The Donkey Trail
Round Trip Mileage: 0.5 mile
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Gear: You won't need much for this short hike down to the ocean. This part of the island gets a lot of rain, so you might want a rain jacket. Don't forget the mosquito repellent. Swimming isn't great in Onomea Bay, but you might want swimwear for a dip in Onomea Stream.
Map: Topographical Map of Onomea Bay
Overview: This Na Ala Hele trail offers a short hike from the Scenic Drive portion of the Old Mamalahoa road to a small, narrow promonotory in beautiful Onomea Bay. The trail follows Onomea stream, which is a popular swimming spot for locals. The trail is nicknamed "The Donkey Trail" because it actually was a trail for donkeys packing cargo from a long-defunct harbor in Onomea bay. The north end of Onomea bay once featured a large natural arch called Onomea arch, but an earthquake shook it down in 1956. This trail is best for sunny days -- the trail is very slippery when wet, so give it plenty of time to dry out after a rainshower.
Getting to the Trailhead: A few miles north of Hilo on Hwy. 19, find the "Scenic Drive" portion of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. This four-mile long scenic drive connects with modern Hwy. 19 to the south between the 7 and 8 mile markers, and again on the north near the 11 mile marker. Carefully drive the narrow Scenic Drive for either 2.5 miles from the southern end or 1.5 miles from the northern end and look for the Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Gardens. Don't park in the Botanical Gardens lot unless you paid to visit there. Instead, drive just slightly north of the Botanical Gardens parking lot and find a small dirt pulloff on the makai (ocean) side of the road suitable for 2 or 3 cars. Look for a brown sign with yellow lettering indicating the "Onomea Trail" placed by the State Na Ale Hele trail system. Park here, and ensure you are completely off the road.
The Hike: From the parking pullout, walk past the Na Ala Hele trailhead sign and follow the steep beginning of the trail as it quickly descends through dense rainforest. Onomea stream is to your right (to the south). When Onomea trail reaches the bay, you'll pass a stream access spur trail that leads you over an embankment into a shallow spot where Onomea stream reaches the ocean. This water contains parasites like Leptospirosis and Giardia, so carefully consider swimming here with open wounds and don't drink the water. There is a small waterfall about 25 feet upstream. Once you're back on the main Onomea Trail, it abruptly ends at the end of a scenic promontory in Onomea bay. Return the way you came.