Road to Hana Must See & Do
The scenic Road to Hana on Maui is the undisputed top attraction on the island. We've been researching the attractions on the Hana Highway since 2002, when the highway first made a major and incredibly positive impression on us. We can now offer our visitors over 14 years of expertise on this beautifully scenic drive. From checklists for making the drive, to the best guidebooks, to audio CDs- we've researched it all.
This entry includes resources to provide Road to Hana driving tips and advice, plus maps and even information regarding closures, when applicable. When it comes to driving the Hana Highway on Maui, it's the journey, not the destination, that is the main attraction. There are few words that can describe the beauty of this drive with its cliffs cloaked in green and lush valleys bursting with waterfalls. Curves hug the coast and gaze over an ocean that stretches uninterrupted all the way to the Alaskan coastline. Couple that with black, red, and white sand beaches, a multitude of trails, and beautiful gardens and you've discovered the highway to heaven itself.
And while we have several years of experience exploring this famous road, we certainly understand driving it is certainly not for everyone. If you’d rather sit back, relax, and simply concentrate on having a good time, we recommend booking your tour with our friends at Valley Isle Excursions- the absolute best Road to Hana Tour providers. They offer hotel pick up from most major locations, their expert local guides are top notch, and their luxury vans have panoramic windows. Best of all, they know all the best stops so you won’t have to worry about a thing. And because they are the first Hawaii-based tour company to complete the Hawaii Green Business Program, you can feel good about your adventure.
The Highway to Heaven...
Hopefully, you've already perused our article Is the Road to Hana Worth it? If not, you might want to check out that page before continuing to plan your trip down the Hana Highway, as we share lots of helpful hints about making the drive on your own.
We're here to help you plan that perfect road trip down this beautiful stretch of highway. Be sure to also check out our article entitled Can I Make the Drive to the Oheo Gulch and Back in a One Day?, as it may also prove useful for many visitors planning to make the highway a day trip only.
Many visitors often ask us the same questions about the Hana Highway and that's why we've created this entry - to help answer the most basic questions about the drive to Hana town. So let's start with a few common questions and answers about the drive.
Hana Highway Q & A
Q: Where is the drive located?
A: The scenic drive is located on the northeast coastline of Maui. Officially, the road is named the Hana Highway and on maps will be listed as Hwy. 36 and Hwy. 360. Many people, ourselves included, consider the Hana Highway to continue beyond Hana to the Oheo Gulch, or even beyond that to Upcountry Maui via Hwy. 31.
Q: Is the drive to Hana (and beyond) safe?
A: It's very safe for drivers who can keep their eyes on the road; trust us, they'll be tempted to look around. The highway is fully paved and even though it has many curves and one-lane bridges, the drive is very safe. For more information about driving the highway, check out our Driving Tips for the Hana Highway.
Q: How many waterfalls are there on the drive?
A: That depends, but there are a lot of them. It depends because if it's rained recently then waterfalls burst forth from almost every curve on the highway. But if it has been dry, some falls may dry up and not be flowing. EMI, a company that diverts stream water for the hungry cane fields in central Maui, also can cause certain falls to cease flowing - again, usually when it's dry. In our opinion, the best waterfalls are actually beyond Hana town, with Wailua Falls being the crown jewel. If you're up for a little hiking, however, you can even get a good view of 400 ft. Waimoku Falls at the end of the Pipiwai Trail. The latter is located inside Haleakala National Park at the Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools). For more information on all the major falls along the drive, see our Road to Hana Waterfalls entry.
Q: Where are the best places to stop along the way?
A: Unless you spend a night in Hana town, visiting every attraction along the drive is impossible. It could take two or three days to see everything, so we always advise most visitors to stick to the highlights. That's why we've created a Best Places to Stop on the drive article, which will guide you to the major attractions while skipping the less appealing places that most people think are worth their time because they don't know better. You can waste A LOT of time on the Hana Highway if you aren't careful, so knowing which places to stop at in advance is very helpful and efficient.
