By almost any standard, Hawaii’s hiking trails are a world-class recreational resource. The state’s trail system alone encompasses 855 miles of trails and access roads, from epic, remote routes like the Kalalau trail on Kauai’s Napali coast to easily accessible day hikes like the 2.5- mile Makiki loop trail. And that doesn’t count trails run by the counties or the National Park Service.
But hordes of tourists have made the system increasingly difficult to manage. The number of visitors to Hawaii is expected to top 10 million this year. Those numbers, combined with the increasing popularity of hiking and the popularization of even the most remote trails, are creating lots of stress for trail managers.
The results are well-known to residents: cars clogging residential streets around trailheads, eroding trails, hikers getting lost or injured or simply ignoring no trespassing or warning signs.
One major new initiative could help state officials at least quantify the demand, which for now remains largely unknown. Although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that many trails are growing increasingly popular, gathering data is difficult. With only a few exceptions, trails don’t typically have monitors or attendants counting people at the trailheads. The state might consider limiting the use of some trails, but first it needs to know how many people are using them.