Top Scenic Drive on Maui
Road to Hana Tips
The Road to Hana on Maui is famous for its stunning coastal beauty, a diverse array of wayside parks, and gorgeous waterfalls. The Road to Hana is undeveloped Hawaii at its finest and you can discover all of it in our exclusive Hana Highway Guide Book! There are very few words that can describe the beauty of the Road to Hana - the verdant cliffs and fertile valleys bursting with waterfalls are candy for your eyes. Dozens of curves hug the Hana coastline and gaze over the blue ocean that stretches uninterrupted all the way to the Alaskan coastline. Coupled with black, red, and white sand beaches, a multitude of trails, and a duo of beautiful gardens and you've discovered the premier drive in Hawaii - the Road to Hana.
In fact, the Road to Hana is so popular that numerous tour companies have popped up offering all manner of tours. If you do decide to go with a tour company, be careful about who you go with. We recommend our friends, Valley Isle Excursions- a truly first-class operation. Their group sizes are small, their expert tour guides are knowledgeable and friendly, and their customized luxury vans are comfortable and have panoramic windows from which to enjoy the view. Plus, you can feel good knowing you’re touring with the first Hawaii-based tour company to complete the Hawaii Green Business Program.
If you are interested in making the journey on your own, please read on as we share our insights from our personal experiences of the Hana Highway.
1. Make the Road to Hana more than a day trip
Two days and a night in Hana
If you've got the time to spare, then we highly suggest making your experience along the Hana Highway a two-day affair. Whereas many visitors have to rush along the highway to see everything, a two day (or longer) trip allows you the luxury of taking the highway at a much slower pace - the way it was meant to be experienced. Finding the right accommodations can be tricky in Hana at times, but with a bit of research, you can usually find a good bargain. With a two day trip, you can use your first day to visit the sights between Paia and Hana, and the next to visit everything between Hana and Kipahulu. From there you can return along the Hana Highway, or if the road is open, continue along the Pi'ilani Highway (Highway 31) to upcountry Maui where the road joins in with the Haleakala Highway.
Two days and no overnight stay in Hana
If spending the night in Hana isn't an option, don't rule out the two-day scenario. Having driven the road to Hana for many years now, we can say we've had all sorts of two-day itineraries that didn't involve a night in Hana. The first day was always spent driving to Hana and then returning before dusk. The second day we drove straight to Hana town and continued from there. This may seem like an unnecessary amount of driving (which is why we do still recommend a night in Hana), but the drive is worth it and some of the real highlights are beyond Hana town.
The Road to Hana as a day trip
While viewing everything along the Highway in a single day is certainly not ideal, it IS doable. You'll just have to pick your stops wisely - see our notes on selecting the best sights below. You'll definitely want to make it to the Oheo Gulch before 3 p.m., which will give you plenty of time to explore before heading back by no later than 4 p.m. If you plan to do the famous Pipiwai trail at the Oheo Gulch, try and be there no later than 1 p.m. Always remember to give yourself enough time to make it back to central Maui before dark. The Road to Hana isn't a highway to be driving at night. Our article that poses the question, "Can I drive to the Oheo Gulch and back in one day" may be of further help to you.
Whatever you do, don't rush yourself. If you don't see everything this trip, then know you've got more sights to see on the next. If that means spending more time at fewer sites, do it - you'll thank us later. Enjoy what you can see with the time you have, and the Road to Hana will certainly be a memorable experience. And remember, it's the journey, not the destination. Hana town itself isn't the prize. The drive itself IS the attraction, so soak it in - trade off drivers if you can so everyone can sit in the passenger's seat for a time.
As a side note, we encourage visitors not to plan anything else for the day allocated for the Road to Hana. Too many visitors try and cram the drive and another activity on the same day. The result is lackluster at best and often overwhelms your senses. Give the Road to Hana the day (or days) it deserves - you won't regret it. If possible, make it one of the first days of your itinerary on Mau.
2. Prepare and Plan
A little planning can go a long way on your trip down the Hana Highway. It's not in everyone's best interest to stop at each spot along the way. You will save yourself some time and aggravation by buying a good book or doing some advanced planning on where to stop on the Road to Hana before buckling up.
If our basic online guide isn't thorough enough, our book "Hana Highway: The Road to Hana Mile by Mile" is a full-color guide, also available as an eBook, which offers ratings and complete information about each stop at a convenient size. A good map showing each spot is really indispensable. That way you should know what is coming up next. We suggest making a game plan. Pick the spots you would most like to see and skip the ones that do not interest you. Know what you are going to see before you get there and save yourself some time.
