From the coastal towns of Ka’anapali and Lahaina, you can catch a glimpse of the edges of the West Maui Forest Reserve.
Stretching across a huge area of the West Maui Mountains, the reserve protects a complex natural environment.
But these small glances can’t begin to cover the diversity of the West Maui Mountains. Learn more about the West Maui Forest Reserve with this guide.
What Is The West Maui Forest Reserve?
Many of the plants of Maui are endemic to Hawaii, having evolved on the islands over tens of thousands of years of isolation.
These plants work in harmony with the natural climate of Maui, able to cope with both heavy rainfall and strong sun.
The forests of the West Maui Mountains are among some of the oldest on the island, as the West Maui volcano has been extinct for around 320,000 years.
The West Maui Forest Reserve was established to protect and preserve the delicate ecosystem found in the West Maui Mountains.
The West Maui Forest reserve encompasses roughly 11,416 acres of the West Maui Mountains.
Within these acres are a diverse array of habitats, divided into four sections: Honokowai (wet and boggy), Kahakuloa (wet and windy), Panaewa (forests and shrubland), and Lihau (steep and dry).
Sitting largely untouched by human activity, the West Maui Forest Reserve is an excellent example of the wildlife that is so essential to Maui.
The Flora Of West Maui Forest Reserve
Since designation in 1908, the West Maui Forest Reserve has protected the flora of Maui from outside development.
Within the reserve are roughly 315 varieties of native plant, including 81 that have been categorized as rare.
It encompasses an impressive 11 natural communities, and among the bogs, shrubs, grasslands, and wet forests are fascinating displays of endemic Hawaiian growth.
Although you’d have to be a botanist to identify all these plants (or very enthusiastic about Hawaiian flora) you can spot many of the most interesting examples as you hike the West Maui Mountain trails!
Hiking The West Maui Forest Reserve
The West Maui Forest Reserve encompasses a fascinating natural landscape, one that was built by volcanic eruptions, and eroded by hundreds of thousands of years of wind and rain.
Developing into a landscape defined by knife-edge ridges, curving valleys, and steep slopes, the West Maui Forest Reserve fascinates hikers.
The best hiking trail for discovering the West Maui Forest Reserve is the Waihee Ridge Trail. Starting on the eastern curve of the mountains, the Waihee Ridge Trail cuts directly into the reserve itself.
From the final viewing point, hikers are rewarded by views across the West Maui Mountains, and out to sea.
And you will feel like you’ve earned that view! This isn’t the hardest hike on Maui, but the incline is significant. The trail starts off relatively gently, and the path is well marked for much of the hike.
But as the journey progresses, the steady climb will start to wear you down. Luckily, there are frequent viewpoints to stop, take in your surroundings, and catch your breath.
If you do want to hike the West Maui Forest Reserve, pay close attention to recent weather conditions. Heavy rains can wipe out parts of the path, and leave behind a dangerously slippery trail.
Driving The West Maui Forest Reserve
Enjoy a touch of adrenaline while you explore a natural wonder? Then you will love an ATV tour!
ATV tours are a thrilling way to dive into the West Maui Forest Reserve, providing you with exceptional views, a chance to discover a wild landscape, and a day trip that will get your heart thumping.
Driving an ATV around a delicate ecosystem might not sound like a great idea, but many of these tour groups work closely with conservation experts to ensure the trip is as safe for passengers and plants as possible.
Fancy something a little more low key? Maui Mountain Activities also offers a horseback tour of the mountains!
Flying Over The West Maui Forest Reserve
The West Maui Forest Reserve covers a varied and complex landscape, one that it’s hard to take in from the ground.
From the Waihee Ridge Trail, the panoramic view offers a chance to grasp some of the fascinating topography of the mountains. But the best way to truly experience the diversity of the West Maui Mountains is from the air.
Helicopter tours take passengers over the West Maui Forest Reserve, providing a glimpse into the secret landscapes that are hidden from the ground.
With the wide view from the helicopter, passengers can see how the landscape changes across the mountains, and even spot some massive waterfalls.
Or Try The Makawao Forest Reserve
The West Maui Forest Reserve is an epic destination for hiking fans, and the well laid Waihee Ridge Trail makes it accessible for even less accomplished hikers.
However, the trail is difficult to access—you need to drive along the nerve-wracking Kahekili Highway—and suffers badly from adverse weather.
An easier option is to visit Makawao Forest Reserve. Like the West Maui Forest Reserve, this area is designed to protect and preserve the natural flora of Maui.
It also has several hiking paths that are less likely to be washed away by heavy rain. Although keep in mind, they can get slippery.
For hikers, the Makawao Forest Reserve has the Kahakapao Loop Trail, and the Waihou Spring Trail. The Waihou Spring Trail is the easiest of the trails, but there’s plenty to see on both hikes.
You can also explore Makawao Forest Reserve by bike! The Kahakapao Loop Trail is open to cyclists as well as hikers.
The West Maui Forest Reserve encompasses over 11,000 acres of the West Maui Mountains, and protects the endemic wildlife of Maui. Hiking trails allow visitors to discover the forest reserve by foot, although much of the reserve itself is hidden within an incredible landscape.