The Road to Hana is one of the most talked about scenic drives in all of Hawaiʻi, and a big reason why people choose to visit Maui. Loaded with viewpoints and various points of interest, it’s the most popular way to explore the island’s eastern side, which is lightly populated and full of tropical rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails, and panoramic ocean views.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to optimize your experience on the Road to Hana.
Table of Contents
- Know before you go
- Popular stops and sights
- Lesser visited points of interest
- Things to do in Hana
- Tips for finding Road to Hana tours
Good to Know Before You Go
Here’s what you need to know before embarking on the Road to Hana.
The Route: 2 options
When you look at a map, the Road to Hana appears to be rather straightforward. The journey is only 50-some miles from Kahului to Hana, so you might be thinking you can be there and back in a half day.
Think again. Sure, it’s only 50-miles, but you’re traveling on a small, two-lane country road, with 620 turns and 59 one-lane bridges. For much of it, you won’t go any faster than 25 miles-per-hour, and at some points, you’ll crawl along in traffic or find yourself yielding at bridge crossings.
Plus, this is not an A-to-B type drive. It’s a start and stop kind of drive, with endless pull-offs and points of interest to check out. Cars are frequently turning on and off the road, and if you’re not one of them, you’re missing out what makes the drive so special. In this sense, one should budget an entire day to experience the Road to Hana, and do so with relaxation and patience in mind.
There are two options for completing the Road to Hana.
- Kahului-Hana-Kahului: Wherever you begin the day, you’ll drive through Kahului and officially being your journey from there, cruising along the Hana Highway through Paʻia and past Hoʻokipia. From there, you’ll arrive at the official Mile Marker Zero location for the route, and then it’s 35 miles to the town of Hana. Once you reach Hana, you turn around and come back the way you came.
- Kahului-Hana-Kīpahulu-Kula: The outbound journey remains the same, starting in Kahului and heading to Hana. But instead of turning around, you continue through Hana and make a circle around Haleakalā, following the coastal road through the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park to the much-drier south shore, eventually arriving in the upcountry town of Kula.
Please be respectful of the residents
As you’ll see below, there are many wonderful opportunities to stop along the Road to Hana. But when you do, make sure you do so while thinking about the people that live there. Residents along the Hana Highway have been impacted greatly in the past by illegal parking, overcrowding, trespassing on private property, and a myriad of other disappointing realities. Remember, this area is home for residents, so please keep the following in mind:
- Be sure to park in designated areas only, and if it’s too full or crowded, come back later or choose a different stop.
- Be kind and courteous to local volunteers who patrol the area to help manage crowds.
These all seem like basic pointers on respectful behavior, but, as it seems to go with the human race, you’ll see many putting their own agendas above those of the local residents. We highly recommend you avoid falling into that category.
Our #1 tip for planning your own “road to Hana” adventure: take it easy!
As you’ll see below, there are endless ways to explore the Road to Hana. Between the points of interest, the pull-offs, the fruit stands, the trails, the waterfalls, and the town of Hana itself, there’s more than anyone could possibly experience in one trip; however, we often find that people still try, making stop after stop after stop and spending every ounce of daylight along the route.
If that sounds like a great plan for you, then hey, do your thing. But, we actually recommend a more measured, relaxed approach to the journey.
In theory, sure, you could fit in five, six, maybe even ten stops along the way. It looks really good on paper, all the things you can see. The problem is how it plays out in reality: Parking lots fill up, traffic moves slow, congestion occurs. Some stops are quick; others require more time. The more you plan, the more you’re going to put pressure on yourself to “do it all,” and we find that mostly results in a decrease in quality – you’re so focused on checking off all the spots that you don’t truly get to know any of them, and all the stopping and starting brings on a wave of fatigue. The road itself is prone to make people tired because of its constant twisting and turning.
Our advice is to take it easy. Pick two, three, or four stops to target, with a couple backup plans in the event a place is already congested (remember, we’re trying to respect the locals by not overloading places). Take your time, bring snacks, and don’t try to do too much. The great thing about the Road to Hana is that it can be a different experience every time. Make the drive early in your trip, and if you are completely smitten with it, you can come back a few days later and do it again with new stops.
The most well-known and popular stops along the Road to Hana
Below are established, popular places along the Road to Hana that you should consider stopping at to experience, despite the fact that they tend to be crowded. After all, things are popular for a reason, and each stop offers something special to visitors.
Description: There are too many to list, and they often carry various hours, so just keep your eye out for fruit stands along the Road to Hana, selling fruit, smoothies, breads, and other local treats.
