Home » National Parks » Haleakalā National Park » Magnificent Once in a Lifetime Drive the Road to Hāna

Take an epic drive along the stretch of one of the most scenic roadways known as the iconic Road to Hāna (Highway 36). A once-in-a-lifetime experience, the narrow road passes through lush green tropical rainforest with magnificent views of towering waterfalls, beautiful beaches, and deep blue ocean panoramas. The drive on the road to Hāna twists and turns through 617 curves as it hugs the coastline of Maui crossing 59 one lane bridges. The entire road is 64.4-mile-long.

“Nature is where it all begins for the Hawaiians. In fact, they call themselves Keiki O Ka 'Aina ‘children of the land’.”     

There are two options to travel on, driving the road to Hāna.

  • First option: Book a full-day sightseeing tour with an experience guide with narration on historic, cultural and flora and fauna. The driver will navigate the harrowing road and you can sit back and take photographs. You have little control over the time at each stop. The all-day tour will take you full-circle around the very diverse windward of Maui.
Road to Hana-Honomanu Lookout
Road to Hana-Honomanu Lookout Credit: Wanda Hanley

Once in a Lifetime Tour of the Road to Hāna

Our tour guide picked us up at our hotel in Kaanapali and dropped us off at the end of the tour. We had a large, comfortable and clean air-conditioned van greet us in front of the lobby of the Royal Lahiana resort, exactly on time. The best thing about having a guided do the driving is that you can sit back and enjoy all the magnificent scenic views along the road. They also know where to park, at all the best stops. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable in Hawaiian history and culture. This was a small group tour with only 6 individuals so we got an extremely personalized.

On our first trip we opted for a small group tour with a guide, however we did a return trip with our rental car to trek the trails we missed with the guided tour.

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Drive the Road to Hāna Stop-Ho’okipa Beach Park

This was our first stop of the morning just outside Paia Town. Windsurfers around the world know the famous beach as the holy grail of windsurfing spots. Papa is the Hawaiian word for the flat table-like shelf of an exposed reef which fronts the beautiful golden sands of Ho’okipa. We stopped in for a while, watching the surf was incredible! 

Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees-Road to Hana
Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees-Road to Hana Credit: Brad Fountain

Not too far down the road at mile marker 7 are the painted trees. They are natural, brightly colored, rainbow eucalyptus trees. Uniquely known for its gorgeous bark that peels away in strips revealing hues of green, blue and red. The mature trees may reach a height of 100 to a 150 feet. The Ke’anae Arboretum also has a grove of trees, along with other unique species of plants.

Bridges & Curves - Road to Hana
Bridges & Curves – Road to Hana Credit: Wanda Hanley

Drive the Road to Hāna Stop – Puohokamoa Falls

This morning Puohokamoa Falls is the first waterfall we encounter at mile marker 11 on the road to Hana. The Upper falls cascade 20-feet into a small pool ideal for swimming or wading. You can pay the $15 to Garden of Eden Arboretum and get views of the falls. However, if you want to get closeup views, park immediately after the bridge and walk the short boulder scramble to get wonderful photos of the falls. When we did this trip in the early morning, we had the pool to ourselves.

Note: There is now a sign stating private property, and they fenced the trail topped with barb-wire and flash flood warning signs.

You can take the hidden trail to the more impressive 200 foot Lower Puohokamoa Falls. This trail leads below the highway and is steep and muddy, so wear hiking boots. Luckily for our group, the falls were flowing full tilt from the increased rains the evening before.

Puohokamoa Falls-Maui
Barry @ Puohokamoa Falls-Maui-

Drive the Road to Hāna Stop – Waikamoi Nature Trail

This trail at Mile marker 9 provides an opportunity to get out and stretch along the road to Hana. It is a moderate 0.9 mile out and back trail. It takes about 30 minutes to walk. The biodiversity of this old growth cloud-forest is incredible. Lush vegetation and wildflowers line the jungle path. The smell from the eucalyptus trees was refreshing. There are a few lookouts along the trail. The trail may be muddy after rain and you will need mosquito spray. The trail does not reach the Waikamoi Falls. You can view it further them down the road however, we did not easily see it. Trees obscure its view it is only a small waterfall near mile marker 10 at the 1911 bridge. There is a larger waterfall above, but it requires a hazardous rock scramble through the dense tropical rainforest.

