Several readers have studied a Maui map and asked if I advise driving two of Maui’s most popular attractions – Haleakala summit for sunrise and the road to Hana — on the same day. They see that from Haleakala summit, they could possibly drive south on Highway 37 which turns into Highway 31 and circles around to Hana and East Maui. At first glance, it looks easy and efficient to do both in the same day. Looks can be very deceiving.
I created the following custom Google map to indicate the road to Hana and the drive to Haleakala summit to help illustrate the issues with trying to drive both in the same day. The road to Haleakala summit is in blue and the road to Hana is in yellow. There’s a reddish rectangle indicating an unauthorized section of road. A turquoise blue line shows the approved drive that connects Haleakala Highway to the Hana Highway. Click here to see a bigger version of the map along with the marker descriptions.
View Haleakala & Road to Hana in a larger map
Now let’s look at the three main issues of driving to both attractions to the fullest in the same day.
Issue # 1: A portion of Highway 31 is “unauthorized” by rental car companies
Most if not all of the major rental car companies have designated an eight to 10 mile stretch of Highway 31 as “unauthorized.” Here’s the exact quote from the Maui Drive Guide supplied by Avis:
Do not drive between these points. Driving on unauthorized roads violates car rental contract.
The rental car agencies don’t make a point of telling you where you can and cannot drive when you pick up the car. They rely on you referring to their drive guide maps.
Don’t shoot the messenger because I don’t make up the rules. I simply want you to be informed about the risks of driving this unauthorized road so that you can make your own informed decision. The risk is that if you should have a breakdown or accident while driving the unauthorized section, you would be in violation of the rental contract and most likely your insurance will not pay for repairs.
I can only speculate why this section of Piilani Highway (Highway 31) is off limits. My guesses would be:
- Portions of the unauthorized section are unpaved. The unpaved areas are fairly well-graveled in places and only dirt in others.
- In rain, the area is prone to rockslides and mudslides.
- The road has areas that are extremely narrow with blind curves. Unlike the authorized section of the road to Hana, the unauthorized road is not marked or designed for steady two-way traffic.
I have been on the unauthorized section two times – once briefly by accident before we turned around and once on a guided tour. To be honest, I didn’t think the area was particularly scenic. I’d describe most of it as miles of a semi-barren, lava rock landscape. It’s definitely not lush and green like the main road to Hana.
I wrote an article several years ago on the topic of should you drive the back side of the road to Hana? Many readers have commented saying they drove the road cautiously with some challenges but no calamities. A few have said it was rather frightening. Some even remarked that the landscape was stunning, however, I believe they were not referring to the unauthorized section. I believe they were referring to the stretch of the road to Hana between Hana and the Kipahulu region of Haleakala National Park where Oheo Gulch is which is also called the Seven Sacred Pools – which is perfectly fine to drive and very beautiful.
For driving the road to Hana, I recommend starting your journey from the Hana Highway near Kahalui and Paia and continuing on past Hana to the Oheo Gulch. Then, I recommend that you drive back the same way that you came. Though it is the same road, you’ll be seeing the scenery from a different perspective. Plus you get the opportunity to stop at points you missed on the way in.
As previously mentioned, there is an approved route that connects Haleakala summit drive to the Hana Highway. On the above, custom Google map, the approved route is indicated in the turquoise light blue. We have actually driven that route and a section of the road to Hana, but only as far as the Garden of Eden in the same day. It was tiring for the driver of our group and one person from our group got a bit carsick.
Issue #2: Limited time to enjoy the scenery
If you attempted to complete both drives in the same day, you really wouldn’t have time to fully enjoy the road to Hana. You would probably be fatigued from the drive to Haleakala getting up early – as in around 2am to 3am or so depending on how much stargazing you want to do before sunrise.
With all the blind curves, it’s much safer and easier to drive the road to Hana in daylight hours. You might be surprised to learn that the sun sets as early as around 5:45 pm in winter months and as late as around 7:15pm in summer months. So, you can see that you have limited daylight hours. I advise getting at least a 7am start from your resort on the day you drive the road to Hana. From my experience, you will avoid traffic with an early start. I have left as early as 6am and experienced very, very little morning traffic on the road to Hana and it was fantastic.
The road to Hana is about the journey and catching a glimpse of a waterfall or view that you want to pull off the road to stop and take a closer look. It is impossible to experience everything that the road to Hana has in just one day. You can hit the highlights that I describe in our road to Hana post. I want you to be able to enjoy as much as you can.
Issue # 3: Both drives take extreme concentration
The drive to the summit of Haleakala is steep with switchback after switchback. You need to have full concentration both driving up in the dark before sunrise and down in the daylight. The roads are in great condition, but the nature of the steep drive to and from 10,000 feet above sea level is not to be taken lightly.
The road to Hana drive is equally daunting. According to GoHawaii, Hana Highway has 620 curves and 59 bridges with most of them being single-lane bridges. Many of the curves are hairpin, blind curves. It is a lovely drive, but one that you definitely need to keep your focus on 100%.
But, what if I want to drive to both Haleakala Summit and the road to Hana in the same day despite the issues?
If your time on Maui is extremely limited to just one or two days and you really, really want to see both Haleakala summit sunrise and the road to Hana in one day, then go for it. Just be aware of the following:
- Drive the approved routes as previous described in detail.
- If you drive as far as the Kipahulu region (i.e. Oheo Gulch/Seven Sacred Pools) on the road to Hana, plan on about three hours return drive to most South or West Maui resorts. That’s three hours one way and without stops.
- Make sure you know sunset time in order to try to avoid driving the road to Hana in the dark.
- Be sure that you know that it will be a very tiring day. You will be a zombie at the end of it.
- Be prepared in case you or someone in your group gets carsick — even if you are not prone to carsickness.
- Bring snacks and water with you as you will have extremely limited time for food breaks.
- If you wanted to abbreviate your drive to something more manageable, try to drive as far as the beautiful black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, which is definitely one of the highlights off the road to Hana. If you drove that far, you’d also get to see a couple of other highlights Keanae and Waikani Falls.
The bottom line is that it is much, much more enjoyable to drive to the summit of Haleakala and the road to Hana on separate days.