Q: eBook/Guidebook, CD, GPS unit, or smartphone app - who should I trust to guide me?
A: Not to toot our own horn- well OK, maybe a little bit- but we have written an exclusive Hana Highway - Mile by Mile Guidebook that details the drive's major attractions, and we think it's a great resource to visitors. We started writing the book years ago, and after dozens of adventures along the highway, I think it's fair to say we've done our homework and research. We've literally guided thousands of visitors along the drive, and we've had an incredible amount of positive feedback from our recommendations and rating system in the book. Alternatively, if you're looking for an audio CD, then we feel the R2H CD is the best buy, as of this writing. We wouldn't advise visitors to use any smartphone apps for the drive, as a cell phone signal is hard to come by on the drive. Additionally, the GPS tours can be problematic in our opinion, so we're not especially a fan of those either - sorry GPS folks, just being honest. Also, a quick word of caution about some guidebooks: many will tell you about places that are on private property or that can be dangerous to visit. If it sounds like the book is "revealing" anything too exclusive, it probably is - so avoid those locations. Our guidebook specifically states which places are on private property and which should be considered kapu or off-limits.
Q: Is the drive really worth it?
A: Unless you really don't like scenic drives with beautiful sights, waterfalls, and lush green surroundings - yes, the drive is worth it. Still, some people really don't care much for the drive, and that prompted us to write an article about that topic: Is the Hana Highway Really Worth it? If you have any reservations about the drive, that article should clear up several important factors for you and help you decide if the drive is right for you and your family.
Hana Highway Checklist
This short checklist is meant to be a quick guide for what to do and what to take on the drive. As we mentioned earlier, the drive has so many attractions it would be impossible to see them all in a single day. If you're going to spend a night in Hana, which is advisable if you have enough time, we highly recommend you stay at either Hana Kai Maui or Hamoa Beach House- our favorite stops in this area. This will allow you to visit the attractions before Hana town one day, and the sights beyond it the next.
1.) Select a Rental Car or Guided Tour
After reading all of our Q&A above you should have a good feel for whether you want to make the drive yourself or take a guided tour. The latter is great for people who aren't too keen on the curves or bridges, but honestly, we still prefer to make the drive ourselves. Don't worry about getting a 4x4 or anything special, even if you plan to drive the road beyond the Oheo Gulch. Any regular car will do. Lot of folks love driving the highway in a convertible, and we think that's great - but keep in mind that it can rain often along the drive in short bursts, so that could be a lot of work putting the top up and down on the car. Overall you're going to want a car that has decent fuel economy and can make the drive without needing to refuel in Hana (where gas prices will make your jaw drop). On that note, fuel up in Paia town, which is located at the start of the drive, before continuing.
2.) What to expect for the scenic drive
Knowing what to expect along the drive will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises. Here are a few things to expect:
- Frequent, but often quick, rain showers
- Impatient drivers - so pull over often to let them by
- People stopped at every bridge - don't fall for this, stick to your plan
- Get out of the car on occasion, you can't see everything from the car seat
- Some short to moderate hikes - but they are excellent
- Paid admission at the Garden of Eden - we think it's worth it
3.) What to bring - and what not to bring
A sizable packed lunch is definitely advisable for the drive since it will take nearly a full day to complete. Bring a small backpack to carry things in, as you'll be doing some walking to see some of the attractions. Don't forget your camera(s), you'll need it. Don't bring anything that's worth a lot of money if you plan to leave it in your car. While break-ins are more rare than they used to be, they do still happen on occasion, especially if any high-end goods are left visible in the car. This might include your phone, camera equipment, or any tablet or other electronic devices. While these electronics can be helpful when making the drive if you have an eBook, we'd advise you to try and keep those with you in that nifty backpack we suggested. You also won't need a GPS - it would be pretty hard to get lost on this drive. Here are some other items to consider bringing with you:
- A cheap cooler with ice - this will keep your food and drinks cool.
- Water/Drinks - bring what you can, stock up with more at the general store in Hana town.
