In my opinion, few drives are more beautiful than the Road to Hana on Maui. It’s a curvy coastal road with views of cliffs, beaches, waterfalls, and miles and miles of rainforest. It’s a well paved road, but you do need to keep your wits about you when you drive it because of the many sharp curves and one-lane bridges.
Despite how the name road to Hana sounds, the objective of this road is not just to get to the small town of Hana. The road to Hana is all about the journey and enjoying the beauty along the way.
I recommend you begin your journey from Highway 36 from around the town of Paia. Then follow Highway 36 until it turns into Highway 360. You’ll continue on this road to and past Hana — stopping along the way to enjoy the sights. Past Hana, the road becomes Highway 31. Do continue past the town of Hana to the Kipahulu area, where you’ll see Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools.) A great place to turn around is at the Kipahulu region of Haleakala National Park.
Note that the Kipahulu area past Hana is part of Haleakala National Park, though it is separated from the summit of Haleakala by many miles and thousands of feet of elevation. At first glance, visitors may assume that the summit of Haleakala and the Kipahula area of Haleakala are near each other. Some assume that sunrise on Haleakala and the road to Hana can be seen on the same day. We do not advise you attempt both in the same day.
An important point to note about where you can and can’t drive on the road to Hana, is that most major car rental companies do not permit you to drive past the Kipahulu region onto some brief stretches of unpaved road. When you rent your car, do check with your rental car company for advice on what roads you must avoid. Now, nobody is going to stop you from driving the unapproved sections, but take note that you assume risk if the car breaks down or you have an accident. See my detailed post on why we advise that you don’t drive the back side of the road to Hana. The following photo is from one of the major rental car company’s drive guides. Note the arrows and text in red that identify the prohibited area.
Another point we should mention before we dive into the driving tips is that you should consider whether you’d prefer to drive the road independently or take a guided tour. I experienced both and sincerely enjoyed both options. See my article detailing the advantages and disadvantages of each method — Touring the Road to Hana Independently vs. Guided Tour.
So, now that we’ve mentioned those important points, let’s review these practical tips for enjoying your drive on the Road to Hana.
Planning Ahead to Enjoy the Road to Hana (Ideally at least a week before your trip to Maui)
- If you are prone to carsickness, then this drive may not be for you. Don’t even think about it, without using something to help you combat carsickness. Roll down your window for fresh air and to hear the birds and waterfalls when the car is in motion.
- Definitely plan to make a whole day of the drive there and back. There is so much to see and do that you can’t see it all in one day. We’ve driven the road to Hana about six times now and still haven’t had the opportunity to do everything listed in guidebooks. Ideally, an overnight stay in the town of Hana allows you to see and do more.
- Get a good Maui guidebook that will detail what to see along the way. Find one that provides references by mile markers. (I’ve used Maui Revealed in the past and found it was a good reference. Just make sure you never trespass or do any hiking or swimming that are beyond your skills. If it looks dangerous, it probably is!)
- I’d advise that you read the road to Hana section in your guidebook and highlight areas that sound interesting to you well before you set off on your journey. Pay particular attention to the mile markers as they will be about the only landmark that will guide you to the stops that interest you. Note that mile markers change depending on what road you are on. Though it may seem like the same road, you’ll actually be driving on three separate highways – 36, 360, and 31 and they each have their own mile markers and it can get kind of confusing. To me the most confusing point is once you past Hana and transition from Highway 360 to 31, the mile markers start counting down from 50.
- Plan to share the driving time with your travel companions, if possible. The drive can be stressful for one person. Consider whether you should add an additional driver onto your rental car contract as most contracts only allow one driver as a standard. Additional drivers can be added for a fee. If you know the specific day you’ll be driving the road to Hana, most rental car companies allow you to add the additional driver for that specific days only.
What to Bring & Wear
- If you think you might do any swimming, then wear a swimsuit and bring beach towels.
- If you have quick drying clothes, wear those and/or bring a breathable waterproof jacket as it wouldn’t be unusual to find yourself in a brief shower.
- I highly recommend that you wear shoes that you don’t mind if they get muddy. This type of shoe is great for the short treks and waterfall hunting on the road to Hana.
