Should You Drive the “Back Side” of the Road to Hana?

I often hear these two questions as people are planning their scenic drive on the road to Hana:

—- Should we drive the road to Hana starting at Paia, go past Hana and continue on past Kaupo and Kula?


—- Should we drive a portion of the road to Hana and double back?

Our answer is to drive past Hana to the Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) or even just a little beyond in the Kipahulu area then turn double back towards Paia. We’ll explain the reasons why in detail, but we’ll first warn you that it’s confusing and complicated to explain and understand.  To skip ahead to the main points of this very complicated scenario, scroll down to the Summary section at the bottom of this article.

Detailed Explanation

Let’s get started by first untangling the exceptionally confusing mixture of roads and mile markers. The road to Hana is composed of three different roads — highways 36, 360 and 31. They all flow directly into each other, but they have their own mile markers, which are crucial navigation points on this beautiful rainforest drive. Most folks begin their road to Hana drive from the town Paia on Highway 36 which ends after mile marker 16. Then the road becomes Highway 360. Just past Hana, the highway number changes to Highway 31. At this point the mile marker sequence become even more confusing because they continue to go up in numbers until approximately mile marker 50 where they begin to go back down in numbers. We don’t think the Department of Transportation could have made it any more confusing.

The road to Hana is bit of a misnomer, because this scenic drive goes to the small town of Hana and beyond. After you drive past Hana there are a more key sites that are well worth the visit. Those are:

Those scenic spots are all perfectly safe and authorized areas of the road to Hana that you can easily access.

maui-2009-sb 116

Now that we’ve explained the pieces of the road to Hana puzzle, let’s define the “back side of the Road to Hana” as the section of Highway 31 that is known as the Pilani Highway that goes around the southeast side of Maui towards Ulupalakua and the Kula Highway (Hwy 37). More specifically, we’re referring to the back side of the road to Hana as the section of road beyond the Kipahulu area, that’s counting down from mile marker 38.

We recognize that all that information can be confusing and perhaps it doesn’t make much sense to a first time driver on the road to Hana. Just trust us that this information is very useful for making your plans. We might even suggest that you print this page to take with you the day you drive the road to Hana as you will be able to relate to the advice.

Why do we recommend to double back on the road to Hana by turning around at the Kipahulu area (also known as Oheo Gulch or Seven Sacred Pools) and double back to Paia? Here are four reasons why:

1. The back side of the road to Hana is an unauthorized section of road.

Most of the major rental car companies specify certain roads and sections of roads as “unauthorized roads”. These unauthorized roads will be clearly indicated on the maps in the drive guides that the rental car company provides when you pick up the car. If you drive beyond Lelekea Bay on Highway 31 (at approximately mile marker 38), you would be driving on an unauthorized section of the road. Basically that means if you continue to drive on that road, it is in violation of the your rental contract. If you should have an accident or issue with the car while on the unauthorized section, you will be responsible for the rescue and repairs. So, if you drive on the unauthorized road, you are taking a risk. Do tourist violate this rule and get away with it? Yes, they do, everyday. Is it worth the risk? In my opinion it is not worth the risk.

The rental car companies don’t go out of their way to highlight the restricted roads when you pick up your car. They have you sign the contracts, give you a map and send you on your way. Take a look inside the Drive Guide they either hand to you or you pick up in the rental office. (The major rental car companies use the same publisher for these maps, so all the information is similar, but branded differently.) Here is a photo I took of East Maui from the Maui Maps by Drive Guide provided by Avis. (You might want to use this link to see a larger version of this map photo.)
Maui Drive Guide Map

Notice the the red arrows between Kipahulu and Nuu? That’s the unauthorized section. The red text in between the arrows says in all caps, “DO NOT DRIVE BETWEEN THESE POINTS. DRIVING ON UNAUTHORIZED ROADS VIOLATES CAR RENTAL CONTRACT.’

2. The road on the back side is rough, narrow, prone to mudslides and unpaved in sections.

After driving the extremely curvy road to Hana, you can easily become fatigued. The back side of the road to Hana is very narrow, partially unpaved and quite bumpy in sections. That’swhy rental car companies designate the road as unauthorized. Do you really want to endure a semi-terrifying drive after driving over 50 miles of the most curvy road you’ll most likely ever see?

Take a look at the following photo. It’s at the very beginning of the unauthorized section. Notice how narrow it is. It’s basically wide enough for one car, but there is actually two-way traffic on this road.

End of Road to Hana

Here’s another photo that shows the narrow width of the road. Notice the signs and the wire mesh on the rock wall. Can you imagine having to pass a big dump truck coming in the opposite direction? Let me tell you that we have personally experienced that and it was pretty darn scary. Mere inches separated us from the rock wall on the right side and a massive dump truck on the left.

End of Road to Hana

We hope these photos help to illustrate why we don’t advise tourists drive the back side of the road to Hana. We feel that it would be careless to suggest otherwise. The road does improve about five to seven miles from here, but it’s a challenging road to get there.

3.  The desolate scenery beyond Kipahulu is not nearly as attractive in comparison the rainforest drive on the road to Hana.

We have taken a couple of different guided tours of the road to Hana that included driving around the back side of Hana on Highway 31. It’s a matter of opinion, but we were not impressed with the windswept, barren scenery through the unauthorized area. We enjoy seeing the waterfalls and rainforest much, much more. The photo below shows a scene from the section of road beyond the Kipahulu region on what we’re calling the back side of Hana.

Photo by Susan Sims
A view from the road on the “back side of Hana”  –  photo by Susan Sims

When people comment to say they enjoyed the beaches or waterfalls on the unauthorized section, we have no idea what they’re talking about and we don’t think they do either. 😉 The landscape is mostly dried grasses over old lava fields. Are there some pretty scenes, yes, there are, but there are very few places to stop to enjoy them.

4.  If you double back, the scenery does look different, plus it gives you the opportunity to stop at places you missed earlier.

It’s so easy to miss turn outs and stops along the road to Hana. By doubling back, you’ll have the opportunity to see the stops you missed earlier in the day.

Additionally, you’ll see the road from a different perspective that you had your back to as you drove towards Hana and Kipahulu.


These drives are complicated to explain and understand, so let’s review the main points:

– Do drive beyond Hana. You’ll see more waterfalls, coastline and beautiful rainforest.

– We recommend driving as far as the Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools) at the Kipahulu region of Haleakala National Park. If you wanted to travel further down Highway 31, you could also make stops at Palapala Ho’omau Church (a left turn just past mile marker 41) and the trail head for Alelele Falls between mile markers 39 and 38. Turn around and drive back towards the Maui resorts. Driving back the same way you came does provide different vantage points that were at your back as you drove towards Hana/Kipahulu. You will also have the opportunity to stop at places you may have missed on your way, which is quite easy to do.

– Driving beyond the Kipahulu region — more specifically mile marker 38 on Highway 31, may be in violation of your car rental contract. This stretch of road is narrow, partly unpaved, and prone to rock and mud slides — especially during and after rainfall. The scenery beyond this point is quite barren and windswept. There are no more waterfalls, beaches and such to see.

See our advice for driving the road to Hana for many more tips. If you’re a road to Hana “survivor”, please chime in and tell me if you drove the back side. We won’t be surprised to hear differing opinions.

  1. I believe that Jeeps are covered for this road in rental contracts. It looks like it might be a lot of fun if you were in the right kind of car.

    Do you have any 4×4 advice?

    I don’t think you can drive a Jeep on the beach on Oahu but I think you can on the other islands. (I’m not a 4×4 expert) But, I remember someone telling me that if you drive a Jeep on the sand, you will need to let some air out of the tires first or it might get stuck. (I’m not sure how much air)

  2. Hi Dave – You’re right, it would be fun to do that drive with a jeep, though you’d still have the challenge of two-way traffic on a road built for half a car. 🙂 I can’t emphasize enough how narrow that road is for most of the way.

    The last time we rented a 4×4, we assumed it was going to allow us access on the unauthorized roads, but we were wrong. We were on the Big Island and wanted to drive up to Mauna Kea. We found out that not only was Mauna Kea restricted, but Saddle Road was as well — even on a 4×4. I think there’s a few obscure local rental companies that don’t restrict roads from their contract, but I’m not entirely sure.

    1. Sheila, I did not know about Saddle Rd being restricted in the Big Island. I did know that rental car companies do not allow cars up in Mauna Kea and/or Mauna Loa, but only from the visitor’s center up, since this is the part of the road that is unpaved and very narrow. I rented a 4×4 and did the drive up to the summit. Even though it was pretty scary (the Jeep shifted gears while going up) and bumpy for most of the way (the last section is paved), it was well worth the effort. We only passed one car on our way up, and while there, 2 other cars made it as well. When I was in Maui last year, I found the highway 31 being blocked past the national park and since I was on my own, I did not want to take the risk, though I would have loved to loop around the island. Great tips for my next trip (whenever that may be!). Thanks!! PS: I do not think I would be able to pull off that trip to the summit of Mauna Kea again.

