Road Map to the Road to Hana – How to Plan your Trip (Maui, Hawaii)
The Road to Hana is considered one of the “not to be missed” Maui experiences for those staying a decent amount of time on the island. While there are definitely things to consider to learn if it is right for you, it is truly a unique experience that cannot be found anywhere else.
Some facts about the Road to Hana:
- It is about the drive and not the destination of Hana
- There are 620 curves
- 59 bridges – 46 of which are one lane
- It is 52 miles long
- Takes about 3 hours one way
- There are estimated to be over half a million visitors a year that participate in this pilgrimage
When to Go
Obviously this will depend on when you are traveling to Maui – you are not going to plan when you travel to Maui based on when the Road to Hana is least busy. However, low season in Maui means mess tourists to embark on the journey. What I would recommend is avoiding the weekends. We went on a Tuesday and Wednesday – that combined with the low tourist numbers (covid) meant that we had the entire Road to Hana practically to ourselves – including many of the stops along the way. I know we got lucky here so expect to have some company. Another tip is to leave very early in the day to beat the crowd – especially if you are doing this in one day.
How to Drive
Your stops are going to dictate a lot of how to drive the you cannot drive the Road to Hana. However, there are a few different approaches to consider that depend on how much you want to see and how much time you have on your trip to dedicate to the drive.
- The drive in total is 52 miles to the final stop of Kipahulu. At that point, everyone recommends turning back around and returning the same road. There is a way around to do a big circle (Google Maps even recommends) but apparently the road is not as well maintained and some rental companies will not cover the vehicle driven on those roads. This could potentially change with time but for now, plan on returning the same way you came.
There are three ways to plan your drive
- (1) Make stops all on the way to Kipahulu and drive straight back (most popular approach)
- Option (1) is by far the most traditional and most popular. Because of that, you have the advantage of most itineraries being all set up for you to copy and paste and the disadvantage of everyone else traveling doing the exact same thing, potential causing congestion at the stops.
- (2) Drive all at once directly to Kipahulu then makes stops on the return journey
- Option (2) enticed me because you get the long drive out of the way in the morning and do the stops in reverse so you will be hitting the stops at the opposite times of the day as the majority of travelers. However, that is a gamble and if you end up spending too much time earlier in the day, you may miss some stops on the way back.
- (3) Take two days to explore with an overnight in Hana
- Option (3) is probably the lease popular one but ended up being the one we selected. Yes there is a disadvantage of consuming two precious days of Maui vacation but I figured this was one of those experiences you do not do every time you visit Maui and I did not want to compromise on the spots I wanted to incorporate trying to beat the short day light hours in the winter.
- If you are staying in Hana, we stayed in this Airbnb – it was a bit more than I wanted to pay but it was really nice! If Airbnbs are unavailable, there is Hana Inn as well but it is more hostel style.
Where to Stop
It is important to learn the stops along the Road to Hana and select the ones that are your top priority. While it is possible to hit every stop, plans change and interruptions occur that may inhibit your ability to do it all. If you only have one day, it could be a stressful day trying to fit everything in and not having enough time at some of the bigger stops. Having a “must do” list will help chronograph your drive and determine how much time you really need. Plus, your priorities and focus may be completely different from a guide or even my list so a little homework will go a long way.
My “must do” list:
What is really nice about this drive is that most of the waterfalls are directly off the highway – you do not have to even get out of the car if you do not want to! These include:
- Waikamoi Waterfall
- Upper Waikani Falls
- Wailua Falls
- Note about the waterfalls and water spots in general – while you read about swimming in and near the falls, swimming not permitted in as many places as I expected – not looking to swim but for those that are word of caution – flash flooding is a legitimate thing in this part of Maui and in the rain forest, the rain can come at anytime and fast. There have been instances of people in the streams and falls at times when a flash flood suddenly hit and they were swept away. My advice is to save the swimming for the beaches.
Also, some spots that were once safe stops can be dangerous, especially if you are not familiar with the conditions or area. There were warnings posted for Honomanu Bay, Peahi Beach, Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach, Waioka Pond, and other so just be careful.
With 620 curves and 59 bridges – 46 of which are one lane – over 52 miles of driving, there is some etiquette and safety tips that we found helpful.
- Do not rent an enormous car – we felt tight enough in our Kia Soul and were happy to not have a larger rental vehicle to worry about
- At one lane encounters, allow cars to pass in the order they arrive – typically one side has a yield sign forcing right of way
- Do not stop in the middle of the road – there are periodic pull off locations if you need to stop, especiallys for pictures
- If you have someone behind you or a line forming, move over – there are locals that drive his routinely and can probably do so with their eyes closed – we pulled over multiple times to let cars go ahead and it is encouraged at you do so
- Honking is a great way to let someone know you are there if you are not in their sight line – there are meany blind turns and one lane roads – there are some signs later in the drive that encourage the honking but you can certainly use it sooner to let someone know you are coming
- Make sure you have a full tank of gas before leaving Paia – we used less than half a tank of gas which is way less than I would have expected however, there are virtually no gas stations along this road so in the event of an emergency, it is best to fill up
- Take you time – it is not a race and these curves can be really tight at times – remember it is about the journey
Where to Eat:
Eating on the Road to Hana was certainly a difficult experience for us as many of the places were closed due to the low tourist to the area. Normally, there are many spots – including food truck pods and farm stands – that are available during the day to feed drivers. Note that in the evening – I am talking after 3PM – the options drop off significantly so pay attention to hours of operation. While we did not get to try anything, these were the stops I would have made:
- Huleo Look Out
- Ka Haku Smoke Shack
- Halfway to Hana
- Nahiku Market Place
- Hana Farms
- Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill
- Kilo’s Kitchen
No matter what the forecast says, expect some rain. Pack your rain gear, towel, change of clothes and big for muddy shoes. The roads can get slick fast so take the driving down a notch to avoid sliding. We were fortunate to have a beautiful day on our first day with only a little bit of rain but on our drive back on the second day it poured for most of the early morning hours.
And finally… download the Gypsy Guide App
This was one thing I read from bloggers that was a “must have” – I did not really understand it but I kept it in the back of my mind. The night before we left, I thought of the app again and for the heck of it, downloaded it. The Gypsy Guide completely changed our drive and I cannot image having done it without it – I am so happy I made this last minute addition. The app is $6.99 and worth every penny. Basically, it is a guide that does not require any data or wifi – it only uses your location to prompt dialogue at certain points on the drive. It is so informative and entertaining – like we were on a Disney attraction – Living with the Land meets Dinosaur. This made the drive go by fast and we learned so much that we would have absolutely never known without it. It even tells you where to park! Best seven dollars we spent on the entire trip. There is even an entire different dialogue for the return trip where we learned all about Hawaiian history – we were pros by the time we made it to Aulani. We were blown away.
Everyone says the Road to Hana is about the journey and not the destination and while cliche, I have to agree. It is one of the most unique drives in the world navigating the cliffs of a tropical island. The views are breathtaking, the waterfalls are abundant, and the road itself – while scary at times – forces you to slow down and examine each mile. I hope you make time to enjoy the Road to Hana when you visit Maui!