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black Kaupo Trail

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6.9 mile 11.1 kilometer point to point


Ascent: 5,406' 1,648 m
Descent: 0' 0 m
High: 6,373' 1,943 m
Low: 968' 295 m


Avg Grade: 15% (8°)
Max Grade: 51% (27°)


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Trail shared by Megan W

A strenuous undertaking through beautiful rainforest, most suitable for experienced backpackers.

Megan W

Features Birding · Views · Wildlife


Most visitors plan to complete this challenging trail as a one-way excursion by arranging for a pickup at the end. Alternatively, leave a car at both ends and make it into a multi-day backpacking journey by utilizing the park's fine backcountry camping/cabins with the necessary permits. Most people spend the night at the Paliku cabin and start the descent to the southern coast early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat.

From the 3-way intersection with the Halemau'u Trail and the Lau'ulu Trail, take the Kaupo Trail south across the flat crater floor before dropping off the lip and heading down the volcano's hillside through brushy, steep terrain. It was originally thought that this "gap" in the crater rim wall was blown out in a spectacular Mount St. Helen's-style eruption, but recent research has shown that it was formed instead by wind and rain erosion.

You'll almost certainly have all the solitude you seek on this remote, infrequently used trail. Enjoy watching for wildlife while crossing ancient lava flows, dry dense native vegetation and pristine forests. Be prepared for a tough, rocky path that can sometimes be hard to find. Intense switchbacks are interspersed with somewhat level sections and constant ocean/Big Island views in the distance.

Just as you leave behind the prominent ridgeline that has been looming above, the trail crosses a fenceline from National Park land into private property. Trail users have permission to continue through, but please be respectful. The remainder of the route is on old doubletrack through ranch land. The grade steepens considerably near the Kaupo Cutoff and Kaupo Side Loop. You may inadvertently take one of these options due to the increasingly vague trail markings here. Proceed through pastures looking for the NPS markers to stay on track. The trail ends upon reaching the more established-looking dirt road and trailhead, but it is another few miles on the Kaupo Gap Road to reach the Piilmani Highway 31.

Heed the warnings and be prepared for cold and unpredictable weather. Also, be aware that the high altitude will cause dehydration and fatigue much faster than at sea-level. As of this writing, no food is available for purchase inside the park, so bring your own.

Flora & Fauna

Koa forest, Ohia trees, endangered birds.


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Jan 20, 2018
Jacob Winey
Took Kaupo gap up to the crater, then across the crater, and up to the summit! In all, took 7 hours. Kaupo gap involved a lot of bushwhacking. 16mi — 7h 00m

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 6 votes


in Kaupo


  4.3 from 6 votes
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223 Views Last Month
11,281 Since Apr 28, 2016
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Mitch W  
I hiked up the Kaupo Gap. Once I got to the doubletrack it was absolutely stunning, but be warned, the first half a mile from the bottom is horrendous. It is completely overgrowth with long grass and sharp trees. There are trail markers, but they are impossible to find (see photos), and it is too dense to bush bash straight up. It literally took me 4 hours to progress half a mile! Aug 31, 2017
Sea to summit 9.5 hrs. Give yourself time for route finding. Pay close attention to the direction the arrows are pointing. I know this seems obvious but there are several trail options right off the start and the first few posts are buried in the grass, see photo. Also off the start keep looking up the hill (about 75 yds) and slightly right for a marker. Next, stay on the Jeep trail through the brush and grasslands until you come to a tall fence. Follow the fence to the right, you will find an unmarked man gate with a chain, go through the gate and continue up the road a bit and you should find another post. This was a bit confusing for me as there hadn’t been a marker for about a mile. From here on out it was fairly straightforward. Someone has also marked the trail with blue surveyors tape periodically. Things I wish I could know before starting: I brought a 3 liter bladder filled and didn’t need to refill, I wasn’t sure how much water I would need so I also brought a water filter for the non potable water at the cabins. I brought a very light shell and puffy and used them both in the last few miles approaching the summit. Brutal winds and rain. Started at 5:30am at Huialoha church in pitch black but by the time I reached the right turn onto the private road (approx 200yds shy of Kaupo Store) it was light enough to turn off my headlamp. There were dogs barking at the houses you pass but thankfully they were contained. Used Uber to pick me up in Kihei at 3:30am, $115. Overall very cool experience. Encountered a wild boar, several cows and horses, no wild dogs, 3 nenes, several pheasant, francolin and chukar. Apr 6, 2018

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