The road to Hana is without question the most famous and desired drive in all Hawai‘i, the crown jewel of driving. It’s been compared to driving through the garden of Eden: a slow, winding road through a lush paradise that you always knew existed—somewhere.

Road to Hana

If you’re in a hurry to get to Hana, you’re missing the point. Unless you’re staying the night in Hana, you probably won’t spend much time there. You’re heading somewhere else. (Those who spend the night in Hana will have more time to sample its delights.) At the risk of sounding like a Chinese fortune cookie, fulfillment lies in the journey, not the destination. The whole reason to drive this route is to see the Hawai‘i of your dreams, the tropical fantasy that becomes reality along the way. This is a drive through wonderland, and the only thing at the end—is the end of your discovery. As you take your Road to Hana tour, don’t feel the need to hurry up to get “there,” because you may find that there is no there there.

Driving all the way to Hana and then turning around—which the vast majority of visitors do—is like shave ice without the ice cream on the bottom. (I’m a shameless shave ice lover—sorry.) It means missing the windswept backside of Haleakala in the late afternoon. The way the light casts deep shadows in the water-scoured gulches, the incredibly expansive views of the coastline, the impossibly blue sky against the brown and red upper slopes of the volcano, the angry, wind-ravaged seas, and the utter lack of civilized development—these are the things that make a drive along the bottom part of the island worthwhile. It won’t look like the jungle-y Hana drive; you just saw that. But it will pass from Eden-like lushness to the land of sun and wind. It’s hard to believe that the backside is part of the same mountain.

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Road to Hana tour

The usual way of driving to Hana is to travel a clockwise direction so you can take advantage of the sun. The Hana side is sunny in the morning, shady in the afternoon, and its waterfalls are best before 11 a.m. However, if you travel counter-clockwise, you will probably feel like you have the road to yourself, and you’ll be able to enjoy the views instead of worrying about the guy braking in front of you. The downsides to this direction are that the lighting on the Hana Highway will be bad (you’ll want to hope for cloudiness to make the sights better), and you will have close encounters with all the traffic coming at you on the narrow roads—and you’ll be on the outside lane. We have found that passengers, staring down the hill on their side during tight squeezes, don’t like the route that does Southeast Maui first and Hana Highway second. That’s why we suggest traveling clockwise from Pa’ia.

It’s best to start your road to Hana tour early, so you’ll have time to see and experience as much as possible. Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones who give this advice, so everyone else seems to be leaving early, too. On average, between 1,500 and 2,000 cars per day drive the road to Hana. Most leave Kahului between 8:30 and 10 a.m. We know, we know. You’re supposed to be here on vacation, and we really hate to suggest something as regimented as a timetable, but let us make one recommendation. If you’re not going to be staying in Hana overnight, we strongly suggest you leave early enough to be passing Kahului by 8 a.m. This lets you avoid the crowds, see the sights in good light and allows you to take your time. If you’re staying in Hana, leave after 10:30 a.m. when the road’s more empty.

The road to Hana is two lanes with lots of one-lane bridges. Tourist literature says there are 600 turns, though I don’t know exactly how they classify a turn since the road is never straight. (Your steering wheel certainly changes direction more than that.) Whether you find the Hana Highway wild or tame depends on your experience. We’ve noticed that people who have lived most of their lives in flat areas—where a straight line really is the closest distance between two points and you can always see what’s a mile in front of you—find the constant winding road and blind turns unnerving.

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Twin Falls Maui Farm Stand

The highway changes its name to 360 (now it’s a county road), and the mile markers start again at 0. You should reset your odometer so you’ll always have a general idea where you are, but bear in mind that the mile markers aren’t always precisely placed a mile apart as they should be. The first half of the drive is more tightly enclosed by vegetation, so you won’t get too many expansive views. There’s a fruit stand and lots of people just past mile marker 2. A series of roads and trails leads to Twin Falls, actually six or seven waterfalls, none very spectacular compared to what’s ahead. People tend to spend too much time here because it’s the first available falls—though a longer walk than they might want—and then rush by better opportunities. You might wait for the nicer, less-mobbed waterfalls later. But the Twin Falls Maui Farm Stand is pretty good with lots of fresh fruits, decent banana bread and great juices.

Garden of Eden Arboretum

Soon you come to the Garden of Eden. Pretty tough name to live up to; it’s an arboretum and botanical garden. The $15 per person entrance fee seems a little high at first, but you soon realize that this is a meticulously maintained and very beautiful garden. Everything is scrupulously labeled. You can either drive it or walk a separate path. The Garden of Eden Arboretum has a picnic area with good views down the coast, a food truck serving items such as tacos, smoothies and coffee, and there’s a restroom.