    2. Hi Sheila,
      The road up to the top of Mauna Kea is very safe. I drove my VW bug up to the very top 35 years ago…no problem. But don’t tell anyone, let’s keep it our little secret.

      1. Hi Donald,

        Saddle Road has been improved and most rental cars companies now are allowing their cars to be driven on it. Some don’t allow renters to drive to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, which is a head scratcher to me as it’s nicely paved.

        1. Hey Sheila,

          For the drive from Hana to Sacred Seven Pools, would you recommend that or is that also not worth it? Is the road till there also single lane and a difficult drive? I am not really up for an extremely difficult drive, so if it is do let me know 🙂


    1. We’ve just done “the back side to Hana” and I loved it! It is different from the rain forest side (which we’ve done on a different day) but it was well worth it. The road condition is not that great but I really enjoyed standing on the lava cliffs with no other tourists around, to have the whole view to myself! Along the road there are a lot of old farms, we felt the history and spirit when we did the drive:)

  3. I visited Hawaii in 1999 and we made the mistake of waiting till the last day of ten day trip to do this loop. We did do the entire loop and we ran into tanker that had flipped over and it backed up traffic for more than six hours. Needless to say we missed our flight that afternoon and many people doing cursies missed their ship as well. It was a very beautifull road and we fully enjoyed seeing it, but don’t do it on the day you plan to leave and PLEASE be carefull as this road is dangerous to say the least.

  4. Great article and some great comments.

    Of first road to Hana trip was a guided tour with Roberts Hawaii on one of those mini buses. They took us all the way around the loop with a stop at the Tedeschi Winery at the end. Those unpaved roads in a mini bus were absolutely a killer, as we bounced around like jumping beans. Very unsettling after all the winding roads from earlier that day.

    The first photo in this post is actually from a bridge that was damaged in the Oct ’06 earthquake, which was actually shut down for quite a while making this debate a moot point at the time. 🙂

    I’d have to agree on doubling back, and if you can fit it in your schedule and budget, stay a night in Hana. That way you get two days instead of one, and driving back the next day is far less daunting. Plus, some of the sights nearby Hana town will be a lot less crowded the following morning then smack in the middle of the afternoon.

  5. Great comments, y’all!

    @ Keahi – that’s a great way to describe that drive, “not for the faint of heart.” We only drove a half a mile in, before we knew we needed to turn around and it was already nerve shattering. We we were in a Buick and had my parents with me, which added to the stress of the situation.

    @ Mike – oh my gosh — that sounds like a nightmare, but on the plus side, you got another day in Maui. I hope you had some snacks with you.

    @ Kris – I’m hoping to stay in Hana overnight one day. I’m sure I was a wonderful shade of Kermit-the-frog-green when you and Cindy enjoyed an overnight stay there. 🙂

  6. In 2006: Rented Chevy Malibu. Drove the whole thing solo. Stopped at the Lindbergh grave, the national tropical garden, the store on the backside, etc. No problem.

    That being said, I live in Southern California, in the mountains, and the roads didn’t seem much different that what I encounter on a daily basis-except the unpaved part of the equation.

    IMHO, if you are used to mountain driving or driving around Greece, Italy, the South of France, etc., this is pretty standard fair. If you are used to perfect suburban roads and freeways, it may not be your cup of tea.

    Hints: Keep your music low and a window or two open. Use your hearing, not just your vision.

    Make use of your horn around curves. Blow it multiple times.

    Make sure your headlights are on.

    Pull over and let others pass. There are locals who use the road every day.

    Have a backup plan for food and lodging if you do get stuck.

  7. You should definately drive the backside. Yes, the road is narrow, and yes it is bumpy, but the views are incredible. I drove around in a convertible Mustang and had no trouble at all. The Road to Hana is wonderful, but in my opinion, the road past Hana is even better. The afternoon light gives the more barren landscape of lava fields a surreal feel, and the views of the ocean from high up on the volcano face are amazing. I agree with previous poster Dave. Use your horn around corners, and take it slow. It’s not a race. And the unpaved section does not last the entire way around. You come back to pavement after only a few miles.

    1. I went to sacred pools from the standard north East and then returned back via the back side. I was nervous a bit for the initial 10-15 miles where the road is narrow and un-paved sometimes, however the road improved to a brand new looking one after that (pillani Hwy) and my gosh the scenery and views were from the another world. Watching the mix of ocean, lava rock structures and lush greens from a great hight was a serene experience. I was driving a Jeep Cherokee and it was no fuss at all. Don’t miss this guys, you probably won’t see anything like this in your life.

  8. My wife and I just completed the Hana loop literally two hours ago. We took the usual route out to Hana and continued around the island on the “unauthorized” road.

    The road to Hana, while a lot of fun, was a bit of a letdown to me. Maybe it’s just me, but I didn’t find it as spectacular as a road like Highway 1 down the Pacific Coast near Big Sur. I also feel that highway 560 on Kauai west of Hanalei (ending at Haena state park) were more scenic.

    We continued past Hana in our Jeep in flagrant violation of our rental contract. In general, I don’t think the road was as bad as some people have portrayed, but it certainly was exhillerating.

    Past Hana, there are a lot of sections that are narrow and required very cautious driving. Dealing with oncoming traffic was a pain in some places. It’s not too bad, however.

    The hilight was the section between mileposts 40 and 38. The maps say that section is narrow, and they are not kidding. We were lucky enough to not hit oncoming traffic, but if we had, it would have been tough. The road is a single lane hugging the side of the cliffs with a steep drop down. It is not for the faint of heart! However, the scenery is spectacualr and is what makes it worth it.

    The dirt road sections between (roughly) MP 38-33 aren’t too bad. They are occasionally interrupted by paved sections. The biggest surprise is that the section between MP 33-25 is, while paved, bumpy as all hell. It’s only marginally better than the unpaved sections! After MP 25 (or so) you finally get back onto “standard” pavement with two lanes and and an actual double-yellow down the center.

    Overall, I think the drive around the south-side was worth it – the scenery is spectacular, and the driving is exciting. If you don’t have a jeep, be prepared to be jostled around a lot – I can’t imagine taking that road in a sedan. It’s doable (someone in a Chrysler Behemoth or something like that was a mile or so ahead of us) but I doubt it would be very comfortable.

    1. How many miles does the “restricted” part of the Road to Hana entail?
      We are going back in September and I really want to do the whole thing this time. Last time not everyone was in agreement. This time I think they will be!

  9. @ Dave, Jim, Dan –

    Thanks, guys, for sharing your experiences of driving the back side of the road to Hana. Experiences will vary. I’m glad yours went well….others might not be so lucky.

  10. We just drove the “back side” Tuesday night after a full day of driving on the “front side” of the Road to Hana and hiking,etc.

    The park ranger actually recommended it, stating it would be a faster way to get back to our condo. At night it’s even more tricky, but fortunately we only came across two other cars coming the opposite direction.

    Some of the main concerns with this road:

    -mutltiple areas where cows were crossing or hanging out in the middle of the road
    -very narrow in many areas
    -extremely limited visibility around corners (honking the horn is a good idea) and very limited visibility with the steep elevation gains/losses (climbs to over 2100′)
    -no gas stations, or much civilization, etc.
    -many falling rock areas
    -against car rental policy
    -uncomfortable in most cars


    -Fewer cars
    -very different scenery than the “front side”
    -quicker way to get back to most resort areas
    -great star viewing from a convertible at night (for the passengers). I was too focused on avoiding the cows, rocks, cars, etc. to enjoy the stars.

  11. With my wife, we drove this “unauthorized” road after “the road to Hana” on my birthday, Nove. 15, 2009 as we wanted to loop the island getting back to Lahaina. We were aware of the possible difficulties and the rental car company told us we would be responsible for repairs or rescues. They however did not say we could not drive in that area. We loved the view, the setting sun, the slopes of the volcano,but yes, it was trecherous. Our biggest surprise and near “heart attack” occurred when, after dark, three stray horses were coming at us on the roadway! It scared us nearly to death. We had already seen a cow on the road and laughed at that but it was still light then. Fortuantely for us (and the horses)was the fact that they were on the outer parts of the road and not in the middle! Would we do it again? I have to say, yes. There was nearly zero traffic and nearly so on the road to Hana on that Sunday. With plenty of traffic (and we got a late start I’m afraid) it would have been extrememly difficult. But all and all, it was an experience we are extremely glad we had and will remember for a lifetime. There are very few roads like that in Florida where we live.

    1. Mark – I’m glad the drive went well for you. That horse situation would have definitely gotten my heart rate up. Thanks for commenting with your experience.