- Comfortable shoes - expect to do some walking or hiking like we mentioned. Don't wear white shoes if you expect to keep them that way! Sandals are fine, as I've hiked in them for many miles, but they might not be right for everyone, so if you'll be wearing sandals or slippahs (flip flops), you may want to bring some tennis or hiking shoes.
- A collapsible hiking pole - good for some folks if making the Pipiwai Trail hike at the Oheo Gulch.
- Pocket ponchos - just in case one of those rain showers lasts longer than a few minutes.
- Bug Spray - bugs are hit and miss, but it's worth being prepared in case the mosquitos are out and about.
- Cash - The Garden of Eden, in addition to the fruit and smoothie vendors, only take cash.
- Malama Pono - be a good steward of the aina (land) and kai (ocean) - respect for the land is very important on Maui.
- A watch - you'll definitely want to keep track of time. Never try to drive the highway in the dark- trust us!
4.) Get ahead of the crowds when you can
Yes... we know getting up early on your vacation isn't ideal, but it's worth being ahead of the crowds. If you can be at the junction of Hwy. 36 and Hwy. 360 (official start of the drive) by around 7am, you'll probably be ahead of the major crowds who arrive between 8-9:30am. You can start earlier, but this can result in less-than-ideal photos since the sun isn't high enough in the sky yet. Whatever you do, don't get stuck in the lines of cars or this can greatly reduce the enjoyability of the drive. Staying ahead of the masses will be your best bet. So leave early!
5.) Check about the conditions beyond the Oheo Gulch
If you plan to continue the drive beyond the Oheo Gulch, check with the rangers to see if it's rained recently or if any other conditions might create problems for that drive. Rockslides used to close that portion of the highway frequently, but rock netting has now been put in place to aid with this problem. While almost every car rental company will "prohibit" that section of road in their self-provided guides, the drive is more than worth it and becomes the highlight of the trip to many visitors. It has broken pavement and is narrow in a few sections, but once you get past Kaupo gap, conditions improve dramatically and you'll be amazed at the contrast in the scenery as opposed to how things looked on the Hana side. Be prepared for the wind, though, if you get out of the car; it can get quite strong when nearing Upcountry Maui.
6.) Rotate drivers when possible
You'll want to allow everyone to enjoy the drive, so be sure to rotate drivers if possible. This will give everyone the chance to fully enjoy the scenery. Most of the complaints we hear about the drive come from the drivers, who can't focus on the scenery because they have to watch the road. So be sure to share driving time if you can.
7.) Start back early
As noted above, you'll want to keep good track of time. Also, make sure you either begin your return along the northeast drive (if you're going back that way), or continue beyond the Oheo Gulch to Upcountry Maui, no later than 3pm. This should give you about three hours to make the trip back to where driving conditions are less stressful. Driving the Hana Highway in the dark is certainly an, um, "experience", but we don't recommend it.
Road to Hana Must See
Hana Highway Points of Interest
We've actually split all the Hana Highway sights and stops off into their own area here on our website. It helps separate the Hana Highway sights from the rest of the spots on Maui. To get started planning your own trip along the Hana Highway, just click the link below to visit our Hana Highway region page.
Hana Highway Closures & News
We highly encourage all visitors to consider a guidebook when driving the highway. It's the best way to determine which stops are for you and which aren't. A lot of folks simply let the clumps of cars along the road be their guide. This is a big mistake. There are a lot of great places along the Hana Highway, but there are also several stops you'd be wasting your time visiting. That said, we invite you to let us be your guide.
We've driven the Hana Highway a few hundred times over the last few years and eventually we said, "Why not put what we know in a book?" And, we can now better educate visitors on what spots are kapu (off-limits), as well. Our guidebook, Hana Highway Mile by Mile: The Road to Hana and Beyond will navigate you along the 52 miles of undeveloped road, 56 one-lane bridges, and 617 curves. You will pass by the most breathtaking scenery on the face of the Earth that was literally a million years in the making. And the journey doesn't end in Hana, it continues well beyond the sleepy coastal town at the bay.