When visiting the island of Maui in Hawaii, there is no shortage of incredible things to do. One of the most popular is driving the road to Hana. The road is known for its wide variety of natural beauty, remoteness and the technical difficulties of the drive itself. Whether you are looking for an abundance of photo-worthy sights or just seeking an adventure, driving the road to Hana will not disappoint!
With roadside waterfalls, a rocky coastline, rainbow-striped trees, hairpin curves and one-lane bridges, the road to Hana has more than earned its reputation. But, it’s not an easy drive. For some people, it is stressful and tiring. For others, it is exhilarating and just plain gorgeous.
Bottom line: driving the road to Hana is absolutely worth the effort it takes. Yes, you need to be prepared but you don’t need to worry. I’ve got all the tips you need for a successful drive.
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Preparing for the Drive to Hana
The small town of Hana is located on the east side of Maui, far removed from the airport and main tourist destinations. The easiest way to get to Hana is to take Highway 330/360 along the northeast side of the island. Honestly, there’s not much to do in the town of Hana. The drive to get there, however, is one of the most epic drives in the United States. That is why it is popular to “drive the road to Hana” even though many people spend very little, if any, time in Hana.
You’ll start your drive to Hana near the airport, in the town of Kahului. From there, it’s only about 50 miles to Hana. But, with 620 curves and 59 bridges, it’s not a fast drive. Nor would you want to just zip right past all the postcard- and Instagram-worthy scenes along the way. We suggest that you give yourself at least a full day for the drive. We actually spent the better part of two days on the drive.
Be sure to leave with a full tank of gas, make sure you have cash and pack a lunch or at least a few snacks. The drive is extremely remote, with very few services and little or no cell phone service along the way. While there are a few roadside fruit stands and restaurants, COVID has really impacted how many are open.
Finally, it’s important to know that the east side of the island is a rainforest so you’ll need to be prepared for rain along your drive. We ended up taking the top off our Jeep and putting it back on several times as the rain started and stopped.
Tour vs. Self-Drive to Hana
I (Bonnie) first drove the road to Hana back in 2007 when I visited Hawaii on a cruise with my sister. Grant and I drove it together when we visited in 2021. Honestly, the drive to Hana is not super easy but it isn’t anything to be afraid of, either. Yes, the road winds and twists its way along the coast. Additionally, many of the bridges are only one lane wide.
Honestly, though, the drive in 2021 seemed easier than it did in 2007. I think the road has been repaved and improved a bit, though I can’t be sure. Mostly, I think I’m just 14 years older and more experienced. Overall, though, if you are used to driving on curvy or mountainous roads, you should be able to handle driving the road to Hana.
Still, some people may opt for a guided tour so you can relax and enjoy the drive. Taking a guided tour also ensures that you don’t miss any good stops and gives you an opportunity to learn more about the history of the road. The downside, though, is that you are following someone else’s schedule. That means that you might not necessarily get to spend as much time at each stop as you’d like.
Whether you drive yourself or take a guided tour is a very personal decision. We recognize that everyone has different preferences for travel. We opted to drive ourselves for a number of reasons but, mostly, because we wanted the flexibility to stop anytime we wanted and stay for as short or long as we wanted.
If you want the flexibility of driving yourself but like the information that comes along with a guided tour, consider buying a print or audio guide to the road to Hana. We downloaded the GyPSy Guide app and purchased the Road to Hana guide, which we really enjoyed. The app provides offline information in both written and audio form.
You’ll find top tips for the drive, information on the highlights and location-based audio narration. We found the app to be easy to use and incredibly informative. Having the flexibility to drive ourselves and still get the detailed information on various stops and the road itself really was a fantastic balance.
Options for Driving the Road to Hana
Most of the sights along the road to Hana are located on the northeast side of the island, between Paia and Hana. The most popular driving route takes you from Paia to Hana and back on the same road. This is what my sister and I did back in 2007.
You can continue past the town of Hana, though, either just a short way to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park or all the way around to the southeast side of the island, making a full loop back to Kahului. Historically, this road has been not well maintained and drivers are warned to expect very rough conditions, which is why it is not a popular option. Of course, that doesn’t bother us, so Grant and I drove the full loop during our visit in December 2021.
