This road trip was supposed to be one of the highlights of our adventurous island hopping Hawaii vacation. We were all set to marvel at the wonderful Road to Hana stops we had selected. But what started out as a gorgeous day on Maui’s west coast, actually turned out to be a horrible day on the east coast for us. More about that in the third paragraph. First, we’ll happily share the Road to Hana stops we had planned during this 53 mile road trip in Maui. For your convenience, we’ve even created a custom Road to Hana map indicating all mentioned stops.
Best Road to Hana stops
Here’s a list of the stops we had planned during our road trip on the Hana highway by mile marker. You’ll find the Road to Hana map in the next paragraph.
These falls are located in the Ho’olawa Valley. The Twin Falls are the lower falls, easily accessible from the parking lot. The upper falls are the Caveman Falls and require a short hike under a gravel road. Flash floods occur so make sure to check out the latest conditions before taking a dip.
The views from the Garden of Eden Arboretum are renowned. Plus, you’ll find rainbow eucalyptus trees here. If you missed the ones along the road (where there’s just a small turnout to leave the car), you can check them out here. Admission costs $15 per adult and $5 per child. The Ke’anae Arboretum at mile marker #16 makes for a great, and free, alternative.
Prepare for some dramatic views of the coastline.
A great, free alternative to the Garden of Eden Arboretum, offering some wonderful panoramas and rainbow eucalyptus trees. There’s a walkway from where you can admire many tropical plants and flowers. It’s right in between this mile marker and the next.
I’ve done plenty of research on Maui’s banana bread and almost all sources mention this as the best on offer. It goes without saying that this makes it one of the best Road to Hana stops. To reach the stand, turn off to Ke’anae Landing.
Climb the set of steps to the viewpoint and to enjoy the sweeping views over Wailua with its taro fields, the Ke‘anae Valley and Ko‘olau gap in the rim of the Haleakala volcano.
Also referred to as Three Bears because of the three parallel streams, this impressive waterfall is located very close to the road. The only downside is that there’s no actual parking lot, only a small turnout.
This temple, located in Kahanu Garden, part of National Tropical Botanical Garden is the largest Polynesian place of worship and the best preserved ancient temple in the Hawaiian Islands. It was built in several stages over a period of over 300 years.
This beach is one of the most popular Road to Hana stops. In addition to Black Sand Beach Maui, you can visit 2 caves with fresh water floating above the salt ocean water.
The turning point for most, since there’s not that much to see in Hana.
This is the best place to end your Road to Hana, close to where it begun. Enjoy a spectacular sunset in the company of many Honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle).
Road to Hana map
This Road to Hana map indicates the Road to Hana stops that we planned on taking, plus some optional post-Hana stops for the hard-core road trippers.
Feel free to use this Road to Hana map and build on it when you’re planning a trip to Maui. As you can see we’ve indicated two optional stops, Kaihalulu Red sand beach and Hamoa beach, for your convenience. Also, check out our article on the best places to stay in Maui to minimize driving times.
Stops beyond the Road to Hana
For the real adventurers, the fun shouldn’t end at Hana. There’s more to discover past this point too, in the Kipahulu section which is actually part of the Haleakala National Park. You’ll notice that the mile markers will go down from here on.
A very popular waterfall, just a 20-minute drive from Hana and with ample parking, for a change. Because of that, it can get crowded so if the best time to enjoy Wailua Falls is earlier or later in the day.
This is known to be one of the most epic hikes in all of Maui. A 4-mile loop trail leads hikers passed the 185-foot Makahiku Falls, three bamboo forests and the stunning 400-foot Waimoku Falls. Along the trail, which gains 650 ft (200 m) of elevation, there’s ample signage.
The ‘Ohe’o Gulch, also known as Seven Sacred Pools, is a series of pools (more than seven in fact) and waterfalls that empty into the Pacific. It’s a magical place to swim. This area has actually been closed for almost 2 years (from January 2017 until December 2018) because of a rockslide. Much to the delight of visitors, is has been reopened to the public. There’s even an on-site campground should you have a hard time leaving.
How NOT to do the Road to Hana
After reading about all these fantastic Road to Hana stops, you picture this idyllic road trip that was nothing short of perfect, right? Well, think again. The rest of this article will tell you all about how NOT to do the Road to Hana. Trust us, we’re experts. Continue reading to find out how bad it can really get.
Our Road to Hana nightmare
From all the days we could have picked to drive this (in)famous road, this was probably the worst one in terms of weather. Sure, we expected some rain on this part of the island but we weren’t prepared for this. It was raining pretty bad when we passed Paia in the morning and the further we drove, the more pouring it got. At least we could enjoy the breathtaking views of the coastline, right? Think again, there was so much fog that we couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the ocean. We passed the first Road to Hana stops on our list, hoping that the weather would turn.
