The Most Breathtaking Drive in the States – The Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii

A view of the ocean from the Road to Hana

I was 17 when I graduated high school and moved into the city from the burbs to attend college. Everyday I would drive north up Lake Shore Drive and enjoy the large pretty lake to my right and the unsurpassed skyline on my left. How lucky I was to see something so pretty everyday. This just HAD to be the most beautiful drive in the country!

Of course, I thought that once, before I had an opportunity to really travel. Sure, I had been across the country in Griswold-style family vacations,

This will make my father smile.

to Niagara Falls, and on a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, but having been only 16 and 13 respectively during those trips, the experience hardly had any major effect on me. I’m pretty sure Space Camp had a greater impact on me than any of those trips.

Space Camp

NERD ALERT!!! Space Camp Pilot – Atlantis Mission – 1991

Lake Shore Drive is definitely beautiful, but not in the way of Highway 1 in California, or Beartooth Highway in Montana, or Seward Highway in Alaska. I would say it is worth driving up LSD in the summer to go to the beach hidden away between Albion and Northshore Ave. in the Rogers Park neighborhood, but LSD may never make any “Most beautiful drives” lists when there are paths to Eden like the one I took on Leap Year day.

A local’s property and fence made of surfboards – found early along the Road to Hana

The Road to Hana is a narrow corkscrew highway which connects the isolated town of Hana on the east side of Maui to the rest of civilization. Supposedly

Swimming in Maui waterfalls

there are 617 curves and 54 one-lane bridges and dozens of waterfalls, some ideal for swimming. The old cliché, ‘it’s not the destination but the journey that matters’ must be about this drive along the Road to Hana, as you’ll want to go slow and take your sweet time to take in the sights, go swimming, and walk the several hiking trails along the way.

The English language doesn’t have enough words to adequately describe the beauty along this highway.

With every turn, the views more splendid: gorgeous flowers, beautiful rainforests, unique rainbow trees, quirky Hawaiian roadside shops and distracting vistas. The amount of magnificence along one path…my God, the Hawaiians live at the pot of gold at the end of rainbow!

This trip is a MUST if you travel to Maui, either via tour or by driving on your own. Travelling along the Road to Hana is like no other adventure and requires proper preparation and planning. If you drive on your own, you’ll have the freedom to make this trek the way I will recommend below (including the top 10 places to stop and see). Just a warning though: if you are prone to carsickness, don’t even think about taking this long and arduous drive – with all the curves, cliff-sides  and one lane roads this could easily become a horrible day for you without the proper medication. Oh, and be sure to leave as early as possible, before 7:30 am if you can.

This is an all day trip, at minimum 12 hours from leaving the West side of Maui to your return. My recommendation is to plan accordingly and camp, or stay at a Bed & breakfast once you arrive in Hana so that you are able to take your time and really enjoy the views, beaches, and hikes.

Black Sand Beach along the Road to Hana

Camping

Wai’anapanapa State Park

A good place to camp is Wai’anapanapa State Park (and worth stopping at even though I skipped it in my top 10 list), around mile marker 32, is located in Hana off of the Hana Highway at the end of Wai’anapanapa road. It has a perfect black sand beach, lava tube caves, native hala forest, and beautiful natural ocean arches. It’s an amazing place offering an excellent opportunity to view a seabird colony, anchialine pools and the occasional mongoose. There you’ll find a 3 mi. (roundtrip) rugged coastal hiking trail, the Ke Ala Loa O Maui/Piilani. There is no entrance fee, but may require a reservation – visit: http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/maui/index.cfm?park_id=41

Eating

It is best to plan accordingly and bring plenty of water bottles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat along the way however you will want to stop at the little fruit stands for delicious snacks and locally made food.

Fruit stand along the road to Hana

On the south side of Hana, just past the only gas station on the east side of the island (make sure you have a full tank before leaving  Kahului) at mile marker 35 is Bruddah Hutts BBQ Grill. Here you will get huge portions of the best BBQ on the island served out of a truck by friendly locals. You may have to wait in line and parking is limited, but it will be worth the wait as it is the last place to get a great meal before hitting the rough stretch of road back to civilization.

