When most people think about the beach, they usually envision themselves relaxing in the sand. Or at most, they see themselves walking along, picking up shells and enjoying the surf. Some of us, however, are just hikers through and through, and we can’t help but want to trek out further… even if that involves hiking through loads of… sand.
Point being, beach hiking isn’t for everyone. But beach hiking in Molokai, Hawaii, USA, is something that the hikers among you should consider. That’s because Molokai is home to Mo’omomi Preserve, where the Nature Conservancy is protecting this unique coastal environment.
Beach Hiking in Molokai, HI
Hawaii is known around the world for its beautiful, tropical beaches. Molokai is no exception; the island has many exceptional beaches where you can enjoy soft sand, the crystal, blue ocean, and be surrounded by the nature of Hawaii. Not all of them are tropical – including the beaches of Mo’omomi Preserve, but they are all representations of the ecosystems that make these islands unique. While beach hiking isn’t easy, I think this really special place is worth your time when you are on Molokai. Places like this have all but disappeared.
Experiencing the beach as a hiker is a different experience. It can still be relaxing, if you don’t have a mileage goal. But it can also be quite the physical challenge to trek across miles of sand. If you have ever hiked or ran in sand, you know and if you know, you know. But for those who haven’t tried it or been exposed to it by hiking in general, sand hiking is 2x as hard due to the sinkage. You will definitely be slower than you are used to being. Furthermore, most beaches lack shade, so if you aren’t used to hiking exposed, there is that added challenge.
Tips for Beach Hiking in Molokai
With these things in mind, I have a couple tips. First, if you do have a considerable mileage goal, consider hiking in your waterproof boots. I know this sounds really counterintuitive for the beach, but sand can really damage your feet if you are walking at pace. And getting sand in your shoes can be a literal and figurative drag as well. Boots can help keep the sand out.
In terms of the lack of shade, please plan you hike around the cooler time of the day and be sure to bring LOTS of water and snacks to stay hydrated.
Need to Know Information
This guide is based on a trip in 2019 and corresponding research on conditions in 2022.
Trail difficulty: Moderate due to sand hiking and lack of shade
Trail length: 3.3 miles RT; this is an out and back trail
Elevation gain: 185 ft
Shade factor: Almost no shade on the trail
Bogginess level: Dry
Toilets at the trailhead? No
Entrance fee: None
4WD/High clearance needed to access? Yes! Do not attempt in a regular vehicle.
Please visit the Nature Conservancy Office for a map and directions to the trailhead and parking. They can also let you know about the condition of the road and discuss the trail with you in more detail. You will need a high clearance vehicle with 4WD.
The Nature Conservancy also does monthly tours of this preserve, so you might consider that as an option for beach hiking in Molokai.
Their office can be visited at 23 Pueo Pl, Kaunakakai, HI 96748 from 9a-3p Mon-Fri.
My experience on the road to Mo’omomi Preserve lines up with more recent reports. Primarily, I found this road to be scary because one side of the dirt road is rutted far more deeply than the other. This means that when you drive down this road, your vehicle will be tipping to the side.
This road is not navigable by a regular vehicle.
On the Trail
When I hiked this trail, there were two distinct sections that I experienced while exploring Mo’omomi Preserve. The first was the actual beach hiking in Molokai. From the trailhead, I followed the coast to the west. This beach was characterized by light sand contained by low, rocky outcroppings crested with shrubs and shrubby trees. This is on the drier side of the island, so I also can’t help but equate this area to my own arid home.
Besides trekking through the sand, there are a couple points at which you will need to climb over some of the rocks in order to move from one section of the beach onwards. There isn’t really much of a trail at many points. You are really just following the beach westward. Please be careful about the tides and turn around if you feel lost.
Eventually, the trail will rise off the beach into the rolling, grassy hills of the preserve. You will know right away when you reach this area, as you will have to pass through a gate. Please make sure to close the door and/or follow any instructions on the signage here.
Once you enter the Mo’omomi Preserve proper, the trail conditions will change as you will find yourself walking away from the water, through the grassy hills. I found the trail here much easier to follow. It was clear in the grass.
In terms of where you turn around, that’s up to you at any point before you reach the terminus of the trail. I ended up retracing my steps after exploring a small copse of trees that the trail led to and enjoying a little bit of shade. I did find this hike a bit hot in January when I went, but I didn’t make it out until mid-day. So, keep those conditions in mind.
Island Biodiversity Conservation at Mo’omomi Preserve
There are a variety of challenges that face the native species of Hawaii, and a few are showcased by Mo’omomi Preserve. These include:
1) Introduced predators and competitors that can easily prey on native birds and other species who nest in vulnerable, ground nests or which may outcompete native species for resources, particularly in areas disturbed by development. We see this all over the world, but island species can be especially at risk because many have evolved without the pressures of introduced species like rats, and domestic livestock for millions of years.
2) Introduced plant species. At Desert Botanical Garden’s research and conservation department, we talk a lot about “plant invisibility.” Plants aren’t often something we explicitly think about in the world around us, but they shape every habitat and every environment. When humans accidentally or purposefully introduce new plant species into an ecosystem, this can lead to a complete transformation of that habitat in a worst-case scenario. This often leads to a loss in biodiversity as native species either can’t compete with the introduced plant or they can’t properly use it for food or shelter.