  12. I am excited! My fiance and I are planning our honeymoon for Maui and I have reading about the Road to Hana for weeks now and it is exactly what I am looking for. I appreciate all the detailed descriptions… I am from Tampa where we have NO roads like that however we have plenty of potholes and uneven streets and I visit Tallahassee, Florida often where there are tons of unpaved and narrow roads and forest areas. I think we are really going to enjoy the drive and scenes… even if I am a little startled. I think I will rebel and travel all the way around the loop so I don’t miss the scenery and so I can go to the winery on the way back to the resort. Thanks for your stories… I am looking forward to it. 🙂

  13. Did the Road to Hana during our honeymoon in November of 2008. I LOVED it, the wife…not so much. We did take the southeast route (aka LOOP) back to Laihaina…it was, to say the least, spectacular. Unbelievable scenery, sheer drops off the side of the road…a little danger to spice up the drive. Be careful – make sure you are alert and comfortable though…it can be an exhausting drive. Would I do it again? Absolutely…however, I’m pretty sure I’d be doing it alone!

  14. Maui resident here~

    I just had to chime in, amongst all the tourists here with warnings! I’m glad you all had good experiences. However: you should keep in mind that if something does happen (like you hit a cow!), not only is help far away, but you are financially responsible for all damage to your rental. Also, something that has not been mentioned is that the road is not always open! Washouts are common, and you can drive 3/4 of the way around the island, only to hit a bridge that has been washed away. Then you have to turn around and go all the way back to Hana. If you really must try, start in the morning from Hana so you have time to get back before dark if necessary.

  15. Readers,
    I live here on Maui. When I go to Hana I always drive all the way around. I start at about 8 or 9-ish in the AM and time it so I can be looping around the backside around 4:30-5:30 PM to see the spectacular sunset and scenery. I have lived here for many years and this trip, though long, never gets old. If you’re from the city and you “no can hang” go back to your cozy hotel room and “drink tang.” But if you are looking for true beauty and stunning visuals drive this way.

  16. I love what MauiBoy had to say. My wife and I timed things perfectly on our honeymoon when we took the road to Hana. We asked a number of locals before we went when we heard the warnings of the backside. We were told it was nothing to be afraid of as long as we could drive those types of roads. We LOVE nature and really wanted to see the less inhabited/traveled part of the island on the south side. It was a little small of a road and bumpy but nothing crazy……..just had to be careful around corners for other cars, etc. Coming fron California and having driven on dirt roads and small highways, it was not too stressful especially when considering the payoff. The views, the waves hitting the rocks, the sun going down the beautiful grasses and plants, the waves blowing through blowholes in the rocks like a giant whale was onshore… was awesome. When we visit Maui again, I am sure we will do it again. Traveling around that bottom side of the island as the sun set and seeing things from that perspective was awesome!! Plus, it was a quicker trip back up the coast to Lahaina/Ka’anipali.

    1. Cindy – probably easier. Since the road is so narrow, it would be easier to pass oncoming traffic. I recommend you check with the motorcycle rental company to see what they have to say.

    2. Cindy – I like your question. We did the complete loop just a few days ago and my initial reaction was: Next time I’m riding here 😉 However, I would not take my beloved Harley. I would try to get something like Ducati Multistrada, KTM 990M or any of BMW GSs bikes or anything dual sport/enduro. Back road can get really bumpy and rough at the times. You could do it on cruiser, but it would not be much fun. Also, what’s very important, riding enduro would allow you to take off the road completely and explore areas of the back road otherwise not accessible to cars. Scenery there is quite incredible, actually I liked it much more than tropical forest you drive through on the “front” road.

  17. We are heading to Maui in 2 days to to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and are planning to make the loop around Hana on the 3/31/10. I am thinking we may do it backwards doing the south side in the morning and finishing up with dinner in Paia. What do y’all think of that of that idea?

    1. Hi Jim – maybe someone else can speak for that experience. Unfortunately I cannot, since I’ve not personally taken that route. If you try it, please let us know what you thought of it.

      Safe travels to Maui!

  18. Did the Hana drive ‘back to front’ after a 4 AM drive to first see the sunrise on Mt Haleakala…..a long day but spectatular drive…I liked the ‘back’ drive the best…a whole new world…but can see that going ‘front to back’ would be better to get the sunset on that side …

  19. We just got home from a week in Maui and we did do the road to Hana back to front. No problems with the back road at all. I have been on way worse roads here in the mountains on NC. I think that the south east arid side of the Haleakala crater was the prettiest!

      1. I’m from Snow Hill NC and have lived in Wilmington for the last 20 years. But my Cousin Walt Rabb has a summer house in Edgemont NC right on the Avery / Caldwell county line

        1. In Newland…well actually not in Newland, but we had a Newland address. I grew up between Newland and Crossnore.

          It’s a small world!

  20. I always plan to drive Hana on my first day of a trip since the time change has not set in yet. That way I can get an early start. What are the best days to drive to Hana…less tourists and local traffic???

  21. Drove the whole way in a rented mustang. Absolutely recommend it, but don’t go if rainy or has been rainy. The difficult stuff is at the beginning, then it levels off to a rough but wide pasture land that you drive on for most of the way. We also timed it to see the sunset as we rounded the island. It was stunning.
    Would not drive at night or during an earthquake. It feels like another world and it feels like you are never going to get to civilization. BTW, I am 53 and my husband is 73 and we had no problem once we got past the first couple of hairy spots. Only came across a few cars but this was right after the road had opened back up after the bridge was taken out by an earthquake. Don’t think anyone knew it was open yet.

    I’d only do it once in a lifetime but I don’t think you’ve seen the road to Hana if you don’t go on around the island.

  22. I just did the drive last night.

    I can give one sound piece of advice – regardless of how good a driver you are – DO NOT do the drive at night. We took longer than anticipated to do the road to Hana, and didn’t leave the Seven Sacred Pools until sunset at 7:30. Within half an hour the sun was gone and the small unpaved section of the backside goes on for what seems like an eternity when you are going 20 mph in complete dark.

    I assume the views would be magnificent, buy all we saw were boats out on the water, trucks barreling by, and yes – cows in the middle of the road.

    It took us 2+hours to make it around. The worst part was when we finally made it to the paved road, were less than 5 miles from S. Kihei where our hotel was, and saw locals going through the gate that connects the backside to Kihei. Instead we had to go 20 miles north up to the top of the crater to the airport, and then all the way back around again. I would have paid a pretty penny to make it through that coded gate!

    The 4×4 mode of our jeep made it a better ride, but still not advisable.

    HOWEVER – the drive was far less terrifying and aggrivating than the north shore of west Maui. DO NOT try that one unless you want to waste half a day of your life.

    If you do stop in the villages around Hana, do not believe the lies that its only a 1 mile stretch around the island thats rough. The whole thing is a challenge.


  23. Regarding doing the trip at night, the first time I drove it was at about 4 am, to catch the sunrise in Hana. I thought it would be easier at night, because you can see headlights approaching from around a curve before you can see the cars. Not always true on the Hana road! Twice I saw an approaching car only when its headlights appeared mere feet in front of me as it emerged from a hairpin curve hidden by vegetation or a bridge. Had the other driver and I not been disciplined enough to stay on our respective sides of the road, it would have surely been an accident.

    The thought of doing the road “back to front” is intriguing. One caveat would be that I remember that most of the pullouts for pictures and such are on the inland side of the road, making it generally easier to pull off going from Paia than toward it, because you aren’t having to go across “traffic” to get in and out. I have done it the up and back way from Paia twice, and am going back in a few weeks. I’ll pitch the “back-side” route to the family and see what they think. We definitely want to end the trip with a stop for a sunset dinner at Mama’s!

  24. Another question on the backside part of the Hana road. Is there any way to cut directly over to the Makena/Wailea road, or does one have to pretty much loop back to almost Kahului? Since we’re staying in Kaanapali, that would be a big deal to us. I think the answer is probably no because of the lava fields there, but I want to see if there’s some local knowledge I don’t have.

    1. Hi! I know this thread is from a while back, but I’m wondering – did you ever find out the answer to this question? We’re planning our honeymoon and it would be great if we can cut over to Wailea-Makena this way.

  25. Defintiely recommend it, but if you REALLY are going for the back side, go back to front. As some mentioned, the roads and one suspension bridge are closed from time to time and you don’t want to drive all day just to find out you can’t get through.

    I went with my kids and it’s spectacular, and did it in a convertible sebring which was fine. Again, just make sure you have good daylight when you’re on the back road and take it slow and easy – the views and landscapes will inspire you to go slow anyhow.


  26. I drove the road on the 6th of this month and after reading this website, I had planed to turn around at the Oheo Gulch, but I noticed on my drive that very few people, especially tour groups and rental cars, drove back on the road to Hana to Paia. I asked the Park Ranger at Oheo Gulch and she suggested to keep driving and that most people do not turn back. I was not looking forward to driving back because I would be like a salmon swimming upstream (I would be passing many more cars than before), so I pressed on in our convertable Mustang. I don’t regret it. The road was dry, dusty and bumpy at times, but it was nice to be in some different scenery, and overall, I felt the drive was easier and more fun than what I had been through. Plus, the few locals I passed (much less than earler), seemed to drive slower and with more care than on the paved sections earlier. If the weather is good, go for it!

