An Unforgettable Hawaiian Road Trip: the Road to Hana
Why plan a road trip on the Road to Hana?
You’ll hear it a thousand times before you embark on your Hawaiian road trip to Hana: “Hana is about the journey, not the destination.” It may sound a bit cliché, but it’s impossible to walk away from the Road to Hana without becoming one of those travelers who INSISTS your next vacation be to Hawaii. Guess what? Those people (me) are right!
A drive on this stretch of Earth feels like you’re on the edge of the world. The Road to Hana means you’re in for 64 miles of pull-over picture moments, hiking through a forest of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees, and spontaneous swims through caves and waterfalls. A trip to Maui without Hana is like going to Rome and skipping the Colosseum. Paris without the Eiffel tower. NYC without a broadway play or a touristy stroll down Times Square. It’s a must-do and you have to see it for yourself.
Hana itself is a very quiet town, so this day is all about the experiences you’ll have along the way. During my first visit, I got caught in a tropical downpour sitting in my open roof Jeep Wrangler. I was chased by a persistent peacock. I thought my boyfriend was going to propose as we romantically gazed out over the Pacific Ocean together (he did propose…3 months later). And, at the end of that crazy day, I wanted to relive it all over again. Gas up, buckle up, and get ready to plan your own unforgettable Hawaiian road trip to Hana!
Road to Hana: Here’s what you’re in for
One of the most Googled questions related to the Road of Hana is: Is it dangerous?
If you get in the car, pretend you’re 007, and drive as if you’re in Quantum of Solace, then yes. It’s going to turn quite dicey.
Equally true, if you get in the car without doing any prep work, you’ll find yourself wondering, “Why didn’t anybody tell me this?”
So here’s what you need to know before you embark on your Hawaiian road trip to Hana. You’re in for 64 miles of hairpin curves — 620 curves to be exact. 54 one lane bridges. And a journey that takes about 8-10 hours roundtrip to complete. “Wait…,” you’re asking. “8-10 hours, and it’s only 64 miles?!” That’s right. James Bond is going to have a hard time getting around the tourists in this neck of the woods. The average speed is 20 mph, which means you have to pack your patience. It also means you should pack your camera, as there’ll be plenty of “slow down” moments to point-and-shoot.
Are you still game to hit the road? Good. You won’t regret it. You’re in for a day where adventure is literally around every corner!
How to prepare for the Road to Hana?
- Pack the essential gear: I recommend packing water, snacks, sunscreen, bug repellent, rain gear, a towel, a bathing suit, a change of clothes, Dramamine, water-shoes, a camera, sunglasses, and a remote battery for your cell phone.
- Have a food plan before you depart: There are very few typical dining options. Instead, envision food trucks and picnic tables scattered sparsely throughout the route. You’ll want to pack your own provisions in case your belly starts rumbling before you cross paths with a food truck. Further below you’ll find more info on yummy food options.
- There is limited cell service: Download all your trip notes before you hit the road. Also, install the GyPSy Guide navigation app. It doesn’t require cell service, and provides an excellent narrated tour of the sights as you go. The app tracks your cell’s location, and then provides tips of the best nearby views and hikes.
- Dress to seize the day: There aren’t many changing areas, so wear your swimsuit beneath your clothes before you hit the road. Pack a change of clothes for when you inevitably get rained on.
- Start early: There are so many hikes, waterfalls and beaches to check out — you won’t want to be rushed. We started our journey around 7am.
- Have some ideas of what you’d like to see: To save time, have a few “must see” stops bookmarked. The Road to Hana is separated by mile markers, and main attractions are noted using the corresponding mile marker.
- Be flexible – sometimes the show must go on: There are some locations with limited parking. If you can’t safely pull over, then find the next adventure around the corner.
- Decide if you’re staying overnight and make reservations: If you think you’ll want to spend the night instead of doubling back before dark, don’t wait to make your plans. There aren’t many lodging options. Further below you’ll find helpful info on places to stay in Hana.
- Have a potty plan: If nature calls, and you’d rather not go in…nature…then you can find limited public bathrooms at: Ho’okipa State Park, Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park, Wai’anapanapa Park, and the Pools of Ohe’o and Pipiwai Trail.
