Driving The Road To Hana, An Epic Maui Road Trip
Driving the Road to Hana, an Epic Maui Road Trip was originally published in November 2020
Hands down, my favorite thing I did in Maui was taking on the twisting and turning Hana Highway road trip. A few years back, a good friend of mine was getting married on Maui, so naturally, no less than 150 Alaskans packed their bags to join in on the celebrations. Having spent quite a bit of time on nearby Oahu over the years (though, you wouldn’t know it by this blog), this was the perfect reason to visit Maui and explore the island.
At 64 miles, and with 59 bridges (46 of which are one-lane), and 620 bends in the road to be exact, driving the Road to Hana makes for an excellent adventurous day trip (or overnight trip) worthy of landing on any Maui itinerary.
Things To Know Before You Drive The Hana Highway
- First and foremost, if you’re planning to take on the Hana Highway you’ll need to get a car. Shop the best rental car prices in Maui.
- If you don’t want to take on the Hana Highway yourself, that’s okay. Several operators on Maui offer Road to Hana tours by bus and van.
- Generally speaking, the Road to Hana begins in Kahului and ends in Hana.
- Plan for your Hana Highway road trip to take you all day to get to Hana back when you factor in all the stops you will make. Most budget 10-12 hours. Realistically, it takes 2.5-3 hours to reach Hana from Kahului without stopping.
- I recommend gassing up in either Kahului or Paia as you begin your journey.
- Take caution on narrow bridges along the Road to Hana. There are 59 bridges along this route- 46 are one-lane bridges (if you have driven the Old World Highway in New Zealand, these will be familiar). You will need to yield to oncoming traffic.
- Parking can be a pain in the ass. The Hana Highway is a popular tourist destination, and many of the stops along the way are well signposted, so you may not be able to stop everywhere you like. I recommend keeping a list of spots you could not stop at on the way out and try hitting them on the way back to Kahului.
- Be considerate of locals and pull over to let them pass you. People do live in Hana and other towns in east Maui, so this road is not exactly a fun activity for them- it is their means of reaching other parts of the island. You can reference the Hana Highway Code of Conduct for more information.
- Don’t leave valuables in your rental car. Car break-ins are a problem in Maui, like many other places around the world.
- There are numerous fruit and food stands worthy of stopping along the way for a snack or a meal.
Heading to Oahu too? Check out my 7 day Oahu itinerary to help you start planning
Hana Highway Stops
- Ho’okipa Beach Lookout
- Twin Falls
- Bamboo Forest
- Honumanu Bay & Kalaloa Point
- Ke’anae Peninsula
- Wailua Valley State Wayside
- Upper Waikani Falls
- Honokalani Black Sand Beach & Wai’anapanapa State Park
- Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach
- Koki Red Sand Beach
The Road To Hana Itinerary- A Day Trip
Though the Road to Hana starts from Kahului, the real adventure doesn’t begin until you hit Paia, so I will begin the itinerary from there.
Please note that we started our journey along the Hana Highway from Kihei as that was where were staying for the wedding. Many of you will start the journey from Kahului, Paia, or even Lahaina.
Depart Kahului early in the morning. I recommend by 7 am, or slightly earlier if you’re staying further out in Kihei, Lahaina, or beyond. Don’t forget to gas up your rental car before you go, I’d try to do it the night before to save time in the morning.
Staying in Kahului?
- Northshore Hostel Maui– Comes highly recommended if you plan to stay in Kahului from budget backpacker friends of mine. Located about a 5 minute drive from central Kahului. Check prices on Booking.com and Hotels.com.
- Maui Beach Hotel– Those with a higher budget can opt for the centrally located, Maui Beach Hotel. Shop prices on Booking.com and Hotels.com.
- Staying outside of Kahului? Check out accommodations on offer in Lahaina and Kihei.
Paia is a worthy destination in its own right- a characterful eccentric, hippy, surfer town on Maui’s Northshore. You’ll be rolling into Paia early, about 8 am (if you’re not staying here already), so many of the town’s delights aren’t quite open for the day. I recommend giving Paia a little more time on your return.
As for your morning visit, I recommend filling up your tank if you haven’t already, and popping into Mana Foods to grab some snacks and fill up your cooler for the day. Mana Foods is regarded for having the cheapest prices and best selection of natural foods on Maui.
Staying in Paia?
- Paia Inn– Came highly recommended from a good friend who has spent a good amount of time in Maui over the years. Check rates at Booking.com and hotels.com.
- Lumeria Maui Retreat– A wellness resort and yoga retreat in addition to accommodation, located just a short distance inland from Paia. The rooms here look absolutely stunning. Shop for rooms on Booking.com and Hotels.com.
Ho’okipa Beach Lookout
Barely 10 minutes beyond Paia you’ll be making your first scenic stop. Ho’okipa Beach is a world-renown windsurfing spot, though it’s popular with surfers and kiteboarders too. You can either hang out on Ho’okipa Beach itself or opt for checking out the sweeping views of the beach and surroundings from Ho’okipa Lookout.
Beyond Ho’okipa, at mile marker 10, you’ll reach a road where you can optionally turn off to visit Maliko Bay. From Maliko Bay, the Road to Hana winds inland, passing through the rural town of Haiku. Optionally, from Haiku you can take a road to the north to visit the Pauwela Point area, and the famous surf spot called Jaws.
Please note that at mile marker 16 near where Haumana Road meets with the Hana Highway, the mile markers reset at 0. I know, super confusing, eh?
At mile marker 2, you’ll reach a parking lot from which you can begin the jaunt to Twin Falls. The parking lot is often full, so you may want to try again on your return trip.
