The most breathtaking road on Earth is not in Asia or along the golden coast of California. Road to Hana rests on the East coast of Maui tucked away on one of the most remote islands in the world. Until 2020, millions of people visited Maui to explore the waterfalls, beaches, cliff sides, trails, lava tubes, and caves hidden beyond the road. We gave ourselves two days and one night to explore, but would have taken a week to spend more time swimming in the grottos and sunbathing on the red sand beach.
You can book a tour of Road to Hana, but dreamers are the do-it-yourself type. Driving yourself is also the best way to see the waterfalls and beaches off the beaten path. Rent a Jeep or SUV for your excursion because some of the roads are unpaved and loaded with the largest potholes you’ve ever seen. The sedans we saw on the road had to drive less than 10 miles per hour to safely make it through. You should also purchase a physical copy of Maui Revealed which will tell you how to safely access different stops. Grab the most recent version because we used an older version and several of the waterfalls and trails mentioned in the book were closed.
This drive is not for the faint of heart. There are one-lane bridges and roads throughout and you can’t pull off onto the side of the road to allow cars to pass due to hidden cliffs beneath the grass. I only know this because I tried to pull off onto the shoulder to allow a car to pass and my stomach dropped when my front tire dropped off the cliff. Luckily, we didn’t do a cliff dive and had a four-wheel drive Jeep. The local trying to pass us got out of her car to give tips on how to back off the cliff. She was the nicest local we encountered, but I’ll talk more about locals later.
Starting in North Maui you’ll see incredible waterfalls and creeks off the one-lane bridges. Following your Maui Revealed guidebook and the mile markers, you can choose what stops you make. I’ll write about our favorite stops in my next blog so you can build your own list of places to see. The Road to Hana is quiet literally a road that leads to a town called Hana. Drive slow and steady because there are hundred-foot drop offs with no guardrails and hidden cliffs around every turn. Many people have died driving this road and you’ll see abandoned cars that fell to their doom.
The Road to Hana starts in the North and covers 40 miles along the rain forest ending your journey exploring Haleakala National Park in Southeast Maui. There are two options once you reach the National Park: continue driving the unpaved southern cliff sides or turn around and go back the way you came to stay on paved roads. I highly recommend driving through the unpaved, rugged southern end if you have a sturdy car and daring driver. The views from the southern end are incredible and you can stop at the Maui Winery or Lavender Fields on the way.
The rural town of Hana in East Maui is near some of the best stops on your trip including the red sand beach, black sand beach, plenty of waterfalls and swimming holes. It’s one of the only towns with motels along the country roads so book your accommodations in advance. The Hana Inn has the cheapest prices and you’ll get what you pay for. The best way to experience Road to Hana is to stay at campsites along the route. These are the campsites from the beginning, middle, and end of Road to Hana, respectively: YMCA Camp Keanae, Waianapanapa State Park, and Kipahulu Campground. Waianapanapa State Park has cabins available for rent if you book in advance.
We were going to car camp along our journey, but all the campsites will remain closed until Hawaii enters Phase 3 of opening. The campsites will then open by reservation only so be sure to book in advance when Hawaii enters Phase 3. Google Maps did not mark the campsites as closed so don’t rely on their information alone. Check the specific campsites restrictions and reservation policies before leaving. You don’t want to be stranded in Hana because they don’t let anyone to camp outside of the campgrounds or park alongside the road to sleep in your car. Local cops monitor the roadways at night and will make you move if you’re parked anywhere in Hana, as they did to us in the middle of the night.
Speaking of locals, the Hana locals do not like visitors. New Yorkers have nothing on Hana natives. Most are self-sufficient farmers that live off the land and they despise tourists. Respect the land, ocean, waterfalls, and avoid private property. We accidentally took a wrong turn and a local cussed us out while we reversed back onto the main road. You’ll find “no visitors,” “natives only,” and “residents only” handwritten signs along the public lands, but as long as you are staying away from private property you will not get in trouble for exploring hidden beaches, watering holes, and springs.
The best way you can respect the land is to stay on trails and wear mineral sunscreen. Canned spray sunscreen and sunscreen with any chemical components kills the coral and good bacteria that thrives on the beaches and waterfalls. Look for a 100% mineral sunscreen made with zinc or titanium dioxide. Maui locals aren’t afraid to speak up if they see swimmers using any other sunscreen. Protect the reefs and respect the Hawaiian culture.
Despite the rules, regulations, and danger, Road to Hana is hands down the best drive I’ve ever done. Travel junkies of all ages will have the best time cliff jumping, exploring waterfalls, and hiking to beaches. We saw several families during our journey! The top takeaways are to rent a sturdy car, drive slow, book accommodations in advance, and express positivity and respect towards the locals. As always, all photos were shot and edited on my iPhone. Stay tuned for a blog on my favorite spots during our Road to Hana journey!