- Bring sunscreen, water, and mosquito repellent.
- You could bring snacks if you like, but you will find roadside fruit stands. Some of them are open for pay by the honor system. So, bring cash, including plenty of one-dollar bills, to pay at the roadside stands.
- Don’t forget your camera with lots of film/memory and fully charged batteries.
- Once again, if you are prone to car sickness, bring any medicines that you know help you to avoid getting sick.
What to Do the Day Before & Morning of Your Drive to Hana
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas before you start the drive. Gas stations are few and far between!
- Try to get an early start. It makes a huge difference. You’ll avoid traffic with an early start. Plan on leaving the South or West Maui resorts around 6:ooam. Most of the places to stop along the road to Hana only have room for one or two cars, so the earlier you get going, the more likely you’ll be able to find a place to pull off to look at the waterfalls and views.
- As you plan which day you are going to drive the road to Hana, carefully consider the weather forecast for Hana and the windward Haleakala area. (See this link for the current forecast from Maui News.) I’ve driven the road on a beautiful sunny day and on a mostly cloudy and partly rainy day. Of course everyone would prefer the sunny day, right? Well, of course, we all do, but since I’ve had the opportunity to see the contrast, I can tell you that on the road to Hana, the weather makes a huge difference. The scenery is vastly better with the sun.
- Check for road closures on the Maui County road closure notification website. Though road closures along the Road to Hana is not an everyday occurrence, it’s not too uncommon for a section of the road to be closed for a rock/mud slide. A special road to Hana repair project is scheduled from June to December 2012. Check for those closures and delays on this website.
- If you notice a local driving behind you or a long line of cars, please be considerate and pull over to allow cars to pass as soon as you find a safe spot to do so. (See more tips about driving with aloha.) Another important point I should highlight is that you should probably be prepared that you could encounter some unwelcoming locals. We’ve mostly had pleasant experiences on the road to Hana, but once we encountered a local bully. I hope your experience is a good one.
- Avoid driving a long distance on this Road to Hana at night.
- Always lock your car if you are going to be leaving it.
Some Top Stops to See Along the Road to Hana
I’ll list some of the best stops in the order that you’ll encounter them as you drive the road to Hana. I provide detailed tips for visiting each spot along with the mile markers, so be sure to click each link to learn more.
- Keanae Point is a gorgeous diversion off the road to Hana that gives you beautiful views of the East Maui coast. See our post on Keanae Point for more details.
- Waikani Falls
- Don’t miss the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park. I think it’s one of the most beautiful black sand beaches in all of Hawaii.
- Just past the town of Hana, watch for Haneoo Road on the left. This road takes you to views of Alau Island and the red sand along the shore line. There is room to pull off Haneoo Road to check out the views. Further down Haneoo Road, beautiful Hamoa Beach will be below a cliff on the left. Look for cars parked along the road and then take the path down to the beach. It’s definitely a beach worth seeing. Haneoo Road is u-shaped and will connect back to the Hana Highway.
- Wailua Falls
- The Kipahula area which about 10 miles beyond Hana. See the Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools) with the cascading pools and spend a bit of time walking around this area. If you have the time (between 2 to 2.5 hours), a hike on the Pipiwai Trail through a bamboo forest up to the towering (approximately 400 feet) Waimoku Waterfall is well worth doing.Note that this area is part of Haleakala National Park. So, when you purchase entry into the park, it is valid for both entry points for 3 days from purchase. See more about visiting the Kipahulu area.
- Another popular point of interest just beyond the Kipahulu area of Haleakala National Park is the grave site of Charles Lindbergh that you will find at the Kipahulu Point Light Station, a Maui County Park. It’s tricky to find Look for the a paved one-lane road on the ocean side of Highway 31 just after mile marker 41. The best landmark is a carved wood sign that says “Maui Stables”. (There’s also a private property sign, but that refers to the property itself, not the road.) This is a great place to turn around and enjoy the views of the road to Hana from the other direction.
- If you have daylight time remaining, on your way back to your hotel or condo, don’t miss watching the windsurfers at Hookipa Beach.