About an hour’s drive from the famed Kohala Coast resort area and beaches, Kalopa State Recreation Area and Forest Reserve offers visitors a different view of the island. Situated three miles inland from Mamalahoa Highway at the 2,000-foot elevation, visitors to the park enjoy the kind of quiet and solitude that’s rare on busy beaches. Expansive lawns and picnic tables make this a perfect place to hang out with good friends (or a book). But perhaps a bigger attraction are the hiking trails.
The Kalopa Gulch Trail System borders (no big surprise) the Kalopa Gulch, offering views down into the 150 to 200-foot deep gulch an occasional glimpses of pools of water. What you might not expect to hear is this: Kalopa Gulch (and nearby Hanaipo Gulch) were “formed largely by meltwater from the Pleistocene glacial icecap of Mauna Kea.” Glaciers! In Hawai‘i!
What a gorgeous hike this is. We made our way up and down fern-lined trails through stands of eucalyptus, silk oak, paperbark, ironwood, and tropical ash – and saw only one other hiker.
The trail is moderate in difficulty, mostly due to a few steep (but short) climbs. We hiked along a portion of the Perimeter Rim Trail and then cut back to the cabins via a trail that bisects the reserve. That section of the trail is about four miles long and took us two hours to complete. I was hiking with teenagers who maneuvered the trail’s ups and downs easily, but if that sounds like too much of a hike for your family, there is also an easy family nature hike (0.7-mile loop trail) that takes you through a native ‘ohi’a forest, perfect for introducing younger kids to the plants of the area and the fun of hiking.
The park offers a couple of camping options, too. Tent camping is allowed on a large grassy area of the park, or there are group cabins:
These accommodations consist of 8-person units provided with bunk beds, toilet facilities, and hot shower. A centrally located recreational dining hall is equipped for cooking and serving the entire group. Furnishings include a gas range, water heater, refrigerator, freezer, limited dishes, cooking and eating utensils, tables and chairs, as well as restrooms. NOTE: As of October 1, 2009, linen, bedding and towels are no longer provided in the Kalopa cabins.
Rates: $55 per night for 8-person cabins, special rates for large groups.
Entrance to the park is free, however there is a requested donation (get out your purse…) of twenty-five cents for each person who uses the trail.