Recommendations for visiting the Road to Hana

One of the top tourist attractions on the island of Maui is a drive along the Road to Hana. Officially Highway 36/360, the 64-mile stretch of road between Paia and Hana would take approximately two hours to drive without stopping. But the views and stops along the way (and at the end) are the main reason to take this trip. While you can drive one way and stay the night in Hana before driving back, most people will drive to Hana and back in a single day as we did. Keep reading below for a review of our experience and recommendations for visiting the Road to Hana.

The northern coast of Maui along with the Road to Hana runs
The northern coast of Maui along with the Road to Hana runs

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Getting oriented

The road to Hana begins in the small town of Paia. If you are staying in the Kaanapali Resort area as we did, it will take you approximately one hour to get to the town of Paia from your hotel, so you will need to plan accordingly. I read numerous blog posts and guide books which advised arriving early in Paia to start your trip. I think this is good advice with one caveat- don’t go too early because some stops won’t be available. We also chose a smaller rental car as was highly recommended. This road follows the northern edge of the island; and is at times cut into the steep cliffside. Driving it in a larger vehicle would likely be much more stressful as the road is very narrow and includes 46 one-lane bridges and 620 curves (one-way).

Because had traveled from the east coast (and because we decided against visiting Haleakala at sunrise), we decided to drive the Road to Hana on our first full day in Maui. We figured that with the six hour time difference it would be easy for us to get up early. That proved to be correct. We were up around 5:00am, got ready for the day, and began the drive to Paia. I recommend bringing breakfast bars, pastries, or fruit to eat in the car on the way. We arrived in Paia around 6:30am and got some gas and started down Highway 36.

If you plan to drive to the Kipahulu District of the Haleakala National Park (the best and last stop recommended below located just beyond the town of Hana), note that the park closes at 5pm. The second best stop, the black sand beach of Waianapanapa State Park, requires a timed reservation (and is located just after the two primary lunch spots). Due to these time constraints, you have to closely monitor your time on this adventure. Even though we started our adventure at around 6:30am, we still felt as though we ran out of time to see and do everything that we wanted to.

Stop #1: Hookipa Beach Park at mile marker 9

The problem with starting our day so early was that the first stop we planned to visit- Hookipa Beach Park – didn’t open until 7am. We were looking forward to visiting this beach that is popular for surfing and windsurfing, but didn’t want to wait 20 minutes for it to open. We decided that we would visit on the way back instead. Spoiler alert: We were not able to make it back before the park closed.

NOTE: At mile marker 16 the road changes from Highway 36 to Highway 360 and the mile markers start back at zero.

Stop #2: Twin Falls at mile marker 2

Twin Falls was just opening as we arrived at 7am. This stop is on private farm land with only a small parking lot. They charge $10 for parking. At this stop you can follow a short, fairly easy hike to the lower falls. To get a good photo of these small falls, you will need to walk on some very wet and slippery rocks. The upper falls, which are a one-mile round trip hike, were closed due to heavy rains and concerns of flash flooding when we visited.

Also at this stop was a small farm stand where they sell smoothies, coffee, ice cream, and other snacks. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try anything out because they did not open until later in the day. This stop is also a functioning farm so even on the short walk to the lower falls we saw numerous local plant life including some baby pineapples and lovely red hibiscus. There were also porta potties at this stop.

Stop #3: Ke’anae Arboretum at mile marker 16.7

This arboretum wasn’t initially on our list of top stops after doing my initial research. However, the audio guide we used recommended it as a place to safely see the rainbow eucalyptus trees (as opposed to stopping illegally and dangerously a few miles earlier). This convinced us to stop briefly at the Ke’anae Arboretum. Parking is a bit precarious and limited, but if there is space, I recommend a quick stop. There is no entrance fee. There didn’t seem to be anyone working at this small arboretum at all.

After carefully crossing the road, walk past the small arboretum sign and follow a half-mile paved path to observe approximately 150 varieties of tropical plants from around the world. In addition to the rainbow eucalyptus trees, you can also see taro, ginger, hibiscus, and papaya trees. Honestly, the rainbow eucalyptus trees are the star of the show; I would only budget about 20-30 minutes for this stop unless you are really into plants. 