Back on the road we were in awe, as endless wonders seemed to be around every corner. Haipua’ena Falls at mile marker 11 is a short walk to a small waterfall with a pool. This is a beautiful spot to have a refreshing dip in the pool.

Keanine Peninsula
Keanine Peninsula Credit: Bernard Spragg. NZ Flickr

Drive the Road to Hāna Stop-Ke’ane Peninsula-Home of Taro

Many years ago a small village occupied rugged shoreline of the peninsula. In 1946, a massive tsunami inundated the picturesque village. Triggered by a magnitude 8.6 earthquake off the Aleutian chain of Islands in Alaska, the wave reached 20-30 feet high when it hit the beach. The only surviving structure was the Old Stone Church, called “Ihi’ihio Iehowa o na Kaua” in Hawaiian. A massive lava flow from the Haleakala volcano created the peninsula with its signature black jagged rocks.

Keanae Peninsula Coastline
Keanae Peninsula Coastline

Today Ke‘anae is a peninsula at mile marker 12 is renown as a major taro farm growing community. We walked through the stunning volcanic basaltic rock formations that line the coast, watching the turbulent waves crashing. The giant waves mesmerized me. The eroded rocks create small tidal pools for marine life.

Just past Kaumahina State Wayside Park at Mile marker 14 is the Honomanu Lookout has excellent views of the ocean before descending into the valley. At mile marker 17, our guide stopped at the Halfway to Hana refreshment stand to have a sample of the banana bread. Just past Ke’anae Arboretum this is one of Maui’s hidden gems to try the pineapple smoothies!

Upper Waikani-Three Bears Waterfall Credit: FreeGoodPhotos Public Domain

More Waterfalls around the Every Turn in the Road

Upper Waikani Falls-At mile marker 21, the Wailua Falls is easy to view from the road but difficult to climb down to the waterfall. A beautiful location, and very rewarding if you’re not afraid to climb a bit. It’s quite treacherous and slippery, so make sure you wear shoes with grips (no flip-flops). They referred this series of waterfalls to as the “Three Bears” because three separate falls run parallel to each other.

Pua’a Ka’a Falls at mile marker 22 in Pua’a Ka’a State Park. It is a perfect spot when driving the road to Hana to take a pit stop with clean restrooms. We climbed up past the lower waterfall on the right-hand side to the upper waterfall. Very tranquil looking down over the succession of mini waterfalls.

Lots of feral cats in the picnic area. Many of them were quite playful. While scratching one cat, a huge Kukui nut fell from the 50 foot tree above me. At first I thought someone had thrown it at me. It packed quite a punch, leaving a bruise I would not soon forget. This is one of the most photographed falls and an incredible swim spot too!

Pua'a Ka'a State Wayside & Falls
Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside & Falls Credit: Wanda Hanley

Awe-inspiring Hanawi Falls at mile marker 24 is a series of falls. During low flow times you can hike the area. The upper falls cascades 30 feet into a plunge pool. The lower cascade plummets 200 feet but is difficult to hike. The spring fed falls have a constant flow even during the summer months.

Makapipi Falls

Near mile marker 25, this falls can only be photographed from above the bridge. However, there are splendid views of the pool from the bridge. We stood on the bridge to look directly down at the top of the falls. Not as thrilling as the other waterfalls, but still worth the stop.

Drive teh Road to Hana Waterfall
Photo by Jordan McQueen on Unsplash

Waiʻanapanapa State Park

This beach has the most incredible views, and gorgeous black sand beach. This was our favorite stop, a gorgeous tropical retreat. Wai’anapanapa means “glistening water”, and is located at mile marker 32. The park has restrooms, a campground, a picnic area and rental cabins. There’s lots of other interesting things to do in this 122 acre park. You can explore the lava tubes and legendary caves, anchialine pools, natural stone arches, sea stacks, and blowholes. Surrounded by volcanic lave rock cliffs, you get amazing views of Pa’iloa beach from the headlands.

