5 Days In Molokai itinerary

Day 4: Molokai Forest Reserve & Kamakou Preserve

On the fourth day of this Molokai itinerary, explore the island’s tropical and elevated interior on a scenic drive and hike. If the weather cooperates, you will be awarded with unparalleled views that might offer a glimpse into what the other Hawaiian islands may have looked like before mass development.

Pelekunu Valley Overlook - Pepeopae Trail - Molokai Hawaii

Logistics for the day

You’ll need a 4WD or a mountain bike to explore this part of Molokai. It’s worth renting a 4WD if the weather is promising, as this is a stunning part of the island. Aim to start the off-road section by no later than 9 am. The road is rough, and despite only having to drive 30 miles or so (return) on the dirt road, it will take a few hours without considering the breathtaking scenic stops. Moreover, starting early means having a better chance of beating the clouds. Be prepared for rain and the wind (and intense sun on a clear day). Bring lots of food, snacks, and more water than you need. Wear comfortable hiking shoes (no sandals) and pack beach gear for later (optional).     

Molokai Forest Reserve

There are several ways to enter the remotest part of Molokai, but basically, you just want to make it onto Forest Preserve Rd somehow (ask around). I personally turned right on HWY 460 just before The Tobacco Shack. The scenery here is still desert-like, and you can spot the coral reef just like we did the other day. However, be prepared for rough-going as the road is very bumpy.

Offroad Driving in central Molokai - Hawaii

The bumps taper off as you enter the Molokai Forest Reserve, and it gets cooler as you keep driving and gain elevation. As you’ll soon see, the reserve’s trees were once of great monetary value. These days, driving here is a magical experience, with a changing scenery so different than what you’ve seen just a few minutes before.

Cloud forest - Kamakou Preserve - Molokai Hawaii

The sandalwood pit

Your first real stop is at the Sandalwood Pit. Now covered in grass, the pit was excavated in the 19th century to the exact dimensions of a ship’s “cargo bay”. Locals would trek up here and chop down the sandalwood trees – a sought-after tree with an addictive fragrance that is extinct on many Pacific islands. They would use the pit’s dimensions to maximize their efforts and manually carry the logs down to the port. The pit is nothing exciting, but with the history added, it makes for an interesting stop.    

Waikolu Lookout

The next stop is at the 3600 ft Waikolu Lookout. From here, you’ll be treated to sensational views of the Waikolu Valley and its beach, a portion of which you saw from the Kalawao Lookout in Kalaupapa a few days ago. Bear in mind that clouds and mist can quickly roll, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Moreover, if it’s been raining lately, the peaks will be dripping with waterfalls – yet another reason to visit. Note that camping is possible just across the lookout, with a permit.

Waikolu Lookout - Molokai - Hawaii
Clouds moving in - Waikulu Overlook Molokai Hawaii
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Kamakou Forest Preserve

Continuing from the Waikolu Lookout, you’ll now enter the Kamakou Preserve – home to over 200 species of native plants, songbirds, and unique ecosystems. The dirt road ends at the PepeOpae Trail entrance and is the absolute highlight of the day.

Kamakou Forest Preserve - Molokai - Hawaii

Walking a “tightrope” along a narrow boardwalk, you’ll hike over a mile deep into a cloud forest and over a bog where centuries of rotten vegetation have mixed with who-knows-how-many inches of rain. Similar to the Alaka’i Swamp trail in Kauai, the setting is surreal and looks like something out of an episode of Lord of the Rings. Spongy moss-covered ohia lehua trees are arching over your head, their sweet red flowers a magnet for apapane songbirds who cheer you on.  

Pepeopae bog hike - Kamakou Preserve - Molokai Hawaii 2
Pepeopae bog hike - Kamakou Preserve - Molokai Hawaii 3
Tropical Plants in Pepeopae Forest Bog Trail - Molokai Hawaii 2
Tropical Plants in Pepeopae Forest Bog Trail - Molokai Hawaii
Pepeopae bog hike - Kamakou Preserve - Molokai Hawaii

The metal-covered boardwalk then leads to a rare clearing in the cloud forest where the views on a clear day are phenomenal. Pay close attention to the unique flora and fauna: species of native birds and the mountain naupaka paka – so reminiscent of the rare tiare apetahi on the sacred island of Raiatea in French Polynesia.

PepeOpae Trail - Molokai - Hawaii

Pelekunu Valley Overlook

You then re-enter the cloud forest, only to emerge at the Pelekunu Valley Overlook. No words can describe the breathtaking vista and the purity of nature you experience from having this magical spot all to yourself. Across the valley are Molokai’s highest peaks, often covered in clouds. To your left, the deep chasms of the valley meet the blue of the Pacific Ocean. If it has been raining lately, you’ll be treated to a display of towering waterfalls, but even on a rare super-sunny day like I was fortunate enough to have, this is a pretty good spot to park it for a couple of hours.

Pelekunu Valley Overlook - Pepeopae Trail - Molokai Hawaii 2
Pelekunu Valley Overlook - Pepeopae Trail - Molokai Hawaii 3

Mo’omomi Beach

Not ready to call it a day quite yet? Since you already have a 4WD, you might as well continue your off-the-grid day with a trip to deserted Mo’omomi Beach on the island’s north shore. This sand dune of a beach – a favorite breeding ground for sea turtles – is remote and only accessible with a 4WD via a 2-mile stretch of muddy road from the end of HWY 480.