Maui must-dos: The otherwordly Road to Hana


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If you’re planning a vacation to Maui, odds are the Road To Hana, one of the best road trips, is on your bucket list. According to Frommer’s, 500,000 people a year do the Heavenly Hana drive during their Maui vacation. It’s essential to do some planning to avoid crowds, see some of the best places and make sure your day is enjoyable. That’s right, Planner At Heart suggests that you plan … again!

Trust me, I didn’t plan our Road to Hana day well, and I learned my lesson. So here’s The Road to Hana Stops, Eats, and Advice from my fellow travel bloggers that I wish I had on our day trip. For example, should you drive all the way to the end first to make sure you do Pipiwai Trail, what some say is the Golden Crown of the Road to Hana? And then hit-up stops on the way home?

When we went to Maui on our honeymoon, we left our hotel for the Road to Hana a little too late because I love to sleep in. Also, we scheduled ourselves a bit into a corner as we had dinner reservations at Mama’s Fish House, an amazing restaurant that I highly recommend. I thought this would be a great plan as it is in the same town where you start/return from The Road to Hana: Paia. 

Since we were staying alllllll the way over in Kapalua, I thought this made sense but it didn’t leave us enough time to see all the best stops. There’s always next time, right!

That being said, we still had a really fun day and tell all our friends to eat at Mama’s Fish House during their Maui vacation. Even if it means changing clothes in your car in the parking lot like we did ;). There are so many things to do in Paia and Haiku you could make a whole day out of it!

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What is The Road to Hana?

Technically, the Road to Hana is the Hana Highway located in East Maui. It’s the 65-mile long portion of Hawaii Route 36 and 360 with Kahului at one end and Hana town at another. If you continue to travel east of Kalepa Bridge, the highway continues to the town of Kipahulu as Hawaii Route 31, aka Pilani Highway. In 2000, the Road to Hana was designated the Hana Millennium Legacy Trail. In 2001, the National Register of Historic Places added the Road to Hana to their list, as many of the bridges date back to 1910, and all except one are still used today.

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How Long Does It Take To Do The Road to Hana?

Road to Hana is the same distance as my old one-way commute to work – 52 miles. If you did the drive during the off-season and didn’t make one stop, it would take you 2.5 hours. There are 60 bridges, many of which only allow one car to pass at a time. Add to that many dramatic curved roads that are best traveled at slow speeds.

Tour Maui reports that depending on how many Road to Hana stops you make, the trip can take 7-12 hours. As a parent of young kids, I can’t imagine them making it all the way to Hana Town. Many families do the “Half Hana” and find it’s a great happy medium.

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Why is The Road to Hana Famous?

This part of East Maui is mainly undeveloped and gives you a chance to experience the Maui of old. This is one of the reasons why Maui is my favorite Hawaiian island. (Sorry, Oahu, my former residence). It’s a really great mix of conveniences and fantastic restaurants with the opportunity to experience the undeveloped Hawaii that draws so many. 

Road to Hana is to experience an amazingly lush island paradise. It includes stunning vistas and the best of mother nature mile after mile. There’s a rainbow eucalyptus grove, Wailua Falls near the Oheo Gulch Seven Sacred Pools, Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach, the Hana lava tube and so so much more!

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The Road to Hana: 7 Planning Tips

It wouldn’t be a Planner at Heart article without some planning tips, right!??! But in this instance, it’s pretty important to think about essentials like gas! Make sure you have a full tank of gas before hitting Road to Hana stops as gas stations are really few and far between on the drive.

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1. You Don’t Have to Drive

If you’re already feeling nervous driving this twisty, turny road in a rental car, you don’t have it! There are now various van and luxury tours that you can book and leave all the decisions and driving to someone else! You’ll get lots of “talk story” from your guide about the area, sites, and Hawaiian history.

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2. Upgrade With A Companion Audio Guide

I’m dating myself here, but when we did Road to Hana on our honeymoon, we bought the infamous audio Hana CD guide from the booth at “the” gas station that everyone said to get. It adds to the experience and gives you cool information that you would get if you were with a tour guide. It’s passed to so many friends who also did Road to Hana stops that I’m not even sure who has it now!

While we love tours, we also like to explore on our own. If you’re the same, grab the Maui Road to Hana Driving Tour by Shaka Guide. It’s the #1 rated Tour app in Maui and like an expert guide right in your car.