Additional options are to drive the loop backward or to drive the main road straight through to Hana and then do the sightseeing on the drive from Hana to Paia. The benefit to this is hitting the popular stops at “off times” in hopes of avoiding the crowds. I would not suggest either of these options unless you are planning to spend the night in Hana. It just makes for a long day and you’ll likely be too tired to really enjoy the stops closer to Paia.
Where to Stop Along the Road to Hana
As you start the drive from the airport area, Paia will be the last town where you can get food, gas or any other supplies that you might need. If you’re all stocked up, then just keep going and let the adventure begin!
There are many great stops along the road to Hana but, unfortunately, many of them have limited parking. If you can’t find parking for a particular attraction, you’ll have to just keep moving. Remember, you can always try to stop as you return to central Maui (if you are driving the road out and back).
The first noteworthy stop as you drive the road to Hana will be Ho’okipa Beach, which is just past Paia. Even if you don’t want to spend time at the beach, be sure to stop and check out the views from the overlook, which has ample parking. The area is popular with surfers and windsurfers and the overlook provides a great perch to watch as they try to catch the perfect wave.
If you’d like to walk along the beach, swim or surf, just follow the road down to the water. This is also a good place to spot sea turtles, which might be floating in the water or resting ashore. Remember, sea turtles are protected so always keep your distance.
The next stop is Twin Falls, where you can see the two-ribboned waterfall and enjoy a short hike. Unfortunately, parking here is extremely limited and strictly monitored. Be sure to watch for signs and listen for announcements on where you can and can’t park.
We thought we found a good parking space but just as we were starting to walk back to the entrance, we realized we were, in fact, in a no-parking zone. That was surprising to us since there were several other cars parked there. But, the announcements were very clear that parking was not allowed in that particular zone so we had to just keep moving and skip this stop. Hopefully, we’ll make it back to Maui one day and have better luck on that visit.
Another popular spot with limited parking is the Ke’anae Arboretum. The good part about this stop is that it is close to the next turnoff and you can easily reverse the order if needed. Additionally, the appeal of this stop is not obvious from the main road, so some folks skip it out of ignorance.
This small, free botanical garden is home to many different native plants. The most popular of these is the Rainbow Eucalyptus. As the name implies, the bark of these trees is striped with a variety of colors that mimic melted candle wax dripping down the side of a bottle.
Be sure to take a look at the signage with a map at the beginning of the trail and look for markers indicating the wide variety of plants found throughout the park. In addition to the rainbow eucalyptus, you’ll find bamboo, breadfruit, and ginger.
Expect to spend about 30 minutes walking the out-and-back trail, though you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like.
Just past the arboretum, on the road’s coastal side is the Ke’anae Peninsula’s turnoff. Not only is this a scenic stop, but it’s also a great place to get lunch or even just a snack.
The shoreline here consists of jagged volcanic lava rock, which is a stark contrast to the lush vegetation found above the shoreline. There are a couple of different places to pull over and watch the waves crash ashore and take photos.
Whether you are ready to eat lunch at this point or just want to pick up a snack for later, be sure to stop at Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread stand. Here, you’ll find a good variety of quick-serve hot dogs, burgers and, as the name implies, banana bread.
I enjoyed a loaded chili dog that had so many toppings I needed a fork and knife to eat it! And the banana bread was absolutely delicious… sweet, but not too sweet. It made the perfect snack for the rest of the afternoon.
Wai’anapanapa State Park
Just before you get to the town of Hana, you’ll find Wai’anapanapa State Park and its famous black sand beach. In addition to the black sand beach, you’ll find a short hiking trail, several overlooks and a blowhole. When we visited (in December), the waves were very rough and swimming was not really an option. Still, we enjoyed exploring the small caves by the beach and watching water crash up through the blowhole.
Due to the popularity of this stop, you’ll need a reservation to visit, which can be obtained online up to 30 days and at least one day in advance. Note, that this means that same-day reservations are not available.
Tickets are released daily at midnight Hawaii Standard Time for a specific date and timeframe (2.5-3 hours). You can enter the park anytime during your time slot but must leave at the end of that timeframe. If you want to stay longer, you can purchase back-to-back reservations. The fee includes a parking reservation and an entry ticket for each person in your vehicle.