 Waianapanapa-State-Park-drive the road to Hana
Wai’anapanapa-State-Park Credit: Bernard Spragg. NZ Flickr

We descended a short trek to the small sand beach. The deep blue color of the ocean contrasts with the black pebbled beach, just listen to waves crashing against the jagged shoreline. The sand is actually small pebbles that feel unique in between your toes. We could see why swimming here can be dangerous with the rough surf. Walk east to the lava tube, ducking our heads inside the cavern opens into a large room. Natural skylights in the ceiling illuminated the dark room. Definitely make sure to take the path up the cliffs on the far side of the beach. Venturing further down the rocky shoreline to the blowhole is worth the effort if the surf and tide are high. Today we got to see it shoot short streams of water. However, it was not very impressive.

Honokalani Black Sand Beach
Honokalani Black Sand Beach

Note: they have implemented a ticketed entry system for the 2021 season. It requires advanced reservations at least one day in advance and only 14 days. You pay $10 for your vehicle and an additional $5 per person in the vehicle.

Legend of the Wai'anapanapa Caves-drive the road to Hana
Legend of the Wai’anapanapa Caves

Wai’anapanapa Legend

Our guide took us down the short loop hike to the beautiful fresh-water pools, telling us the legend of the Hawaiian princess. The legend of Waiʻānapanapa caves can be read on a large sign at the trailhead. It is interesting how the freshwater sits on top of the saltwater and a dip in the refreshing pool was a welcome relief from the heat. Today, the pools are inaccessible and fenced.

We ate a breakfast of croissants, muffins and fruit with coffee and juice at one of the picnic tables. While eating our snack, the guide told us Pele’s Curse is the belief that anything natively Hawaiian, such as sand, rock, or pumice, will affect bad luck on whoever takes it away from Hawaii. Every year packages arrive with the artifacts being returned to the island.

Waiʻanapanapa State Park
Waiʻanapanapa State Park Honokalaini Black Sand Beach Photo: WikiCommons

Hāna the End of the Road

After 52-miles you reach the end of the road. Hana Town is one of the most isolated communities in Hawaii. For us, the highlight of our day was a visit to Hasegawa’s General Store. This legendary general store in Hāna has a wide-range of goods-everything you could need. The brothers Shoichi and Saburo Hasegawa founded the historic Hana landmark in 1910 that was immortalized in song in 1961. The original store burned in 1990 and was rebuilt. We wandered the aisles of groceries, plumbing supplies and even liquor. Items are more expensive due to the logistics of getting supplies here, but we bought a few souvenir items. We loved the nostalgia and smiled as we humming a few bars of the song.

“As you walk through the doorway, what a great surprise.
There’s a wonderful variety of merchandise,
It’s all spread out there before your eyes,
At the Hasegawa General Store.”

Koki Beach-Alau Island
Koki Beach-Alau Island-MaxPixel.net-Creative Commons Zero – CC0.

Intimate Beaches of Hāna

When you pull off Hāna Highway onto the loop road, you’ll come across the first beach called Koki Beach. It has a marvellous view of Alau island in the distance. The beach sand is fine, quite soft, but dark reddish because of the cinder hill, Ka Iwi O Pele. You can walk into the water for about 40 yards and it’s only waist deep. This makes it excellent and safe for adults and kids to enjoy the water. 

The spectacular horseshoe-shaped Hamoa Beach is one of my favorite beaches in Hawaii. It has a long stretch of pristine sand which is ringed in by beautiful green foliage. There’s a reasonable amount of parking on the shoulders of the road and stairs at the street level to get to the beach. The silky soft salt & pepper sand between your toes feels amazing-James Michener, the author of Hawaii, thought Hamoa Beach to be the most beautiful beach in the Pacific! An excellent for place to surf, body surf, and boogey board. However, the current can be strong, beware of riptides.

