10 Tips for Driving the Road to Hana

Perhaps one of the most beautiful—if not controversial—activities on Maui is driving the Road to Hana. Weaving its way for 52 miles around 600 curves and over 56 one-lane bridges, it’s the most loved and loathed stretch of road on the entire island. Here’s how to plan a visit to Hana that will leave you poring over a photo album instead of searching for a divorce lawyer.

1. Hana is not a destination, but a journey.

Visitors race all the way to the sleepy village of Hana and are left saying only one thing: “This is it?” With a population of around 1,800, Hana is not big. Hana is not a destination; it’s a place to get away from it all.

A narrow one-lane bridge along Maui's famous Road to Hana.
Along Maui’s famous Road to Hana. Photo © MNStudio/Dreamstime.

2. The Road to Hana doesn’t actually end at Hana.

The famous Road to Hana is the 52-mile (84-km) stretch between Kahului Airport and the town of Hana, but many of the natural treasures are in the 10 miles (16 km) beyond Hana town. Hamoa Beach, consistently voted one of the top beaches in the country, is a few miles past Hana, as is Waioka Pond, a hidden pool on the rocky coast. Thirty minutes beyond Hana town are the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o (the Seven Sacred Pools), with a series of cascading waterfalls falling directly into the Pacific.

3. Stop early, stop often.

Take a break for a morning stroll or for breakfast at a tucked-away café. Pick up some snacks and watch the waves. Stop and swim in waterfalls, hike through bamboo forests, and pull off at roadside stands for banana bread or locally grown fruit. If the car behind you is on your tail, pull over and let it pass—there isn’t any rush.

4. Bring a bathing suit and hiking shoes.

Hana is a land of adventure. Pack the necessary wardrobe and equipment for your activity of choice.

5. Don’t drive back the same way you came in.

Car-rental contracts may tell you the road around the back of the island is for 4WD vehicles only, but that’s not true. Parts are bumpy, and a few miles are dirt road, but unless there’s torrential rain, the road is passable with a regular vehicle. Following the back road all the way around the island grants new views as the surroundings change from lush tropical rainforest to arid windswept lava flows.

Waves roll up on a rocky beach alongside the back side of the Road to Hana.
A quiet shoreline along the back side of the Road to Hana. Photo © Rachel Garringer/Dreamstime.

6. Don’t make dinner reservations.

Too many people try to squeeze Hana into half a day or end up feeling rushed. Hana is a place to escape from the rush, not add to it. If you’re planning a day trip to Hana, block off the entire day, leave early (7am), and see where the day takes you.

7. If you see a sign that says Kapu (Keep Out), respect it.

Move along and enjoy a spot more accessible to the public.

8. Don’t drive home in the dark.

While Hana can be tough to leave, don’t drive home in the dark—particularly if going the back way. Driving on narrow one-lane roads with precipitous drop-offs is difficult enough in daylight. Leave by 4pm to ensure a well-lit journey home.

9. Bonus tip: Consider if a van tour is right for you.

If you question your ability to drive narrow, mountainous roads, then take a guided van tour. Local guides can provide insights into Hawaiian history, culture, and personal anecdotes which add humor to the lengthy drive. However, if you choose a van tour be aware that you’re on someone else’s schedule.

10. Bonus tip: Stay overnight.

A day trip to Hana makes for a long day. If you choose to stay overnight, when you wake up, you’ll have beaches and swimming holes all to yourself before throngs of day-trippers arrive—usually around 11am. If you’ve already booked a hotel stay for the entirety of your trip, but you don’t want to rush Hana, splurge to stay at a bed-and-breakfast and forget about your hotel room on the other side of the island.

Related Travel Guide

Get a full mile-by-mile guide to driving the road to Hana in the latest edition of Moon Maui.