Pālāʻau State Park: The Complete Guide

Pālāʻau State Park on Molokaʻi

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Pālā'au State Park

Address
Kalae Hwy, Kualapuu, HI 96757, USA
Phone +1 808-567-6923

Located on the north side of Molokaʻi, Pālāʻau State Park is known for possessing one of the best views of historic Kalaupapa—the peninsula where King Kamehameha V was forced to banish thousands of Hawaiian people who’d contracted leprosy during the 1800s. Despite its small size of just 233.7 acres (about 0.35 square miles), this state park hosts a surprising number of attractions from hiking trails and unique cultural sites to picnic spots and dense forests.

Things to Do

Besides the view, the most defining aspect of the park is Ka Ule o Nanahoa, also known as the phallus of Nanahoa. During the times of ancient Hawaiʻi, women would come here to pray and offer gifts to Nanahoa, the Hawaiian god of fertility, in hopes of conceiving a child. Even today, those who are trying to get pregnant will still come to give offerings to the god, leaving things like flower leis at the base of the rock. The five-foot-tall natural rock formation is found on the summit of Nanahoa Hill with a 1,500 foot elevation, though it's accessible by just a short walk from the parking lot at the end of State Highway 470 (Kalae Highway) in the opposite direction of the Kalaupapa Lookout.

There are several picnic tables scattered throughout the park in a grove of ancient looking ironwood trees. The park also has a larger picnic pavilion that is shaded near the main restrooms and a remote hike-in campground with no electricity.

Phallic Rock at Pala'au State Park

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Best Hikes & Trails

At the end of the parking lot at Pālāʻau State Park, you’ll have the choice to turn left to Ka Ule o Nanahoa or right to the Kalaupapa Lookout. The walk to the lookout is shorter, paved, and slightly breezy, while the walk to Ka Ule o Nanahoa is more rugged.

A short path takes visitors to the Kalaupapa Lookout, providing sweeping views of the coastal area 1,000 feet below along the way. The rock wall and railings on the edge are fitted with information about the leper colony and the infamous portion of Molokaʻi’s past.

The hike to Ka Ule o Nanahoa, or “Phallic Rock,” is only slightly uphill and will take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes to complete. The journey there is rich with natural beauty, however, surrounded by moss covered rocks and a dense grove of old-growth ironwood trees that whisper in the wind. Once you reach the rock (it’s pretty hard to miss), take some time to read the informational plaque provided by the state department, as it tells the legend of how Nanahoa turned to stone after an altercation with his wife. Remember that this site is considered sacred to the Hawaiian people, so be sure to refrain from moving any rocks or removing any of the offerings left there.

Where to Camp

There’s just one campground located in Pālāʻau State Park, and there are no vehicles allowed (campers must hike in with their tents and gear from the parking lot rather than drive directly in). Hawaiʻi residents pay $20 per night per campsite, while non-residents pay $30. Camping here requires a permit, which can be reserved on the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources online reservation system.

Where to Stay Nearby

Since there are no major resorts on Molokaʻi (which is just one of the island’s many charms), visitors opt for small oceanfront hotels, vacation rentals, and more intimate experiences like local bed & breakfasts. The main town of Kaunakakai—where the population is less than 3,500—is where you'll find the majority of these accommodation options, along with a few others near the charming town of Maunaloa on the island’s west end.

  • Puʻu O Hoku Ranch: A family-owned biodynamic and organic farm on the easternmost end of Molokaʻi, Puʻu O Hoku Ranch offers a rustic retreat center in one of the most remote and tranquil parts of the island. The hotel itself is surrounded by over 14,000 acres of protected land, and guests can choose between the lodge for larger groups or smaller cottages for families. There’s no wifi available here, making it the perfect place to truly unplug completely while on vacation.
  • Hotel Molokaʻi: This seaside hotel is located on Kamiloloa Beach right across from Molokaʻi’s barrier reef about five miles from Kaunakakai. The hotel has a resident shuttle that can pick up or drop off at the airport, an open air check in area, a little shop for essentials, and even an ocean front restaurant. The guest rooms are complemented by various native plants, a pool, and barbeque areas.   
  • Castle Molokaʻi Shores: Vacation rentals at Castle Molokaʻi Shores come complete with a full kitchen, a furnished lanai, free wifi, and access to several amenities including an oceanfront swimming pool and common lounge areas. The property is probably as close as you’ll get to the main town of Kaunakakai at just two miles away. 

How to Get There

Find Pālāʻau State Park on the north side of Molokaʻi about 10 miles from the island’s main town of Kaunakakai. Drive to the very end of Kalae Highway to get to the parking lot and trailhead for both Kalaupapa Lookout and Ka Ule o Nanahoa. There is usually ample parking available, and there’s a large chance you’ll have the park to yourself for at least a portion of the time you spend there. Just before the end of the highway, there’s a picnic area with a covered pavilion and restrooms available as well.

Accessibility

The path from the parking lot to the Kalaupapa Lookout is paved, though the trail to Ka Ule o Nanahoa is unpaved and littered with gnarled roots from the surrounding trees that may require sturdier shoes. There is also a paved pathway to the main picnic pavilion and restrooms.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Considering its size, travelers should definitely pair a visit to Pālāʻau State Park with another nearby attraction on Molokai. The island is certainly one of the quieter islands at just 38 miles across and 10 miles wide, so consider more natural spots like beaches, valleys, and hiking trails while planning a trip. For example, plan a tour to Kalaupapa National Historical Park or visit the lush Halawa Valley on the eastern end of the island.
  • For the best views of Kalaupapa from the overlook, visit the park early in the morning or on a clear day. Particularly rainy or cloudy days will block the views of the ocean and the national historical park below.
  • There are no animals or pets allowed inside Pālāʻau State Park.
  • Drinking water is not available inside the park, but there are restrooms.
  • The park is at a higher elevation than most other parts of the island, so temperatures will be much cooler than in town or on the beaches. Come prepared with a sweater, windbreaker, and umbrella.
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Pālāʻau State Park: The Complete Guide