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3. Remember to Respect the Aina (Land)

“When planning your road to hana stops, and all throughout Hawaii, be sure to mind your manners and be respectful of the aina and local culture, said Jacquline, an Oahu native and Blogger at Your Travel Flamingo. “Respecting the “aina” means to respect the land, which you can do by understanding the inherent risks present in nature.”

“Although this journey is incredibly scenic, it’s known to be dangerous. Each year there are accidents here, which do unfortunately involve tourists. Use proper common sense and safety precautions while here to avoid any incidents and respect mother nature. Some basic rules include driving carefully, not walking off the designated paths and trails, and mind any flash flood warnings.”

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4. Don’t Overschedule the Day

“Before you set out to hit the Road to Hana stops, plan for your day. Between beautiful hikes, stunning waterfalls, and Instagram-worthy photo opportunities, you can easily spend a 12-hour day exploring along the way,” said Karee at Our Woven Journey. “Keep your evening free, so you can enjoy your time without needing to rush back. 

Plan to get an early start. With over 600 hairpin curves, you’ll want to see the road, as well as the view, in the daylight. Gas up your car, bring plenty of snacks and don’t forget the Dramamine if anyone gets car sick. Think about leaving reservations at those special restaurants for another day!”

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5. Understand Your Car Rental Policy

“Before heading to Maui and hitting the Road to Hana stops, it is super important to review your car rental policy! While most Maui car rentals do allow you to drive on the Road to Hana, many of them do not allow you to continue on certain roads,” says Gabby at Journey to the Destination.

“Some car rental companies also might not allow you to drive off-road in your rental car. Keep this in mind as you drive and make various stops! The last thing you want to do is accidentally damage your rental car while off-road and have to pay for the repairs.”

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6. Keep the Reef in Mind

“One thing to be aware of when visiting Hawaii is the importance of packing or purchasing reef-safe sunscreen to preserve the beauty of Hawaii’s coral reefs for generations to come. Hawaii’s chemical sunscreen ban just went into effect on January 1, 2021, meaning that any sunscreen you buy in Hawaii will be free of oxybenzone and octinoxate chemicals, which can harm the marine environment and coral,” said Victoria at Guide Your Travel.

“However, if you pack your own sunscreen from home, consider reef-safe and chemical-free ones. Look for zinc or mineral-based sunscreens, or sunscreens specifically marked as reef-safe. Or buy your sunscreen in Hawaii to be sure you’re buying ones that won’t harm the fragile coral reefs and their inhabitants!”

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7. Prepare for a Full Day Away from Your Resort

Besides bringing swimsuits, towels, heavy-duty water shoes, and dry changes of clothes, think about what else would make the day comfortable and convenient for you! You’ll be gone a long time, doing a wide range of activities so don’t wing it as you stumble out of the hotel in the early morning. Remember that most of the Road to Hana stops are in undeveloped areas. While there are food stands and places to eat, there are limited gas stations, convenience stores, etc. For me, bug spray would be a must, as I always get so many bug bites!

“Driving long distances can be exhausting, so it’s essential to prepare for all the road to hana stops before you go. The most important thing to take is, of course, snacks and plenty of water,” said Allison at California Crossroads. “Make a dedicated bag or box with all your sandwiches, sweets, and whatever else you’re taking. Of course, a cooler with cold drinks is a bonus. For such a long trip like the Road to Hana, you might also want to take a few pillows or whatever would make a long day in the car comfortable for you. Make yourself comfortable so you don’t get car sick and enjoy the incredible views. “

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The Road to Hana Stops: 15 Great Stops from Travel Bloggers

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1. Twin Falls & Twin Falls Farm Stand at Mile Marker 7

“From Paia, Twin Falls is about 20 mins down the road, and it’s an ideal first stop. Visitors can park near mile marker 2 and access the falls by walking down a short trail by the Wailele Farm Stand. Once at the falls, visitors can enjoy the sights and jump in one of the warm pools of water that await,” says Rick from Travel Addicts Life.

“An astonishing fact about Twin Falls is that it receives as much as 100 inches of rain a year. I’ve driven the Road to Hana three times, and each time it rained as soon as I had left Paia. But, the rain shouldn’t scare you away. Instead, it will explain why there is all the lush vegetation all around the area. Don’t let rainy weather deter you from exploring Maui!”

