In a nutshell: The Road to Hana is the crown-jewel of Hawaii driving tours. Lush rainforest, dramatic and rugged ocean vistas, countless waterfalls and pools.
Minuses: If you get car-sick, there are going to be 600 opportunities to review your breakfast.
Sound-bite: “600 turns?!? More like one 50-mile-long turn…”
Just exactly where “The Road to Hana” begins and where it ends is subject to some debate. For my guide purposes, I usually start in the North Shore (Paia area) and end at what we call Haleakala’s Back Side (a bit past Hana.)
Driving to Hana is not a commute, or even the means to an end – the drive is an adventure in and of itself. “The adventure is in the journey” may be cliché, but it is also said that every cliché harbors a kernel of truth. No matter how many times I have driven this road, (including the few times I was silly enough to take it for granted), the adventure is just as magical, engaging, and never the same twice. The raw natural beauty is dynamic, containing countless hidden treasures and always just every bit as spectacular no matter how many times I drive it. The Road to Hana is, in my opinion, the most spectacular and beautiful road in the world.
As the name suggests, the thoroughfare in this section of the guide is made up by just one road: Hana Highway (Hwy 36 & 360). But don’t let the name “highway” fool you – The majority of time you’ll be spending on the Hana Highway is a narrow, twisting, sometimes one-lane road with an estimated 600 turns and 54 (mostly) one-lane bridges, and no shoulder. For those of you that enjoy a challenging drive, this could be your absolute favorite anywhere. A Mustang convertible, the quintessential Maui rental car, is probably the best car for the driving enthusiast, and convertibles and Jeeps with the top off will be rewarded with stunning unobstructed views. (But don’t get too smug looking at the poor sap in the Taurus – because he’ll likely get payback when you’re reminded that this is the rainforest and that next place to pull over and put the top up ain’t soon enough.)
For those that see driving as the way to get from A to B, and especially if you’re an overly timid (or just plan bad) driver, you still should not skip the opportunity to see this jewel of Hawaii. There are some fantastic van tours that can add a dimension to the journey you could never have on your own.
There is only one gas station past Paia on this road, and that is in Hana Town. The price of gas there will make you feel like you were getting a great deal everywhere else (which, until you’ve gassed up in Hana, will be hard to believe!) There is little shopping of significance beyond some roadside fruit stands and the jungle version of a strip-mall in the middle of nowhere (a strip of fruit stands, BBQ, fish taco, art, and whatever pops up.) And even in Hana, your choices are very limited. Best to bring along everything you will need for the whole day, aside from fruit and banana bread – those items are abundant, and usually very yummy!
Convenience tip: Mana Foods in Paia opens at 8am and is among the most economical (and healthy) places to stock up on drinks, snacks and prepared foods on the whole island.
For more specific information on the Road to Hana, browse the Road to Hana category.
I also have a Road to Hana article in the works. Stay tuned 😉
19 comments about “Road to Hana – Quick Summary”
Bev S says:
Just drive it. Its an experience of a lifetime. There isnt any way to describe the beauty but the danger is obvious. This is not for anyone who is careless or reckless or too cocky. You will be driving on the side of a cliff for several hours without a guardrail. There is no cell signal and nobody to come to your rescue if you get too close to the edge and fall several thousand feet into the crashing ocean below. The roads are rocky and gravel. Its 1 lane so when you see cars approaching from the other direction, sombody has to stop and either back up or you have to inch your way to the side so the other person can pass. There are probably 100 single lane bridges. We drove the R2H 2 times during the day and 1 time at night while it was raining. (Pitch dark…no lighting…unpredictable…rain…slippery…and scary) We did not choose to drive at night but there was a forest fire and they closed the road so we had no choice but to turn around and drive all the way back around in the dark. I dont recommend that rainy night trip to anyone. We thought it was best to stay “within a line of cars” as you drive along this road and this is hard to explain but when you start driving, you will totally understand what i mean by that. On a scenic note, I do recommend the bamboo forest. It was a longgg hot hike but it was worth every step. The red sand beach is tucked away behind the school in Hana. Pull over and make your way behind the school and walk down a path on the side of the cliff. The red sand is beautiful. The lava tube is amazing. Its pitch dark inside but a lady in a hut will give you a flashlight and you will be on your own. There are 2foot centipedes in the lava tube but dont kill them. They are the only thing living in there. The waterfalls are really pretty and tucked away so be prepared to hike. There is alot to see and do and its impossible to list it all. There are about 65 sharp switchbacks and 600 turns along this road. Take your time but dont get stuck after dark. Theres 1 gas station and some food trucks. There are scenic stops along the way at dozens of diffent locations. Big signs that say “no cliff diving”. or “danger do not walk past this point or you could fall to your death”. Take it seriously and be safe. Enjoy.
