The Road to Hana is known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world due to its lush forest, coastal views, and stunning beaches but it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. It’s extremely crowded, touristy, and can easily be an overrated attraction if you don’t do it right. Fortunately, in this blog, we’re covering all the tips and hacks to make your trip on the Road to Hana a success.
We drove the Road to Hana on a week-long trip to Maui in February 2020. We were very excited to enjoy the Road to Hana, however, we were a bit overwhelmed with what stops were worth it. The road is long after all, and we knew we had to be picky about where we spent our time. After driving the road and stopping at far too many waterfalls than we should have, we compiled a list of what’s actually worth stopping at.
Must-Knows for Driving the Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is not all rainbows and sunshine. Located on Hawaii’s most touristy island, it’s also one of the most touristy highways in the world.
These are the facts about the Road to Hana:
- It’s long and if driven directly without stopping, it still takes 5 hours to drive.
- Most of the road is one lane with pullouts.
- It’s windy contains 65 hairpin switchbacks, 600 sharp turns, and 59 one-lane bridges.
- The Road to Hana actually goes beyond the town of Hana, all the way to Haleakala National Park.
A 1-lane road
Some may get anxious about the thought of a 1-lane road, and some get excited. The truth is, a 1-lane road isn’t a big deal except for the fact that more than 1,000 cars drive the Road to Hana every day!
This is where the next point comes in…
Be patient + Don’t form trains
In case you aren’t very experienced in 1 lane driving, it DOES NOT help to cluster together in groups of 3-5 cars. It actually makes things harder because the pullouts only fit 1-2 cars so if a 3rd car is tagging along there’s nowhere for it to go and now the oncoming car is forced to inch it’s way past within the tiny lane because the 3rd car doesn’t know that it should back up to the previous pullout.
I couldn’t believe how many cars tried to do this on the Road to Hana because they were in such a rush!
Yield to oncoming traffic as often as you can and try to just be patient. You won’t get there any faster by hanging onto the bumper of the car in front of you. Also, let people behind you pass if you feel rushed. Remember, it’s about the journey not the destination.
Fill up gas
This one is pretty obvious but in case you forget, be sure to fill up gas in Paia or Kahului ahead of time. There is a gas station in Hana but it’s extremely expensive.
Be selective about stopping
It’s so tempting to stop at every single beautiful waterfall but by doing so it really sets you back on time and you won’t be able to enjoy the really spectacular things.
Take it in but don’t try to see it all.
Make it a loop
On the southeast side of Maui, west of the Seven Sacred pools and typically what’s considered the end of the Road to Hana, lies the Pilani Highway. This highway used to be completely out of the question because you could only drive it if you had 4WD. It was known to be sketchy and secluded but ever since 2018, the road is now mostly developed, freshly paved, and contains only a few sections of undeveloped, dirt road.
The Pilani Highway is far different from the Road to Hana but it’s equally as beautiful. Unlike the lush rainforest of north Maui, this south side of Maui is filled with vast grasslands and pastures with the looming Haleakala summit on one side and the deep, blue ocean on the other.
This side of the highway is also a 1 lane road but you’ll run into only a handful of other cars over here. The road doesn’t have as many obvious stops but there are so many places to get out and explore.
The Pilani Highway really is a hidden gem and I feel like it’s one of the highlights of Maui that you won’t want to miss.
Spend a Night in Hana
Any blog you come across is going to say the same thing, get up early. I’m here to tell you that that ain’t gonna cut it. Even if you get up early to avoid crowds, it’s still such a long drive to do in 1 day and you don’t really have enough time to stop and enjoy the views and activities.
I would 100% recommend spending a night at an accommodation in the town of Hana or even better, pack up your camping gear and stay at Waianapanapa Campground, AKA Black Sand Beach.
Waianapanapa Campground is one the best campgrounds in Hawaii and by staying the night there, you’ll get access to one of the Road to Hana’s best attractions, Black Sand Beach, during beautiful and uncrowded times of day.
If camping isn’t your jam, recommended accommodations in Hana include:
If you don’t have time to spend the night in Hana…
Drive it in Reverse
If you don’t have the luxury of a long trip to Maui and you would really like to get the Road to Hana done in 1 day, I recommend that you start early and driving it in reverse. Starting on the Pilani Highway, you’ll have the road to yourself until you reach Hana.
On the way back from Hana you will still have the same amount of crowds heading home from their Road to Hana day trip, but for the firsthalf of the day you’ll have the highway to yourself, plus, you’ll get to Haleakala NP early to hike the popular Pipiwai Trail to Waimoko Falls.
