Ala Kahakai
National Historic Trail
Park Photo
NPS photo

Welina Mai! Greetings!

The National Park Service welcomes you to the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (NHT).

The Ala Kahakai NHT celebrates the ways ancient and indigenous peoples worldwide have created and used trails. From Eurasia's Silk Roads, to the trade trails of Mesoamerica and North America, to the great ocean roads sailed by Polynesians throughout the Pacific, these ancient routes have brought people, cultures, traditions and knowledge together from across the world for millennia.

Located on one of the world's most remote island chains, the trails of the Ala Kahakai NHT are part of the Pacific trails of the human diaspora. The trails recount stories of oceanic migrations, settlement, and adaptation.

Established in 2000, Ala Kahakai (a modern name, meaning "trail by the sea") is a 175-mile coastal network of ancient, historic, and modern trails. The Ala Kahakai NHT corridor extends from the northern tip of the Island of Hawai'i, along its western and southern coasts, to the eastern boundary of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

The Ala Kahakai NHT's mandate is to preserve, protect, interpret, reestablish as necessary, and maintain the trail system. Ala Kahakai NHT works with governmental and non-governmental partners to encourage descendant-led stewardship of trails and resources.

Ala loa

Ala loa is an ancient name for the long trail, highway, and/or main road around the island. In a given area, the ala loa often refers to both the most ancient alignment as well as a general pathway.

Mohala i ka wai ka maka o ka pua.
Unfolded by the water are the faces of the flowers.
Flowers thrive where there is water, as thriving people are found where living conditions are good.

—'Ōlelo No'eau 2178

Living Trails

The sound of saltwater slapping the windward hull of the massive wa'a kaulua (double hulled voyaging canoe) eases as it sails into the deep bay. This protected beach sits at the foot of a long, sloping mountain, its flank streaked in black lava flows and top veiled in clouds. Shimmering black sand fractures., softly giving way under the hull's weight. A person steps out, creating a single footprint. What fortune at finding this verdant island, this sheltered bay! In the distance, a ring of green foliage rising above a jagged 'a'ā landscape, indicating life giving wai (fresh water). A new journey begins, and the first Hawaiian land trail is forged.

Early ancestors of today's Polynesians migrated out of Southeast Asia into the islands of the western Pacific Ocean. They ventured successively outward, into easterly trade winds, refining their vessels as they went.

Over 1,000 years ago voyaging canoe migrations departed the central South Pacific in search of what's known today as the Hawaiian archipelago. Their mastery in seafaring and navigation initiated an era of voyaging from 800 C.E. to 1300 C.E. between Hawai'i and other Pacific islands.

Polynesian settlers were well trained in assessing a landscape's habitability from their voyaging canoes.

Explorations throughout the archipelago found welcoming living conditions. Polynesians settled and spread, creating island-wide trail networks.

Just as arteries transport life-sustaining blood throughout the body, the trails sustain the movement of people, goods, and information throughout the land.

Fishermen exchanged i'a (fish and other seafood) and pa'akai (salt) with farmers for staples like kalo (taro) and 'uala (sweet potato) from the vast agricultural complexes of the valleys and uplands. Trail networks sustained economic and social interaction across the entire island.

Kānāwai o Māmalahoe
(Law of the Splintered Paddle)

A e mālama ho'i
Ke kānaka nui a me kānaka iki
E hele ka 'elemakule
Ka luahine, a me ke kama
A moe i ke ala
A'ohe mea nana e ho'opilikia
Hewa no, make

Respect alike, the rights of
All men great and humble
See to it that our aged,
Our women, and children
Lie down to sleep by the roadside
Without fear of harm
Disobey, and die

Said by Kamehameha I (1797)

This law, enacted by Kamehameha 1, provided protection for travelers. The law asserted the king's right and responsibility over Hawai'i's trails and roads and encouraged the connectivity of families and commerce through safe passage.

Highways Act

One of the final acts passed by Hawai'i's last reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, prior to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, was the Highways Act of 1892. It stated that "All roads, alleys, streets, ways, lanes, courts, places, trails and bridges in the Hawaiian Islands, whether now or hereafter opened, laid out or built by the Government, or by private parties, and dedicated or abandoned to the public as a highway, are hereby declared to be public highways." The Act, which provides for public ownership of "highways" was carried through into State of Hawai'i law (HRS 264-1 (b)). This law applies even if the trail is not physically on the ground — as with instances where trail segments have been destroyed over time due to various land uses or natural processes.

