Driving Road to Hana on the east coast of Maui was one of the best things we could do on this sunny Hawaiian island. The curvy coastal road connecting Kahului and Hana offers endless views of the rugged coast, beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails in the rainforest. Buy fresh fruit from the road stand, swim in the waterfalls and drive through the rainforest to the next surprise that awaits after each curve on the road.
We’ve visited Maui during the busiest Christmas time. With so many activities and places to see on Maui, we felt overwhelmed. Trying to see the best during our time on Maui, we asked locals what they would recommend. The most repeated answer was driving Road to Hana.
North America is famous for its scenic drives and Road to Hana on Maui was our first scenic drive in the United States. It was also the main reason we rented a car on Maui. If you come in winter, you might have a hard time to find a rental car if you don’t book in advance.
The road to Hana stretches from Kahului, the largest town on Maui with an international airport, to the little quiet town of Hana, the easternmost point on Maui. It’s 84 km (52 miles) long and can take anywhere from 4 hours roundtrip (with no stops) to few days to explore.
Although it is well paved, the road is winding through the lush rainforest and passes over 59 bridges. There are around 620 curves in total on the Road to Hana. They become easier to cope with as you will want to stop very often – either for the view, fresh mango calling out to you from the roads stand or a quick dip in the falls.
Hana town is still unspoiled by mass tourism. Probably because it is very hard to get to and most people visiting Maui stick to the west part of the island, which offers most activities. You can hang out at Red Sand Beach, Black Sand Beach, buy unique souvenirs from local artisans and refresh in the farmer’s market.
How to plan your drive on the Road to Hana?
This guide will show you the most important stops on the road to Hana, where to stop and which stops to avoid if you’re running out of time. Just the drive without stops takes between 4 to 5 hours. Start early if you’re planning it as a day trip, you only get 12 hours of daylight. That means you will only have around 7 hours to enjoy all stops.
Taking a drive on the Road to Hana can be exhausting as a day trip. For exploring the eastern part of Maui Island we would recommend splitting the drive in two days.
Where to start your Road to Hana trip?
From Kahului, take highway 36, passing the town of Paia until it becomes highway 360. This is the only fully paved and well-maintained road leading to Hana. You will notice “0-mile” sign marking the start and will finish at mark “34 miles” in Hana (guidebooks refer to this signage). After the town of Hana, the mile marks start to decrease from number 51.
Important stops before the actual Hana Highway (road 360)
Paya is the last town before you reach Hana highway. This is the best place to start your trip to Hana if you want to make it in one day, as it saves you 2 hours of driving if you’re coming from touristy parts of the island. For those not starting from here, we would recommend stopping here in the evening as there is a lot of options for a great dinner.
This lookout point is right after the Ho’okipa beach on the left-hand side. If you like taking photos or just watching surfers, come here right after sunrise. This place is even better to visit around 5 p.m. as you can see how turtles are slowly crawling to the shore for the night.
Stops on the Road to Hana from mile 0
On mile marker 2 you have first stop on the road. During the high season, there will be a lot of cars parked. Twin Falls is the first waterfall on your drive. After a short walk, you get to the lower falls where you can take a quick cool down dip. There are more waterfalls up the stream. You might want to save some time for other stops rather than see all the falls here.
Just before Mile mark 7 on the left-hand side, you will see many Eucalyptus trees with colored bark. When you peel excess bark on these Rainbow Eucalyptus trees, there will be a different color of bark under the top layer. Walk little further down the hill and enjoy the ocean views over the canopies.
Waikamoi Ridge trail
This stop after mile marker 9.5 is nice for a short walk to stretch your legs. Walk all the way down the steps to the end of the loop to get scenic views of the ocean. Roots can be slippery when wet. Sign “Trees at work” reminds you that the forest has the freshest air. You can enjoy it by taking the long loop.
Garden of Eden Arboretum
Stop at mile 10. It is one of the best stops on the Road to Hana. Entrance fee is 15$, you’ll see that money are well spent on the maintenance of the garden. Garden of Eden is a place where the initial scene to Jurassic Park movie was shot.
Small peninsula at mile marker 17 is a short diversion from the road. It doesn’t have any swimming options, as it is covered with sharp volcanic rocks. It gives you a small look at the history and farming of local people. Once you’re there, imagine the life of locals hundred years ago.
Mile 17.2 after Ke’anae peninsula is “Halfway to Hana” food stand. Unless you’re getting something to eat, you don’t need to stop.
Upper Waikani Falls (also known as Three Bears)
Once you pass mile marker 19, on the right-hand side you will see Three Bears waterfalls. They are easy to spot but harder to get to as you need to park little up the road and then walk back. There is no sidewalk, be careful when walking on the side of the road. It’s a nice waterfall to look but too shallow for swimming.
