Kealia is a well-maintained trail on the north shore of O'ahu behind the Dillingham Airfield. It is popular with fitness enthusiasts, families, dog owners, mountain bikers, and even equestrians. This hot and dry hike ascends a steep cliffside face via dozens of switchbacks that snake up the mountain and ends with stunning views of Makua Valley on the west coast from the summit of the Wai'anae mountains. The trailhead starts behind the Dillingham Airfield, making its way inward down an old road. Do not deviate from the road onto the adjacent private lands. At the end of the road, trail marker signs mark the path through the dense haole koa trees, with their pods rattling in the occasional breeze. Right away, the Kealia Trail begins its series of 19 switchbacks up the pali (cliffside), gradually at first, but becoming more and more inclined toward the top. Keep a lookout for fixed-wing gliders soaring above the airfield. At the top of the cliff, roughly a mile and a half into the trail, is a covered picnic area that marks a good turning point for families or those unwilling to continue on in the heat. Here the wide opening is shaded by ironwood trees, which rustle softly in the breeze.
For hikers looking to see vistas of the west coast, pick up the trail along the dirt road at the back of the clearing. Ascend gradually and continually upward following the well-worn road (do not take the less-traveled offshoots). At the first real junction in the dirt road, go right in accordance with the sign with an arrow. After a brief climb there will be an old rusty water tank on the left. Continue up a relatively steep section of the road, which is at least partially shaded. As the road curves through fragrant eucalyptus trees, stay to the left, following the sign to the Kuaokala Trail. Ascend steeply and then descend steeply the little peak. At the next major T-junction in the road, stay to the left toward Kuaokala. Avoid going right, which leads down slightly and toward the Ka'ena Point Satellite Tracking Station. A well-marked fork in the trail marks the final push to the summit. Left is the red-beaten dirt road. Right is the less-traveled Kuaokala Trail that leads to the summit overlook. Follow the arrow signs up a bit more, crossing a pig/goat fence. Walk along the fence briefly to see amazing views of Makua Valley 1,000 feet below on the western coast. Take your time heading back down the steep and sometimes slippery dirt roads. For adventurous trekkers who wish to go even further, continue along the Kuaokala Trail, which skirts the Makua Valley rim and ends at the Ka'ena Point Satellite Tracking Station. Hikers can also continue along the dirt road towards the Peacock Flats campground. Just be careful of four-wheel drive vehicles.
Parking is free at the trailhead, which starts in the lot next to the air traffic control tower. The gate, however, closes at 6:00 p.m., so be sure to leave enough time! Dogs are allowed, but they must be kept on a leash. The bottom of the trail is shaded, but higher up becomes more exposed to the intense sun. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. Watch your footing on loose rocks and be prepared for a slippery descent on a rainy day.