Stop #4: Ke’anae Peninsula at mile marker 16.8

The next stop was the Ke’anae Peninsula. This lava rock outcropping is lovely to see and photograph, but does require walking on some uneven (and very sharp) lava rocks. There is no beach here, just a rocky coastline made up of pieces of lava rock of various sizes, but watching the ocean waves break against the rocks is truly majestic. There is a small parking lot here which was very crowded when we arrived. This was the first stop where we ran into a number of tour vans. There are also a few very crowded bathrooms here.

All of the guidebooks that I read recommended a stop at Aunt Sandy’s Snack Stand on the road to the Ke’anae Peninsula for banana bread. We purchased two small loaves and ate one immediately (it had been a few hours since we had eaten breakfast at this point) and saved the other for the next day. It was delicious and warm. They told me that they bake it fresh throughout the day. They also have lots of other yummy snakes. I was a big fan of the coconut candy.

Stop #5: Pua’a Ka’a Falls at mile marker 22

The next stop on our trip was the Pua’a Ka’a Falls. At this stop it is just a short walk and a few steps up to a waterfall and freshwater pool. As with all of the stops on the Road to Hana, there is very limited parking. We had to wait in our car for someone to leave before we could visit this stop. Unfortunately, we found it somewhat underwhelming. The falls weren’t that big or impressive. There is a railing intended to keep people from getting too close to the edge, but multiple families simply snuck under the railing to secure a photo (and in the process obstructed the photos of everyone staying behind the railing).

There are several picnic shelters and a bathroom at this stop, so if there is parking available, it might be worth stopping for that reason alone but if you are short on time, this is the stop on the list that I would cut out first.

Stop #6: Lunch

There seemed to be two primary options to stop for lunch.  

A. Nahiku Marketplace at mile marker 29

The first is the Nahiku Marketplace. This stop has several outdoor dining options inducing the Nahiku Cafe, Island Chef, Island Style Tacos, Hana Highway Sorbet, and My Thai. This stop also has some gift items from local vendors available and porta potties. 

We skipped this stop for a few reasons. First, there was no parking available when we arrived. It’s a very small lot right against the road and there just weren’t any available spaces. Secondly, my research suggested that the next option I discuss below was a better choice. So, we drove on by.

B. Hana Farms Roadside Stand at mile marker 31

The second option is the Hana Farms Roadside Stand. There is a bit more parking here and there were real bathrooms. This stop offers a small marketplace with items from local vendors and the Hana Farms Pizza Oven & Bakery. This fun restaurant offers primarily pizzas, calzones, and salads. The food was delicious and made to order and because the structure is open-air and made of bamboo, it felt very fun and tropical. Brian was happy to be eating somewhere that wasn’t primarily a seafood restaurant. The salad we ordered was the prettiest salad I had ever eaten and the pizza was quite tasty.

Whichever lunch option you choose- or even if you choose to pack a picnic lunch and eat at another stop- I strongly recommend bringing snacks. We were very hungry by the time we arrived at mile marker 31 even with our stop at Aunt Sandy’s earlier in the day.

Stop #7: Waianapanapa State Park at mile marker 32

Waianapanapa State Park is one of the top sites on the Road to Hana. It is most known for its black sand beach and lava cave. Due to the high demand of this spot and concerns for the local ecosystem, you must now make a reservation 14 days in advance of your visit. There are four available windows. I chose the 12:30-3pm slot which ended up working really well for our schedule. Parking is $10 and entry is $5 per person.

This park is designed like most state parks and has bathrooms and outdoor showers. To get to the black sand beach, you have to take a number of stairs down the cliffside. The black sand beach itself is quite small and even with the new reservation system it was pretty crowded. We were also surprised to find that the sand was incredibly coarse and somewhat painful to walk on. There is also a small lava tube to the right of the beach. You can poke your head in for a quick look but it was essentially just a dark cave that was super crowded. 

While at the state park, we decided to hike up to the top of the cliff on the other side of the black sand beach. There is a blowhole here that wasn’t easy to spot. We should have turned back at this point, but we saw other people continuing along the hike and thought there might be other interesting sites. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything else of interest aside from a small stone structure and we wasted a ton of time that I wish we had saved for our final stop. The Waianapanapa State Park is definitely a must-see, but if you are doing the Road to Hana (and back) in a single day, I wouldn’t spend more than 30 minutes here. And be sure to bring appropriate footwear.

