Makapu'u lighthouse trails, Oahu

5 Best Mountain Bike Rides in Hawaii

Long known as America’s paradise of sand, sun and entertainment, Hawaii is also a remarkable destination for all things mountain biking, a state that forever promises amazing weather, spectacular natural scenery and a variety of unique outdoor cycling trails just waiting to be explored.

The 50th and most recent (8/21/1959) state to be admitted to the U.S., Hawaii is the only state in America that is located in the region known as Oceania and the only one composed entirely of islands. The state encompasses nearly the entire volcanic Hawaiian archipelago, which comprises hundreds of islands spread over 1,500 miles (2,400 km). At the southeastern end of the archipelago, the eight main islands are—in order from northwest to southeast: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui and the Island of Hawaii. The last is the largest island in the group; it is often called the “Big Island” or “Hawaii Island” to avoid confusion with the larger state or archipelago.

Hawaii’s diverse natural scenery, warm tropical climate, abundance of public beaches, oceanic surroundings, and many active volcanoes make it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts; and its countless number of unique, interesting and sometimes grueling trails make it especially popular among the mountain biking crowd. To highlight this point, below we have outlined five of the most popular mountain biking trails in the state of Hawaii, with a brief description of each trail’s characteristics and the scenery that surrounds them.

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Ohana Trail

The Ohana Trail is a beautiful new single track course, created by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), near the town of Kailua on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. This fun, machine-built course flows effortlessly over mostly even terrain and includes a number of tough climbs and roller coaster-like descents.

The Ohana Trail is one of Oahu’s latest trail additions and the first IMBA-created trail on the island. It was built by the Oahu Mountain Bike Ohana Trail Association and their many volunteers, representing that association’s first big project.

The Ohana Trail is a four-mile singe track course that may be ridden one way or as part of a larger loop, the latter option including an added 1.5 miles of road that connects the starting and finishing points.. The trail is machine-built and fairly smooth in most sections, thus making it accessible for riders of all ages and ability levels. Over the course of the track, riders will encounter a few small rock gardens and root sections, but even these are not overly technical.  Perhaps the largest challenges for beginner riders are the few steep climbs along the trail—fitness-testing sections which cyclists will definitely feel in their legs both during and after the ride. In addition to the climbs, there are also a series of thrilling descents on this beautiful trail, which most riders choose to ride in a counter-clockwise direction.

Riders will be treated to some gorgeous scenery on the Ohana Trail; including some unique-looking vegetation that reminds riders they are traversing a Hawaiian trail that is very tropical in nature. Massive trees form a canopy for most of the ride and the high points of the trail offers some amazing views of the surf and sand below.

Pupukea Trail

The Pupukea Trail, located just a short hop from the famed Waimea Bay, is perhaps the most oft-ridden and well-liked trail on the island of Oahu and one of the most popular courses in the entire state of Hawaii.  A mostly cross country track that caters to riders of all ability levels, Pupukea, which sits in the same neighborhood of the West Kaunai Trail, is one of the best maintained trails Hawaii has to offer and one of the absolute mountain bike hot spots on Oahu’s renowned North Shore.

The Pupukea Trail has been described by locals as a “maze of a course,” one that, while not overly technical, still has enough challenging elements to keep the track interesting. Boasting some 14 miles of terrain—double that when ridden as a loop—the course features several miles of flowing single track through the trees; a number of steady switchback climbs; rapid downhills; open bowl areas; and a multipurpose jeep road laden with rocks, roots, soft sand and berms. Riders can traverse the Pupukea Trail for hours upon hours without getting bored, and because all the trails crisscross each other, riders can choose from a variety of tracks, with each one offering a new and exhilarating experience.

According to the IMBA, the difficulty rating of the Pupukea Trail is “intermediate,” and the course’s traffic, which of course rises on weekends and during the summer months, is generally classified as “moderate.”

Kealia Trail

Located very near the capital city of Honolulu, Hawaii’s Kealia Trail is a long track that is rated moderate in both difficulty and traffic. The 21-mile loop trail can be found on Oahu’s northwest corner, and the tricky challenge it poses to riders has made it one of the most beloved courses in the entire Hawaiian archipelago.

Also known as the “Peacock Loop,” the Kealia Trail actually features two courses in one: an easier 14-mile loop and the aforementioned 21-mile course that is much more difficult. The latter of these two courses has been described by locals as a brutal and physically-challenging course. It boasts some extended climbs that are steep and grueling, but those who succeed in making it to the top of the course will be immediately rewarded by an ultra-fast descent that requires excellent bike handling skills.

According to the official site description, the Kealia Trail system consists of a “combination of VC, AM and DH trails,” each offering an outdoor cycling experience that will not soon be forgotten. Both of the loops commence from the well-known Dillingham Airfield Control Tower, and the initial portion of the trail, which is very fast, closely follows the airport’s runway before it transforms into a leg-pounding 3.5 mile climb that is paved and expertly maintained.  Riders will tackle a series of tight and twisty switchbacks as they make their way up the hill, the apex of which provides some spectacular views of Oahu’s North Shore and the Honolulu cityscape.

Those who intend to challenge themselves on the Kealia Trail system should park their vehicles at Dillingham Tower—a perfect place to begin and finish this ride and an area that is regularly patrolled by airport police to deter thefts and other property crimes.

Laie Falls Trail

Tucked neatly away in the small town of Laie, the Laie Falls Trail is one of the most entertaining courses on the island of Oahu. The trail system is situated on the island’s renowned North Shore and consists of over 17 miles of well-ridden trails, courses that are designed for every level of rider, from beginner to advanced.

The main trail at Laie is approximately six miles in length. It is wide, well-cleared and not overly technical, although riders will need to negotiate some jutting rocks and protruding roots in some sections of the course.  Whether going up or down, the narrower side trails offer a greater challenge than the wider main trail. Cross country cyclists will thoroughly enjoy the very challenging, heart-pounding ascent, while free ride specialists consistently turn out to tackle the course’s very fast, flowing and technical descents. There are also several well-maintained bowls along the trail in which riders can practice new tricks and master more advanced skills.

Sadly, there is no car path available to shuttle to the top of the course, so those looking to get a closer look at the majestic Laie Falls will definitely have to work for it.  The Laie Falls Trail is rated “moderate” in terms of difficulty and because this is a multi-use trail, riders are urged to watch out for hikers who may be walking the course.

Kulani Trail

Located just outside of the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Kulani Trail is one of the state’s premier mountain biking destinations—a place whose forests, which are packed with black lava rock, make for an amazingly technical cross country biking experience.

The trail system at Kulani is an intermediate to advanced-rated single track course that is both fast and technical, forcing riders to pay extra close attention to the terrain below them. Rocks, roots, logs and narrow wooden bridges are just a few of the impediments riders will need to negotiate as they carefully make their way along this 10-mile course.

The Kulani Trail is fairly unique as compared to other tracks on the Big Island; there is very little elevation gain on the course, but the trail’s tight and twisty design provides more than enough of a technical challenge to keep riders happy. Laid out on rough, black lava rock with more than its fair share of roots and high spots, the course features a few quick climbs and descents, as well as some gorgeous scenery that is very representative of the state’s many tropical forests.

Overall, the system of trails here is relatively short in distance, but unless you are a regular rider you may find yourself in a maze that is difficult to navigate. Fortunately, the course is well marked with colorful signage and each trail begins and ends at one of the several trailhead parking areas, each of which includes a number of convenient amenities that mountain bikers enjoy, including full restrooms and bike wash/repair stations.

image credit:Makapu’u lighthouse trails, Oahu – Dave Palombo

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