Trail Title: Kalopa National Wildlife Preserve
Location: Hawaii Big Island. About 20mins east of Waimea and an hour north of Hilo.
Author/Rider: Rae Sutherland (David Sutherland was also party to this adventure)
Bike: Giant Trance 3 (rental)
Overall Rating: 4 (1-5, 1 being the worst ride ever. 5 being the best ride ever)
Trail Tech Rating: 4
Trail Aerobic Rating: 2.5
Trail Type: All Mountain
Trail usage: Low usage, we rode on a Saturday and saw no one on the trail hiking or biking.
Local Shops: Kona Bike Works. This shop was great to work with. Everyone was polite, professional and helpful. The guys there gave us great trail beta, even gave us copies of a map for a locals trail not online. They took their time to make sure the bikes were working and fitting properly. The bikes performed great with no issue. Reserve your rentals ahead of time as they “sell out”. They offer a $5 insurance policy for the bike covering up to $100 of damage. I highly recommend you buy this, well worth the 5 bucks.
Other local tips:
• The Big Island Brewhaus was a delicious stop for lunch. From the outside it’s unassuming, you wouldn’t know there was a pearl hiding inside. The food was creative, ingredients were local and fresh and the food was done with care.
• If you are going to ride on the Big Island, join their mountain biking Facebook page. The people represent the feeling on the island: happy, kind and friendly. They are also very eager to show you around and be your personal tour guide.
We were told by more than one person, the Kalopa Trail is the Island favorite. We were not disappointed.
After parking in a paved lot, we followed the park road about a third of a mile and the trail took off to the left. The map said “Jeep Road” so we expected something a bit more obvious than the overgrown single track before us. It wasn’t long before the trail opened up to become an obvious double track with a gradual climb.
The west side of the island gets on average 130in of rain per year so it wasn’t surprising that the trail was muddy and slick. Between the patches of mud were tentacles of awesome roots that were very slippery making this wet climb much more challenging than it would have been on a dry day.
Once at the top of the climb, we had the option to go left or right. Both trails lead back to the Jeep Road at some point. We decided to go right first on the trail called the Perimeter Trail; the guys at the shop said this was the more mellow and “flowy” of the two.
The trail was not what I would call “flowy”. It was peppered with challenging obstacles that made it very fun to ride. The longer loop by distance, the Perimeter Trail spits you out near the bottom of the Jeep Road. You can continue across the Jeep Road for a small loop that takes you back to the parking lot. We opted to ride this at the very end despite what Trail Forks said. I recommend it done this way so you can ride back to the car on trail.
Climbing the Jeep Road a second time was a little easier because I was becoming a pro at riding in the slick clay mud. At the top again we went left on the Iron Wood Lane trail. For whatever reason, this trail was a bit drier which was a welcome sight. However, it is definitely the more technical trail. Right away we had to be on our game. This trail demands your attention at every turn. Fall asleep at the wheel for even a minute and you're bound to fist bump a tree or endo over a root.
The Iron Wood Lane trail was my favorite of the two. There were a few stream crossings through what looked like old open lava tube. The rocks were black, smooth, and speckled green with moss. At one point, after I cleared a particularly techy steep section on a little ridgeline, I was so proud of myself I forgot to keep riding. I slammed my right brake lever into a tree. The bike responded by bucking me to the left and down a small ravine. I caught myself, but not the bike. Luckily, only minor brake lever injury was sustained and the bike was still ride-able.
There was a little trail searching. On the Big Island, so legend goes, riders like natural features and do not remove fallen trees or rocks. They keep things natural and ride around them or build obstacles over them. Iron Wood Trail was overgrown in spots and clear routes had not been established around fallen trees. Just keep looking and the trail will appear eventually. There were a few trail offshoots we didn’t see on the map. The trails looked well traveled and had wooden signs designating their name. Go explore and let us know where they go.
This trail will forever remain in my mind as a small and amazing adventure. There is a reason this trail is deemed the “locals' favorite.” It is fun and delivers on everything you would expect from a wet jungle trail.
Kalopa’s recipe for fun: Humid and warm weather. Roots, roots and roots. Plenty of mosquitos. Mud covering absolutely everything. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Photo Credit: David Sutherland and his Samsung Galaxy 6 phone