Round Trip Mileage: 2.8 miles
Elevation Gain: negligible
Gear: You’ll want to carry beach gear. You’ll need to carry all of your own water and other necessities: there are no facilities other than a portable toilet. Bring plenty of sunscreen.
Map: Topographical Map of Kīholo Bay
Overview: Kīholo Bay is a protected series of calm, turquoise tidepools inside a picturesque bay. It’s a great place to spend a beach day, especially if you want to be a little more off the beaten path. This bay used to be a bit “loved to death” by tourists and locals, but conservation efforts have really improved the location over the past few years. The biggest improvement has been prohibiting driving on the beach, which used to account for most of the ecosystem damage. If you want a look at Kīholo Bay before hiking down into it, stop by the marked “Scenic Area” adjacent to mile marker 82 along Hwy 19. The water in the bay often appears to be turquoise as a result of the mix of freshwater and seawater. This mix of salt and freshwater also creates murkier conditions than other locations on the Kohala Coast. Kīholo is one of the best places to view sea turtles. This hike is a tour of Kīholo Bay and visits a black sand beach, a flooded lava tube, and an incredible brackish tidepool that was once an ancient fishpond. This area is under park reserve status and still undergoing conceptual planning for future public use. Hours: Summer: April 1 to Labor Day: 7 am to 7 pm. Winter: After Labor Day to March 31: 7 am to 6 pm. Gates are locked nightly. Camping is allowed for a fee on weekends only (Friday through Sunday nights), and sites may be reserved up to 30 days in advance. Reserve Camping here. The trailhead has a portable toilet but no other facilities. No animals are allowed except properly registered service animals. No fires are allowed and no alcoholic beverages are allowed. This website has two much longer hikes that use this trailhead: see Kīholo to Keawaiki and Kīholo to Mano Point.
Getting to the Trailhead: Just past the scenic area adjacent to mile marker 82 on Hwy 19 to the south, find an unmarked gravel road leading makai (toward the ocean). This dirt road is graded periodically, but it can be pretty rough in some spots. A carefully driven passenger car can certainly make it to the trailhead, but there are also a few pull-outs to bail and park along the access road if you think you might not make it. It can be tough to pass two cars in some areas, so drive slowly. Drive to the end of the road where there is a turnabout to help turn your car around. Park off the side of the road.
The Hike: From the roundabout trailhead parking area, walk directly out to the beach and take in the beauty of Kīholo. From this central point in Kīholo, you'll be basically touring both left and right from your vantage to take in the entire bay in a short hike. I describe this hike by going west first before traveling east, but you could obviously reverse that or skip the eastern or western leg. As you walk west from the trailhead, keep an eye on Kīholo Bay because lots of honu (green sea turtles) love to visit this bay to eat in the shallow tidepools. Hike along the rocky coastline past several picturesque trees. You'll quickly discover a nice black sand beach with an anchialine pool inland. An anchialine pool is a landlocked body of water with a subterranean connection to the ocean, with both fresh and saltwater. This oasis-like retreat is called Waia'elepi. You should stay out of this pool. This black sand beach is the end of this portion of the hike in this direction, but if you'd like to read about hiking further down this coast, click here: Kīholo to Mano Point. After you've enjoyed Waia'elepi and the black sand beach, retrace your steps back to the trailhead area. Pass the place where you first encountered Kīholo and hike less than a tenth of a mile and find Keanalele, a lava tube filled with a mix of freshwater and saltwater. Because of its proximity to the parking area, Keanalele can attract large crowds and unfortunately trash and other ecosystem damage. One important thing to remember is to ensure you don't have a bunch of sunscreen on your skin before entering the lava tube. It can create a gross oil slick on busy days. Enjoy Keanalele and continue to hike east along Kīholo Bay. You'll eventually pass a yellow mega-mansion, where you'll begin to pass by private properties. Hug the coastline and don't disturb any residents. One unique structure is called the "Bali House," and you surely won't miss it. You'll eventually round a nice bay with more private property and cross a small man-made stream on a little bridge. The little stream leads to Wainanali'i Pond, which is private property. After passing the stream, you'll be away from all the private property concerns. You're about a mile from the trailhead. The brackish turquoise lagoon in front of you was once a gigantic fishpond constructed by Kamehameha I in 1810 that had a two-mile seawall that was six feet tall and twenty feet wide. In 1859, a lava flow from Mauna Loa traveled 30 miles and destroyed this incredible engineering feat, leaving the lagoons you see today. These brackish lagoons provide an incredible spot for a swim. Honu, green sea turtles, love the lagoons as well and you should give them plenty of space. You can hike out on the narrow strip of land that creates the final lagoon if you'd like if the ocean is calm. This is the end of the hike in the eastern direction. If you'd like to read about hiking past here and up to Keawaiki, click here: Kīholo to Keawaiki.