Description: There will be many people stopped at bridge crossings, as lots of water tends to fall below them. Though this adds to congestion and confusion, we’re not so jaded as to overlook them completely. Crossing narrow valleys, the scenery around bridges can be downright spectacular, so do enjoy them as you pass. If you decide to stop, be sure to park out of the way, and avoid bridge crossings that are already crowded.
Location: Mile Marker 2
Description: This is the first easily accessible waterfall along the Hana Highway, so naturally, it is one of the most popular to visit. The appeal is a storybook, circular swimming pool at the base of a waterfall at the end of a three-quarter mile hike. It’s usually packed, but it’s an inspiring place, especially for families with small children, who will enjoy the hike and swim.
Kaumahina State Wayside Park
Location: Mile Marker 12
Description: Kaumahina is the first “real” stop along the road to Hana – “real” in the sense that it’s a state park with facilities – and people tend to pop in for a bathroom break. But don’t be in such a rush. This 8-acre park offers great views of the ocean/eastern coast, plenty of shade, picnic tables, and walking paths. If you travel to Hana and back along the same route, we like this as a final stop on the trip back, for a final breath.
Upper Waikani Falls (aka Three Bears)
Location: Mile Marker 19
Description: Also known as Three Bears, this spot features three side-by-side-by-side 70-foot waterfalls. Need we say more? Waterfall lovers will want to check this out, crowds or no crowds.
Puaʻa Kaa State Wayside Park
Location: Mile Marker 22
Description: This high-trafficked stop is fun because you can take a quick bathroom break, then jump in for a swim in a waterfall pool. Picnic tables are available for a longer hang out, but most people come and go in less than thirty minutes. This is a prime example of what made the Road to Hana so famous: The ability to pull over, jump in a waterfall, and be back in your car in a matter of minutes. In that sense, you should appreciate it for yourself.
Kaʻeleku Cave (Hana Lava Tube)
Location: Mile Marker 31
Description: This stop provides the unique opportunity to walk through a lava tube, an experience so unique to Hawaiʻi that even though there’s an entry fee ($12 for adults) and it brings you underground (away from the waterfalls), it has become a well-established stop, with bathrooms and a maze for children.
Tip: You’ll want close-toed shoes for this adventure.
Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park
Location: Approximately 10 miles south of Hana.
Description: This sea-level, coastal section of Haleakalā National Park has a tremendous amount to offer visitors, including the Pīpīwai Trail (bamboo forest and 400-foot waterfall), the Pools of ʻOheʻo (Seven Scared Pools), and a campground. For more, see our guide to Haleakalā National Park.
Lesser Visited Points of Interest
To be clear, there aren’t too many publicly-accessible secrets left on the Road to Hana, and you’ll run into other people no matter where you go. But, some places tend to draw less crowds than others, for various reasons. Below are some places that are still easily accessible (aka, they’re “on the map”) but are usually not as busy.
Rainbow Eucalyptus Grove
Location: Mile Marker 7
Description: This colorful grove of trees is not marked by any sign, so it’s easy to miss. But on the makai side (ocean side) of mile marker 7 is a small grove of rainbow eucalyptus trees. If you’ve never seen one, they are quite a site, with multi-colored trunks. Be respectful about where you pull over when visiting this site.
Waikamoi Ridge Trail
Location: Mile Marker 9.5
Description: This small two-loop trail will take you less than an hour, bringing you through a variety of Hawaiian foliage, including eucalyptus, kukui nut, bamboo, and more tropical plants than you can count. It remains less appreciated because 1) it does not lead to a waterfall, and people who take the Road to Hana become fixated on waterfalls and 2) it tends to be muddy, and people don’t like mud. But, we see it as a very beautiful, worthwhile walk through a dense Hawaiian rainforest. Bring some towels for your muddy shoes.
Location: Mile Marker 16.5
Description: This small village is an interesting-yet-heartbreaking historical stop. In 1946, the peninsula was ravaged by a surprise tsunami, killing all 24 children (and the teacher) in the town’s school. The only building that remains today from that period is an old stone church, and now most of the peninsula is a working farm for taro and other crops. The end of the peninsula is a great place to reflect and catch some views – there’s room to spread out – but most people don’t take the time to get there because they’re in too much of a rush.
Location: Mile Marker 31
Description: Though it is an established botanical gardens, it doesn’t get as busy as you might expect because 1) there is a $12 entry fee and 2) it takes about an hour and a half to properly explore (most people, as we mentioned above, are trying to hit as many places as possible, and attractions such as these “take too long”). Well, all the better for you. Kahanu relays the history of the area and its settlers, including a restored Hawaiian heiau (temple). For the full experience and a true sense of place, take the guided tour ($30).