- FAMILY TIP: If you’re doing the Road to Hana as a daytrip with young kids, then consider going halfway before turning around. You won’t feel as rushed and you’ll make it back before dark.
- When in Rome…: It’s advisable and common for people to rent open air jeeps to better soak in the views. That’s a great idea! Want an even better idea? Learn how to operate the roof before you find yourself driving through the RAINforest. On our roadtrip, we retracted the roof of our Jeep Wrangler, but moments later found ourselves in a torrential downpour! We pulled over, but it was challenging to figure out the ropes in the rain. The weather thankfully cleared a few minutes later, but all our gear was thoroughly soaked.
- Start the return trip before dark: It may be hard to tear yourself away from the beach, but if you’re not spending the night, it’s best to start the journey back before it gets too dark. The James Bond hairpin curves are challenging enough in the day. At night, you won’t find any street lamps and you’ll be tired from a day in the sun.
Where to start the Road to Hana? What’s the route?
Okay! Now that you know what’s ahead, here are some important directions to keep in mind for your Hawaiian road trip to Hana.
The Road to Hana begins in Paia, where you’ll find two important pre-trip stops.
- The last gas station until you reach Hana.
- The last convenience store, Mana Food, where you can buy snacks, water, and prepared foods.
From here on out, look for those mile marker signs to track your journey.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to retrace your steps for your return trip. The Road to Hana is technically a loop, however it’s not recommended to check out “Maui’s backside.” First, it won’t save you that much time. Secondly, most car rental companies specifically discourage this. The roads are unpaved and filled with potholes. If you get stranded, it’s akin to pulling off a rescue mission to Mars (in the rental company’s eyes). Save yourself the potentially expensive “shortcut” and head back the way you came. You’ll get to see everything from a new perspective!
Places to stop along the Road To Hana
This unforgettable Hawaiian road trip through the Road to Hana wouldn’t be complete without insider tips on some of my favorite stops. Make it a goal to see at least one waterfall, one blacksand beach, and complete one hike. These were my “wow that was worth it” stops along the way to Hana.
Note: I have indicated the corresponding mile markers below, but the mile markers do not necessarily go in numerical order on the actual highway. The list of places below is written in sequential order for you to follow. On the Road to Hana, the markers start over at #16. Wonky! After Hana, they jump to #51. The GyPSy Guide navigation app is helpful to download, as it will trace your location and let you know what’s around the corner.
- Ho’okipa Beach Park – Located near mile marker 9, this beautiful stretch of beach is a popular windsurfing destination. Pull over and buy some fresh coconut water while you watch the surfers twirl around like vibrant ballerinas. In fact, this location is where the world’s top windsurfers come to practice! The best views are at Ho’okipa Lookout. Also, if you already need to run to the loo, there are bathroom facilities available.
- Waikamoi Ridge Trail – Also close to mile marker 9, you’ll find signs for Koolau Forest Reserve. The trail includes gentle slopes (toddler approved), with beautiful vistas.
- Twin Falls – Just after mile marker 2, you’ll arrive at your first Road to Hana waterfall. It’s an easy hike to the swimming hole which features caves dripping in green vines. It’s a popular choice for families, but it can also get crowded. If you prefer to venture on, there are plenty more waterfalls to see.
- Rainbow Eucalyptus Forest – At mile marker 6, you’ll find the most colorful forest around! The bark on these trees sheds annually, creating a streak of colors down each tree trunk. It’s a quick walk through the grove and easy to climb some of the trees.
- Maui Garden of Eden – Located near mile marker 10, this arboretum showcases some of Hawaii’s most beautiful flora. There are over 700 specimens that surround the 2.5 miles of trails. As you explore the grounds, look out for Keopuka Rock — the famous rock from the opening scene of Jurassic Park.
- Kaumahina State Wayside Park – Just past mile marker 12 is a pull off which features overlooks of the curving coastline, and views that stretch to Ke’anae Peninsula. There are also public bathrooms here.
- Honomau Bay County Beach Park – As you drive another mile down the road, veer left around mile marker 14, before the main road starts to climb up into the mountains. The dirt road will instead take you down to the black sand beach below. Swimming is not permitted, but the views beneath the steep cliff are worth the detour.
