Ho'okena Beach Park
"I have remade two miles of road on the beach across the lands of Ke'ei and Hōnaunau, this improvement was much required as the road had become almost impassable." Henry Cooper, 1871
Round Trip Mileage: 6.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Gear: The 1871 Trail can be a bit loose and rocky, especially the farther you get away from the National Historical Park, so I'd recommend sturdy boots, but you could probably get away with a low top hiking shoe. This is a pretty long hike in a coastal region where a significant portion of the trail is inland away from coastal breezes, so bring sun protection and plenty of water. The hike both starts and finishes at great places for a dip in the ocean, so you might want some beach gear.
Map: Topographical Map of the 1871 Trail
Overview: The name of this trail refers to the ancient trail from Nāpō'opo'o to Ho'okena that was widened and rebuilt to accomodate horse traffic in 1871. Known as a "Two Horse Trail," these trail improvements allowed two horses to pass one another. In 1918, the government paved the trail north of Hōnaunau, but the southern portion, now known as the 1871 Trail, was never improved for vehicle traffic. The northern portion of the trail is protected inside the Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, but the majority of the trail is an easement based on laws concerning ancient trails when Hawai'i became a state. This ancient trail has a wealth of archaeological remains including structures, temples, and even an ancient ramp that provides access to the cliffs of Keanae'e. It's possible to start this hike inside Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park or Ho'okena Beach Park. The National Historical Park has a fee, the Beach Park does not. Regardless, this hike has the benefit of either starting or ending at incredible beaches.
Getting to the Trailhead: There are two trailheads for this hike: you can either park at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park or Ho'okena Beach Park. Parking at the National Historical Park requires a $5 fee (for seven days). Parking at Ho'okena Beach Park is free. To park at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, drive Hwy. 11 south of Kailua-Kona for about 20 miles and turn makai (toward the sea) between the 103 and 104 mile markers on Hwy 160. Turn left into Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. The National Historical Park has restrooms and water. To find Ho'okena Beach Park, drive south of Kailua-Kona and pass the 102 mile marker and the Ho'okena School and find Ho'okena Beach Road on the makai (toward the sea) side of the highway. Drive Ho'okena Beach Road for about 2.5 miles and find a one-lane dirt road that leads to beach parking. Ho'okena Beach Park has restrooms and some vendors. Find out more about Ho'okena including vending and camping info: Ho'okena.
The Hike: The hike described below begins inside Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, goes to Ho'okena Beach Park, and returns to the National Historical Park. You can reverse this hike and start at Ho'okena Beach Park, or even stash a car at one end and hike it one-way with a car shuttle back to your starting point. From the large parking area in Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, walk to the southern end of the lot to the left of the buildings and find a dirt road leading southerly. You can also start this hike by doing the Coastal Trail through the main part of the National Historical Park (or leave the Coastal Trail for the end of the day for a small loop). If you've never visited the main part of this National Historical Park, I highly recommend spending some time there. From the dirt road at the southern end of the parking lot, hike a short distance and find the beginning of the 1871 Trail marked with an information kiosk. Begin hiking the old trail through several ancient sites. Stay on the trail and out of the archaeological sites. After less than a mile, reach the intersection of the 1871 Trail and the Coastal Trail. You can take a short detour down to picturesque Alahaka Bay or just continue on the 1871 Trail. Once you round Alahaka Bay, find the Alahaka Ramp, an impressive feat of engineering that provides access to the Keanae'e Cliffs and the ancient village of Ki'ilae. Mark Twain called Keanae'e Cliffs "a petrified Niagra," and prior to the construction of the ramp, access to Ki'ilae was by ladder or rope only. The earliest mention of the ramp is from 1868, but the ramp likely existed prior to that time. The ramp requires periodic maintenance. It had deteriorated so much in the early 1900s that cowboys called the ramp the "one foot out trail" because they always kept one foot out of the stirrups in case they needed to bail off their horse. Today, the National Park keeps it in pristine condition. You'll also notice a few gated lava tubes along the ramp. You could once visit these tubes, but the Park Service closed them recently because they became unsafe. One even led to a vantage over the ocean. Pass the ramp and continue along the 1871 Trail as it passes even more archaeological remains (stay on the trail). Eventually find a pit toilet north of the trail. About a mile from the trailhead, find a metal gate along the trail marking the boundary of the National Park. Pass through the gate and close it behind you. You're now outside the National Park on a state easement based on the existence of the old trail at the time of Hawaiian statehood. The 1871 Trail begins to cut inland as it passes by Loa Point. This part of the trail can be exceptionally humid and stagnant out of the coastal breezes. Continue along the trail as it becomes more and more overgrown. Watch out for the evil thorns of the Kiawe Trees in this section (see thumbnail photo above). Eventually, the trail cuts back toward the coast when it reaches Kealia Beach. At this point, the trail becomes an access road for some residents. After you pass a large estate on the side of the trail, hike directly out to the coast. There is a development in the area that encompasses the end of the old 1871 Trail. So, proceed directly out to the coast here and hug it all the way down to Ho'okena Beach Park. Don't cross any gates, don't enter any private property, and don't harass residents in any way. If you're not sure if you're on public land or not, turn around. If you're hugging the coastline, you're on state land. Make a mental note of where you left the 1871 Trail and hiked toward the coast for your return trip. Round the corner leading to Ho'okena Beach Park. Enjoy Ho'okena and return the way you came.