10 Places to Stop along the Road to Hana, Maui Hawaii

1. Four Waterfalls Hike – Na’ili’ili Stream and Bamboo Forest – 1.6 miles past mile marker 5

There is a dirt pullout on the right hand side of the road, and you’ll have to step over a small fence to locate the trail. Be sure not to attempt this hike in the late afternoon so you can take your time, especially if you are an adventure seeker like me 🙂 If you intend on making the full hike, leave your camera in the car, unless it is waterproof. Walk through the bamboo forest to your way to the stream bed and a string of waterfalls and pools. The first few waterfalls are typically within easy reach of most folks. Many people stop at the 2nd waterfall since it becomes increasingly difficult to hike past that point. To get to the 3rd waterfall, you’ll need to climb a sturdy rope attached to a tree to pull your weight up to the top of the 2nd waterfall. You’ll then go boulder hopping for about 3/4 of a mile until you reach a pool of water. Jump right on in and swim to the 3rd waterfall (which is very small). From there, you’ll climb up the right side of the waterfall and once again boulder hop about 30 feet until you arrive at a 300+ foot waterfall and a fantastic swimming hole. Enjoy and relax because eventually you’ll need to climb back down the way you came which can be much scarier than climbing up it!

2. Rainbow Eucalyptus trees  – At about the 7 or 8 mile marker

Mile 7 marker on the Road to Hana

Brought over to Maui from the Philippines, the unique Rainbow Eucalyptus are beautiful multicolored trees which appear to be painted. Patches of outer bark shed off at different times throughout the year, showing a bright green inner bark. Over time the bark darkens to bright colors such as purple, orange, maroon, blue and green.

These trees are tall, smooth, beautiful and worth stopping to get a closer look.

3. Ho’okipa Beach Park  – Mile 9 marker

The most renowned windsurfing site in the world offers great views and people watching. The waves here are largest during the winter, and break across a system of reefs that extend across the bay.

Curves along the Road to Hana

4. Keanae Park – between mile 16 & 17 markers

This is peaceful stop to relax, eat and watch stray kittens play. Here you’ll find a beautiful lava rock beach, banana bread stand, and restrooms.

Keanae Park lava rock beach

There are legends about bad luck and bad things happening to those who remove lava rocks from the island. I had picked up a couple smooth rocks from Keanae Park, but upon hearing of these stories, I decided it best to return them to their rightful home. My luck has been good ever since 🙂

This is me returning lava rocks back to the beautiful beach in Maui

5. Keanae Peninsula

The old Hawaiian village of Keanae stands out against the Pacific like a place time forgot. A 1860 stone church stands here among swaying palms and is one of the last coastal enclaves of native Hawaiians.

Keanae Congregational Church

A 1/4 mile farther is the Keanae Congregational Church built in 1860 of lava rocks and coral mortar. The building is impressive, if only because it has withstood the weather over the years. Beside the church is a small beachfront park and trees against a backdrop of black lava and a beautiful turquoise sea (picture above).

If you want to experience untouched Maui, follow the road until it ends. You’ll find a white fence where you can park, and walk along the shoreline for about 5 minutes over the black lava. Following the footpath, you’ll go through tall California grass to the black rocky beach, separating the freshwater stream. This is a perfect place to stop and eat those PB & J sandwiches and take a swim in the stream’s cool waters.

Keanae Congregational Church cemetary

6. Red Sand Beach

Located on the far side of Ka’uiki Hill just south of Hana Bay. Kaihalulu Beach can only be reached via a primitive and slippery path. Perhaps the best part are the nudists and eccentric characters who also frequent this beach. Strike up a conversation! It’s certain to add more color to your experience.

Red Sand Beach Hana

7. Waioka Pond (Venus Pool) – Just past mile 48 marker

Among East Maui’s most spectacular natural pools, situated in rugged and scenic coastline. Here you’ll find a huge waterfall and 50 foot walls to climb and jump.  Park at mile marker 48 before the bridge. On the other side of the fence follow the well-worn footpath that parallels the stream. Turn right toward the stream and take the path down about 2 minutes to the smooth rocks above the stream.

Waioka Pond

8. Hamoa Beach – between mile 50 & 49 marker

This beach has been repeatedly voted the best beach in Hawaii and is personally my favorite of all beaches I have seen. This half-moon-shaped, gray-sand beach is not only beautiful, but the surf is strong and allows for some great body surfing.

Hamoa Beach

9. Seven Sacred Pools – Mile marker 42

You can park for roughly $10 per car. As you can imagine, this is a huge tourist attraction, so there will be many other people here. Pipiwai Trail is a great hike that many do not take as it is quite long. You will see many waterfalls along the way; 2/3 mile into hike is Makahiku Falls (200 ft.) overlook. At the end is the 400 ft. Waimoku Falls.

10.  Palapala  Ho’omau Church – Mile 41 marker

Charles Lindbergh is buried here and the grounds are lovely.

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3 responses to “The Most Breathtaking Drive in the States – The Road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii

  1. I agree with Damien…beautiful narrative and pictures…perhaps you should consider a new profession. Carol C.

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