Rugged Coastal Maui Credit: Wanda Hanley

Hāna Cultural Center & Museum

We stopped in on our return to trip to see the Hāna Cultural Center & Museum to learn about Hawaiian culture. Outdoor exhibit is the Hale Waiwai (“House of Treasures”), Hāna Courthouse and Jail, and Kauhale O Hāna. The O Hāna is a reproduction of a traditional Hawaiian family compound. There are artifacts in the museum and a gift shop that sell local arts and crafts. Excellent information on the tsunami of 1946 that devastated the town.

drive the road to Hana Town
Surfboards on the Road to Hana Credit: Don Stouder Unsplash

Our tour group stopped at the Hāna Ranch restaurant for a quick lunch. We absolutely loved the Ahi tuna poke appetizer. I had the Kalua Pig pork sandwich with coleslaw delicious! Barry had the Mahi-Mahi sandwich that he said was yummy, served with fries. This restaurant perched on a hill with magnificent views of the azure ocean. We enjoyed our lunch at a leisurely pace, enjoying the light breeze.

Note: The mile markers start at 50 at Hana Town and begin decrease on the west side of the island.

Hana Farms Stand
Hana Farms Credit: Wanda Hanley

Cascading Wailua Falls

The last major waterfall is 20-minutes outside Hāna at mile marker 45. The waters of Wailua Falls dramatically plunges 80-foot cascading into a deep pool surrounded by lush rainforest. You can easily photograph the waterfall from the road as the Honolewa stream passes directly under the road. Parking is available just after crossing the bridge on the left side. Wailua Falls is Maui’s “most photographed waterfall.” Our tour guide helped us to grab a quick photo in front of the falls. If you look to the right of the bridge, there is a quick path to walk down to the pool. Be careful walking the trail, it is very rocky and slippery.

Paihi Falls                                                                     ‘Ohe’o Gulch Waterslide
Paihi Falls ‘Ohe’o Gulch Waterslide

Kīpahulu District Visitor Center

This region became part of the Haleakalā National Park in 1969 and includes the Pools of ‘Ohe’o. You will need to pay the park entrance fee at the visitor’s center. The entrance fee is 30 dollars which is good for 3 days. Instead, we recommend purchasing America the Beautiful pass for $80. The pass is good for one year and helps fund our national parks. We currently have a senior lifetime pass for the parks. The visitor center amenities are restrooms, a public telephone, picnic tables and interpretive exhibits. You can reserve campsites through recreation.gov. The campsites are along the rocky coastline.

Green Sea Turtle Maui
Green Sea Turtle Credit: Brad Fountain

Water slide Swim at Pools of ‘Ohe’o

The pools are the most popular attraction in Kīpahulu. It comprises a series of freshwater pools at the base of many cascading waterfalls. ‘Ohe’o (Oh-Hey-Oh) means “something special” and this site certainly lives up to its name. The pools of ‘Ohe’o were once referred to as Seven Sacred Pools, but this is a marketing term invented to attract tourists to the remote location. In reality, there are over seven pools when water levels are high. Sometimes the pools will be closed by the park service due to increased rainfall and flash flood concerns. Today, our guide let us spend 30-minutes sliding down the natural rock slide into the refreshing freshwater pools. Wading shoes are best for scampering the slick rocks. I recommend wearing dry fit or quick drying clothing and towels if you want to venture into the waterfalls. It’s hard to describe in words, but believe me, it’s wonderful!

Makahiku-fall Drive Road to Hana
Makahiku-falls Credit: Pixabay

At the junction of the Pīpīwai and Kūloa Point Trail, the park service erected a Hale Hālāwai which means, “meeting house.” The national park service plans to begin Hawaiian cultural demonstrations here soon. The Kūloa Point Trail is an easy 0.7 mile loop hike to the rugged coastline. The well-maintained trail passes through a grove of Hala trees before reaching outstanding ocean viewpoints at the mouth of the Pools of ‘Ohe’o. The trail also passes several archaeological sites.

