The 2006 Kiholo Bay, Hawaii, earthquake triggered high concentrations of rock falls and slides in the steep canyons of the Kohala Mountains along the north coast of Hawaii. Within these mountains and canyons a complex distribution of landslides was triggered by the earthquake shaking. In parts of the area, landslides were preferentially located on east‐facing slopes, whereas in other parts of the canyons no systematic pattern prevailed with respect to slope aspect or vertical position on the slopes. The geology within the canyons is homogeneous, so we hypothesize that the variable landslide distribution is the result of localized variation in ground shaking; therefore, we used a state‐of‐the‐art, high‐resolution ground‐motion simulation model to see if it could reproduce the landslide‐distribution patterns. We used a 3D finite‐element analysis to model earthquake shaking using a 10 m digital elevation model and slip on a finite‐fault model constructed from teleseismic records of the mainshock. Ground velocity time histories were calculated up to a frequency of 5 Hz. Dynamic shear strain also was calculated and compared with the landslide distribution. Results were mixed for the velocity simulations, with some areas showing correlation of landslide locations with peak modeled ground motions but many other areas showing no such correlation. Results were much improved for the comparison with dynamic shear strain. This suggests that (1) rock falls and slides are possibly triggered by higher frequency ground motions (velocities) than those in our simulations, (2) the ground‐motion velocity model needs more refinement, or (3) dynamic shear strain may be a more fundamental measurement of the decoupling process of slope materials during seismic shaking.