    1. Keith – thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad you had a smooth and easy go of it.

      Here at Go Visit Hawaii, I try to present the facts so that people can make an informed decision. I do want visitors to know that there are definitely some risks involved in driving that back section.

  27. I decided to take the back road, but walked it. A great experiance and would encourage everyone to try it. You really get to be with nature and live the trip. I can’t really explain it but try it.

  28. we did the whole trip yesterday. left Kihei at 7am, and drove all around. It is not bad at all. But the views are not so incredible either. Make sure to stop at the local winery at the way back.

  29. Hi, I just completed the loop around Hana, and it was pretty crazy, luckily there was a small caravan of us, 3-7 cars at any time. I know for 1 I hate coming back down and being on the outside lane, seeing all the cliff edges on my passenger side freaks me out, so I opted to go all the way around. (I had gone to hana and back the day before as well). I would say that it does get pretty bumpy for about a 5 mile stretch, but the dirt roads are not a problem so much as the narrow one laners, but there are usually spots to pull aside and let one person thru, we had to do it about 3 times, not so bad. Also, as for type of car there was a nissan versa, a mustang and seabring. Mind you we left Haleakala (7 sacred pools at 5PM, the park guide said to not leave at 6PM. The sun was still pretty crazy in some parts, especially towards the end. And you reach nice roads a lot faster this way and the scenery is really nice. Oh and some of the dirt roads are actually quite wide towards the end, locals were passing us actually. Anyways, just my take on it, and I was driving a Jeep, which personally was big for what I’m used to (Pontiac Vibe) so it made it a bit more unnerving. All in all worth the risk, give it a go. And that honk horn sign only appears twice on the road to Hana and one of those times is before reaching Hana. Cheers.

  30. I did the drive with my wife on our honeymoon in 1993. 17 years later I bet it is not that different. There were a few “white knuckle” moments but we made it all the way around and your reward is: the Tedeschi vineyards 🙂

    If I go back with kids as well, I am not sure I would risk it with them in the car though. But it is quite a thrill.

  31. Did this one going on two weeks ago. I first did the Kahikili Route in the NW section of Maui so this one was more or less a cakewalk in comparison. You have a two mile stretch after you pass the Lindbergh grave where you’re right on the water that is similar to the NW side with one-lane driving here and there. Then it opens up and you have five miles of dirt driving with some pavement here and there. This section was in good shape but you will travel slowly. The most annoying thing is the next ten miles or so which is on rough paved road that is only marginally faster then the dirt road.

    The ocean views are spectacular but at sunset realize that you’ll be driving into the sun which will add to the difficulty. The actual terrain is utterly barren almost like a desert after you pass Kipahulu. The road dramatically improves after the rough section and soon you’re in the upcountry and civilization. Quite a few cars are on this road which should give you some security if things go bad.

  32. We will be in Maui in 2 weeks! We are taking the Pride of America Cruise and will have 2 days there. The first day, we plan on traversing the Road to Hana. We are staying the night at Peace of Maui. Day 2 brings an early awakening for the sunrise of Haleakala. My question is: How long does it take to get from Hana to the Tedeschi Winery if taking the loop? We won’t be able to get off the ship until 8:00 AM on Day 1 – would that give us enough time to drive the Road to Hana and then get to the winery before they close? Or, would it be better to double back and go to the winery after the Haleakala sunrise?

  33. I drove the road to Hana with 3 girlfriends in a little Mustang convertible. We were also told by the rentacar company not to venture beyond Hana. Being young and stupid, we decided to anyway:) The road leading up to Hana had many beautiful falls and hikes. We even went on a rope swing and swam under a water fall at one of the first falls- AMAZING. However, not all were marked. We purchased a mile by mile CD to give us a heads up on the stops. All of the little fresh fruit and coconut candy stands were also very charming. Two of the girls in my group got pretty sick with all of the windy roads. They took some motion sickness meds and felt better. Once we hit the tiny town of Hana, the roads started getting very messy and very narrow. The bridges were even smaller and we encountered animals sometimes in the middle of the streets!! We didn’t have cell phone service most of the way and if we had broken down we would have been screwed X10. Right after Hana there is a red and black sand beach which were cool. The views after Hana are spectacular. We were lucky enough to catch a sunset just as the roads were getting “normal” again and we saw lights up ahead. I remember spotting the first side street off the one we were driving in almost 4 hours- it’s that desolate! Overall, an amazign experience. We didn’t leave till after noon. I would have left much earlier if I had known of all the sites and the risky conditions. It’s a must do though if you are in Maui!!!

  34. We returned from a fantastic trip to Maui a few weeks ago. We changed our mind about our route to Hana as we were on our way to Kahului, and it was the best decision ever! First, it was September, so way less people around than at other times of the year. Second, we went the backside route TOWARDS Hana. We got to go to the winery on the way. We stopped for lots of photos and we never saw a car going in our direction all day! We passed maybe 20 cars and tour buses coming towards us. So, very relaxing, fantastic scenery. The unpaved sections are some of the best parts of the road. The paved sections do contain a lot of patches, so are bumpy, but our Hyundai Elantra did great! So, go at a non-summer time of year, daytime only and take your time. By the way, our trip out of Hana to Paia on a Saturday was great, too. Very little traffic in either direction.

  35. Take the road less traveled – if you’re life does flash when you go these memories will be among the sweetest. We did it 6 years ago but I was there again just reading all these wonderful post.

    Recommend Daytime, 4×4 for more peace of mind, take your time, and don’t forget to bring some Pink Floyd!

  36. We drove the back side of the road to hana late in the evening and it was the worse experince of Mahi and of my life. Dont do it!!! Turn back when you arrive to Hana, if you still want to go there…

  37. I drove the loop about 10 years ago and I’ve done the road to Hana 3 times. This time I just want to go to the 7 Pools of Oheo via the back side. Does anyone know/remember how long it takes to get there from the winery? When we did the loop, it took us 10 hours round trip from Kaanapali and I am trying to avoid that long of a drive again.

    I will say I am amused when I read about the cows. My wife and I were on a pretty good paved section cresting a hill in when I nearly hit a cow! We thought we were the only ones that had that experience! It was pretty funny to us, been driving all day, middle of nowhere on Maui and nearly hit a cow!

    Another great drive is around the West Maul Mountains. Takes about 5 hours but is also beautiful (and forbidden by the rental car companies).

  38. What would you recommend, driving up to Hana the usual route and exiting the back side or drivng up the back way in?

    1. My advise is to drive the road from Paia to Hana and/or just beyond to the Kipahulu section of Haleakala Nataional Park — where the Oheo Gulch (aka Seven Sacred Pools) is. Then, go back the same way to Hana. Those are all approved routes with the car rental companies. If you get to the point that the road becomes unpaved, that’s the unauthorized area. No one is going to stop you from driving it, but if you should break down or have a wreck, it will be your responsibility for repairs.

  39. Unlike some others, your article has encouraged me to drive this unauthorized road instead of avoid it. Still, thank you for the tips!

    My view is this… you’ve got one life, what the hell are you saving it for? I don’t want to be dying in some hospital having always taken the approved path. I don’t want to tell my grandchildren I always played it safe. And… if I happen to eat it in a mudslide and wash over a cliff while tearing up some unauthorized road in the middle of paradise, so be it!! THAT is a cool death… and it’s a heck of a lot better than dying from neglect in a nursing home wearing a soiled adult diaper.

    Of course I understand my views do not necessarily jive with the mainstream. Still, thanks for the information!

    -Brian from Maryland

    1. I love this comment! I feel the same way. Going to Maui beginning of June and can not wait to do this. Live life to the fullest 🙂

  40. I have driven the back road to Hana as well, and think it is equally-if not more spectacular than the regular road to Hana. Driving slowly and carefully (as you would on the regular Road to Hana) is they key. My sister, who lived on Maui for many years, said that the intention behind the warnings about the back road was to keep it relatively free of tourists and traffic for the locals that live in and near Hana.

  41. My wife and I drove the road past Hana and found it to be just as beautiful and interesting as the road TO Hana. We drove it in Sept of 2010 and used a economy rental car and had no problems at all.

  42. Drove to Hana and beyond to the Seven Pools where I got caught with the dilemma of having only about ninety minutes of daylight left. We had to choose between a) driving the backside’s dangerous/scary unpaved backside in daylight on mountain side of road or b) spending almost two hours diving back on cliff side in the dark. We decided to do the backside because a) most of the night driving would be on the relatively straight sections of the Pi’ilani hwy, b) we had a four wheel drive Jeep, and it would shave about an hour from the drive. I think we made the right choice, despite the scary hairpin turns on the unpaved sections where you feel like you are about to drive over the cliff at two miles per hour. I literally felt every clench-able part of my body tighten up. But that was only for a few minutes out of the entire trip back with no real opposing traffic, the weather was the best conditions anyone could ask for and the views more than compensated. The worst part of the trip was the ten plus mile stretch on the very bumpy unleveled section with drops of asphalt with the occasional in you face run in with herd of cattle casually crossing the road. After that it as relatively smooth sailing for an hour or so on the paved more inland section of the highway.