Pipiwai Trail Bamboo Forest
Pipiwai Trail Bamboo Forest Credit: Brad Fountain

Hiking the Pīpīwai Trail to Waiamoku Falls

On our return trip to Hāna, we hiked the Pīpīwai, or “sparkling waters” trail at mile marker 42 in the Kīpahulu district. It’s a moderate 2-mile out and back trail. Remember to bring bug spray, plenty of water and good hiking boots. The trailhead is inside Haleakala National Park and can be muddy during the wet season. Within the first mile, we gain 700-800 feet in elevation, climbing the rock steps. You first pass a lookout to amazing Makahiku falls. The 200 foot falls cascades over a green cathedral cliff, disappearing into the forest below. Soon you pass through a fence meant to keep out the wild pigs. Please remember to close the gate.

Drive the Road to Hana-Waiamoku Falls
Road to Hana-Waiamoku Falls Photo: Pixabay

We continued climbing more stairs before stopping to take in the gigantic Banyan tree. The tree symbolizes wisdom in Buddhism and eternal life in Hinduism. The trail continues crossing over two bridges before reaching the majestic bamboo forest. It is still one of my favorite memories. We found the sound of the bamboo stems bumping against each other was absolutely amazing! Once you exit the forest, wade across a small stream before the trail opens up to a mesmerizing view of Waimoku Falls. It was like stepping into Jurassic Park. The mountainside falls, drops 400 feet. Wispy clouds and emerald green ferns cling to cliffs. The rainforest only added to the mysterious beauty, it was breathtaking!

Kīpahulu Lindbergh’s Final Resting Place

Kīpahulu Park is a little over a mile to the west of the Kīpahulu Visitor Center. Charles Lindbergh, who saw much of the world, was so enchanted by the area that he chose to be buried in the Kīpahulu section of Haleakala National Park. In a quiet setting, off the beaten path, is Charles Lindbergh’s Grave. He passed away from lymphoma in 1974. They engraved the simple headstone with, “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,” taken from Psalms 139:9. A humble little chapel at the Palapala Ho’omau Church at mile marker 41. Missionaries using the resources of the island built the church in 1857, specifically limestone coral. There are exquisite views of the coastline. This pastoral setting is a great place to stop and reflect.

Most travellers of the highway will turn around at this point and return the way they came, but the tour vans will continue towards the Pi’ilani Highway.

Palapala-Hoomau-Church-Road to Hana-

Backside of the Road to Hana

If you take the van tour that circumnavigates the island, the scariest part of the road for me was Lelekea Bay. Here the narrow one lane road hugs the cliff-side. If you have a fear of heights like I do, don’t look out the window. There is a precipitous hundred foot drop and no guardrails on this blind curve. It seems like you only have inches to spare. The road becomes gravel from mile 33 to mile 38.

Driving the road to Hāna, you will find a contradictory landscape on the eastside of Maui. In less than an hour, you move from an area that is the second wettest place on earth to an area where the annual rainfall is 16 inches per year. Here on the rain-shadow side you see the island’s surreal world of desert. The unspoiled beauty of this coast is priceless. At the Kalepa Bridge, the Hana Highway becomes the Pi’ilani Highway (Hwy 31). Charming vistas on this remote section of road with isolated pebble beaches, gentle sloping dry grasslands and barren eroded canyons.

Note: Check with your rental car company will not allow you to drive this section of road.

Drive the Road to Hana-Pi'ilani Highway-
Pi’ilani Highway Credit: Pixabay

Hidden Secret Alelele Falls

At mile marker 38 you cross over a white bridge which has “Alelele Bridge” stamped into it. The tour van parked on the left of the bridge (facing the cliffs). An oasis of Alelele Falls is a 0.3 mile out and back trail. The 50 foot falls lie in an idyllic forest with a spring-fed pool for a quick dip. The seasonal water flows from can be a torrent or a trickle, depending on rainfall. We only spent enough time for photos before moving on down the road.

