Munro Trail doesn’t look like anywhere else on Lana‘i—or anywhere else in Hawaii. Anyone who ventures out on this 12.8-mile dirt road might swear they are in the Pacific Northwest instead of the tropics, yet wandering around the stands of Cook pines is one of Lana‘i’s most iconic adventures. There are few better ways to spend a morning on Lana‘i than by rising early, throwing on a light jacket, and heading into the uplands where the smell of eucalyptus wafts through an understory of ironwoods and pines. For clear skies and dry conditions, it’s best to hike Munro Trail in the morning hours before enveloping clouds blow in on the trades.
To reach Munro Trail travel past the Lodge at Koele on Keomuku Highway until you reach a sign for Cemetery Road, where you will make a right just before the first mile marker. On Cemetery Road the pavement turns to dirt and then branches off to the left, bringing you to the start of the trail. Technically Munro Trail is a single-lane, dirt road navigable by anyone with four-wheel drive. The Dollar Jeep rental company doesn’t allow its Jeeps to go on the steep and potentially muddy track, and even those who have rented a Hummer have occasionally gotten stuck. The other option is to park your car at the trailhead and make the 5.5-mile hike to the summit (one-way), choosing to stop at lookouts along the way.
The first such lookout if starting from Cemetery Road is the Koloiki Ridge about 2.5 miles into the trail. A small red and white sign on the left side of the trail points the way to the ridge, and after a brief quarter-mile jaunt you are rewarded with grandiose views peering back into Maunalei Gulch and out to the islands of Maui and Moloka‘i. This lookout is also accessible as part of the Koloiki Ridge Trail hike which departs from behind the Lodge at Koele.
Back on the main trail you’ll continue for a couple miles beneath a shroud of forest until you pass some communication towers. Just past the towers is Ho‘okio Gulch, a place of historical significance which forever transformed the island of Lana‘i. In 1778 Kahekili, ruler of Lana‘i and Maui, was besieged by Kalaniopu‘u, a powerful chief from the Big Island whose army featured a fearless young warrior by the name of Kamehameha. In the battle at Ho‘okio, Kahekili and his warriors attempted to defend the island from the invading warriors by slinging stones down from the hilltop and hiding in crevasses carved into the cliff face. Ultimately, however, Kahekili and his men would emerge defeated, and the ensuing occupation of Lana‘i by Kalaniopu‘u and his army drove the resource-strapped island into a famine, which decimated much of the native population. It’s said that the spirits of those who perished in the battle still reside in the cool forests and keep watch over the eroded gulches and canyons.
Finally, after you’ve climbed an uphill section of trail, 5.5 miles from the end of Cemetery Road you’ll find the 3,370-foot summit of Lana‘ihale, or The Hale as it’s known to locals. This is the only point in all of Hawaii where it’s possible to see five other islands on the clearest of days, and during winter even the snowcapped peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island can be clearly seen over 100 miles to the southeast. Should you decide to continue the length of the trail you’ll descend for seven miles down the southern side of the ridge, past turnoffs for the Awehi and Naha trails, and eventually emerge in the remains of old pineapple fields at Highway 440 (Manele Road). Though properly exploring Munro Trail takes the better part of a day, it’s one in which you’re able to step out of the tropical “norm” and breath the fresh air of one of Hawaii’s most scenic and storied places.