    1. I completely understand what you mean, as we unintentionally drove the back road in our Dodge Charger rental this week. The scariest 2 hour drive I have ever experienced, and I’m familiar with small narrow windy roads going up in the mountains in other areas. The back road is definitely not intended for normal vehicles, I would say SUV’s and jeeps are recommended for those roads.

  43. While I appreciate your insight on the road to Hana, I think this page goes to show you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. I just drove the entire loop and it’s absolutely beautiful. A must see! The park rangers AND the locals actizlly recommended it and said they take it everyday. When i asked 4 locals if it was dangerous, all four looked at me like I was crazy. There is nothing scary about this road, trust me. Sure, it’s a little bumpy and comes close to the edge… But NOTHING like people are saying on here. There are lots of safety rails along the edge, passing was not a problem and it really isn’t even all that high. I’ve driven MUCH worse roads, with no rails, on busses. The views are stunning and the volcano terrain is breathtaking. If I could post photos I would.

    That said, it is a risk with your rental car company, but I had no problem with my rented economy 4 door.

    Do it! 🙂

    1. Are you talking about the back road to Hana or the main road? The back side, which is mentioned in this article, is extremely different than the main road from what I have heard. After experiencing the back road this week (unpaved or very bumpy narrow asphalt, dirt roads, no railings,no people, and lots of roaming cattle), I would love to go back and drive the “actual” road to Hana on another trip. Sounds very nice from those that went the right way.

  44. I recently returned from a 2 week stay in Maui with my wife & 2 young children. We drove the road to Hana, stayed the night and then continued back to west maui taking the “back side” the next day. Having never taken this road & hearing and reading differing accounts of the conditions, I was a bit hesitant. We asked the ranger at Ohe’o if it was ok to drive and received an strong “yes”. We were in a Chrysler 300 with both kids in car seats and it was WAY less treacherous that expected (dare I say it was a piece of cake!). Perhaps I anticipated the worse, but the “rough” section was not bad at all and it was refreshing to have such long sections of relatively straight road.

    I must add that the west end road past Honolua is much more stressful for me with the narrow sections and potential for the need to back-up in spots if met with on-coming traffic.

    I also recommend staying at least one night in Hana. It is a long day if you drive there & back and difficult to really see all the sights. We had a casual drive out to Hana after breakfast in Paia with hardly any traffic (mid-morning). Hiked the pipiwai trail the next day and drove back to Kaanapali via the back side. I personally enjoy the view of the rain forest scenery on the road from Paia to Hana, however the curves and traffic can get to be a bit too much after several hours.

    Conditions change and I would not attempt to drive it without confirming that there are no closures. Final note, while I did not note the exact driving time for each direction, it still took almost as long to do the “back side”, we travelled at 20-30mph on the “bumpy” section and I stopped a few times to take photos. The “feel” of the two routes are very different as the back side was vast with open views and very few other vehicles.

  45. After being told by so many to avoid the bback side of Hana, I did what an typical thrill seeking male would do, I rented a Harley and make the trek with my wife on back. I am a very experienced ride and I will stand firm saying the experience was life altering. The views on the back side is breath taking due to the danger of the area and raw beauty. Taking a bike makes it a bit more dangerous but the advantage is I was able to squeeze int smaller parking pplaces to stop along the way. Also in the narrowest of sections I had no problem squeezing by traffic. The was the most extreme drive on a bike I have ever taken and should be left to only the most experienced riders. I reiterate the danger involved with both car or bike.

  46. We drove the backside of the highway on sunday July 3rd, 2011. Yes it is nerve racking as most people have suggested, but it is really spectacular. The road is one lane and rough pretty much all the way and you are driving along the cliff with no guard rails. We had a jeep, so it made the ride lot more comfortable, but there was a mazda in front of us. That was the best part of the Road to Hana (as some of the people before have suggested) as we were a bit disappointed with the actual road to Hana (it was a beautiful drive, but the hype was much more !). The light and shadow cast by late afternoon sun on the cliffs and the ocean was surreal. That being said, please be careful while driving and do not attempt when it is raining or wet.

  47. Seriously, you do not want to risk this section of “highway”. We lucked out. I worry about those we passed on later sections of wider roads. How would they manage passing that larger service vehicle that I met on a “good” part of the road? If you decide to go, proceed with absolute caution and don’t make the return visit in the same day. You need to be alert. I would like my kids to visit Hana, but I would never send them down the backside of Haleakala. And I drove a jeep.


  48. We drove the backside. I don’t think it is for everyone as most of the trip, my mother had her eyes shut. After hearing us gasp and awe at the amazing sights, she then closed her ears as well. However, with that being said, I LOVED the back side. It was even more beautiful than the trip. If you are daring and little “bad” go for it. Now…here’s my suggestion to those who traveled the back section. If you are planning a trip back and haven’t done so, drive the north section above Ka’anapali. We didn’t realize you couldn’t drive that way! OOPS! It thought it to be WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY scarier than the back side of Hana. Again, you have to have guts and someone who you TRUST driving these roads. I would never have been able to drive them myself!

  49. Drove the backside July 19th, 2011 in a chevy cobalt. It was worth it. Yes, it was an adventure. A couple of times we had to back up and move over and breath in when an suv passed us, but still worth it. The views were awesome.
    Be warned that its an ALL DAY trip. Only used a half tank of gas, but we left at 10 in the morning and didn’t get back to Kihei until almost 5:00. Stopped at garden of eden ($15/person, but LOTS of varieties of exotic plants & trees), and walked thru a lava tube cavern (I think it was like $12/person). A fun adventurous day! We did miss the 7 sacred pools (darn), but maybe next time.

  50. Just got back from Maui this past weekend. We drove the North/West side of Maui Sept. 21, it was AWESOME! Drove it on a whim…didn’t really have anything planned and we found some spectacular sights, including the Olevine Pools. The drive was a bit “daring”, but so worth it….if we wouldn’t have done it, we wouldn’t have found Honolua Bay and walked through the beautiful forest to get to it also. On Sept. 25th we decided to do the back road to Hana. LOVED driving thru the upcountry and the views along the coast were amazing. I think my heart stopped for about 20 seconds when ocean was crashing up almost into the car. Was lucky it was dry all week, so we didn’t get stuck at the part where the road can wash away and the sign saying “Severe injury or death is possible”….yikes!!It is quite a drive, did it in a jeep…..SO glad we did it, but don’t think I’d try it again! That afternoon there was an fatal accident along the Pilani Hwy. Love Maui and all of it adventure, just use your smarts and be careful!!

    1. We took a tour bus on Sep 23 2011. Unfortunately or fortunately there was a fatal accident when we got passed the pools and had to turn the bus around and go back. I was kinda disappointed but also a little relieved. Not sure that I would do the trip again since it was an all day affair and we were pretty tired when we got back to the hotel. But who knows..

  51. We drove the Palani in summer of 2010. We spent most of the day seeing the sights along the highway to Hana. Stopped at the private airport where a celebrity surfer was deparking and talked to his driver, who was rolling a joint as we conversed!
    When we got to Hana it was getting dark and finding a hotel was impossible. So we decided to carry on and complete the loop in our rental Camry. I’ve driven many twisty winding dirt and gravel roads on the mainland, but usually had a Bronco or Forester. In north Georgia, N.C., Tennessee, etc. I only wish it were daytime to see some of the spectacular vistas we missed because it was dark. Our main concern was a giant boulder crushing us. And it’s amazing how many little communities we passed that seem so isolated.
    Next time we want to travel the south road from Haleakala to the Pilani Hwy. But we’ll rent a Jeep or Subaru although the Camry completed the loop with no problems. A fantastic vehicle considering it’s main purpose.
    We didn’t get home until after 11pm. But it was the drive of my life, loved every scary minute of it!

  52. I accidentally drove the back side thanks to the darn GPS telling me it would be faster/recommending it. It was pouring rain, many trees had fallen onto the road, rocks had slid, giant boulders were on the road. It was dark, and sadly, I missed the amazing sights. I compare this road to those found in less developed countries, like Costa Rica. Bumpy, unpaved, hardly driveable, and scary. I would never have driven it at night had I known how bad it was. I did this drive by accident and would not advise it to anyone, esp. not in a storm, and not at night… and in fact Garmin needs to be brought to question as to WHY it would say the route was shorter/faster. Sometimes I get really mad at that GPS. The road is very very bad for about an hour, and after that it gets smoother and normal. Given a chance I would drive from IN town (main areas) until the part gets bumpy. The views were awesome, even in the dark.

