Saturday, January 18, 2014

Day hike ‘The Alien Forest’ at Haleakalā N.P.

The ʻiʻiwi fills the niche of the hummingbird on
Hosmer Grove Loop Trail in Maui. Photo courtesy
of Haleakalā NPS.
Hosmer Grove map, courtesy of Haleakala NPS.

Short trail heads
through century-old
forestry experiment

Say “Hawaii” and you probably think warm tropical beaches. A day hike up a volcanic summit on the island of Maui, however, will greatly broaden your perception of the Aloha State, however.

The half-mile Hosmer Grove Loop Trail in Haleakalā National Park heads through what many have labeled “The Alien Forest”…not because it looks otherworldly but because most of the trees here aren’t native to the Hawaiian Islands.

Due to Hawaii’s low latitude, any time of the year is fine to hike the trail. And due to the high altitude – the trail sits at about 6800 feet above sea level – the weather can quickly change, so pack rain gear.

To reach the trail, from Pukalani take Hawaii Hwy. 377 south. Turn east onto Hawaii Hwy. 378 (aka Haleakalā Highway), which winds up the dormant volcano’s side into the Maui upcountry. After entering the park, at about mile marker 10.5, turn left. Drive to the end of the road and park across from the campground. The trailhead is north of the shelter between the parking lot and campground.

Invasive species
The trial begins with a walk through The Alien Forest. Unlike the lower elevations, hikers here will see pines, spruce and other trees native to North America, Australia and Asia.

The Alien Forest got its start more than a century ago when forester Ralph Hosmer experimented with 86 nonnative tree species to see which ones would survive in Hawaii. Fungi and soil chemistry wiped out most of the trees, but 20 species survived…and three in particular – eucalyptus, Mexican weeping pine, and Monterey pine – were so successful that they now threaten to outcompete native plants.

Other trees you’ll see here are the sugi pine from Japan and the deodar from India, as well as incense cedar, Norway spruce and Douglas fir.

On the trail’s east side, you can climb up to an overlook. Sitting at 6933 feet on the volcano, you’ll get a great view of the Keanae Valley and the Waikamoi Gulch below.

About half way through the hike, you’ll reach a trail junction. The adjoining trail cuts back to the campground. Skip it and continue southward on the main trail.

Traditional Hawaiian plants
The second half of the trail meanders through a native shrubland, featuring such plants as the Hawaiian raspberry, kilau ferns, mamane, ʻohelo berry, pilo, pukiawe, and sandalwood. The pukiawe usually is the most noticeable of them, sporting white and red berries between evergreen leaves.

The shrubland attract a couple of interesting native birds. The red ʻiʻiwi, with its curved, pinkish bill and orange legs, has a loud, squeak-like call. The ʻapapane, with its white undertail and black legs and bill, its wings whirring hovers about the ohia’s red flowers.

As the loop circles back so it’s heading north, you’ll come to a trail junction; this trail as the short-cut at the end of The Alien Forest. Continues heading northward on the main trail. When you pass the restrooms, you’re south of the shelter and back at your starting point.

Though rated as an easy trial, there are some uneven spots that require high steps. The route also can be slippery following a rain.

After hiking the trail, drive up the volcano to the visitor’s center. You also can drive up to the park’s summit, the cinder cone for Haleakalā Crater, which sits at over 10,000 feet above sea level.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.