“Last, on your way back to the car, be sure to stop at the Twin Falls Farm Stand and recharge with a fruit smoothie and a piece of their famous banana bread – it’s to die for!”

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2. The Painted Forest at Mile Marker 7

“As you approach mile marker 7 on the Road to Hana, you may notice trees with rainbow-colored streaks running down the trunk. It features the most well-known grove of rainbow eucalyptus trees, also known as the Painted Forest,” said Elaina from Mind Over Matter Travel. 

“The grove isn’t set up as one of the Road to Hana stops, but visitors can park in a cut-out on the shoulder of the road. Tourists often overlook the grove, so it’s the perfect spot to avoid crowds, appreciate nature, and marvel at the colors of these unique rainbow eucalyptus trees.”

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3. Waikamoi Ridge Trail at Mile Marker 9.5

If you’re traveling the Road to Hana and it feels too crowded for your liking, pull over and try the Waikamoi Ridge Trail. It’s often unnoticed and a great place to explore. It’s classified as an easy, one-hour hike comprised of various trails that make a loop. If it’s lunchtime, bring your meal and grab a spot at one of their many picnic areas.

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4. The Keanae Peninsula at Mile Marker 16

If you’re doing the Road to Hana Stops with small kids, this is one of the spots for the kid-friendly Half Hana. Kids can play in the tide pools, run around in the small park.

“Visiting the Keanae Peninsula should be on every visitor’s Maui bucket list. The Keanae Peninsula is one of the most famous Road to Hana stops. There is no beach, but the rocky coastline is spectacular as far as scenery goes. Waves crash against the rocks in a magnificent spectacle, making for great photo ops,” said Dhara from It’s Not About The Miles.

“The black lava rocks against the blue of the ocean and the white froth from crashing waves are a picture-postcard scene. You can walk around and take photos from different spots. You can see an old Hawaiian village, some taro fields, and an old stone church if you go down to the shore. The church was the only structure to survive a tsunami from 1946.”

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5. Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread Food Stand Mile Marker 16

Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread is so revered that it often runs out before lunch. Just ask Gordon Ramsey. Well now you can now preorder on her website so you’ll be guaranteed to enjoy some. Aunty Sandy also gives great advice to enjoy the Hana Highway.

“The best advice we can give you is to bring a great attitude and don’t set any expectations. Take in the beauty of our island as it comes. As you are driving, you will see beauty all around you. Take your time and remember that it’s the journey more than the destination.”

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6. Ke’anae Arboretum Mile Marker 16.7

If you’re only going to do half the Road to Hana stops and find yourself with a little extra time, this Arboretum garden is a great last-minute add-on. The six-acre park offers quick hike options with kid-friendly walking trails among a bamboo forest, a tropical landscape, and some fantastic vistas.

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7. Halfway to Hana at Mile Marker 17.3

If you have small kids like us, or perhaps you’re stretched for time, many people do a “halfway to Hana” itinerary. I couldn’t picture my kids wanting to spend the entire day in the car doing a lot of Road to Hana stops. It’s such a popular choice there’s even a great place to stop for snacks and treats – kids favorites! Or maybe you’re just ready for another shave ice!

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8. Puaʻa Kaa State Wayside Park at Mile Marker 22.5

Puaʻa Kaa State Wayside Park has a paved hiking trail to several small waterfalls and even a picnic area to take it all in. There are some larger waterfalls to see but you have to hike up a dirt trail. Please remember to respect the aina and Mother Nature. Mongooses and wild chickens are regulars here as they enjoy all the leftovers from picnic lunches.

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9. Coconut Glen’s Ice Cream at Mile Marker 27.5

“Most visit the Road to Hana stops for the sights you see along the way, but a surprising treat is found at Coconut Glen’s,” says Liz from Spend it Like Stanford. “Some of the best ice cream you will find in Maui is there, and it isn’t just any kind of ice cream. Coconut Glen’s serves one-of-a-kind coconut ice cream.”

“Located at mile marker 27.5 on the Road to Hana, Coconut Glen’s offers unique and vegan flavors that are constantly changing, like Lemongrass Ginger and Banana Rum. The small yellow bus that the ice cream is served out of is enticing enough, but their rainbow decorated patio makes it an Instagram-worthy stop. This rest stop offers a quick treat you don’t want to miss.”