Upcountry the road to Hana
Kipahulu region in Haleakalā National Park Credit: Michael Oswald

Step Back in Time to Kaupō Store

At mile marker 35, you’ll have reached the historic Kaupō Store established in 1925. The store caters to dazed tourists, most of whom have just completed the road to Hāna, enduring the hair-raising cliff-side twists and turns on the gravel highway.

Stepping into the Kaupō Store for me was like to take a step back in time. Upon entering the store, our eyes were immediately drawn to the wall behind the rusty cash register. Antique bottles, old-fashioned clocks, and random signs from a bygone era line the walls. I loved the neatly displayed vintage cameras that belonged to the former owner, Nick Soon. The store is a pleasant reprieve in this remote location, a slice of civilization we enjoyed an ice cream before returning to the tour van.

Sea Arch Maui Coastline
Sea Arch Maui Coastline Credit: Pixabay

Dramatic Landscapes and Panoramas

At mile marker 31 our guide told us about the Pu’u Maneoneo Petroglyphs & Village Ruins on the 82-acre Nu’u Refuge managed by the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust on the Kaupō ranch. The Petroglyph rock art can be viewed just inside the gate. However, the village ruins are a longer hike on an unmarked trail through dense forest and should only be attempted by seasoned hiker.

The Pokowai Sea Arch at mile marker 29 was formed when flowing lava from the volcano collided with the chilly waters of the Pacific. The arch is slowly being eroded by the continuous pounding surf. We spent a few moments watching the waves crash over black volcanic lava formations before moving on.

The tour guide made a brief stop at Manawainui Gulch. Here, an ancient lava flow from Haleakalā created a massive chasm. The group was so excited when the guide pointed out a Hawaiian monk seal taking a nap on the beach. 

Hawaiian Monk Seal on the beach
Hawaiian Monk Seal Credit: Diana Kenney

MauiWine Tasting Room

The winery is on the ‘Ulupalakua Ranch in upcountry Kula at mile marker 15. At an elevation of 1800 feet, this microclimate is ideal for growing grapes. This was the last stop on our full-day tour. The winery has humble beginnings in 1974 when Emil Tedeschi partnered with C. Pardee Erdman, owner of ‘Ulupalakua Ranch. The original name Tedeschi became MauiWine in the 1980s. Today they grow a variety of grapes, including Syrah, Malbec, Grenache, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Rose and Gewurztraminer.

MauiWine Tedeschi Winery
Maui Wine -Road to Hana

This 23-acre tranquil estate was a welcome end to our day. The tasting room in King’s Cottage, built in 1870 to host King Kalakaua, has an impressive wooden bar carved from a single mango tree. Our group enjoyed the free wine tasting samples of Maui Splash (white; pineapple and passion fruit), Hula O Maui Sparkling Wine (pineapple), Rose Ranch Cuvée (grapes), and Framboise de Maui Raspberry Wine. The outside lanai has outstanding views of the Molokini Crater and the south shore, such a relaxing atmosphere. The Maui Splash was our favorite and a good value at $10 a bottle to take home. Besides complimentary tastings, the winery offers guided tours of the historic estate, production area and cellars. The brief stop at MauiWine is a must!

Waves Splashing against Maui Rugged Coastline
Maui Rugged Coastline – Credit: Brad Fountain

Final Thoughts

On this full-day tour, you cannot possibly see or do everything along the road. I suggest a return trip to do more in-depth hiking to get an immersive experience. It is an adventure worth taking, so consider an overnight in Hāna.

Aloha is used for a greeting in Hawaii, but it doesn’t just mean “hello” and “goodbye.” Aloha is an attitude and feeling of love and compassion and respect. Many call the Road to Hāna the ‘Highway to Heaven.’ Ultimately it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes driving the Road to Hāna so enjoyable. 

Have you driven the Road to Hāna? If not, what do you think you would like best? Share your thoughts with us. We’d love to know your plans! If you already did the drive, what did you enjoy most?

Maui Coastal Sunset
Maui Coastal Sunset Credit: Brad Fountain