Driving The Back Road to Hana

The back road from Hana (Hwy. 31) is unlike any other stretch of road on the island. On this windswept plain, it feels like you’ve journeyed to the edge of the earth. Panoramic views stretch to the horizon, and the back of Haleakala opens up as it plunges from summit to sea.

At the beginning of the drive, past the Pools of ‘Ohe‘o, the terrain changes from a lush paradise laden with waterfalls to grasslands. Past Kaupo Store the road straightens, and the last half of the drive, between Manawainui and Kanaio, is one of the nicest stretches of pavement on the island. You may like this section of road better than the famous front section.

The biggest misconception about the Road to Hana is that the back road around Kaupo is only accessible with a 4WD vehicle, and you’ll be told that driving this section of road violates your rental-car policy. Neither of these common opinions is accurate, and on almost every day of the year, the back road is passable in any vehicle, including a regular passenger car.

A dirt stretch on the Road to Hana. Photo © Emily Norman/123rf.
A dirt stretch on the Road to Hana. Photo © Emily Norman/123rf.

The road is unpaved but well-graded dirt for five miles, and at some points it is only one lane wide and has precipitous drop-offs, but at no point is 4WD essential. The only time you would need 4WD is during a torrential rainstorm—and in that situation, you should stay off the road altogether. Your rental car company won’t penalize you because you drove out here, but if something goes wrong, they aren’t going to come out and help you either. Luckily, island locals are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet, and if you have problems, you won’t have any trouble flagging someone down for help.

That said, preparation is key to enjoying a drive around the back side of Maui. Make sure that you have plenty of gas—at least half a tank when leaving Hana. Driving this road at night can be dangerous, and is pointless since you miss the expansive views. Keep an eye out for free-range cattle on the road. Other than Kaupo Store, there isn’t anywhere to get food or water. If you’re not a confident driver, the narrow sections and steep drop-offs may be too much. The road periodically closes due to construction, landslides, or flooding, so call the Road Closure Advisory Line (808/986-1200, ext. 2), for the latest information. Finally, no matter what your cell phone or GPS map says, there’s no road from Ulupalakua back down to Kihei or Wailea.

Related Travel Guide