For more information check out this post on Maui’s Twin Falls.
As this is a day trip itinerary, I haven’t included every waterfall in this post. If you want to read up on all the waterfalls along the Road to Hana, I recommend checking out the Hana Highway Waterfalls Guide.
After passing some crazy turns in the road just before mile marker 6, you’ll pass through a gorgeous bamboo forest a bit before mile marker 7. A once-popular hike to the Na’ili’ili Haele Waterfall began near here, but the trail has since been closed (as of 2019). You’ll reach the stunning Kaaiea Bridge as you exit the forest.
Honomanu Bay & Kalaloa Point
Next up, around mile marker 8, you’ll enter Hanomanu Bay as the Road to Hana takes you back to the coast. This harrowing stretch of the drive is absolutely gorgeous as you’re clung to a steep cliffside that seemingly drops into the ocean below.
Drive with caution through this stretch, but also take a moment to enjoy the views over Honomanu Bay from Kalaloa Point.
Just beyond mile marker 16, you will reach Ke’anae. Just before making the turn to explore the peninsula, you’ll reach the Ke’anae Arboretum, a 6-acre public arboretum, and the perfect place to see the unique and beautiful rainbow eucalyptus trees.
A short distance beyond the Ke’anae Arboretum, make a left turn from the Hana Highway to explore the volcanic Ke’anae Peninsula. The peninsula is rugged and home to several Hawaiian families that still grow taro and pound it into poi. Much of the original village was destroyed by a large tsunami that claimed several lives.
One of the few remaining original buildings is the Ke’anae Congregational Church. Near to the church, I recommend stopping in at Auntie Sandy’s snack stand and grabbing a banana bread.
Wailua Valley State Wayside
After mile marker 19, pull off into the Wailua Valley State Wayside for the best photo opportunity of Wailua Valley.
Upper Waikani Falls
About half a mile beyond Wailua Wayside, you’ll reach the conveniently located “drive-thru waterfall” as I liked to call it, Upper Waikani Falls.
You can pull off the Hana Highway and take a dip here in the falls, but when we had passed it, it was a giant traffic jam with nowhere left to park. I actually got out of the car, took photos of Upper Waikani Falls and met the car back on the other end, and hopped back in. It was so backed up I had to wait for Grant to drive over to me with the car because traffic was so horrendous at this point.
Welcome to Hana! You’ve finally reached the laid back little town, home to roughly 1,200 people. There are several things to do in and around Hana, though as this a day trip and you’ll likely be heading back to Kahului (or Paia, Lahaina, or Kihei), I’m only recommending to visit the black and red sand beaches near Hana.
Those of you that opt to spend the night in Hana, or spend a couple of days or more there, I would recommend going beyond to Waioka Pond, Wailua Falls, and the Seven Sacred Pools (Pools of Ohe’o). The Hana Highway continues beyond Hana and eventually turns in to the Piilani Highway, which wraps around the backside of Haleakala. If you opt to add the Backside of Haleakala road trip to your Road to Hana adventure, you’d make a loop around west Maui.
Staying in Hana?
- Hana Maui Resort– A higher-end option that can be easily booked on Booking.com and Hotels.com. There are several vacation rentals available in Hana for those that are looking to be a bit more budget-conscious.
Honokalani Black Sand Beach & Wai’anapanapa State Park
With striking black sands that contrast the cerulean ocean and neon-green foliage surrounding it, Honokalani Black Sand Beach is without a doubt, a true highlight along the Road to Hana. The beach is located at mile 32, on the northern fringes of Hana, within Wai’anapanapa State Park, which offers several sites and things to do.
The unique black sand and jagged rock formations are the results of lava that spewed off of Haleakala and cooled in the ocean. Beyond the black sand beach, don’t miss the King’s Trail Hike, the Blowhole, and Wai’anapanapa Sea Arch. Unfortunately, the Anchialine Pool Caves appear to be closed to the public.
Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach
On the southern edge of Hana, don’t miss one of two stunning red sand beaches at Kaihalulu Beach. This dramatic and hidden bay, fringed with orangy-red sands lapped by perfectly turquoise waters can be tricky to reach, but well worth the effort. If you didn’t picnic at Wai’anapanapa or have lunch in Hana, Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach makes for another great picnic spot.
Note that mile markers start over again just beyond Hana (mile marker 35). Though they move backward beyond Hana, starting at mile 50, with numbers getting smaller as you continue toward the backside of Haleakala (super confusing).
Koki Red Sand Beach
A bit beyond Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach at mile marker 50 take a right turn onto Haneo’o Road to reach yet another Red Sand Beach, this one named Koki Beach. Koki Beach is a bit more open and easy to access (making it another good option for a picnic). From the beach, you will have views of the pint-sized Alau Island. If you’re not feeling Koki Beach, Hamoa Beach is only another minute or so down Haneo’o Road.
Should You Take A Road To Hana Tour Or Rent A Car?
Driving the Road to Hana isn’t for everyone. If you are a nervous driver or don’t have much experience with winding, narrow roads, single-lane bridges, and switchbacks, I’d say a Hana Highway tour is probably a better option for you. Several of my friends have taken Hana Highway tours over the years and regale in the white-knuckled, adrenaline-pumped ride as a passenger.
If you have some time in Maui, already have a rental car for the duration of your trip, and are up to the adventure, I think renting a car and self-driving the Road to Hana is well worth the effort. I have plenty of experience on narrow roads, one-lane bridges, and switchbacks, so the Hana Highway road trip didn’t seem as daunting as friends and acquaintances made it seem.
Have Any Questions About The Hana Highway Road Trip?
Ask your questions about the Road to Hana in the comments section below.