  53. We drove it both ways in a Jeep. It was awesome during the day headed to Hana, however on the way back from 7 Pools @ night in January….Coldest we’ve ever been. Not to mention bouncing out of the seats. Coolest trip ever!!


    1. Amy – you are so right. I drove the whole loop about 15 yrs ago when on holiday – I had forgotten how spectacular the back way scenery is. It s far better than turning around. But after reading the comments above I was almost spooked into not looping sat night. So glad I did! Thanks for your comment it swayed me the right way.

  55. I just drove the highway today – second time after about 15 yrs. I did the rund trip – that is the back road back and HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. It is not difficult. I was in a rental car – so what. It’s basically a pretty good road. Just take it easy around blind curves. The scenery out the back is spectacular – In many ways more so than the more travelled route.


  56. I first went to Maui in 2002 with my new bride and drove the north side the second day. Absolutely one of the scariest drives ever and I raced motorcycles when I was younger. I was so tired when we got back I had to take a nap. My cousin, who lives on MAUI couldn’t believe I did that.
    I did the road to Hana, which was pretty cool, but have never gone all the way around the south side. Can anybody tell me the difference from the north to the south. The south sure sounds like its easier and much prettier?

    1. Hi Red –

      We’ve been on that north side Maui drive, too. It’s a thrill ride to say the least. You might enjoy reading this post about it: and the comments — including one that says “We all had to check our underwear.” 🙂

      Now, for comparing the two drives – north side vs south side from Hana. I’ve been on both. I think the experience depends on how much and how large the oncoming traffic is in tight spots and you never know what you’re going to get. On both roads, we’ve met an oncoming bus and and oncoming dump truck — both experiences were pretty frightening!

      If I remember correctly, all of the north side road is paved. On the south side, there are sections of dirt and gravel roads with big pot holes.

      As far as the scenery, I think the north side scenery is by far more beautiful than the predominately windy, barren south side.

  57. My wife and I just returned tonight from our trip to Hana. We took the Pilani Highway on the way back instead of going the back the same way. We loved it! However do your due diligence and check the weather and road conditions before you leave and get updates from locals and the park service before you decide to go this way. This is only because the road is more vulnerable to washing out and rock slides. In the whole scheme of things I bet your safer going this way then taking your chances in the rat race with the other over caffeinated tourist:)

  58. Just wanted to say that I appreciate all the comments from your experiences.

    I also want to reiterate that the major rental car companies still prohibit you from driving this section of road in their rental cars. Accidents are not common, but if you get in one on this prohibited section, you are completely responsible for the damage, tow, etc.

    I want to make sure that readers understand that if you drive on this section of road, you are doing so at your own risk.

  59. My wife, 7 year old daughter, and I just completed the trip around the backside of the island from Hana to Kula and enjoyed it more than the drive from Paia to Hana. We rented from Budget and their rental contract did not specifically prohibit this road they just made the blanket statement that you could not drive on unpaved roads. A section of the Hana to Kula road is a mix of paved and unpaved sections but that did not bother us. When we stopped at 7 Sacred Pools we asked the park ranger for her opinion and she said the road was open and pointed out a number of 12-15 passenger tour vans in the parking lot that would also be making this trip so we figured if the road was good enough for hired tour buses it was good enough for us. We had a Jeep but most of the other people travelling at the same time as us had cars. There were about 12 other cars taking the tour at the same time as us so we did not feel we would be stuck by ourselves if we had a breakdown. We are really happy that we made the trip and thoroughly enjoyed every mile of it. I would recommend it for anyone.

    1. Norm,

      Glad you enjoyed the Road to Hana and beyond. I’m also glad you didn’t run into any issues.

      The passenger vans are owned by guided tour companies and are not subject to rental car rules. (See my post on touring the road to Hana independently versus a guided tour.)

      Unfortunately, the rental car companies don’t do a great deal to highlight unauthorized roads. They rely on you reading your contract plus look at the maps they provide. The major car rental companies use the same map publisher. Here’s a photo of the Maui map that clearly highlights the unauthorized section of road we’re discussing.

  60. I have driven the back side of the road to Hana 3 times in one trip. I do agree that it should not be done in the same trip as the road to Hana, however, I do not agree that it should not be done at all. I recommend saving it for the drive of the day. I will definatley drive the back side each time I go to Maui. It is truly not to be missed. I do agree that you must be a risk taker & a thrill seeker, but, there are a couple of art galleries on the road & some awesome views, & it gives you a different perspective of Maui. It is not to be missed in my opinion, but, it is not for the faint of heart. There are locals that live on that road & some of the vehicles that you meet can tell that you are a tourist & realize that you are what keeps their economy going & are very curtious, while others are annoyed that you are on their road. When you do meet another vehicle, the one on the mauka side (mountain side) is the one that has to back up until there is a dent in the mountain so that you can cuddle up toward the mountain, so, that the other vehicle can pass, as it truly is a one lane road. It is 7 miles long & there are NO guardrails like there is on the road to Hana.
    As I mentioned, if you are a thrill seeker, it is a drive not to be missed, but, don’t say that I didn’t warn you!!!!

  61. I did it – i went on the dirt road in an econobox and we were just fine… why create such a hysteria? in fact it was a blast and i tell everyone to “risk it”

  62. Just drove the circuit. The back side presented a different kind of beauty with a rugged coastline and lava fields. It was also way faster that going back the front way. (2.5 hours to the airport) Our Chrysler 300 made the trip in comfort and with ease. We are from the NW and are used to mountain logging roads so it may be easier to us. There were some very narrow areas that were steep. I was happy to avoid backing down this area which would have happended if we ran into someone coming the other way. The road was rough but smoothed out for most of the way.

    We all thought it was spectacular.

  63. We drove it on our honeymoon in November. We decided that we would turn around if there were any points which we thought weren’t safe/passable. (which really wasn’t realistic, because the points that were questionable weren’t easy places to turn around in). We also checked with the park ranger at Oheo Gulch to verify the road was open. And had a pretty good idea that the weather was going to be ok (but you never really know for sure).

    The road was never so rough that our rental car (standard Malibu/etc) had issues. The road is not rutted, just gravel covered in some areas. There was one particularly narrow section where things got interesting (I think the ‘blow horn’ pic above), and of course another car came from the other direction at the same time. This is where I recommend going in the western direction (Hana to Kula) so you are on the inside of the road (against the cliff) rather than the outside (right next to the edge).

    It should be noted that I’m an amateur race car driver, very capable of driving in adverse conditions, and in handling a flat tire. I wouldn’t recommend this drive to most people. It’s fine in normal weather, but if a storm were to pop up, things could get hairy. Sliding off the road, getting stuck, etc. would be easy to do. It’s pretty remote, so getting help (while not impossible) would certainly take awhile and be very expensive.

    However – I will have to agree that it’s probably not worth the risk, unless you are positive there won’t be any rain. The unauthorized section is not all that spectacular. What IS worth doing is the drive from Nuu to Kula – it was gorgeous in the late afternoon, and was some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen, anywhere. But to see it, you don’t need to go through the unauthorized section. It’s just more convenient to do the loop than to double-back each section separately. You can do the entire loop in a day (if you keep things moving). But doing Paia-Hana-7 pools, then the other side (Kula-Nuu) would have to be done on two separate days, and you end up driving about twice as much distance. But you do get to see each drive in both directions, and at different times of the day, which might make the additional views worth the extra trouble (not to mention the reduced risk!). One last note – make sure you have enough gas for both trips. And if you do go the Kula-Nuu trip, take a lunch/dinner, etc. There’s not much civilization on that road.

  64. My wife and I drove the Hana Highway and then the Piilani Highway on 7/2/2012. We rented a 2005 Jeep Wrangler from a rental car agency in Kihei that confirmed via email that there would be no issues with taking the Jeep on the south road around Haleakala.

    This article makes the Piilani Highway seem much more treacherous than it actually is. I guess it depends on what one is used to. I’m from Washington State and have driven over icy passes in the Cascades more times than I can count, so a 1 to 1.5 lane coastal road was no big deal, especially in the old Wrangler. It was raining pretty heavily too in the section with mesh over the cliffs, but we proceeded ahead with no problems. Didn’t even have to put the Jeep in 4WD.

    We encountered an oncoming full size Dodge pickup truck in one of the really tight sections right after this photo was taken. No big deal. We just got way over and the Dodge had enough room to squeeze by at low speed.

    The views in South Maui are totally worth the drive over the Piilani Highway and I plan to do it again the next time I’m in Maui.

  65. We drove the loop in a seabring convertible on July 31st- left at around 11am from near the airport. We only stopped at a couple of spots to gawk and a bit at black sands. I thought the un

    1. Seven sacred pools at Oheo Gulch and just a bit further down the road to Maui Stables (which is also at the turn off for Charles Lindbergh’s grave) are both on the approved section of highway. So, to answer your question, no…it would not be bad.

  66. I drove the back road out of the Seven Sacred Pools back in Dec. ’92. I was in a rented Ford Probe. I had asked a local and he said since it was dry I would make it through just fine.