If you want a reservation for late morning or early afternoon, I suggest setting a reminder and getting online as soon as tickets are released, especially if you are visiting during the busy summer season. If you’re willing/able to take an early morning or late afternoon time slot, you will likely find more availability after the release time.
The small town of Hana offers a few restaurants and food trucks, along with a couple of hotels. There is also a small beach. There’s really not much to do right in town, though. Still, it makes a good stop for lunch if you’re doing an out-and-back drive in one day. It’s also a great place to spend the night to allow yourself more time to enjoy the drive along the road to Hana, which is what Grant and I did.
If you do want to spend the night, make reservations early as there aren’t a lot of options. Additionally, it’s important to note that not much is open once the day-trippers leave town. Basically, a night in Hana is for relaxing and just enjoying the remoteness.
Haleakala National Park Kipahulu District
About 12 miles past the town of Hana, you’ll reach the remote Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. This lush coastal area of the park offers a few hiking trails, waterfalls and ocean vistas. It is vastly different from the arid summit area of the park, which is only accessible from the center of the island.
If you have a National Parks pass, be sure to bring it with you. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay the entrance fee ($30/vehicle for a 3-day pass) which is good for the entire park. It’s important to note that the Kipahulu district closes at 5:00 pm daily and the last entrance is at 4:30 pm, so watch your time carefully.
We arrived late in the day and didn’t have as much time here as we would have liked. Still, there are a few things you can do even in a short visit. From the parking area, the short Kuloa Point Trail takes you through lush vegetation, past a Hawaiian cultural demonstration area and along the ‘Ohe’o Gulch to the rocky coast. The trail does have some uneven terrain but, overall, is a relatively easy walk that can be enjoyed in less than an hour.
Those with more time should consider a hike along the Pipiwai Trail. The 4-mile round trip trail takes you to a bamboo forest and past a couple of waterfalls. As the trail is out and back, you can turn around at any point. This trail gains about 800 feet in elevation and is considered moderately strenuous. We had hoped to hike this trail but, unfortunately, did not have enough time.
Other Stops Along the Road to Hana
There are many other stops along the road to Hana – roadside waterfalls, a lava tube and plenty of coastal views. Most are quick and easy things that you can see right from the roadside but some are official attractions with an entrance fee.
There are also a few restaurants and snack stands along the way. That said, you can’t always count on everything to be open so it’s a good idea to have some drinks and snacks with you. Additionally, some may not accept credit cards, so make sure you have some cash with you.
Please remember that if you are stopping along the side of the road, you must pull completely off the road to park. Do not simply stop in the middle of the road. And be very careful when walking along the road or crossing to the other side.
Additionally, some areas have no parking signs. It’s important to follow all posted regulations and restrictions to ensure your safety and preserve the natural beauty of the area.
Driving the Backside of the Road to Hana
Continuing past Hana, the road to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park is well-maintained and easy for even out-and-back road trippers to access. Continuing past that, all the way around to the southeast side of the island is generally referred to as driving the “backside” of the road to Hana.
Since the road circles the enormous mountain of Haleakala, you may also refer to the full loop as driving around the backside of Haleakala. As mentioned previously, this part of the road is not nearly as well maintained as on the north side of the mountain and some patches are extremely rough.
If you research driving the backside of the road to Hana, you’ll find many warnings that your rental car contract might be voided if you drive this road and that you must be prepared to self-rescue in the event of an emergency. Of course, Grant is always up for an adventure and was excited to drive this route.
In fact, we specifically rented a Jeep so that we would have some ground clearance for this section of the drive. The rental car representative did not mention any restrictions on where we could drive, nor did we find any in the contract. So, we went for it. We knew that we could always turn around if conditions got too bad. Additionally, Grant has a lot of experience driving off-road, so we felt comfortable with our decision.
Road Conditions on the Backside
As we continued past the Kipahulu District, the road conditions were noticeably worse in some areas. Sections of the road were mostly eroded of asphalt and very muddy. Other areas just had a lot of potholes. Still, some areas really weren’t bad at all.
There were a few narrow sections where we had to carefully navigate around another vehicle coming in the other direction. But that only happened a couple of times. Most of the time, there was no one else in sight.