Things to Do in Hana
Many people look at the Road to Hana as the journey and, for some reason, don’t spend any time in Hana itself. Instead, they turn around and head back the way they came, or continue on towards Kīpahulu. In our book, that’s a mistake. Spend some time exploring the area, visiting the local beaches, and grab something to eat at a local restaurant or food truck.
Here’s a list of beach parks to check out in Hana.
Waiʻānapanapa State Park: This black-sand and black-rock beach is the largest beach park in the area and is a local favorite for fishing, barbecuing, and hanging.
Koki Beach Park: There are two main appeals to this beach – red sand and a surf break. Swimming is not recommended due to the strong currents, which makes surfers happy. On-lookers will be happy, too, hanging out and exploring the red-sand beach.
Kaihalulu Beach: Another famous red-sand beach in Hana is Kaihalulu. It requires a short but slippery/steep hike along the coast, with many roots and unmaintained areas long the trail. Note: Visitation of this beach is controversial with locals because the trail passes through private property. You will no doubt see others doing this; however, we recommend visiting Koki instead, out of respect for local residents.
Hāmoa Beach: This crescent-shaped beach is where you want to go to spread out in the sand, backdropped by small green cliffs. When calm, swimming and snorkeling are possible, and its breaks attract bodyboarders and surfers, too. If you’re looking for a classic, family-friendly, white-sand beach in Hana, Hāmoa is a great choice.
One way to beat the fatigue of driving is to split the trip into two days with an overnight in Hana. You’ll see more, and get a better feel for Hana and the surrounding area. Here are some places we recommend.
- Hana-Maui Resort: This beautiful resort in Hana has changed ownership several times – now it’s a Hyatt – but regardless of who owns it, it’s still the top choice for well-appointed luxury because of its location on 66 acres and a sloping hillside that offers dramatic views from many of its rooms and pool.
- Ala Kukui Retreat Center: One of the most interesting accommodations in Hana is the apartment at the Ala Kukui Retreat Center. Located in a lush valley, it is the ultimate relaxation stay, with quiet grounds to stroll, tropical gardens, and a strong Hawaiian cultural program.
- Waiʻānapanapa State Park Campground and Cabins: This state park is the best rustic option in Hana, offering a campground and cabins along its black-sand shores. Campsites are $30 a night for non-residents and reservations must be made in advance.
Vacation Rentals and Condos
There are various inns, vacation rentals, and condos in Hana. You can find them on Airbnb and similar websites.
You’ll find small fruit and food stands along the Road to Hana, but if you’re looking for a real restaurant, make plans to try one of these local establishments in the town of Hana.
- Hana Ranch Restaurant: Looking for a full-service, locally-oriented restaurant with a full bar? Look no further than Hana Ranch Restaurant, the culinary arm of Hana Ranch. Try the classic Hana burger – made with Hana beef raised right on property – or another island favorite, like poke or kalua pork.
- Da Fish Shack: If it’s fresh fish on your brain, Da Fish Shack Food Truck serves up a mix of seafood offerings using local fish. We recommend one of the classics: the fish burger, fish and chips, or the fish tacos.
- Ae’s Thai Kitchen: If you hadn’t noticed, Hawaiʻi is full of Asian-fusion, and this Thai truck expresses it fully. Try the Shrimp Pad Thai or, on a rainy day, one of the house-made curries.
- Troy’s Plate Lunch: Troy, the proprietor, goes fishing each week and sells his catch at his food truck, along with other chicken and pork plate lunch options.
Tips for finding good Road to Hana Tours
One way to bypass the need to self-drive and decide between stops is to jump on a tour, such as the ones offered by Skyline Hawaiʻi [NOTE TO GERRIT: I can add more once the tours restart. Right now most are suspended].
There are many companies that offer tours along the Road to Hana, so here’s what you should consider:
- Choose a small-group tour (12 people or less). This ensures a more personalized experience, and to reduce the impact along the Road to Hana (bigger buses take up more parking room, etc.).
- Inquire about the type of van used on the tour. Does it have large windows? Is it climate controlled? Remember, it’s a winding journey, so you’ll want to be comfortable.
- Ask about the planned stops. Different companies will make different stops, so it’s a nice way to decide which one is the best fit for you. For example, some may be more adventurous than others.
- Check with your concierge for any deals. Sometimes, companies offer specials that may be appealing, all other things being equal.
- Consider the time commitment. Many tours are all day, eight to ten hours in length. When driving yourself, you have flexibility in how you manage your time and when you head home. With a tour, you do not.