- Ke’anae Peninsula – Located near mile marker 16 is the old town of Ke’anae, which feels as if it’s frozen in time. It’s a place where the air all around you is eerily quiet, but the Earth is loud — waves crash dramatically against the black volcanic rock, and palm trees sway aggressively against the 1860s grey stone church. If you packed a snack, find a spot to sit down and just take it all in. On your way back to the main road, look for the Ke’anae Lookout at mile marker 17. You’ll be rewarded with aerial views of the green taro fields below.
- Pua’a Ka’a falls – If you’re looking for an easy spot to hike to a waterfall, this is it! The sounds of people splashing and swimming will hit your ears even before you get out of the car at mile marker 22. Also, if you need a restroom, you’ll find public bathrooms here.
- Wai’anapanapa Park – You’re almost to Hana! At mile marker 32, you’ll find this lush jungle state park, with piercing blue waves crashing at the shore. There’s a little bit of everything to check out: a black sand beach with strong body surfing waves, underwater caves to swim in, cliff diving, and hiking trails. Don’t miss the famous “blowhole” nestled amongst the volcanic rocks. Lastly, you’ll also find bathrooms, picnic areas and even camping cabins here.
Places to eat along the Road To Hana
The Road to Hana doesn’t feature a ton of full-dining restaurants. Instead, there are food trucks, fruit stands, and plenty of picnic tables! Keep in mind that this is Hawaii and chill is the only vibe. So, a food truck may not be there one day. Go with the flow. Or, the fruit stand may not have been replenished yet. Okay, on to the next stop! Therefore, I recommend packing some of your own food too. Here are some tips to make your food experiences just as fun as the off-roading exploration.
- Pack a picnic and snacks for the day, or head to Mana Food before you hit the road to fill up on provisions.
- As you drive, pull over at any local fruit stands. Uncle Harry’s (mile marker 17) has spectacularly fresh and delicious Hawaiian juices. There are also stands that sell banana bread right out of the oven.
- You’ll find Nahiku Marketplace at mile marker 29. There are a few shops and food trucks. Check out Da Fish Shack for excellent fish tacos.
- If you plan to have the full round trip drive completed by dinner time (i.e. you’ve arrived back in Paia), then don’t miss the famous Mamma’s Fish House. Reservations are required! If I have one regret about my trip to Maui, it’s that my late departure back on the Road to Hana resulted in missing my dinner reservation. I still think about it! I have heard such wonderful reviews and am looking forward to one day dining there.
- Another popular option in Paia is the Paia Fish Market. Also, don’t forget to have some famous Hawaiian shaved ice at Ululani.
Luxury lodging along/near the Road To Hana
The Road to Hana doesn’t offer many lodging options, which explains why most people trek back the way they came at the end of the day. However, if you’re set on a sleepover, then check out these popular options (note: these properties are not the equivalent of luxury accommodations like the Four Seasons Maui, but they are the nicer options of what’s available on this route. I have not stayed here myself).
- Hana-Maui offers the closest thing to a luxury experience. Recently purchased by the Hyatt, the Hana Maui has lush garden grounds, an infinity pool overlooking the Pacific coast, and bungalow style lodging with all the comforts and pampering you’re looking for after a day on the road.
- Hana Kai Maui features oceanfront condos available in 1,2, or 3 bedroom suites, fully equipped with kitchens and BBQ areas.
If the Road to Hana is going to be a day trip to you, you’ll have plenty of accommodation options to choose from, with most resorts nestled in Wailea.
- We made the Four Seasons Maui our home base. It’s top of the line luxury, and has excellent amenities for families, like a family pool, wide open beach, and plenty of water activities.
- Other popular luxury options include Andaz Maui, Fairmont Kea Lani, and The Ritz Carlton Kapalua.
- If you prefer to stay closer to the “starting line” of Hana, then check out the suites at Mamma’s Fish House.
I hope this article has inspired some ideas for your own road trip on the Road to Hana. If you have any questions, or your own travel tips, please leave them in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, packed with travel tips, upcoming news, and access to FREE destination itineraries.
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