The Hawaii Loa Ridge is a hike I did with my friend Janice on a whim one day after being told by someone at work that it had a “bamboo forest” (which it doesn’t). I’ve only done this hike once, but I will always remember its brutality and sinking feeling in my gut when reaching the bottom of the final summit. Although you can see the final ridge from a distance, it doesn’t really sink in until you’re standing at the bottom of it looking up and thinking “what the hell am I about to do?”
The first half of the trail is a pretty mellow trek along dry, stable ground. It has great views, an easy to locate path, and a good amount of shade to keep cool. Surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of steep drop-offs and narrow paths like Ka’au Crater has. Since our friend had told us there was a bamboo forest, the entire time we were hiking we just kept thinking “I wonder where the bamboo is?” Little did we know that there is no bamboo forest on this trail.
After the first section of trail is complete, you’ll find yourself standing at the bottom of the climb up. From a distance, we stopped and just starred at it for a few moments trying to take it all in. It looked as if it ascending straight up. This section is very steep, very muddy and slippery, and will require the use of ropes, which are provided. It half reminded me of the steps along Kuli’ou’ou Ridge and half of Koko Head for its steepness near the top.
Once you finally finish the climb, you can enjoy the beautiful view. It’s almost an identical view to Kuli’ou’ou Ridge (since it ends on the same ridge line), but a much more intense method of reaching it.
Climbing back down can be a pain, so take your time and be very careful. Definitely use the ropes when they are provided.
Elevation: 1,700 ft
Length of hike: The trail is 7 miles, round-trip. It will take between 3 and 4 hours to hike, depending on your conditioning and how often you stop (or slip).
Best time to go: Early on a clear day. Many hikers are disappointed when finishing the hike and unable to see the magnificent views due to the ridge being surrounded by a cloud of mist. Although there is a lot of shade, this is a pretty tough hike for most people and it takes awhile to complete; try to get there early in an attempt to beat as much heat as possible.
Worst time to go: On a wet day. This trail can be slippery on dry days; it can be a disaster on wet days. If it just rained, don’t do this trail.
To gain entry: The trailhead is located within the Hawaii Loa gated community. Stop at the guard shack on the way in. In order to gain access, the driver of the vehicle **MUST** have either a Hawaii state ID/drivers license or a military ID. All other vehicle occupants don’t need to present ID, but will have to sign a liability waiver.