    It was beautiful! I would NEVER do it again.

    I actually had to stop and move rocks out of my path. There’s that section so steep and narrow if I had met another vehicle we would both still be there. Then when we got to ranch, the cattle didn’t want to move out of the way.

    It was an adventure. I never saw another vehicle. If we had broke down we would have had to walk out.

  67. I can’t believe how terrifying you all make that seem! Most of you must work for the rental car companies!
    If you don’t go soon after a big rain, and drive it in the daytime, it’s the most awesome drive I’ve ever done!
    The scenery was hauntingly beautiful, the countryside extremely picturesque, and the road was NOT bad…a few narrow spots, you honk your horn in case someone is coming, and the few cars we did meet, we were able to pass, even in the narrow spots.
    And I’m not a risk taker…
    But…that’s just my humble opinion. I’d hate for someone to take my advice and get into an accident, so take the warnings carefully, but don’t avoid it just because of the nay sayers. It ranks as one of the most memorable and beautiful drives I’ve ever taken.

  68. My wife and I did the trip around after sundown two weeks ago in a Lincoln Town Car rental – quite comfortable ride onthe bumpy parts and even smoother on the nicely paved road. We were following an off-road Toyota Tundra Truck and it was the best chase ever. Our car handled the gravel road easier than I had originally planned. The only thing I regretted was not being able to get a glimpse of the scenery due to sundown. I would do the road all over again next time we go to Maui just to see the view during the day. Check the weather, talk to the ranger at the state park and drive carefully on the gravel road and you’ll be fine. You only live once, enjoy it while you still can. Cheers!

  69. 9 years ago I drove the back side of the road to Hana. I had a renta car and a map that said to avoid this area. I took the road anyway. Prior to leaving I called the sheriff’s office that morning to check the road conditions. Once I got the good news everything was ok we left. I found the drive enjoyable. The roads were better than I thought. I’m not blowing off the fact the it could be very expensive if our car had trouble. We were willing to risk it. I’m glad we went the back way. I would do it again. Next time I’m renting a jeep instead of a mustang convertible . Be careful and make sure the areas safe before traveling

  70. We drove the back side in a Subaru in March of 2011. Had absolutely no trouble. In fact, much easier drive than the road to Hana – much straighter! Amazing, but different vistas – lava flows, beautiful fields, historic church, etc.

  71. The whole Hana road was pretty easy to drive, bumpy on some parts but mostly it’s been paved and worked on. HOWEVER I would never suggest someone to drive on the north side of Maui at Honokohau Bay area, I decided to take this route to check out the drive alone the shore, WOW, scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve done some harry things. Basically it’s a one way no guardrail road which you can basically fall into the ocean and if you’re unlucky and another car comes in the opposite direction, you will need nerves of steel to somehow negotiate around each other.

  72. Thank you so much for this article. I have been searching the internet for days looking for the advice you have given on whether to continue on the Road past Hana or not. I’ve only been to Hawaii once and only went as far as Hana. I’ve regretted not going further than that. Now that I’m taking my family for the first time I want to make the most of our trip. I wanted to make sure that our Hana trip was everything that it should be.

  73. I did not know that the back road was unauthorized. I drove the full loop with my son a couple of years ago. I had a small rental car that thankfully made it. The back road was definitely not easy to drive. Very narrow, unpaved 2-way road, sharp blind turns, inches from dropping off the cliff into the ocean hundreds of feet below. Nevertheless, the view was AMAZING and I am glad we did it. As scary as the cliffs were, the view looking down was just breathtaking. Nature that is untouched.

    Not the entire drive was rough. At some point you end up with a country scenery. Still a narrow road, but it was paved and quite straight most of the time. Gorgeous view of the lava flows on the right and the ocean on the left, it was breathtaking. It was definitely worth it. But you do have to be a very skillful driver.

  74. My wife and I did this drive in 2009, but we did it twice. Let me explain.

    Day 1, we left Kahului for Hana. It was a beautiful scenic drive in our top-down Jeep rental. We stayed in Hana for 2 relaxing nights, with the intention of heading through the forbidden zone to Ka’anapali. Little did we know that the road was closed just before Oheo Gulch. Ok…so we went right up to the road closure, turned around and headed back the old-fashioned way through Hana to Paia and on to Ka’anapali.

    But we weren’t satisfied. We MUST drive that road! So the next day, we set out from Ka’anapali and drove the forbidden roads, stopping at the winery and some look out points along the way. It was a fantastic (and scary in some spots) drive. The windswept side of the island may not be interesting to some people but we were fascinated. There were some sections we would just stop and look north up the mountain, east and west for miles with no cars, and south out to the ocean and we felt like the only people left on earth. We made it to the other side of the road closure and then headed back to Ka’anapali.

    So then…on our last day in Ka’anapali we were speaking with hotel staff about the north-west drive back to Kahului. They told us, “don’t do it!” So obviously we had to do it. 🙂 That is a drive that, 6 years later, I’m still wondering how we didn’t die. I’m glad to have done it and lived to tell about the harrowing experience, but I wouldn’t do it again. It makes the back road to Hana look like a piece of cake.

    1. Ken – yes, that drive around Northwest Maui is a challenging one. We wrote about it many years ago. You can read that article here. Over the years, we’ve received many comments from folks who wish they hadn’t driven it. One of the most amusing comments is that someone told us that they all had to check their underwear. 🙂

  75. Drove the back side east to west yesterday after checking road conditions with ranger at Pipiwai trailhead. Wanted to make sure it is passable since it was raining on the east side. Not a scary drive at all and very picturesque. It was totally worth it. One risk however I was taking with a rental car is that it did not have a spare tire at all. I had to drive very carefully over gravel road and occasional rocks since catching a flat was not an option.

  76. I grew up in the country so I was used to bumpy unpaved roads. Yes there are some tight spots and a scary moment or two but I have a scary moment or two in Dallas traffic on a daily basis. It is cool and worth the drive. We took our little Ford Fusion back there and it was fine. The locals lare the ones that drive too fast and take more than their half of the road. Dangerous? A little. but it was worth the drive.

  77. Last time we drove on the back-side was early 2015. Things have changed. Much of the road past Kula and the Tedeschi Winery is newly paved. The dirt road sections are mostly smoothed out. The drive saves at least an hour if you are going to Kipahulu (Seven Sacred Pools). Lindbergh’s grave at Palapala Ho’omau is also a must (do your research before you try to find it, there are no road markers pointing the way and locals understandably protect his privacy by not giving accurate directions). There are also reported ancient Hawaiian hieroglyphic markings on some rocks which we have been unable to locate as of yet – takes some walking through those lava rocks. Alelele Falls was inspring, but we hear rumors the trail to the falls is now closed and the closure is being enforced by the Park Service. (Someone confirm this for everyone going – this is one of the best stops on the island). While the road to Hana is a MUST, the back-side of Maui is just as intriguing with the moon-like landscapes, isolated beaches, and isolated church or two, an antique store in the middle of nowhere, and, yes, cows in the road. CAUTION: The locals on this road know it well and drive it like it’s an expressway. It’ll scare you, but they do it on the road to Hana, as well. Research your trip and enjoy (PS. We did this in a standard rental car. That’s all we see on that road these days.)

  78. Just did the road to Hana backwards today( we had done the road earlier in the week the “proper” way). We started out with just wanting to see the backside landscape (moonscape) and pastures on the backside with all intentions of turning around when the road got a dicy. Loved is so much we just completed the trip the rest of the way around. To say there is nothing to see hear is absolutely wrong, the scenery on the backside is completely different than the rainforest look of the front side, the vistas into the ocean are breathtaking in some areas, and to see the lava flows from the vantage point is amazing. Now the practical, it is a bit dicy in some areas of the road, large gravel stones intermixed with broken asphalt. I would not recommend you do it in a Small rental car (we used a front wheel drive Mazda CRV) with no issues. Like many have said you are on your own if you break down and get into and accident there. There are sections of the road where only 1 car can fit through at a time, and you may end up backing up to a pullout if you meet someone there, we only had to do this once. Use CARE and drive SLOW, honking horn on blind corners, looking as far ahead as possible, stay as far as you can to your side of the road during these sections and drive with common sense. To give you a prospective we did see a jeep that was changing a tire themselves on the road, but that was the only problem we saw the entire way. If the road gets too intense for you turn around and head back the other way. But if you like a bit of adventure, I say give it a try.