There are a few simple things you should do before you begin the drive that will eliminate a lot of hassle. Fill up the car in Pa'ia. It seems like a no-brainer, but there are no gas stations between Pa'ia and Hana and you never know what could happen. The same goes for food. Pack a picnic lunch and snacks for the road because you are at the mercy of roadside fruit stands until you reach Hana - there are no fast food pit stops. It is also probably wise to determine beforehand which stops have restroom facilities, especially if you are traveling with children.
3. Pack Accordingly
Maui is a tropical paradise and Hana is on the "wet side" of the island. This means that even during the "dry" season, it is smart to pack a rain jacket or poncho. Little showers can breeze through and rain on your parade, but not if you are prepared. With water comes the jungle's worst ambassadors - mosquitoes. If you plan to get out of the car and walk anywhere along the road, it is smart to pack some strong mosquito repellent.
Footwear is really important as well. If you plan to hike in Kipahulu, boots are a necessity. You can probably get away with sneakers at spots like Waikamoi or Wai'anapanapa. Remember some of the stops aren't fully-equipped and aren't on flat land. You may want to ditch the two dollar Wal-Mart flip flops in favor of some sturdier sandals.
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4. Rise and Shine
As painful as this may sound, you need to get up early. This gives you the upper hand in driving. We recommend making it to the beginning at Pa'ia by 7 a.m. This should give you a head start over all the other late-sleeping visitors, thereby cutting down on traffic and crowding at stops. Plus, the earlier you start, the more you can fit into your itinerary.
5. Drive Back Early
Unless you plan on staying in Hana, you need to be back in Pa'ia before sunset. The road to Hana is challenging enough during daylight. All those one-lane bridges and hairpin turns are beastly in the dark. There are very few street lights. Pay attention to the time.
6. Be safe
The Road to Hana is not a Formula 1 race track - there are about 600 curves and 54 bridges between you and the sleepy town of Hana - so slow down and drive carefully. There are many distractions from rubbernecking tourists to gorgeous waterfalls. It's acceptable to go the minimum speed limit. Locals could drive this stretch in their sleep, so show some aloha and pull over to let them pass. Switching out drivers may also help alleviate the tension and let everyone fully observe the natural beauty. Yield signs are very important as they allow drivers to take turns crossing all those one-lane bridges. Stay alert and obey the yield.
Theft is a fact of life in high tourist areas. Do not leave valuables in your car - even in the trunk. A rental car is an easy mark for a thief and many a vacation has been ruined by filling out a police report. Take your things with you from the car or leave them behind.
7. Keep out!
Trespassing is a huge sore spot with a lot of landowners along the Hana Highway. With such a buffet of gorgeous scenery, it's tempting to pull over and wander around. Please remember, people live here. This is their home, not Disneyland or a national park. If signs are posted ('Kapu' means Off Limits - Keep Out!) it's wise, not to mention legal, to keep out unless you get direct permission from the landowner. Some guidebooks encourage trespassing at some "acceptable" places. There is no such thing. The Hana Highway affords many opportunities for visitors to explore its beauty without breaking the law.
8. Stay on the Path
Speaking of staying on track, keeping on the trails along the Hana Highway and in Kipahulu is as essential as not trespassing. Most trails are well-maintained but always keep an eye on the path. This is a wild and natural environment with plenty of hazards in an isolated spot. Don't take unnecessary risk.
9. Getting Wet
One of the biggest draws of the highway is its lovely and mostly abundant waterfalls. Believe it or not, there are waterfall rules. If water can plunge off a 100-foot waterfall, so can fallen trees, rocks and other debris. Try not to stand directly under the water flow. Many people believe the dream of swimming under a Hawaiian waterfall is just a myth, and they are probably right. In addition to falling rocks, there is a genuine risk of flash flooding and bacteria like leptospirosis. Do not get in streams or waterfalls if it is raining as the water can rise very quickly and with little warning. Also, stay away from those same streams if you have any open wounds as that is the best way to get the bacteria. Never drink stream water. This seems like an excellent opportunity to recommend reading our Hawaii Safety & Hazards article.
10. Have Fun!
A lot of these rules are common sense and easy to follow when driving the Road to Hana on Maui. The most important thing is that you have a good time on this once in a lifetime journey through paradise.