The Hana highway is known to be dangerous because of its 620 curves, of which many hairpins, and 59 one-way bridges. Add the terrible weather to the mix and you get a dangerous road trip cocktail. Too dangerous to continue, in our opinion. To add to the fun, the girls got car sick… for the first time ever. Since opening our Wrangler’s soft top or pulling over when you need weren’t exactly an option, thinks got pretty messy.
When to skip the Road to Hana
- If you have young kids. We’re usually the family that will insist that you can take your kids on pretty much any journey but this one was a fail. You will remember the magic of a road trip of this calibre but chances are your kids won’t. Our girls, 8 and 6 years old and both seasoned travelers, were clearly bored. Yes, the rain prevented us from making stops and yes, they got sick. But even beforehand I could tell that they were not amused by the outlook of spending most of the vacation day in the car. Consider that when adding this Maui activity to your schedule. There are plenty of other things to do in the Valley Isle that don’t require such an intensive journey.
- If you suffer from motion sickness. That’s an obvious one. On the other hand, there’s a first time for everything. Our kids never got car sick before this trip, like never-ever. But their stomach was no match for this road.
- If you’re a nervous driver. The Hana highway will put your patience and driving skills to the test. Minimizing the time spent in the car is not an option, you have to go with the flow.
- If you hate the outlook of having to do this challenging drive a second time. The excitement of hitting the road will be long gone by the time you’ll be returning. Plus, you’ll be tired from the activities that day and the focus it took to complete the drive the first time.
Some of these issues might be resolved by taking a guided tour. I wouldn’t travel in a large group, though, because some fellow-travelers will likely get sick. If you want to travel in comfort, book a private or small group tour. It’ll be worth the extra cost. Oh, and try to reserve seats on the driver’s side of the van or you’ll miss the views in between the Road to Hana stops. Here are some tour suggestions:
How not to survive the Road to Hana
- ‘Make sure to make frequent stops’, that was the advice I came across more than once when I was doing research. What a joke! When you’ve been on the Road to Hana, then you know how unrealistic this is. The Hana highway is dangerous and simply doesn’t allow for random pitstops.
- Leaving unprepared. Make sure to pack at least food and water before you leave Paia. You will find some quaint food stands along the Hana highway but the offer tends to be very limited (don’t expect to find water bottles at every stand).
- Pick out the day with the worst weather (just like we did). 🙂
How to do the Road to Hana the right way
Should you decide to go for it anyway, then make sure to leave prepared.
- Download the GyPSy app so you won’t miss any Road to Hana stops. Some mile markers are easy to miss.
- Fuel up the car before you leave or do so in Paia. There aren’t any gas stations along the highway.
- Leave early to avoid the crowds.
- Pack these items: cash, water, more water, plenty of lights snacks, a picnic blanket, swimwear, towels. Motion sickness related: Dramamine and some plastic bags, just in case. 🙂
- Ignore that FOMO because comfort should be your number one priority. Whether you’ll make it to Hana all the way or halfway, you can take credit for having driven the Hana highway.
- Give the driver a break by spending the night in luxury at the Travaasa Hana hotel. You’ll be much more relaxed when you know you have two days to complete this challenging drive. Start early to avoid the crowds at the Paia side on day one and do the same on the Hana side on day two.
Best Road to Hana alternatives
- Go on a helicopter tour. I still wonder why I didn’t think of it while we were actually there. If we make it to Maui again, then this will be the way to go for us. Imagine seeing the many curves and hairpins from the air without compromising on the views. Sure, you’ll miss the Road to Hana stops but you’ll get more panorama and comfort in return. Our best things to do in Maui article (coming soon) will definitely offer some great effortless alternatives to experience the Valley Isle.
- Visit the Big Island Hawaii. As it appears to me, the Road to Hana is so popular because it gives visitors a taste of ‘the real Hawaii’. They look for the authentic feel, breaking away from the touristic, resort-like west coast. Well, if that’s what you’re looking for too, then you might as well head to the Big Island Hawaii. There are plenty of adventurous things to do near Hilo, some of which are true authentic gems. There’s more distance to cover but the different sights are way more easy to reach (no hairpins). Waterfalls, black sand beaches, a lava tube, botanical garden, tropical farm stands and panoramas alike. Just check out this picture we took of Rainbow Falls. Hard to compete with Big Island Hawaii! Check out our article on where to stay on the Big Island to find your perfect spot.
Which Road to Hana stops are on your list?
Our honest Hana highway article is not your typical story to say the least. I realize how much it conflicts with the glowing reviews you might have heard or read before. The terrible weather was our main source of disappointment. Still, we just can’t see the fun in being stuck in the car all day, on a dangerous road, not being able to pull over where we want. That’s just the opposite of what we think a road trip is all about: the freedom. 🙂 But that doesn’t mean we might nog give this legendary road a second chance the next time we go island hopping in Hawaii.
Now we want to hear from you! Have you had the time of your life on this curvy highway and lots of other Road to Hana stops to recommend? Let us know! Should we have handled this trip differently? Enlighten us! Would you have continued driving in our rainy, messy situation? Yeah, right! Do you have a Road to Hana experience that’s similar to ours? Start commenting!
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