By the time we were about 20 miles past Hana (9 miles past the Kipahulu Visitor Center), the road was newly paved and absolutely perfect to drive on. Of course, conditions here can change very quickly depending on the weather. It is important that you assess the specific situation, vehicle capability and your driving skills before making the same decision we did.
What to See Along the Backside of the Road to Hana
There are many amazing sights as you drive the complete loop around the backside of Haleakala. But, there are only a few specific attractions that you need to plan to stop at.
In fact, the only specific stop we made was at Charles Lindbergh’s grave. The gravesite is located at the Palpala Congregational Church, which dates to 1857 and overlooks the rugged coastline. The church is just one mile past the Kipahulu Visitor Center.
Watch for a small sign at a side road off the coastal side of the highway. Follow the unpaved road just a short distance to the church. The church itself is nothing dramatic but the surrounding gardens and ocean views more than make up for that.
As you continue the drive, take it slow and feel free to stop anywhere you’d like. Again, just make sure you don’t completely block the road for an extended period of time. That said, there’s very little traffic so you can stop for a quick photo just about anywhere as long as you can quickly move your car if someone else approaches.
Where to Stay and Eat on Maui
We only had two nights on Maui, which was enough to get a taste of the island but definitely left us ready for a return trip. The first night, we stayed on the west side of the island, near Lahaina. We spent the second night in Hana.
In Lahaina, we stayed at The Mauian Hotel on Napili Beach. Our room there was absolutely perfect! It was a large studio with a kitchenette and a fabulous balcony. The buildings were arranged around a courtyard, with the hotel office at one end and the ocean at the other end. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon on our balcony reading and people-watching.
For dinner, we stopped at Maui Brewing Company, where we enjoyed several delicious brews. In terms of food, the Beer Battered Brie made a unique appetizer that we both really enjoyed. We followed that up with a burger for Grant and a salad for me.
We really didn’t have too much time in Lahaina and mostly just wanted to relax. But, we did enjoy a quick stroll around town. And, of course, you have to check out the city’s large Banyan Tree which takes up an entire city block!
Pro Tip: We booked this hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards. Check out this article on how to choose the right rewards credit card, so you, too, can enjoy stays in epic locations like we did using points, not cash.
Our hotel in Hana, the Hana Kai Maui, was another fantastic hotel that we both really enjoyed. Honestly, it was basically a one-bedroom apartment. We didn’t need a kitchenette but we really loved how its windows opened up to the large balcony, making outdoor meals a breeze. The only downside to this hotel was that our particular room didn’t have the best view. Still, we could see at least a little bit of the bay over the roof of the other building. The room was pricey, but options were limited and the cost was worth it to us to have extra time along our drive to Hana.
For dinner, we went to the Food Truck court, where we got fish tacos that were simple yet just about perfect. We went back to the same food court for breakfast, where we got some absolutely fantastic breakfast sandwiches. It was a bit of a wait to get the food but it was absolutely worth it!
Honestly, in terms of food, we didn’t have a ton of options since most eateries in Hana cater to the day-trippers. Additionally, I think December is a bit of the “off-season.” All that, combined with some COVID-related closures limited our food options. Still, we enjoyed everything we ate and definitely enjoyed our time in Hana.
If you are looking to relax and get off the beaten path, staying in Hana for a night or two is the way to do it!
Final Thoughts on Driving the Road to Hana
Whether you have just one or two days or a full week or more in Maui, driving the road to Hana is an activity that should be on any itinerary. You can enjoy the road and most of its attractions in a single day. With a second day, you’ll have more time to slow down and really enjoy what you are seeing.
If driving yourself, I highly recommend that you purchase the GyPSy app or some sort of print or audio guide. While it’s easy to spot most of the sights and attractions as you are driving, a guide will allow you to plan ahead a bit more. It also will provide insider information on the history of the road to Hana and exactly what to expect.
For those considering driving the full loop, we recommend getting a high-clearance vehicle or something that can handle some rough roads. While the conditions certainly were not perfect all the way around, the rough part was limited and, overall, the drive around the backside was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. If you have any experience driving off-road or on rough roads in general, you should be able to handle the full loop just fine.
Mostly, driving the road to Hana is really about experiencing the rugged beauty of Maui. It’s an escape from the fancy shopping malls and resorts. There may still be crowds but it won’t be nearly as crowded as the big cities. We hope that you will enjoy it as much as we did!
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