Pua’a Ka’a Falls
At mile marker 22 you will reach Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park. Bring a lunch or buy fruit from the fruit stands along the way, there is a nice picnic area with benches and toilets. You will probably pass this point at the warmest part of the day, do not hesitate to jump in the pool and cool down under the waterfall.
Wai’anapanapa State Park
Follow the signs at mile mark 32. Small nature paradise has been inhabited by local people for centuries. Lie down on a black pebble beach with an awesome colour contrast to the ocean blue water. Go on a short walk down to the fresh water caves or walk all the way to Hana with views of the blowhole. This is also the best place to stay overnight on your Hana road trip. Try to rent a tent or come with a campervan. You will be amazed how beautiful this place is once herds of tourists leave in the evening.
You reach Hana at mile marker 34. No doubt this is the best place to see the authentic Maui and Hawaiian atmosphere without any traces of modern development. If you didn’t bring your tent to stay in Wai’anapanapa State Park, you will find accommodation here and can stay overnight. Go for a walk on the beach, swim in the ocean or visit museum.
Whatever you do, don’t turn around and drive back the same day. The road trip doesn’t end in Hana even when the name Road to Hana would suggest so. As mentioned at the beginning, mile markers start to decrease from Hana town, number 51.
Wailua Falls are right after mile marker 45. You will see them from the road but park behind the bridge on the right-hand side on turnout area. This waterfall is the most famous waterfall on the road –it’s most photographed and easily accessible. We enjoyed the refreshing dip in the pool on a hot day. Be careful walking down the slippery rocks.
Pools of O’heo (currently closed)
At mile mark 42, you can find the popular Pools of O’heo, where three cascading waterfalls create pools leading into the ocean. During our visit, a lot of people were swimming in the pools so we opted for waterfalls along the way. It is also the start of one of the most popular hikes – Pipiwai Trail to the 400 feet high Waimoku Falls.
Pools of O’heo are part of the Haleakala national park. There is a booth to purchase the park pass, which is valid for three days. Group your visit of O’heo Pools with a visit to Haleakala summit and save on the park entrance fees.
Next and last stop on this side of Maui is village Kaupo with an old Palapala Ho’omau Church from 1857, that is famous for Charles Lindberg’s grave (the first man flying across Atlantic in 1927).
Drive around back
Almost everyone turns and drive back from here the same way they came, just locals continue clockwise around Haleakala.
Rental companies will advise you not to drive this way back to the western or central Maui as there is no roadside assistance covered within your insurance policy. If you have an experience with driving in the mountains or on narrow winding roads and you want to step up your driving adventure, go for it. Keep in mind that you have to be able to change a flat tire in case of a puncture. The road is less winding but is in a completely different climate compared to the northern side. Once you pass Kaupo, green and lush rainforest changes to brown yellowish desert like arid grasslands with strong winds. Ask locals for closures on the road and latest rains or mudslides.
TIPS FOR DRIVING ROAD TO HANA:
- Have a look at the guidebook or flyer about Road to Hana if you would like to drive to Hana and back in one day. With a tight schedule, you would want to decide where to stop beforehand. We recommend buying a Maui chapter from Lonely Planet
- Consider having the window all the way down if you are prone to carsickness.
- For the best experience (and without rushing) we recommend 2 days for driving Road to Hana so you can make as many stops as you’d like.
- Make sure you have enough gas – gas station is in Pa’ia and then in Hana.
- Don’t worry about water or food – many road stands offer fresh banana bread, waffles, coconuts and smoothies
- Bring swimming suit for a swim in the waterfalls and running/hiking shoes for trails in the rainforest.
- Get an early start to avoid crowds and tours.
- As locals say – drive with aloha – when you drive slow to enjoy the views and cars are lining up behind you, pull over and let them pass (otherwise you might encounter some unwelcoming locals).
- Speaking from personal experience, avoid driving in dark. Rather stay overnight in a camp in Wai’anapanapa State Park or in Hana and continue the next day. The entire road is unlit and the cliffs will be on your right side when you’re driving back – not ideal driving conditions.
We caught up with some unlucky cars, but nobody was willing to drive into the dark first so we ended up leading the way back to Pa’ia. It was the first time my leg was sore from driving the next day, from switching brake and gas pedal so many times (but I enjoyed it with my racer blood).
Writing about each view, waterfall or hike is almost impossible. There is literally beauty after every turn you make. All of our favourite places are listed above.
Enjoy the drive and swim under waterfalls, as locals call them “in the Hawaiian rain”
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Have you been to Maui before? What scenic drive you like the most? Let us know in the comments.
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