If you are going to or planning a trip to Maui you are most likely looking for a relaxing island vacation. Be sure to get away from the resorts and explore the best adventure on Maui, the Road to Hana.
There are two choices you will need to first make before you embark on this epic adventure.
The first choice is your adventure duration. The second choice is will you come back the way you came or continue around the other side of the island.
The first choice is based on your lodging plans. Will you be doing a 1 day, 2 day , or multi day adventure? This certainly can be done in a single day road trip but you will certainly be on the move most of the day and will have to start VERY early in the morning. You won’t get to stop everywhere but you can certainly see all of the best spots.
A 2 day trip is the sweet spot to ensure you get to see everything you want without feeling a rush. A multi day stay will let you relax at all of the beaches and waterfalls for extended periods of time along the way but you may not be having the vacation you envision. There are no big resorts on this side of the island and the restaurant options are very limited. If you want to be away from people and have a rustic feel, the multi day option is for you. The best place to stay would be in Hana as this is really the only main place to find lodging.
The second choice is will you drive to Hana and turn back or will you continue along the road back to the other side of the island. Unless you are staying close to the start of the road, be sure to continue past and drive the entire South East side of the island. If you are staying in the two major tourist towns, Ka’anapali or Wailea, then you will certainly want to continue along this path. Not only will you get to see more of the island but you will skip the traffic getting back.
The Road to Hana is a 2 lane road that takes you to the town of Hana on the SE side of the island. This is a popular tourist attraction and the two lane roads can come to screeching halts at many of the 50+ 1 way bridges as cars will back up in both directions to let people pass through. The only way to do this right is to BEAT THE TRAFFIC and leave early in the morning. You should plan to be on your voyage and past the airport BEFORE SUNRISE.
Pro Tip: Do this on your first full day of your trip as you will most likely be coming from the mainland and you will already have the time zones in your favor. Most visitors will naturally be up before the sunrise on your first few days anyways.
Be sure to stock up on snacks and gas before you start the trip. Don’t be worried about gas but you should certainly stock up. Be sure to bring water, snacks, sunscreen, and most importantly BUG SCREEN! There are some good lunch spots in Hana or you can bring food and plan to picnic at a beach.
Pro Trip: be sure to print out directions (yes, that is a thing) as Cell service can be very limited. You can plan a multi point trip on Google so you can see the distance and directions from each point of interest along your trip.
Here is a list of all the great locations on the Road To Hana:
*Bold Locations are my favorites (this can be done in a 1 day trip)
Waikamoi Ridge Forest Trail
Three Bears Falls (Upper Waikani Falls)
Waikamoi Ridge Forest Trail
The Hana Lava Tube
Red Sand Beach
The Pools at Oheo
Pipewei Trail / Oheo Gulch
PLACES TO SEE
There are many places to stop along the way and there are certainly many more unknown waterfalls if you’re looking to explore off the beaten path. The only difficult part will be finding parking to do so. Here is my list for the best waterfalls, hikes, and beaches:
You will know you are on the real road as you are surrounded by the lush green rainforest terrain. There will be some steep and windy roads and you will start to pass many single lane bridges with rushing water beneath you. These act as great photo and scenic landmarks as these bridges signify a nice waterfall nearby.
As the dense jungle vegitation starts to open, you will see a beautiful bay and finally catch uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean. This is your first real beach option as you make the trek into Hana. This should be a quick stop to admire the views. You will most likely want to keep moving to stay ahead of the other tourists.
Wainapanapa Park / Pailoa Black Sand Beach
One of the iconic Road to Hana stops is this Black Sand Beach. There are certainly a few other black beaches on the islands (including on Maui), but this is an iconic beach to stop at and unique for most visitors. There is a large parking lot here and bathrooms (which you won’t get at many of these stops) so definitely use this to your advantage. There are some amazing lava rock formations and caves here too. This is definitely a spot you will want to enjoy and I would recommend staying here until lunchtime.
There are some great little cafe spots nearby that you can stop at as you get back on the road to Hana. There are a few options to get some lunch, fresh pineapple, and my favorite, fresh Banana Bread.
Hana / Red Sand Beach
One of the best stops in the town of Hana is The Red Sand Beach. This beach is next to a resort, Travaasa, and has been blocked off by the fire department due to rough water conditions. Travaasa is my recommended place to stay if you plan on doing a 2 or multi day stay in this area.
Wailua falls brings you to a popular and large set of waterfalls without the major need to hike. This is a great way to get up close and personal if you aren’t going to hike my favorite part of the trip and my favorite hike of all time: The Pipiwai Trail.
Pipiwai Trail / Waimoku Falls / Oheo Gulch
This trail is part of Haleakala National Park and my favorite part of the Road to Hana.
Pro Tip: If you have a US National Park Season Pass you will be able to enter and park for free. Otherwise there is a small fee. [There are bathrooms here too]
There are two trails, up the ridge to the Waimoki Falls uand the other is a shorter trail downhill to the ocean where you will find some great tide pools. The trail to the Waimoku Falls is a 3.4 mile one way hike but very worth it and not as difficult as you would expect.
This trail is my favorite hike as you will pass a few amazing waterfalls and even better, a Bamboo Jungle. Finally you will hike another .5 mile after the bamboo jungle to end at the waterfall. The hike takes you literally to the foot of the waterfall for you to get up close and personal. Be sure to be safe and smart.
As always, Hawaii, and the jungle terrain can see frequent rain storms. This means the hike can and most likely will be VERY muddy. Plan accordingly.
As you head north there are some sketchy small unpaved roads but once you get to the paved section you will be cruising up the beautiful windy hills nestled between the big green ridges to the East and the beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches to the West. This area is very desolate but there are some beautiful natural views of the island.
Things to Bring:
If you are a passenger in the car you may want to bring this for the windy roads
GoPro Hero 8: https://amzn.to/3ekrvyN
GoPro Max: https://amzn.to/2X2x2Eh
Snorkel & Fins: https://amzn.to/2Aa52WB
There are no rental places and you will even save money when renting at hotels by buying in advance. Always bring your snorkel and goggles along for the adventure for any part of the island as you never know when you will encounter some underwater sea creatures.
Towel / Shammy: https://amzn.to/3gl5K3M
You will def want one if you plan to go in the ocean or cool off in the waterfalls. It is very humid here so you will surely want to do so. There are also frequent down pours so you are bound to get wet either way. I recommend a shammy towel when traveling because it will dry you off, it is compact, and you won't have a wet towel in the car.
Hiking Shoes: The terrain is wet and there are some steep climbs on some of the hikes. I would recommend water shoes for these adventures. Open shoes are best with a toe guard in the front for added protection.
Recommendations for Men: https://amzn.to/2zuSN6M
Recommendations for Women: https://amzn.to/3dgf86E
Recommendations for Men: https://amzn.to/34yAPLm
Recommendations for Women: https://amzn.to/316WqZd
If you are going to try and capture the best waterfall photos on a mirrorless or DSLR camera, be sure to bring a Polarizing Lens Filter and an ND Filter to get those milky water fall shots. The gear I use and recommend is:
Sony A7: https://amzn.to/2AW1fwe
Sony A7RIII (more professional): https://amzn.to/2ZDdsAn
Polarizing Filters: https://amzn.to/3goxwMP
DJI Mavic Pro (more professional): https://amzn.to/2X0GtnU
DJI Mavic Air: https://amzn.to/3c67PNH