Stop #8: Hana town at mile marker 35

The next-to-last stop was the town of Hana. This small town has a traditional Hawaiian general store, a gas station, a restaurant, and food trucks. We didn’t spot the food trucks, but enjoyed a short visit to the general store. Because we had spent so long at Waianapanapa State Park, we were a bit rushed because we wanted to get to the Haleakala National Park (our final stop) before it closed at 5pm.

Stop #9: The Kipahulu District of the Haleakala National Park at mile marker 42

There are two parts to the Haleakala National Park. Most people are familiar the Summit District which includes a drive to the top of the crater and a hike down into the crater. This was absolutely our favorite part of our visit to Maui and you can read about our visit here.

But the other side of the park, the Kipahulu District, is located at the end of the road to Hana. You cannot access one district of the park from the other so you should conceptualize each district separately in your planning. It is $30 per car to enter the Kipahulu District of the Haleakala National Park but your pass is good for three days and you can use the same pass to visit the Summit District of the park on another day. 

Kipahulu District attractions

There are two main attractions in this park- the Pools of ‘Ohe’o and the Pipiwai Trail. The Pools of ‘Ohe’o (also commonly known as the Seven Sacred Pools) are a series of dramatic waterfalls and plunge pools. At the time of our visit, these pools were closed to swimming, but it was a truly unique sight. It is a half mile loop down a fairly easy trail to see the Pools of ‘Ohe’o.

The other major attraction in the Kipahulu District of the Haleakala National Park is the Pipiwai Trail. This is a true hike that takes you past several waterfalls, through a bamboo forest, and ultimately to the 400 foot high Waimoku Falls. Due to time constraints (the park closes at 5pm as I mentioned above), we did not have time to make it to the end of the Pipiwai Trail. We were thankfully able to make it about one mile in to see the bamboo forest before we had to turn back. It was a moderate hike made extra precarious due to the recent rain and wet, slippery rocks on the trial.

I really enjoyed this stop and wished that we had allotted more time to visit. We were really rushed to visit both attractions and didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy them. I strongly recommend trying to arrive by 2pm at the latest and earlier if possible. You might consider spending the night in the town of Hana simply so that you can enjoy this stop without crowds and significant time constraints.

Return trip

We left the national park right around 5pm. What should have been a two-hour return trip was closer to three hours because we got stuck behind an overly cautious driver who was going well below the speed limit. We were very stressed because we had a dinner reservation that evening for 7pm. I wouldn’t recommend making a reservation for dinner if you are driving the Road to Hana in a single day (unless maybe that reservation is in the town of Hana). We also arrived at dinner sweaty and somewhat rain-soaked from our national park hike which wasn’t very comfortable. I wish I had thought to bring a change of clothes.

What to pack

For anyone taking the Road to Hana, I strongly recommend that you pack a few essential items. I recommend both good North Face jacket” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener sponsored nofollow”>lightweight rain gear as most of this drive and the stops along it are in the rainforest. In line with this, you will want to pack bug spray, sunscreen, and/or a good hat. A backpack is also a must- especially because you should never leave personal items in your vehicle. Be sure to bring snacks. Access to food and snacks is very limited on this adventure and if you start really early in the morning like we did, you will be starving long before it is time to stop and get lunch. 

Before leaving, I also strongly recommend that you download an audio guide and a map of the island. You won’t have a cell phone signal for most of the trip but our audio guide still worked reasonably well. You will also want to bring a back-up battery for your cell phone or camera so that you don’t have to worry about it dying.

Conclusions

We really enjoyed our drive on the road to Hana. While there are several other stops (some that we visited and some that we didn’t), I really think that these stops are probably the ones most worth your time. And as I highlighted above- you really need to manage your time well on this trip if you are going to be able to visit all of the iconic sites. Spending the night in Hana is always an option and one that I would definitely consider if we visit Maui in the future.

Have you ever visited the Road to Hana? What tips would you offer first-time visitors? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

If you are looking for additional content on visiting Maui, please visit my post on our Maui itinerary. We also visited Oahu and I created a post outlining our Oahu itinerary and recommendations as well. 

I am so glad you visited us at Jack and Bax. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (sign up available either on the right sidebar or at the bottom of the page). And please follow me on Instagram and Facebook so that you don’t miss any of our upcoming projects or trips!

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