Driving Or Taking A Tour Of The Hana Highway
How to See the Sights and Attractions on Maui’s Most Famous Drive
The road to Hana is one of Maui’s two most famous sights. (The other is the crater at the top of Haleakala.) You can drive the road to Hana yourself, or take a tour in a van. It is a long and difficult drive on a narrow winding mountain road. Whether on your own or on a tour, you will see the gorgeous scenery of the rainforest, including many beautiful waterfalls of various shapes and sizes along the mountainsides. If you drive on your own, download the R2H Audio Guide, which will have you stop at safe spots and make sure you don’t miss anything.
If you drive yourself, leave your hotel by 8 A.M. or earlier, and take a picnic lunch. Allow at least six hours to get to Hana (with stops to see scenery), and three hours to return (without stops). It’s 81 miles from Kaanapali; the hard part (the Hana Road) has 617 curves and 56 one-lane bridges. If you are prone to motion sickness, do not read (not even the map) in your car or tour van. You must drive back from Hana the same way you came, NOT by the unpaved desolate southern route.
Here’s why to avoid that southern route back:
1. It violates the terms of your car rental contract, and the car rental company will not accept any responsibility to tow you out or to pay for any damage to your car.
2. The road on that southern route is poor and unpaved and you can get stuck there, especially if it rains.
3. There is nobody there to help you on that road and no place from which you can telephone for help.
4. There is plenty of other beautiful scenery to see on Maui without the need for any of the above risks.
Hana itself is just a quaint small village, isolated from the rest of Maui by the mountain road. There is nothing much to do there. The point of this trip is the sights on the road to Hana, rather than Hana itself.
On the way to Hana, just past Mile Marker 16, turn left at the sign to Keanae, for close-up views of waves on lava rocks. Stop near the end of that peninsula to pick up a couple of loaves of the world’s best banana bread, at Aunty Sandy’s Keanae Landing Fruit Stand.
Shortly before you reach Hana, near Mile Marker 32, pull off to visit the black sand beach and other fascinating sights at Waianapanapa State Park. (Photo of me on the black sand beach is below.)
If you have extra time, you can drive another 40 minutes beyond Hana to the beautiful Pools of Ohe’o, also called Ohe’o Gulch and Palikea Stream. This area was formerly called the Seven Sacred Pools, but there are more than seven and they are not sacred, since that was just a marketing term made up by a Hana hotel worker in the 1950s. There are several lovely waterfalls cascading into the series of natural pools, working their way down the mountain slope. (This hike is not appropriate for young children, and can be difficult or even dangerous for all ages because of sudden currents. River shoes may help.) A little further beyond here is Charles Lindbergh’s grave at Palapalo Hoomau Church, but it is not visible from the road and is difficult to find.
If you drive to Hana (rather than taking a van tour), you MUST have either an audio guide or a book with you, so you will know where to stop and what to see along the way. Without one of the following, you will miss most of the best sights, and seeing those sights is the whole purpose of driving the road to Hana. You will do OK with any of these four choices, but the first one (the app with GPS) is by far the best:
- GyPSy Guide, an app to get for your smartphone. It uses GPS to know where you are, and automatically plays relevant audio information about Maui as well as about the sights along the road as you drive. This is better than any of the CDs or books below because it automatically plays directions and sights to see at just the right times, based on your location, as you drive the road. Be sure to download the complete Maui version onto your smartphone before you start the road to Hana (or better yet, before you even get to Maui).
- R2H, another choice for a CD you can play in your car along the way. This one is more dramatic, colorful, and romantic, but has less detailed facts and info. See their website R2H for a list of places to buy it.
- Maui Revealed, an excellent guidebook that includes color maps & photos, and describes where to find specific waterfalls and parks and scenic lookouts along the way.
For more details about this and other Maui guidebooks, see the Books section of this website at Maui Books.
For a description of some of the best sights to see along the road to Hana, and where to find them, see Hana Highway Guide.
See photos below
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