It's a Kākou Thing

"Kākou" is the collective "we", inclusive of everyone. Trails pass through public and private property, although trails and access are protected by law, land surrounding the trail may be private property.

A successful trail network requires us all to have mutual respect for that which belongs to the individual, and that which belongs to the public. Being good hosts and good guests is a "kākou thing".

Historic Land Protection: Kauleolī

In 2016, at the request of the South Kona community, Ala Kahakai NHT acquired a 59-acre parcel in the ahupua'a of Kauleolī. The coastal parcel is adjacent to Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau NHP, and includes a section of well preserved Ala Nui Aupuni (Hawaiian Kingdom Trail). Ala Kahakai NHT is working with descendants, community members, and others to manage the land.

Hawai'i Island Trails

Hawai'i's first trails followed the natural contours of the land. Major prehistoric trails, or ala loa, connected networks of shorter coastal trails (ala hele or ala lihi kai), and intersected mauka-makai (mountain-ocean) trails known as ala pi'i mauna or ala pi'i uka. Some trails followed streams or cliff edges, and some were boundaries between neighboring ahupua'a (land divisions). Often, many trails radiated out of population centers, like the spokes of a wheel.

Trails exhibit a variety of construction methods and materials, based on terrain, intended use and mode of transportation. Trail names also varied by place and through time, based on specific location or community/family tradition. For instance, the Ala Nui Aupuni, is also the Māmalahoa, and the Kīholo-Puakō Trail. Hawaiian trail systems are, and will always remain dynamic.

These lava flows are sharp, brittle and uneven. To travel through them is slow and treacherous. Building of trails made it possible to move much more easily through this harsh landscape. Walking on 'a'ā trails, it is easy to have a sense of wonder and appreciation for their creators.

The smooth, rolling nature of pāhoehoe lava makes walking on them relatively easy. Even so, the continuous use of specific alignments created distinct paths on the land. Trails across pāhoehoe lava can be identified because they often have a smooth, shiny surface and subtle indentation caused by thousands of repetitive footfalls over time.

Stepping Stones
Smooth waterworn stones ('alā or pa'alā) were added along the center of a trail over rough terrain to make foot travel more comfortable. Pa'alā were often hand carried from miles away to their resting place along the trail. Starting in the late 1700s, horses, donkeys and cattle were driven along trails. The smooth stepping stones caused the animals to slip so they were often moved aside or removed.

Historically built trails (after 1778 CE) incorporate the builder's expertise in engineering and artistic interpretation, and often include bridge-like causeways. The curbs lining the edges of the trail helped people and livestock travel these alignments with ease. Today, when trails are maintained or repaired, special care is taken to preserve the unique style of that particular trail section.

Paved Trails
Eventually, wider, straighter, and more level trails were built by the Hawaiian Kingdom to accommodate horse drawn carts. The foundation of paved trails are large, interlocking stones. Speed of travel was an important factor in the planning of these trails. Often they took more direct inland routes between population centers, bypassing or built over traditional trails.

Jeep Trails & Modern Roads
With the arrival of automobiles, some trails were modified to accommodate them. In other instances completely new alignments were constructed. Ali'i drive in Kailua-Kona is an example of a coastal trail that has changed form through time and is now a popular modern roadway.

Open Trail Segments

The trail segments below are open to the public.

park map
(click for larger map)

Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site

Pu'ukoholā Heiau was completed in 1791 by Kamehameha I and played a crucial role in his establishment of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A self-guided walking tour of the park begins at the Visitor Center and continues south as Nā Ala Hele's Ala Kahakai Trail.

Amenities: Parking, restrooms and water. Camping available by permit at the adjacent Spencer County Beach Park.

Nā Ala Hele's Ala Kahakai Trail

This trail section is part of the State of Hawai'i's Nā Ala Hele Trail and Access Program. Extending from the southern boundary of Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site to 'Anaeho'omalu Bay, this section of trail passes through public and private lands and provides access to numerous beaches and resorts. Check Nā Ala Hele's website for details:

Amenities: Parking, restrooms, and water are available at most locations.

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park is an excellent example of Hawaiian ingenuity, culture, and natural resources. Traditional Hawaiian fishponds, a fishtrap, and dryland farming complexes were built here to feed their communities. A system of trails connect these extraordinary sites.

