Many people are surprised to learn that on an island best known for its ocean activities there is decent mountain biking. While it doesn’t compare to places such as Tahoe or Moab, there are still downhill rides and single-track trails where even the most hard-core mountain biker can still have a good time.
The area with the most trails is the Polipoli section of mountainside high above the pastures of Kula. While a number of the trails in Polipoli are rated as pedestrian only, the Waiakoa Loop Trail is a three-mile loop with a 400-foot elevation gain which is open to both hikers and bikers. To reach Waiakoa, travel up Waipoli Road off Highway 377, go past the lavender farm, and park your car off the side of the road just past the hunter’s check-in station. The trailhead is 0.75 mile down a four-wheel-drive access road. Since this is also a hunting area, wear bright clothing. Toward the top of Waipoli Road the pavement changes to dirt, and a good ride is to park your car where the Upper Waiohuli Trail and Mamane Trail intersect the dirt road. From here you can ride a loop trail where you climb the dirt road, turn left where the road forks, and continue climbing until you reach the trailhead for the Mamane Trail, which offers a two-mile, single-track descent back down to your car. If you want to tack on a few more miles before bombing down the Mamane Trail, ride Kahua Road out to the hunting shelter and back before heading back down to your car.
While the Waiakoa Loop Trail and Mamane Trail are fine rides, the best ride in Polipoli (and the entire island) is the dirt road known as Skyline Drive. From the trailhead of the Mamane Trail it’s about six more miles up the southwestern ridge of the mountain to the summit of Haleakala, and the switchbacking ascent is so steep in places that you’ll occasionally need to get off and walk your bike. If you park your car at the Polipoli campground, it’s about 8.5 miles to the summit, or, if you have four-wheel drive, you can take your car all the way up to a locked gate at area known as The Ballpark. Even if you start at The Ballpark, however, it’s a 3,000-foot climb before you reach the summit of Haleakala, with the reward, of course, being the screamer of a descent you’re awarded on the way down.
Begin by having someone drop you off at the summit of Haleakala and start Skyline Drive at the top! To reach the start of Skyline Drive, when approaching from the summit, drive as if you’re going to the observation platform in the upper parking lot, but before you get there take a left on the service road that leads toward Science City. On the left-hand side of this service road you’ll see a locked gate, and the dirt road that’s on the other side is the start of the Skyline Trail. Beginning from this point, you’ll switchback down Skyline Drive for six miles before linking up with the Mamane Trail, at which point you will enjoy the two miles of single-track down to the dirt portion of Waipoli Road. Take a right and begin riding down Waipoli Road until it turns to pavement. If you’re feeling like an extra workout, you can branch off and tackle the Waiakoa Loop Trail on your way down. Ascend from the loop trail back to the main road, and then continue down Waipoli Road all the way to Highway 377. From here, go left, down to Highway 37, then left again, and finish your epic ride with a two-mile gradual descent on pavement to Grandma’s Coffee House in Keokea for a celebratory lunch. Along the ride you will have dropped more than 7,000 vertical feet. Arrange to have someone pick you up here to cap off what is the best mountain descent on the island.
If you don’t have a day to devote to a downhill epic, however, and are just looking to squeeze in a couple of hours on the trail, the Kahakapao Loop Trail in the Makawao Forest Reserve offers a 5.7-mile loop that climbs its way through eucalyptus, pine, and a handful of native plants. At 3,000 feet, the cool mountain air combined with the dense forest gives the feeling of riding in British Columbia or the foothills of Vermont. From the gravel parking lot, a 0.5-mile entry trail leads to a junction where bikers can choose between the east and west loops. In planning for the descent, note that the west loop has more jumps, but the east loop is a smoother ride.