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10. Jen’s Thai Food at Mile Marker 28

“On the Road to Hana, right at Mile Marker 28, sits one of the best Thai places in the United States. The unassuming roadside grill would make unknowing passersby keep driving. But don’t let its facade fool you,” says Lina from Bucket List Places. “Mouth-watering spices highlight authentic Thai flavors at this farm stand selling delicious food. This is a must of the Road to Hana stops and guaranteed to be one of the best meals you will eat on your trip to Hawaii.”

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11. Waianapanapa State Park at Mile Marker 32

“Be sure to add Wai’anapanapa State Park as one of your Road to Hana stops! The road to enter Wai’anapanapa State Park is a little past mile marker 32. The road wanders through the lush jungle before popping visitors out at a beautiful coastal park,” says Ashlee, Founder of The Happiness Function.

“Wander the trail to Maui’s famous Black Sand Beach and explore the freshwater cave made from volcanic rock. Be sure to pack a beach towel, bathing suit, and shoes you can walk in, plus get wet so you can take a quick pit stop and enjoy this epic beach! Visiting Waianapanapa State Park, Black Sand Beach and Cave is an incredibly fun outdoor thing to do in Maui!”

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12. The Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park at Mile Marker 42

“The Road to Hana is a magical Maui adventure full of lush green forests, roadside waterfalls, unique beaches, and tasty banana bread. BUT, the most amazing experience lies at the very end,” says Jordan at The Homebody Tourist.

“Pipiwai Trail is located in Haleakala National Park which is about 12 miles past the town of Hana, near mile marker 42. This trail is only 1.8 miles long, but filled with so much beauty. You will pass a huge banyan tree, navigate through a bamboo forest, and Waimoku Falls (a 400+ foot waterfall!) A lot of people miss out on this hike due to running out of time on a Road to Hana day trip. With this being said, I highly recommend driving to the end of the road first, hiking Pipiwai Trail, and then stopping at the other roadside stops on your way back.” 

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13. Wailua Falls at Mile Marker 45

“Wailua Falls is a thundering, 80 feet tall waterfall. You really can’t miss these photogenic falls– they’re right off the road,” says Ale of Sea Salt & Fog.  “There’s a small parking lot directly across from the falls, where you’ll find local vendors. If you’d like to get closer to the waterfall, there’s a short, but slippery path that’ll give you direct access. There’s a small swimming area at the bottom of the falls, so make sure you add a quick-dry towel to your Hawaii packing list if you’d like to go for a dip!”

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14. Hamoa Beach: Mile Marker 50

“Once you reach the quaint village of Hana, don’t stop there. Drive just a couple more miles past Hana, and you will find the unspoiled and stunning Hamoa Beach,” said Cecily of Groovy Mashed Potatoes. “Named one of the 10 Best Beaches in Maui by Conde Nast Traveler, the 1000 ft long sandy beach is surrounded by cliffs and tucked away in the trees. It’s unprotected from reefs which means the waves can get big, especially during wintertime. After your drive, unwind at the beach and watch the surfers ride some waves. To get there, take a left down Haneoo Road just after highway marker 51. It’s a scenic “not so” the road to Hana stop worth adding to your Maui itinerary.”

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15. Returning Home: Bonus Road to Hana Stops

“If you are staying in the Wailea/Kihei area, discover the incredible remote beauty of the drive to Hana from the back road the famous road trip,” suggests Casandra from Karpiak Caravan Adventure Family Travel.

“The Manawainui Valley (27.7 m) offers some stunning views, and there is plenty of room to pull over and park by the Manawainui bridge. Huikini Bay (29.9 m) is a beautiful beach that is a perfect pit-stop to bring a picnic and enjoy it while listening to the sounds of the waves. Views of the summit of Haleakala National State Park and Kaupo Gap (33.7 m) are visible if you stop at St. Joesph’s Church parking lot and walk out onto the grassy lawn. Plan to stop at Kula Bistro in Kula either on your way there or on your way back or pick up a picnic lunch to enjoy while stopped at Huikini Bay.”

If you have time for a 12-hour Hana day or a Half Hana day, it’s still a Maui Must-do. Aloha!

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