to the trail

The general area of Kanoa Ridge, northeast-facing slopes of West Maui Mountains

Date: July 22, 2013 • Elevation: 2,563 feet • Prominence: 283 feet (295 feet says Lidar) • Distance: 4.2 miles • Time: 2 hours • Gain: 1,450 feet • Conditions: Warm and humid, misty with bouts of heavy rain


Lanilili is a ridge-bump on the Kanoa Ridge, one of many ridges that emanate down from the cloud-shrouded highlands of the West Maui Mountains. The West Maui Mountains reach up to 5,788 feet at Pu'u Kukui, but it and nearly all of the higher elevations are inaccessible, due to private lands, the extreme topography and the thick jungles. At 2,563 feet, Lanalili ("Small Heaven") is not quite half as high as Pu'u Kukui, but it is the best available hike in the range, offering a glimpse into the beautiful terrain that lies higher up.

The Kanoa Ridge lies on the windward coast of Maui, the northeast-facing coasts that are subject to the trade winds and daily cloud build-up so that the mountains, ridges and coast are enveloped in clouds every day by 9 a.m. Rain falls daily, but never too hard or for very long. At the highest elevations such as the rain gauge atop Pu'u Kukui, upwards of 400 inches fall annually. These rains feed the streams and waterfalls that flow downward, carving the spectacular canyons that separate knife-edge ridges. Lower down, it is misty, cloudy and drizzly, but always warm, and sometimes the clouds will lift allowing for incredible views of the coast line and of the higher ridges.

βð and I were spending a week on Maui, and we added this hike into our agenda, placing it toward the end of our time here. We were staying in Lahaina on the west (leeward) coast, but had ventured nearly every day into central and east Maui, including the Road to Hana and two trips up to Haleakala National Park. Most days, the ridges around Lanilili were socked in with clouds, although on one day it was kind of clear. I assumed we'd have lots of clouds no matter what.

We drove early this morning into Wailuku and then I got us lost when I ventured off the highway into the warren of small streets in old-town Wailuku. I guessed on a few turns and got us onto a shoreline highway, then we saw signs and were back on the right highway. The drive northbound on Kahakili Highway (State Route 340) was lovely, with the last couple miles being narrow and steep as the road closely contoured with the rugged bluffs overlooking the coast. At the Mendes Ranch (near Milepost 6), we turned left onto Camp Maluhia Boy Scout Ranch Road, following this up a mile to a parking area near the trailhead. There were a couple cars going into the camp, plus military vehicles driven by National Guard guys.

We were the first to park in the hiker's parking lot, arriving here at 8:30 a.m. in warm, misty conditions. SHe stayed with the car while I got my stuff together. I dressed lightly: shorts, t-shirt, low-top hiking boots, hat, my camera and a couple bottles of water. We talked briefly with the National Guard guys who were just hanging around, then I was on my way at 8:40 a.m.

I passed through a pedestrian stile at the trailhead, then walked up a steep concrete road abutting a pasture. When this road leveled and bent right, I went left onto a footpath along a fenceline, coming to another gate at the far end of the pasture. Past this second gate, I stayed on the trail as it passed through a thick-canopied forest including pine and eucalyptus (plus all sorts of trees I couldn't identify), going right on one switchback where it came out to an opening overlooking a spectacular valley. There was a bench here. Although misty, I could see far enough to sense the profound drop and the scale of the valley. It was stunning.

I stayed on this trail, ascending onto a level segment, atop a narrow "knife edge" along the ridge itself. The trail here was about four feet wide, lined with ferns that gave a false sense of security. The cliffs dropped down just feet from the edge of the trail. I came to another fence and gate spanning the trail, probably there to keep cattle from going higher. Past this, the trail starts gaining steeply up a hill, where steps have been built in on the steeper parts. Otherwise, the trail is too steep and slick when wet.

This point was roughly a mile in, about half-way to the top. It had been misty but warm the whole way up, but here, the rain started and became very heavy. I was drenched but not surprised as I was dressed for this possibility. My cell phone and camera were in a ziploc bag. My shirt was soaked so I took it off and went shirtless. My shorts were also soaked so I ... kept them on. The rain poured for 10 minutes, then ... stopped. By now, I was ascending up yet one more steep slope, sidehilling right of a ridge-bump to where the path gained onto an open, muddy saddle connecting it and another hill off in the mist. I passed the 1.5-mile marker along the way.

Visibility was only 50 feet, and big trees a hundred feet away were barely discernible other than as gray shadows in the mist. The hill I was to ascend seemed to materialize out of the mist, so I just concentrated on the trail ahead of me, and making sure I didn't slip and fall. In time, I passed the 2-mile marker, and within minutes, had ascended an easy slope to top out on Lanilili's summit, the top hosting a picnic tale and a couple signs about being careful near the edges.

It had taken me one hour and five minutes to get here, and not unexpectedly, I had no views, but I was not disappointed. The whole place had an other-worldly feel to it. It was quiet and still, the temperature about 80 degrees. Despite the mist and rain, I was sweating heavily. I took a few moments to inspect the picnic table and the signs. I wondered if anyone had beaten in an unofficial trail past the peak down the other side and possibly onto Pu'u Kukui, but no one had. The ferns and brush get thick fast and the terrain drops steeply past the picnic table.

After a few minutes, I started down. The rain and mist had soaked the trails so that I had to be extremely careful. The trails were as slick as ice, and I slipped constantly, but somehow, never actually fell completely. I made good time, then about at the 1.5-mile mark, I was surprised to see another hiker. Then a few moments later, a couple more, then like eight more and then another group of six. What's the deal? In fact, I passed a total of nearly 30 people on the descent, all of them friendly. Evidently, they all randomly came at once.

Back to the concrete path near the trailhead, the clouds lifted a little and I got better views of the ocean and bluffs. I was back to the car at 10:45 a.m., a two-hour journey overall. The parking lot was now filled with about a dozen vehicles. βð said they all came in at once about an hour after we had come in. So it stands to reason they'd be clumped on the trail, which is why I saw no one for the first hour-plus, then bang, hordes of people.

Overall, the hike runs about 4.5 miles round trip with about 1,500 feet of gain. I was pleased to have the opportunity to hike this trail, knowing that it may be the closest I'll ever gut to Pu'u Kukui. That peak, ironically, has a wooden boardwalk all the way to its top, but it lies on private lands and is inaccessible to the public. Nevertheless, Lanilili was a delight, a great way to sense the heart of the interior of the West Maui Mountains and of highland Hawaii.

The prominence is derived from Lidar, but it is the old 1/3-arcsecond data which is not definitive. It reports a prominence of 295 feet, which I "count" as being within the 5-foot error range I use. However, this is weak support at best. I count it as ranked for now, but its status is tenuous at best. When updated data is released, I will revisit this, but who knows when that will be.

(c) 2013 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.