Relax!!! The road is safe and fits 2 cars conveniently; only the bridges don’t and this is on purpose so to keep the speed of the cars low.
It’s a fantastic route with limited dangers!
Tonito is right and wrong 🙂 True: “Relax!!! the road is safe…” “It’s a fantastic route with limited dangers!” – Yes! But I would like to note that the road narrows plenty besides the countless one-lane bridges – and is clearly challenging for many people unaccustomed to driving outside of urban and suburban driving where roads are wide, boundaries delineated, and the customs of driving such a road are foreign. I can’t tell you how many times visitors stop the second they see an oncoming car – even when they are currently in more narrow spots, which actually causes more danger than if they were more relaxed and able to slow/speed their timing to pass simultaneously (or stop) in wider spots. Also, the purpose of the narrow road and bridges is not to slow cars, it is a function of the time and circumstances in which this road was designed. The road was initially a narrow horse trail, and when widened and automobile bridges were put in – mostly in the early 20th century – needs (and tools) were very different. This road was never designed for the use of 21st century automobiles and tourism – it is a testament to skill of the people who built it that it endures!
BRUCE LEMEL says:
This place is incredible.for those people who are ready for waterfalls hiking.Did i talk about stunning ocean views.Now before you go make sure you have water shoes,gym shoes bug spray and you must be ok to drive.there are terns that you cant see whats on the other side till you tern.And yes bridged that only 1 car can cross at 1 time.But that is why its incredible!Must be a good driver start early takes the whole day.just did 2 days and 15 hours.Wow what a blast!
Oh I’ m torn …I want to see this beautiful Hana road when my friend and I come to Mauifrom Australia in March but I admit I m a wimp and get very stressed when going on tight bendss on thin dirt roads etc (that we have a fair few of here in Aus ). My friend will be the driving and she s a bit of a lead foot do I tend to get sostressed I don t enjoy it likeI should. What do you think? Is the road to Hana like that?
The main road to Hana starts in Kahului (main airport) and goes east/southeast. It is a paved road, with many turns and some one-lane bridges. Your lead-footed friend will not be able to drive fast due to the curves and the traffic. The road that others were talking about, that is not paved, comes from the other direction. You will be fine on the main road to Hana. Just sit with your friend and a guide book, and plan the stops you want to make along the way, as that is what makes the road so special.
My advice to any of you who experience motion sickness would be to stop in to Mana Foods in Paia and pick up a roll of Newman’s Own Ginger Mints. I sometimes experience severe motion sickness but find that these are a great preventative. I stock up on them to bring home with me each time we are visiting Maui and use them while there too.
My adult daughter and I both suffer from car sickness. Should we really think hard before we take the Hana Highway? Or is it not as bad as some describe it? It sounds so beautiful though…
Just a word of caution about hwy 30 from Kapalua to Kahakuloa mentioned in Robert’s note above: : it is a very dangerous road that should be left to the locals. Once you hit the one lane portion there are NO guardrails at all and you are hundreds of feet above sea level. The numerous roadside crosses resurerected in memory of those unfortunate souls who have gone over the side should be the best indication of how dangerous this road really is. If you come head to head with an oncoming vehicle someone has to back up which, from my experience, is extremely difficult. Since ther are very few places that allow 2 cars to pass simultaneously, you may be stuck in a nightmare. Once you are on it you are not going to able to turn around.
I agree that the road to Hana is relately simple in comparison. I’ve never really been nervous driving a car before but that western one lane portion of Hwy 30 had me white knuckling the whole way.
Enjoy Hana… The more days the better!
Anita Green says:
Yes you are correct Kevin. My husband & I took it back in 2002. We had no idea what we were getting our selves into. I was taking a video while my husband was driving and you can hear me screaming. This road should not be attempted hwy 30 from Kapalua to Kahakuloa. I kissed the ground when we finally got out of the car. The road to Hana was a pleasant drive, no issues there.
yo mama says:
the road to hanna rockc!!!
Did this on the back of a Harley. All the way around Haleakala. It was a very…very rough road and I wouldn’t recommend it to inexperience riders. My husband has been riding for over thirty years. Most people would have turned around before a quarter of a mile. Would do I a gain but glad for the experience.
I LOVE this website. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! We are not a really commercial bunch of folk and I was so darn frustrated with other websites I have visited and books I have read so your website has become my maui bible. I have probably printed out almost every page on your website. I enjoy the writing and the information is top notch.
We have been to Hawaii before and this time we get to take our 3 kids!! (16,14,9).
I was especially intrigued by the Itineraries you wrote for Shelby. Thank you for those. The road to Hana was the highlight of our last trip. The idea that we could go all the way around the island – YEA!! We want to do it in 2 days just as you suggested.
HERE is where I need your help and advice.