Amenities: Parking, restrooms, water, and picnic area.

Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park

A pu'uhonua is a safe place, a place of refuge for the sick, the despised, and for wrongdoers who broke the kapu (the system of sacred and forbidden behaviors) or kanawai (laws). The Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau complex includes heiau (temples), a hale poki (mausoleum), and a royal kauhale (compound). A section of the Ala Nui Aupuni, or Hawaiian Kingdom Government Road runs through the park and continues to the south.

Amenities: Parking, restrooms, picnic area.

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Over 150 miles of trail stretch through the Park, ranging from short day hikes to overnight backcountry hiking. Along with active volcanoes and geology, the Park and surrounding region are full of mo'olelo (stories, history) that tell of the goddess Pelehonuamea (Pele) and her family. The unique ecosystems that developed here are important to both Hawaiian indigenous and Western science.

Amenities: Parking, restrooms, water, gas station, food service, camping, lodging and picnic areas.

Personal Safety

Hiking Preparedness

Hawai'i's coast is generally sunny and hot. Please prepare and take precautions:

Sun Protection: Hat, reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, and long sleeves

Water: Minimum 2 liters of water per person per day for short hikes

Weather: Before you go, check weather forecasts and follow all warnings and advisories.
Hawai'i County Civil Defense:
National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office for Honolulu, HI:

Water Safety

Most coasts have no lifeguard on duty. Make informed decisions in choosing a shoreline destination appropriate to your personal ocean skill level.

Before you go: Check weather and ocean safety advisories, and heed all warnings.

High Surf & Strong Currents: Moderate to high surf is common in Hawai'i. Expect strong breaking waves, shore break, and currents to make swimming difficult and dangerous. When in doubt, don't go out!

Stream Crossings: Some trail sections cross stream beds that may flash flood during heavy rains. Always use caution near streams.

For Emergencies Call 911

Ho'okahi ka 'ilau like ana
Wield the paddles together
Work together

—'Ōlelo No'eau 1068

Community-Based Stewardship

The purpose and vision for the trail were crafted through many meetings with community members, descendants, landowners, and other stakeholders. Their mana'o (thought, ideas) led to Ala Kahakai NHTs descendant-led, community-based approach to trail management. This means that the community plays an active role in Trail management, helping to develop Hawaiian values-based policies, creating management guidelines, and applying them in the day-to-day care of the Trail.

Community stewardship ensures • families whose genealogies tie them to the trail are able to maintain and pass on those ties, and benefit directly from their stewardship
• everyone has the opportunity to create new or enhance existing relationships to place
• unique, place-based management plans are specific to local needs and responsive to local resources
• trails will be opened one section at a time, as management plans are in place
• management plans include ways to create local economy and livelihoods which support management activities

Check our website for more information on current community-based management efforts along the Trail as well as links to our partner sites.


Caring for trails and trail communities is successful when government and community organizations partner together. The expertise and the regulation provided by different entities means that trail actions are informed, lawful, and appropriate.

Commitment to collaboration. Repair of the historic Kīholo-Puakō trail was rooted in a strong partnership between lineal descendants, community members, and many departments within County, State, and Federal agencies.

The Ala Kahakai Trail Association (ATA) is a Hawai'i Island based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with board members consisting of descendants hailing from each moku (districts) of the island. ATA works in close partnership with the Ala Kahakai NHT to maintain the shared vision of cultural preservation and community engagement.

E Mau Nā Ala Hele is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, established in 1979, devoted to preserving and perpetuating the historic trails of Hawai'i. Between 1980-2000, the organization was instrumental in the creation of both the State's Nā Ala Hele Trail and Access System, and the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.

Source: NPS Brochure (2018)


Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail — November 13, 2000

For More Information
Please Visit The
Link to Official NPS Website

Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section


A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island (Linda Wedel Greene, September 1993)

Ala Kahakai: National Trail Study and Final Environmental Impact Statement (January 1998)

Comprehensive Management Plan, Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail (May 2009)

Hawai'i Island National Parks Junior Ranger Adventure Book (c2016)

Junior Ranger Adventure Book, Hawai'i Island National Parks (Date Unknown)

Newsletter (Ways of the Ancestors): February 2011June 2011April 2013

Handbooks ◆ Books expand section


Last Updated: 01-May-2021