7 Stunning Stops (That Are Actually Worth Seeing) on the Road to Hana
Twin Falls is by far the most well-known waterfall on the Road to Hana. Located at mile marker 1, it’s an essential stop for most visitors yet surprisingly, few travelers actually know where to find Twin Falls. It’s a whopping half mile to reach the falls and the faux falls that lie a few minutes away from the highway trick people into thinking they’ve arrived before they reach the real deal.
Twin Falls itself is still crowded, but the beautiful waterfall is worth the crowd. The tall, pouring cascade lands in a large pool suitable for wading and swimming. The area surrounding is filled with ions and lush greenery.
Secret Bamboo Forest
This stop on the Road to Hana wasn’t even on our initial itinerary but when we drove past a random cluster of cars parked along the side of the road, we couldn’t help but stop and go find out what everyone was here for.
Our decision brought us to one of the best hidden gems on the Road to Hana. Unlike some of the more popular bamboo forests in Maui, this one is uncrowded and open to be explored anywhere you want. It can be a little overwhelming when you first duck into the trees because there are so many trails, you may feel like you’re going to get lost. Don’t worry though, all the trails go to one place, a beautiful waterfall.
The forest is worth a stop in itself but what makes this even better is the secluded waterfall a 5-10 minute hike in.
Tip: just a couple hundred feet before you reach the trailhead, you’ll see the popular painted forest on your right (this is if you’re driving it in reverse as recommended) as you drive by. This used to be a popular stop for pictures and exploring, however, it now has many “do not enter” signs and is best enjoyed from afar.
Coconut Glen’s Vegan Ice Cream Truck
On all the blogs I read when researching the Road to Hana, people raved about Coconut Glens. Being dairy-free, I was just stoked about the prospect of ice cream I could actually eat, however, I was skeptical since I’m not a big fan of coconut. After tasting the ice cream myself, I can promise that Coconut Glens is worth the hype.
Though all the flavors are coconut-based and vegan, the flavors are rich, unique, and not overpoweringly coconut flavored. I would never think to combine flavors like Lemongrass Ginger and Banana Rum Raisin (and classic chocolate of course) but they were absolutely delicious!
There are multiple Coconut Glen’s food trucks scattered along the Road to Hana but these ice cream trucks are mobile by nature which means they may not be in the same places.
When I visited, there was a location at the Twin Falls trailhead, one at about halfway to Hana, and one in the town of Hana. Just keep an eye out for signs on the road because I definitely recommend stopping.
While small restaurants and food stands scatter the Road to Hana, this is the only large hub of eateries along the way. Many of the food stands looked delicious but the food at this marketplace looked even better and I liked the community eating area that seemed almost like a farmers market.
Black Sand Beach
I was torn on whether or not to include this stop. On the one hand, it is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Maui, and on the other hand, it’s totally overrated and crowded.
Even still, Black Sand Beach is worth a visit. The teal blue waters contrast so beautifully against the dark sandy shores and the lime green brush.
As I mentioned earlier, Black Sand Beach would be best experienced at sunrise or at sunset and you can do this by spending the night in the town of Hana or camping at the beach itself.
Red Sand Beach
This is one of the most beautiful beaches I have EVER seen. While it might not be the best beach for playing and exploring, it is a photogenic gem and I would’ve loved to have spent more time taking in the rich colors, dark waters, and bright flora and fauna surrounding the shores.
This beach is often considered a hidden gem in Maui but while that may have been true at one point, it’s not anymore. The Red Sand Beach is equally as popular as Black Sand beach at this point. This is another beach that would be beneficial to visit during sunrise or sunset to avoid the crowds but even during the middle of the day not too bad.
Most tourists on the Road to Hana stop off here for only a brief detour at the viewpoint, which is reached via a 5-minute hike, and don’t actually head down to the beach. This leaves plenty of room to relax on the sandy shore.
I’d recommend spending at least a half-hour here to take in the beauty.
Haleakala National Park
Last on this list of stops is the famous 7 Sacred Pools which I’ll be totally honest, is totally unspectacular compared to all the other waterfalls on the Road to Hana.
That being said, the ecosystem surrounding is worth stopping and exploring and the real reason you should stop here is to hike the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoko Falls (AKA the Bamboo Forest). The 3.5 mile round trip trail takes 2 hours to complete.
Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know to drive the Road to Hana in reverse so by the time we got to Haleakala, we didn’t have time to do the popular Bamboo Forest hike. By driving it in reverse, you’ll be able to prioritize your time in Haleakala.
Hope this helped you prepare for the Road to Hana! If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!