Waves and Off-Roading on Maui’s Road to Hana

March 9, 2017
road to hana

It’s appropriate that I’m posted this on Throwback Thursday, because this is a true #tbt.  Today we re-visit the gorgeous Road to Hana, which I completely recommend to anyone visiting Maui.

The black sand beach...tips for driving Maui's Road to Hana

I went to Maui back in fall of 2006, and I think of it as my first real solo trip.  I feel like both “first” and “solo” should be in air quotes…I’d previously studied abroad in Italy (but I knew my roommate and classmates beforehand), and I did have friends traveling to Maui at the same time.

But I did all my own travel arrangements, rented a car for the first time, found a cute apartment and three roommates (who I didn’t know), so it was my first time just doing my own thing on a trip.  And it was my first trip since graduating from college and moving to Atlanta on my own, so my first grown-up adventure.

For renting a car, I always search in a few different places and compare both the prices and specific offerings/benefits.  My go-to’s are DiscoverCars and RentalCars.com.

Tips for making your Road to Hana experience better

road to hana

We were in Maui for 8 days, staying in Lahaina.  It was completely idyllic, and the Hana loop was the one real adventure-y thing I did.  Otherwise I was camped on the beach with a fruity drink.  This was before the days of Pinterest and heavily researching trips, so I didn’t know what I was missing.  But when my friends Jon and Dave said there was an awesome little roadtrip they wanted to take, I jumped at the chance.

Full disclosure—this was more than a decade ago, so there are some details that are a bit fuzzy.  So I’ll leave talking about the best places to grab food and details about each stop to others (see links at the bottom for a few great resources).  Instead, I’ll share with you the tips that have stayed with me even 10 years later, and my pics from the trip.  Which were taken pre-smartphones and with a crappy little point-and-shoot.  Man, if I could do this over, my pictures would CRUSH it!

Be prepared before you leave:

  • Leave early!  I know you’ve Google Mapped it and you’re thinking, “65 miles, no big…”.  Let me assure you, it will take FAR longer than you’d think.  Minimum 3 hours, but you’ll want to stop and hike, take pictures, and you also can’t drive fast because of all the curves and cliffs.  We left around noon (because that’s when church got out) and returned around 7pm, for context, having done the full loop.
  • Get gas before you leave.  There aren’t any gas stations until you’ve almost reached Hana, and none on the second half that I recall (if you’re doing the full loop).
  • Bring food and water.  Because no one likes hangry people and there aren’t a lot of places to grab food.  Also, cash, because (depending on day/time) there are some great roadside stands for cold coconuts and the like.  And if you get car sick, bring Dramamine because those curves and hills are not messing around.
  • Sunscreen is your friend!  Also, make sure to dress appropriately—bathing suit AND hiking clothes and shoes.  A lot of the most beautiful places aren’t as accessible, and you’ll have to work for it a bit.
  • Seriously, do this in a jeep.  See why I recommend that below.

road to hana

road to hana

Even just getting out of Lahaina, you’re punched in the face with natural beauty.

road to hana

Other American waterfalls you might like:  Why You Have To Hike Oregon’s Trail of Ten Falls

One of the things you’ll need to decide is whether to just drive to Hana and then turn around and come back, or whether to do the full loop.  If I recall correctly, the first half would have been doable in a car (to Hana, basically), so if you’re just turning around and going home you’d be okay.

But if you’re completing the loop, a jeep will definitely make things easier…and my rental car company specifically told me I couldn’t take my car on the road to Hana, so know what you’re agreeing to.

More tips for exploring the Road to Hana:

  • Be safe and respect one-lane road etiquette.  There are 600+ hairpin turns, more than 50 one-lane bridges, plus blind corners, narrow roads, and gorgeous scenery that threatens to distract the driver.  Treat one-lane bridges like a two-way stop (first person that gets there goes first, and take turns).  Honk going around one-lane blind turns, don’t pull over on the side of the road unless it’s a designated spot, and make sure to pull over and let others pass if they want to go faster than you.
  • Plan ahead.  Do some research on where you’d like to stop and where those places are on the path.  Download maps and maybe an app, because there’s a good chance you won’t have cell signal along the road.  Definitely don’t count on being able to route something on Google Maps.
  • Try to schedule this early in your Maui stay, so that if the weather doesn’t cooperate you can reschedule for another day.  The whole point is to see gorgeous scenery, and that won’t be possible if it’s gloomy and rainy (plus those hairpin turns will be hair-raising).

Oh my word we are SO. YOUNG.

We stopped at the smaller falls and spent lots of time pulling over and taking pics of the scenery.  Jon may or may not have been driving fairly dangerously because he was an insane young buck at the time.  This whole trip was a “do not try this at home” sort of experience.

The black sand beaches were so cool!  There was something going on where they told us we couldn’t actually go down onto the beach (for safety reasons) which was a bummer, but you should be able to most of the time.

The black sand beach...tips for driving Maui's Road to Hana

road to hana

road to hana

The black sand beach...tips for driving Maui's Road to Hana

I know they’re meant to be very serious, but I find the pictures on these signs to be hilarious.  Even 10 years later.

Us trying to take a group picture pre-selfies.  Getting the guys to focus was the hardest.


road to hana

The falls were gorgeous, and we spent a bit of time here.  Surprising to absolutely no one, I’ve always been a sucker for a good waterfall.


Maui's Road to Hana has waterfalls and other scenery in abundance...tips for driving it

Maui's Road to Hana has waterfalls and other scenery in abundance...tips for driving it

Pi’ilani Hwy – the backside of the Road to Hana loop

if you’ve decided to do the whole loop instead of head back at Hana, this road takes you around the southeastern corner of Maui and Haleakala, and loops you back up to ‘Ulupalakua (then we headed back to Lahaina).

Maui's road to Hana loop

My pictures don’t really do it justice, but parts of this drive are like stepping onto another planet.  It’s a fairly dramatic contrast to the lush tropical vibe of the first half of the Road to Hana.  Jon did a ton of off-roading in this part of the drive—I literally had bruises on my hip bones from the seat belt, getting thrown around.

The back half of the Road to Hana loop is totally worth your time...tips for driving this awesome route

Stone beaches instead of sand in a lot of cases, rocky topgraphy with an almost moon crater-like feeling.  Weirdly, I think I liked the second half even more than the first because it felt very unique.  Kind of deserted and moody.

We were definitely tired when we got back to Lahaina, since it’s a super full day, but didn’t regret doing the full loop.  And if we’d been able to start earlier it would have been a more relaxing day.

Here are some great (more recent) resources to help with planning your stops:

Life in Wanderlust – great tips for preparing

Be My Travel Muse – best stops

A Passion and a Passport – best stops

Musings of a Rover – hits and misses when she did it

Other gorgeous short roadtrips you’ll love:

Are you planning a trip to Maui?  What’s your can’t-miss Road to Hana stop?

Tips for driving Maui's Road to Hana | One Girl, Whole World

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