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Hiking in the Bamboo Forest of East Maui

The waterfalls of Na‘ili‘ili haele (bamboo forest) are one of the highlights of the Road to Hana, but it’s important to understand that this hike is not for everyone. Dangers include traversing steep, slippery slopes as well as crossing streams prone to flash floods.

Inside the dense bamboo forest of East Maui.
Inside East Maui’s magnificent bamboo forest. Photo © Maria Luisa Lopez Estivill/123rf.

At the 6.5 mile marker, you’ll first know that you’re approaching the trailhead when you make an enormous hairpin turn flanked on the right by a narrow rock wall. The road becomes narrow here, and parking can be difficult during the busiest times of day. As long as your car doesn’t obstruct the road, you can park on the right side against the bamboo, although the passenger will need to climb out of the driver’s seat. If all these spots are taken, there are more pullouts within the next quarter mile.

The first place where many visitors go wrong is in finding the correct trailhead, which is marked by a lone metal pole springing up from a break in a wire fence. On the other side of the fence, the trail will be narrow at first and wind its way downhill. After two minutes of walking you’ll reach an intersection where you’ll turn left and be confronted with a steep scramble down a hill. This area can become slick, so use your hands to aid against a slip or a fall. Once at the bottom of the hill, you’ll encounter a stream crossing with a wooden plank stretching over a gap. Once on the other side of the stream, you’ll continue straight through a tunnel of bamboo before the path wraps around to the left and you rejoin the main trail. Make a right and follow the trail for another two minutes until you come to a major stream crossing.

The stream crossing is the second point (after the trailhead) where most visitors get turned around. Since the trail runs cold at the stream, it can be confusing where to go from here. When you look across to the other side of the stream, you’ll notice a downed tree on the opposite bank and slightly to the left. Follow the tree trunk to its base, and here you’ll notice where the continuation of the trail is on the other side of the stream. This is where you’re aiming for during your stream crossing. Once on the other side, the trail will parallel the water as you move upstream. This section has some of the densest bamboo on the whole trail, and even when the sun is high in the sky, the thick grove can nearly block out the sun. A few minutes into this bamboo trail you’ll encounter a clearing off toward your left. After a few more minutes, you’ll come to a second clearing. When you come to a third clearing on your left, you should hear the rush of a waterfall. Turn left to cross the stream again here; this will bring you to the first waterfall where there’s a small pool.

Many visitors make it this far and decide that this is enough, because beyond this point the trail gets exponentially more challenging and treacherous. Should you want to continue, however, trace the edge of the pool to the far side of the streambed and you’ll notice a thin rope dangling over a slippery rock face. This is where the trail continues; shimmy your way up the slick rock area using the rope to rejoin the trail. Once you’ve successfully navigated that obstacle, the trail will flatten out and pass through more bamboo before arriving at another pool, which is larger and less crowded than the first. Slip off your shoes and slide in for a dip.

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