We are staying in Ka’anapali area. It takes 3 hours to get down to Hana no matter which way you go. Now add our kid’s bladders into the mix and the time becomes much longer. We really want to find a place to stay over night down in that area.
And of course,.. we have no/little money for another night stay since our hotel is already booked. So we are looking for options. We tried the cabins at the state park. Booked the week we are there.
So we thought,.. hmmm. what if we just rent a tent and sleep at the National forrest campground. The forest ranger I called said we would definitely want a tent because it rains to much.
We found 2 website that claim they will rent us a tent (campmaui.net) and (mauitravelservices4u.com) . Waiting to hear back from them.
Can we just throw a tent in the vehicle and then sleep on a blanket or two? We will be there the week of May 27 – will we need sleeping bags? Pretty sure there won’t be enough room for 5 sleeping bags plus food, plus water, plus plus plus. We will doing this as light as possible. NOTHING fancy. We are just trying to avoid 6+ extra hours of our vacation in the car.
So,.. are we nuts to consider this? Never having camped there – what do we REALLY need?
Are there options I haven’t considered?
We truly are looking for the cheapest way to do this since we are already paying for our hotel in ka’napali.
Thank you for ANY advice you can offer!
And THANK you again for such a great website!
Yes, if you camp at Haleakala National Park, Kipahulu, you will be able to easily tent-camp. It is comfortable year round, rain is the only thing you really need to be prepared for as far as weather goes – it will not get very cold, though you should be prepared to be comfortable. I usually bring plenty of bedding, including lightweight sleeping bags – most usually goes under us for more padding, but it is there if we need to cover up in the middle of the night 🙂
Have fun, that is one of my favorite places to camp!
This is a long commentary, yet worth it if you are looking for slightly off-beat advice. After a long day of driving, I am finally sitting down in our beach-side stay with a stiff drink…now that my two young daughters are finally sleeping. Nothing can prepare you for dragging the kids out onto the R2H. In fact, Hana had little to do with it. They kept asking, “When will we be there?”…and I kept replying, “We are there…we are here!”. Mostly, we tried to engage them in the absolute beauty of nature, the colors, the smells, the waterfalls, the plush greens, the incredible vistas…but come on, let’s face it, if you have ever been on a road trip with a 4 and an 8 year old, you can only ask for their forgiveness, regardless of the glory of it all. Even the occasional shave-ice stand, the cute little “bird on a wand” that a local hand-made for them, the “flower identifying games”, the “let’s make up a song about it”…it was all just trying to get them through it. And this is an all day adventure to get through. But before you start drawing errant conclusions about my rant, let me redirect you to the realities of this adventure…my 10 tips to consider.
1) Regardless of what anyone tells you, including the rental agencies…and if you are in a Jeep, you have NO EXCUSE!…the South end around out of the R2H was the best part of the trip. Better yet, we started with the South way around on Hiway 37, on the advice of a poolside stranger…and it was hands-down the best part of the trip. Don’t be fooled by the “unpaved road” and the rental agency threats that this is “no-mans land”…it was awesome! We not only witnessed what 98% of the R2H visitors miss, but we also went backwards despite so many saying not to…including the robotic lady at the “Road to Hana Guidebook” kiosk… and thus missed all the traffic and all the old-crags driving 6 miles an hour to Hana via 31 from Paia. No, it is not loaded with waterfalls, bamboo and jungle…but it is full of vistas, lava flow areas, a winery tasting room, history, and most important…it is an easy way of getting to O’heo. Can you say, “I am a sheep and I MUST follow this path to Hana as the guidebook instructs me”.
Even the commentary on our mediocre CD says,”I am not saying to go this way, but if you do, it is pretty cool”. OK, he doesn’t say it exactly like that, but you can tell he is keeping a secret.
2) A side-note comment here… irrelevant to Hana, but relevant to those looking to find the best of Maui…an even more amazing and daring and treacherous road trip…truly one of the most scenic and unknown Maui adventures, is Highway 30 from Kapalua to Kahakuloa. If anyone says that the R2H is a treacherous journey, then you know that their idea of “scary” is a trip to the grocery store. This stretch of West-side roadway is a marvel in itself. Lots of it is cliff-side, one-lane, hairpin craziness. It was so awesome…and our kids…previously mentioned as a handful on the R2H road-trip…loved this adventure! They were pinned to the windows and kept asking, “How did they build this road here?”…and I would respond,”I have no idea”. The wild chickens wandering about, the quaint residential areas, the honor-system roadside fruit stands, amazing vistas… most important, anyone looking to add to their bucket-list the freakiest roads in the world…OK, at least in the developed world…this road will not disappoint you. Forget the shirt that says, “I survived the Road to Hana”…there should be a shirt that says, “I survived Highway 30!”. Enough about that, but if anyone wants more input on 30, it is my favorite memory of Maui.