3) Human disturbance. Humans have been living on the island of Molokai since at least 650 AD. So… a long time. However, the way in which people relate to and use the land has seen a rapid change since European colonization, and this has led to negative impacts on native ecosystems. Things like intensive grazing by livestock, irresponsible recreation, and rapid development of surrounding areas can all make it hard for native species to survive and thrive.
All Is Not Lost
Luckily, in the case of Mo’omomi Preserve, there is a lot of work being done to heal the land. The Nature Conservancy and state agencies working with them, have been actively trying to manage both plant and animal species that have been introduced. This includes removal of invasive plant species, and the fencing of the preserve to keep out some animals of concern.
Likewise, their work has helped to mitigate the impacts of human activity in the area. Acquiring the land for protection (no easy feat) will preserve this area from intensive development like the building of houses, etc. It has also helped to solidify and define trails. That helps people recreating stay clear of nests and away from sensitive plants that might die if trampled.
How You Can Help
There are a few really important ways that you can support the work on the Nature Conservancy and Hawaii’s State Department of Land and Natural Resources to protect the habitat and species of Mo’omomi Preserve.
This first tip is for EVERYONE who has the opportunity to visit the preserve. Tread lightly. There are so many things that I could say related to this, and Leave No Trace is a source for more information about how to be responsible on the trail anywhere. For beach hiking on Molokai, I have some specific thoughts:
(1) Drive, park, and hike on established roads and trails.
You will have to drive on a dirt road to get to the trailhead; although the road can be difficult, do your absolute best to stay on the established road, unless there is an unsafe situation involved or you need to carefully let another driver pass. Likewise, avoid parking your vehicle on plants. While hiking, you will be traveling on the beach for a while, but there are also trails in the preserve. Stay on the trail. When we walk over plants, we damage delicate habitats. In the case of Mo’omomi Preserve, there are a lot of essential nesting areas here. The last thing we want to do is stomp through anyone’s nest.
(2) Mind the fence – follow signs and secure gates.
Invasive animals, like omnivorous and predatory mammals, have huge impacts on island ecosystems. Many endangered (and extinct) birds, for example, nest on the ground because they evolved before the introduction of animals like rats and pigs. Now these nests are easy pickings for mammals that arrived with humans. When island species like birds and turtles, who rely on the beach habitats that are disappearing due to human activities (like development, dumping waste, etc.), are also impacted by animals raiding their nests, they often can’t survive in the long run.
So, fences are extremely important to protecting species that struggling to coexist with animals that people recently brought to the islands. These help conservationists keep animals of concern out of important nesting areas. In the case of Mo’omomi Preserve, there are gates built into the fence that are designed to let visitors in. But it should go without saying that if we leave gates open while beach hiking in Molokai, we are negating the purpose of the fence. Again, these barriers can be essential to conservation.
So, when you approach a gate, please take the time to read the signage. Take note of what is being asked of you. If there is no signage, error on the side of caution and make sure to close the gate after yourself – even if you find the gate open when you get there. Otherwise, follow the instructions on the sign.
(3) Pack out your trash.
Bringing snacks is essential to beach hiking in Molokai (or anywhere), but that usually includes the potential to create trash. You’ve got packaging, and micro-trash (like the corner I accidentally ripped off of my protein bar package), and there’s also the possibility of dropping gear which you had no intent to into make trash. But one person’s workable, old trekking pole is another person’s trash. Point being, we’ve got a lot of stuff with us. And whether we mean to or not, we can end up leaving pieces of it behind.
Trash can be consumed by animals and lead to injury, starvation, or death. It also undermines the beauty of the beach, which impacts other visitors. So, do your best to keep track of all your trash, even the tiny pieces. Secure that trash and pack it back to your lodging.
You can also have an extra positive impact by packing out any trash that you find, safely secure and carry out with you. When doing this, however, please mind what you are picking up. It is best to pick up other people’s trash with a claw so that you don’t have to touch it. But if you do touch anything place it into a plastic bag and wash your hands afterwards.
Even among travelers, we don’t always have money to donate. Although there is a good chance that if you can budget for a trip, you might be able to budget a little extra to give back as well. If that is the case for you, you might consider giving a what you can to the Nature Conservancy for the express purpose of supporting Mo’omomi Preserve.
Molokai, like the rest of Hawaii, is the traditional home of the Hawaiian people. I thank and acknowledge the many thousands of Hawaiians who stewarded and continue to steward the beautiful island of Molokai.
The impacts of colonization are still being strongly felt today. If possible for you, support the local Hawaiian people by (1) respecting and learning more about their culture, (2) supporting Hawaiian owned businesses, (3) donating to Hawaiian organizations serving Hawaiian people, and (4) travel respectfully.
I am not an expert in the challenges faced by Hawaiian people in modern or historic times. I strongly suggest that you learn more so that you can make your trip as supportive and responsible as possible.
Exploring More of Molokai
I will be posting one more guide to a hike in Molokai, and then a short itinerary. For more information on life in Molokai and what it’s like to visit, check out my Pinterest board on this island.
Want to come back and reference this in the future? Consider pinning.