Runners’ Paradise: A Guide to Running in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

For runners near Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, there are several excellent options to consider. The island’s unique blend of natural beauty, historic trails, and varied terrains make it a running paradise. From scenic coastal routes like Ali’i Drive to challenging trails like the King’s Highway, there’s something for every type of runner. Let’s explore these options in detail:

Runners on trail in Pu'u Wa'awa'a Forest Reserve

Ali’i Drive

Ali’i Drive is perhaps the most iconic running route in Kailua-Kona. This approximately 7-mile stretch begins at the intersection of Palani Drive, Ali’i Drive, and Kuakini Highway and follows the coastline, offering stunning ocean views. The route is relatively flat for the first five miles, making it beginner-friendly but becomes hillier in the last two miles, with an elevation gain reaching a maximum of 289 feet.

  • Scenery and Amenities: Along the route, runners will pass several beach parks equipped with water stations and restrooms, approximately every two miles. This makes it an ideal route for those who want to stay well-hydrated and have easy access to facilities during their run.
  • Popularity: Ali’i Drive is used in the Ironman World Championships, attracting many runners who want to train on this challenging course. The wide shoulder and mile markers placed every ½ mile make it easy to navigate and track progress.

Walua Trail

The Walua Trail is a 6.5-mile route that provides a mix of dedicated walking paths and residential roads. Starting at the intersection of Lako Street and Walua Road, the trail offers a quiet, less trafficked alternative to other routes.

  • Elevation and Views: The trail’s steady three-mile upward climb rewards runners with stunning vistas of Kahalu’u Bay, followed by a fast and fun downhill return.
  • Accessibility: This trail is easily accessible from various parts of Kailua-Kona, making it a convenient choice for local runners looking for a scenic and moderately challenging run.

Old Airport Beach Park

Old Kona Airport Beach Park, also known as Maka’eo Walking Path, is another fantastic spot. This 1-mile path meanders through gardens, shaded areas, and picnic spots within the park grounds.

  • Terrain and Environment: The loop is peaceful, surrounded by lush greenery and occasional glimpses of the ocean. Benches along the path offer places for runners to take a break or enjoy a moment of relaxation.

Mana Road in Waimea

For those willing to venture further, Mana Road in Waimea is an excellent choice for long-distance running. Stretching over 40 miles, this red dirt road runs from Waimea to the Mauna Kea volcano.

  • Long-Distance and Events: The various terrains, from uphill climbs to long descents, offer a diverse running experience. The Mana Road Mahalo Run, covering distances from 5K to 50K, is a notable event held annually.
  • Scenic Views: With breathtaking views of Mauna Kea and the encompassing landscapes, this route provides a stunning backdrop for long training runs.

Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (Queen K Hwy)

The Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway, or “Queen K”,, runs along the coast from Kailua-Kona to Kawaihae and Waimea. It’s a popular route for both cyclists and runners.

  • Challenging Terrain: Known for its hilly sections, the highway is a testing ground for endurance athletes. Strava segments like the “Queen Ka’ahumanu Hwy Climb” highlight notable portions where runners and cyclists can track their performances.
  • Historical Significance: This highway has a rich history, a modern infrastructure and a strong connection to the Ironman World Championships, making it a symbolic route for many running enthusiasts.

King’s Highway Trail (Hoapili Trail)

For the more adventurous, the King’s Highway Trail (Hoapili Trail) is a must-try. This historic path extends approximately 175 miles from ‘Upolu Point near Hawi to the eastern border of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

  • Historical Importance: Used by the ali’i (Hawaiian royalty), the trail was critical for ceremonial events and trade in ancient Hawaii. Today, runners can traverse this ancient route, gaining a sense of historical connection while challenging their endurance.
  • Varied Terrain: The trail’s diverse terrain, from rocky coastlines to upland paths, provides a unique and strenuous running experience. Those who undertake this trail will find themselves immersed in both the natural beauty and history of the island.

Join a Running Group

If you like running with a group, Big Island Running Company group runs staring at their store every Tuesday and Thursday at 5pm. various distances and various paces. All abilities are welcome. Check out their website for more information as well as info on more local running events.

Additional Options

There are more options for running in and around Kailua-Kona for those willing to explore further:

  • Pine Trees Beach and Kaloko Trails: Located a bit further from town, these trails require a short car trip but offer excellent running opportunities with less crowd and serene environments.
  • Hualalai Mountain: Though not for the novice runner, the slopes of Hualalai Mountain provide a challenging terrain with beautiful ocean and sunset views, making it a fulfilling experience despite the effort required.
  • Makaula-‘O’oma and Kekaha Kai Trails: Both rated highly in terms of difficulty and scenic beauty, these trails offer more rugged terrains suitable for trail running aficionados.

Kailua-Kona and its surrounding regions offer an array of running routes that cater to every level of runner, from scenic coastal paths and moderate trails to historic and adventurous routes. Whether you prefer the vibrant energy of Ali’i Drive, the tranquility of Walua Trail, the long-distance challenge of Mana Road, or the historic significance of the King’s Highway Trail, you are sure to find a running route that not only tests your physical limits but also fills you with the unique spirit of Hawaii.

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