3) So many of the waterfalls were not accessible or were closed, or are on private property. Yes, I agree, in some ways, after a while it all looks approximately the same. And yes, the waterfalls are really cool, the scenic views, the flora, the colors…amazing. But if you have kids or a short attention span, you will get bored…UNLESS, you want to slow it down.
4) My biggest complaint is my number one suggestion. Slow down…go for a couple of days. Don’t make it a race to get it done because your kids are throwing up in the backseat….and they were. If you can, and you should… plan ahead, and chill out. Stop at every scenic turn out you can find. Eat at the roadside stops, visit with the locals, hike the hikes, mellow out and take it all in.
5) Go the back way, it’s worth it. Leave early, and go slow.
6) Black Beach. I recall someone on a website saying this was disappointing. Huh? The black beaches, caves, waves, and hiking at Waianapanapa is unforgettable and you shouldn’t miss it!
7) O’heo Gulch Pools (aka Seven Sacred Pools)…do it…and do the hike up to the 400 foot falls, it’s worth the 4 mile round trip hike. Remember I mentioned that this was our “first Hana destination”…not the last…do it the back way and you won’t regret it.
8) Twin Falls…a favorite stop. We decided to make this part of a separate day along with Baldwin Beach and “baby beach”. We took the hike and swam in the pools, jumped from the falls and really enjoyed the beautiful land there, courtesy of the local residents. This stop is only notable on the road as a road-side “bus” fruit stand and parking lot. There is no mention or signage what-so-ever of “Twin Falls”. I am not sure what that name even refers to…but it was a lot of fun…easily hike-able and lots of pools and streams and a little mini-cliff jumping, paths along various fruit and flowering trees and such. A great time! TIP…There are no signs or arrows or anything on the paths. We just followed the main “road/path”, and then followed our instinct, but mostly were cued by people returning down the path. At one point up the road, you will reach a fork and you will go left. It will take you to the first waterfall and pool. Be prepared to wade through a couple feet of water to get to this pool and waterfall, but once you do, you will not regret it. Once you are there. as you are leaving, DO NOT turn around and go back. Follow the hillside up to the left (as you are leaving…it’s obvious, there is no way out to the right…if you are looking at the falls, then it is to your right)…climb the hill with the rope hand-rails and follow the vague but somewhat obvious path up and around to a continuing series of pools and waterfalls that go in a loop, up and around and will eventually lead you back along a man-made irrigation channel worth seeing, that leads you back to the road you started on, back to the parking lot. One reason I liked Twin Falls is because it seemed less affected by the rain, whereas most other falls and pools on this trip were VERY affected by the rain…off-limits, violent and surging (part of what makes waterfalls cool), but you can’t swim in tem like we did at Twin Falls.
8) End the day at the Paia Fish Market for grub…the Ahi -Shashimi and fish tacos were great!
9) Anyone that tells you to skip this trip is a wimp or is too addicted to the concrete jungle to ever appreciate how magnificently beautiful and pristine Maui is.
10) See #4…Unless you make this a mellow and slow and enjoyable trip for the kids, then consider the age of the kids and enlighten them in advance that it will ne a long day of winding, twisting, car sickness.
Don’t dwell on the last one, it is just stuck in my head because it ruined the trip for me, and i wish we could have “slowed down and taken in the nature that is NOT actually on the paved R2H.
Yes! I want to hear more about your Hana experience! My boyfriend and I will be in Maui this June and have been researching like crazy. It’s refreshing to read about an experience that didn’t follow the guide books. Now I don’t have to feel intimidated into driving the backside that no one seems to explore. More, more info! How many hours were you and your family exploring the hwy for? Was this a 12 hour kind of day? How many stops did you take and what hikes did you do?
I drove the road for the first time two weeks ago, and I have to say that the difficulty of driving it is WAY overhyped. If you’ve driven roads such as the road up Pike’s Peak, where you get a serious elevation change as well as curves, you won’t find Hana to be particularly challenging. I have to add that the beauty of the drive is not overhyped–it’s a complete “must.”
I should’ve added that we passed by the scene of the Jeep rollover near Nahiku only minutes after it happened.. According to the Maui paper, a drunk driver went off the road with a 5-foot drop, the Jeep rolled at least once (we saw it upright with a crushed roof and windows), and his unbelted female passenger was ejected and died not long after. We didn’t stop because there was nothing we could do, What was striking was that it was MANY minutes later before we saw first an ambulance and later a firetruck heading south toward the scene. The Message? Be careful on this road–help is probably NOT near, and even best efforts to reach you will take a while (lights and sirens don’t exempt rescuers from having to deal with curves and distance).
My favourite bike road. A spiritual riding experience…