Nahiku Marketplace

At Nahiku Marketplace (before mile marker 29) they have a half-dozen eating stands. Messy-but-good BBQ at Max Bullah BBQ, fish and chips plus tasty shrimp dishes at Island Chef, and good tropical coconut cake (when they have it) at the Nahiku Café. We also like My Thai (which has no mai tais).

Pipiwai Trail: Road to Hana Bamboo Forest

One of the best hikes on the island. You certainly won’t have it to yourself, but you get more wowie views and settings per mile on this trail than almost any other. All told, it’s almost 2 miles each way, and you gain 650 feet (not 800, as the park brochure says) from the highway, though the grade is fairly gentle. (The first part is the steepest, and it’s not that steep.) Called the Pipiwai Trail, it’s smashing and takes anywhere from 2.5–5 hours, depending on how much of a hurry you’re in.

The trail basically follows the stream. You’ll want mosquito repellent in places if you deviate from the main path. Early into the hike you see a concrete derrick with a pulley on top. Another is on the far side of the bridge. Back when sugar was king, they were used to haul sugar cane across the gorge on its way to the mill down the road. Around 0.7miles into the hike you come to the Makahiku Falls overlook. This massive falls drops 200 feet.

What next? Why, a beautiful, thick, vigorous Road to Hana bamboo forest, of course. (Bamboo, which is a grass, makes an excellent walking stick.) After the long, impressive boardwalk—constructed to keep you out of the perpetually muddy areas—you eventually come to the end of the line. (Well, you still have to go back, of course.) Slicing 400 feet down the back of a three-way sheer wall of lava, Waimoku Falls marks the instantaneous beginning of this canyon. What a way to end a trail! You could walk under the falls, but remember that any debris falling from above will feel like getting hit by a meteorite. Did you bring your hard hat? Best to view it from a little distance and comply with the park’s sign. During abnormally dry times in the summer the water flow can diminish somewhat, but it’s mostly spring-fed, so its flow is not as rain-dependent.

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Maui waterfall map

Everybody loves waterfalls. They seem to universally affect people with a peaceful, soothing feeling. On this drive, waterfalls near the road are easy to find. This part of Maui was tailor-made for waterfall production because it has the two necessary ingredients—constant elevation changes and lots of rain up the mountain. But many of the lovelier ones are off the road, often accessible from trails.

One thing you need to understand is the extremely variable nature of waterfalls. At different times, the same falls can be an unimpressive trickle, a world-class waterfall in a lovely setting, or a brown, swollen mass of water and mud after a heavy rain. We have found most of these falls in all three states at different times. During some wet winter months, you may find more waterfalls than we mention. Sometimes, during dry months, some of our favorites may shrivel to a pathetic dribble, but you’ll never see fewer than six falls between Kahului and Hana, if you know when and where to look.

Maui Revealed: the best Road to Hana app

If you’re looking for a Road to Hana map with stops, you can find it on the Hawaii Revealed app. We have the same custom maps that our readers love from the book, now made interactive on our app. You can use it not only as a Road to Hana app but also to find all the sights, restaurants, waterfalls, activities and hotels on all of Maui. Download the Hawaii Revealed app, subscribe to the Maui chapter to get access to the Road to Hana map with stops, and plan your best trip to Hawaii ever.

Wailua/Kapa‘aLydgate Beach Park is one of the safest places to swim on the island. It has a boulder-enclosed pond that allows water and fish in but keeps out the ocean’s force, though the water clarity is not very good due to some well-intentioned but harmful work done in 2011. See Beaches. There is even a keiki (kid) pond, which is shallower. Add to this showers, restrooms and two playgrounds, and you have a nice little park for a day at the beach for those who don’t want to expose themselves to the open ocean.

Hawaii Revealed App

If you’re looking for a Road to Hana map with stops, you can find it on the Hawaii Revealed app. We have the same custom maps that our readers love from the book, now made interactive on our app. You can use it not only as a Road to Hana app but also to find all the sights, restaurants, waterfalls, activities and hotels on all of Maui. Download the Hawaii Revealed app, subscribe to the Maui chapter to get access to the Road to Hana map with stops, and plan your best trip to Hawaii ever.

Download Hawaii Revealed App – iOS App or Android App

More things you can find in the app:

  • Reviews on Hawaii Resorts with their locations
  • Reviews on every single beach on the islands
  • Interactive maps of Kauai, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island
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