  79. Just wanted to share my experience, we did Road to Hana, (Apr 2016) front to back in a Jeep and in my opinion the road from Pa’ia to Hana was more harrowing than taking Hwy 31 home through the open and expansive cattle country. It rained from Pa’ia to Hana, and as we got higher and higher, parts of the dizzying switchback (sometimes 1-lane) road literally had water running across it, which made me think “flash flood” – however, there were other drivers, including tour buses, so we felt a little safer. There were beautiful and even massive waterfalls, and the jungle-like foliage was spectacular. We did get car sick and were really glad when after about 2 hours of what seemed like the road that would never end, the surrounding area opened up and we had finally arrived in Hana! Went to a black sand beach, red sand beach and the 7 sacred pools, which were all stunningly beautiful. The people there were wonderful. Eventually it was time to head home, and since I couldn’t bare the thought of going back the way we came, decided to try Hwy 31 home, and it turned out to be the highlight of the trip. At first it seemed a little daunting, but hey, I just did the Road to Hana. The sun was shining and the rain was a distant memory. After driving the one lane road along the ocean a while, the road began to climb and eventually opened up to a huge dry desert-like area where for the next several miles we saw cattle, some Paniolos (cowboys) with their horses and cow-dogs, volcanic rock, giant wind turbines and sweeping ocean views. Even cactus! We only passed a few oncoming cars, and yes it is one-lane and sometimes gravel out in the middle of nowhere, however, the drive was no more difficult “for me” than the route from Paia to Hana, in fact I found it much more relaxing. We really liked being able to see miles ahead of where we were going, drove slow, respected the terrain and respected other drivers. A few times the thought crossed my mind, if we got a flat tire we’d be S.O.L. but thankfully we had no mishaps to report as we followed a few other drivers and a tour bus. Eventually the road turned into nicely paved 2-lane Hwy again. Total trip: began in Lahaina at 8:45 a.m. and headed home via HWY 31 around 2:45 – 3 p.m. Home by 5:15.

  80. Road to Hana was perfectly fine. Lovely scenery at every stop. We researched ahead so knew where to stop since there is not time for everything in one day. The road is paved with a double yellow line. So you stay in your lane and the other side stays in theirs. The one lane bridges are not a problem, you just stop and wait if you see someone coming across. The road past Hana to the National Park is a little narrower, no double yellow lines. We knew not to take the road past that around as everyone said it was treacherous. However, the lady in the grocery store in Hana told us to take it. She said it was newly paved and big sweeping curves by the ocean. She said don’t go back that curvy way. So either she honestly thought the whole thing was now paved or since we only bought 2 waters in her store, she was trying to kill us! It was one lane, mostly dirt until about 2/3 through the whole loop. There were many sections of curve upon curve, one lane, guard rail on one side and mountain rock on the other. Thank goodness we never came upon another car. Somebody would have had to back up around the curves! I was also worried that someone would come flying around the corner and hit us. There was a place where you can see it washes out at times. Luckily we made it around but I would never want to take that back section ever again!

  81. Those of you who do tackle this road, please be cognizant of the fact that there are other drivers more skilled than you who may be driving the road faster than you care to take it. I suggest you pull over and allow them to pass. Just because you are intimidated by the road does not mean that everyone wants to go to Hana in first gear and 10 mph. For those who are game, a Helpful hint: Watch out for the green Moss on the asphalt road shoulders, that stuff is like ice – and will make your car swap ends on you in a heart beat, especially you guys that rent a Mustang or Camero. Also be aware that many of the blind corners on the paved sections decrease in radius unexpectedly, so don’t get caught out carving a blind corner that starts off gentle and then suddenly kinks hard, otherwise you’re apt to jump on the binders, understeer and plow someone on the other side of the road. Left foot braking, trail braking, and threshold braking are good skills to have in your portfolio of skills when driving this road. AWD is a good friend to have on this ribbon of twisted tarmac and in some spots… gravel.
    But remember: This road can BITE you on the ass… hard.

    I also highly suggest that if you are NOT familiar with how to correctly drive difficult mountain roads and don’t have the skill to handle a car properly- that you Please allow one of the several tour companies to drive you.
    Every time I drive the front side to backside Hana road, I see several vehicles driven by people who have NO BUISNESS driving a car on a road like that, at any pace. Trust me this road is no joke, if you can, do. if you no can… don’t.

    ps. If you see a dark grey subaru WRX coming up behind you at what you perceive as a frightening rate, please move aside at the first safe opertunity to do so. It will depart at a similar frightening rate, and you’ll not be bothered by it again. I don’t recommend trying to out pace it ahead or keep up with it… unless you REALY know what you are about.

    Thank you, and keep the rubber side down.

  82. We drove the backside on our trip to Hana in Feb 2016 in a mini van, we checked with the car rental company first, they said no problem, and didn’t have any idea why were even asking, they said if we got stuck the biggest issue was that there may not be any cell service to call for a tow! Then we checked to make sure there were no road closures with the local police.

    It was narrow and bumpy, but we really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. We pulled over to let faster traffic through, and stopped often at scenic viewpoints. It made for a lovely day after a night spent in Hana, oh, and the drive included myself, 5 months pregnant at the time, a 3 year old, a teenager and my husband (who did all the driving).

  83. My wife and I did the “death road” by mistake. I definitely do not recommend the “death road” It’s pretty dangerous and the weather up there can change in an instant. I have a feeling the death road we did isn’t the same as the “backroad”. We can’t find any pics or videos online as scary as what we did.
    Study maps carefully!!

  84. We drove past Hana about 15 miles with a rental car in later February 2018. It got more dangerous as we went. We saw a SUV in front of us some 200 yards go around a side of mountain and the waves were splashing nearly up against it the SUV had to have ocean water on it. It was that point I turned around and went back. It was VERY scary (like scenes you see in a movie spooky) It was also raining. We were alone except for an occasional vehicle that would snake past us as we both stop inching our way past each other. We later learned another person stopped into the police station in Hana to inquire on that road and were advised not to try it, I did not see a police station there as we past Hana, just a gas station. They were told to NOT travel that road 15 miles of it unpaved it washes out from the ocean this time of year. It’s very dangerous. Glad we turned around. My intent was to follow the roads looping Maui back to rt 36 near the airport to take pictures. Seeing those waves nearly lapping at that SUV was indeed scary. When I turned around I saw we came straight down a side of a cliff it was looking menacing has I had to climb it. The road goes from high above the ocean to it paralleling it at ocean level with the water up to the roadway in spots. My advise is to not drive it unless you first were a passenger. It is very scary and intimidating and I do not ever scare on roads, this one was different. Travel at own risk.

  85. My wife and I did the road to Hana yesterday, and in retrospect, the borderline insane “beyond” portion of the drive (it seemed easier on paper, in reality it was NOT what we signed up for!) Luckily, we had a Jeep Wrangler, unfortunately this was also my first time doing anything remotely off roading, so glad we had four wheel drive, as the roads are steep, narrow, and slippery with loose rock. To say the roads were one lane wide at parts would be generous. We were literally hugging the rock wall to let oncoming traffic pass. Thankfully though, we made it out unscathed, and witnessed some amazing scenery that not many get to experience. At the end of it we also discovered Maui winery, which was not on our to-do list, but found some wonderful pineapple wines, and after that drive, a glass was oh so welcome. Am I glad to have seen what we saw? Without a doubt. Would we ever drive the back side again? Not in this lifetime!

  86. I did it just fine in a Toyota Corolla. Yes it’s rough at times but pretty easy for most drivers. There were only a few sections that were a bit dicey. Could my wife do it? No way….lol.

    On the plus side, once you get through the rough section it is a BREATHTAKING and BEAUTIFUL drive around the rest of the island and you can get back to Kihei in about an hour on a straight and very smooth road. I’m guessing turning around at Kipahulu would probably take you an extra hour versus just plowing through.

  87. I have to say I’m a bit baffled. I just used Google satellite to click through this entire stretch of road and it looked paved the entire way and only narrow in a couple spots. It also looks like 2 lanes most of the way. Compared to the road beyond Hana this one looks like a breeze. Maybe I’m missing something but based on what I saw I’d have no issue driving this road.

    1. Not sure if you’re looking in the correct area. Was on this road just four days ago and it was definitely narrow in many places and also unpaved, rough and bumpy in many spots.

  88. We recently took this route because all we did was input Waimoku Falls into our GPS from Lahaina and naively followed it only to end up on a super sketchy highway as you posted. We were on our toes the whole drive as it takes you through areas where signs are riddled with bullet holes and roads that consist of dirt and rocks and barely fit one car. Something could’ve happened to us and nobody would’ve known since we have no cell reception and no car traffic. We saw only two other rental cars on the whole way there.

  89. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Not only is it narrow with multiple cars and tight but it is making havoc on roads that need to be used for locals that live on the backside of Maui. And now, there are huge tour busses going around the island – if you care about Hawaii or want to respect the natural earth you came to see, stay on the road to Hana and don’t be entitled to go all the way around.

  90. Aloha. Please, can you help identify a flower for me? I was south of Hana (the backside) on Hwy 360. It was just at nightfall and suddenly there was a heavy, sweet fragrance in the air. It was coming from a little white ground flower, with 5 or 6 petals, along the roadside. That was over 30 years ago, and I can still see and smell it in my mind, but have never been able to find what it was.

    Thank you
    Janine Younkin

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