If you are looking for the best Road to Hana tour, look no further. Despite what guided tour companies may tell you, it’s perfectly safe to drive the Road to Hana and furthermore, it’s going to be way more fun to do it yourself (i mean, unless you like being crammed into a tour bus with strangers for 12+ hours, then go for it.) On our trip to Maui, my husband and I spent a day driving the Road to Hana ourselves and I fell in love with this route, and I also picked up some handy tips to pass along to you guys.
Skip the pricey tour buses and do this ultimate self-guided road to Hana tour yourself. You probably have rented a car anyways, so use it! In this post, I’ll be sharing my top tips (like when to leave, what to pack) along with my personal favorite stops and some other travel tips you may not hear in other places. Basically, let me be your tour guide and by end of this blog, you’ll be fully equipped to be your own tour guide and explore this Hawaii gem on your own! (And like, save a shit ton of money while doing it!)
Are you SURE I Shouldn’t Hire a Private Road to Hana Day Tours?
Before we dive deep into all my tips and tricks I learned, I want to tell you a quick story to really convince you that A) you should skip a pricey Hawaii vans tour and b) that you’ll have WAY more fun if you do it on your own. Because I think you still may be on the fence.
While staying at the Hyatt Maui in Kaanapali, we did their nightly luau and sat across the table from a couple who just did their Maui Road to Hana tour the day before. First, the husband seemed really surprised and impressed that we drove the Hana Highway ourselves, which I thought was funny because it’s just a road and pretty safe. (It’s not like the road winding up to Machuu Pichuu that had no railings and where I was pretty sure our van was going to fall off and lead to a terrible, fiery death.) Thousands of people drive the Road to Hana each year- if it were really as unsafe as all these tour companies may be telling you, I’m pretty sure you’d hear more accident stories. Hawaii is built on tourism, they can’t have their visitors dying off every day!
He said the tour bus took over 12 hours and made so many stops, the day was just one big blur to him and his wife.
Anyways, he then went on to describe with a big sigh how they had to wake up really early and spent over 12 hours on the Hana road. All day getting in and out and in and out. I asked him what his favorite waterfall was and he said (with legit a look of exhaustion) that he doesn’t even know because they saw over 7 waterfalls, 5 churches, a few trails, many more beaches… the day was one big blur to him and his wife.
I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound very fun, does it? My experience driving to Hana Maui was so different. My husband and I had our car to ourselves, stopped when we wanted to, skipped a cool waterfall because we already stopped for 3, eat when and where we wanted. It was relaxing and fun. The Road to Hana is a day trip, there’s a lot there and I’m pretty sure you could drive it a few times and see different things each drive, so booking a group tour that tries to cram too many things sounds exhausting. And a total waste of your money because I know for a fact you can drive that road yourself and you probably don’t care about all the stops a group tour will take. Do it yourself, you’ll have a better time, I promise.
Skip the Valley Isle Excursions, Skyline Tours or Heavenly Hana tours which will cost you a few hundred dollars. The cheapest road to Hana tour is a self-guided tour! (Same goes with Haleakala National Park – read my self guided Haleakala sunrise tours post to do this yourself, too!)
Step One- Download Gypsy Maui App
As I mentioned above, this app is AMAZING. Seriously, it’s worth the $6 dollars and something I think everyone doing their own self-guided tour needs. He basically takes the place of a tour guide. The app tracks where you are (even on airplane mode!) and will automatically start playing recordings about things you are driving by. Things like, pointing out a beach that holds world famous surfing competitions to cool waterfalls and even the best places for a bathroom break.
He also tells you the history and teaches you the proper bridge etiquette, as there are like 38429383 one lane bridges to cross on this highway. Go download this app right now!! The app also has other Maui tour guides for other parts of the island.
If you’re asking yourself – ok Kara, why can’t I just download this app, close out your blog post and start driving? Well, you can. That’s how good this app is and that’s what we did, actually. But, we made some mistakes and learned some tips and tricks along the way that I think is still valuable to share with you, so I urge you to keep reading.
How this post will go is I’ll share with you my favorite stops we did along with any notable tips we took away from those stops, plus general driving advice and some weird highway things nobody really talks about. Also, photos! So many photos for you!
QUICK ROAD TO HANA KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TIPS
Before we dive into my long list of my favorite road to Hana stops, here are 9 important things to know and call out.
You won’t have cell service during most of this drive. Starting a little after the town of Paia, be ready for zero bars. With that in mind, post your Instagram photos and load up any pages you may need prior to leaving Paia. If you forgot to download the Gypsy App, make sure to do that before you drive through the town!
GAS UP before you go! There won’t’ be a gas station until you reach Hana and the prices will be crazy high.
Leave your hotel as EARLY to avoid major crowds on the highway. I suggest arriving to Paia, the start of the route, BEFORE 8am (some places recommend 6am which sounds hard, but go for it if you think they’re right.)
Bring cash for roadside stands that sell things like banana bread and Maui Gold pineapples. Some will take credit cards but some are cash only.
You’ll get wet! The Road to Hana Maui is in the rainforest section of the island ( East Maui ) This means you’ll be dealing with rainforest weather aka it’ll probably rain at some point during your drive and will do so suddenly without warning. Usually, it’s like Florida rain where it’ll stop quickly, but sometimes (like the day we drove the highway) it’ll rain on and off all day. I suggest bringing an umbrella. I also wore a swimsuit under my clothes and found that was really helpful as we got caught in a few rainstorms!
Swimming holes! Normally you can swim in the pools below waterfalls and that’s a popular thing to do for visitors. BUT, if it’s been raining a lot recently, like on our visit, these pools will be very dangerous. Think tons of rapids and not safe to swim in! Don’t be stupid and when in doubt, skip swimming in the pools.
On that note, if it’s been raining a lot lately, it is highly likely the Seven Sacred Pools will be closed. They’re past Hana, Hawaii, in the Ohe’o Gulch, part of Haleakalā National Park. If you are hoping to swim in these pools, google BEFORE you leave Paia if they are open or not. That way you can decide if you still want to continue the drive to Ohe’o Gulch or not. (We drove there just to swim in the pools only to find out they were closed which was a huge bummer. It was still pretty but I would have explored Hana instead.)
It takes a day. It should be obvious, but the Road to Hana is a full day trip. We left our hotel in Western Maui at about 9am and didn’t get back until about 5:30pm. If you are visiting Maui on a cruise ship or have snorkel tour scheduled for that afternoon, you won’t be able to do this drive.
Lastly, don’t bring anything crazy valuable on this drive. The app guy will remind you a lot, but the Road to Hana is a popular place for locals to rob tourists by breaking into their cars when they’re hiking to a waterfall or something. Be smart. Take your phone with you. Don’t leave things in the backseat, etc. Read this post for more tips on not getting stuff stolen on trips.
Ok, not let’s chat my favorite Road to Hana stops!
My Favorite Road to Hana Tour Stops
As I mentioned before, there are a LOT of places to stop on this drive and the app will tell you about most of them. I wish they had an app for the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Road to Hana is like that, but tropical!
Paia is a cute little Maui town that is where most people, including ourselves, start their Road to Hana drive. If you skipped your hotel continental breakfast before leaving, grab a quick bite to eat here before setting out on your drive because there aren’t many restaurants along the way!
>> Here’s the thing: I recommend you skip exploring Paia right now and come back another day. It’s about a 30-minute drive from most hotels and is a half-day trip in itself, so just come back again for lunch at Mama’s Fish House and shopping, not on a day you’re about to drive 4+ hours. Paia is very cute and I wish we got to explore more of it. We told ourselves we’d stop to walk around on our way back from Hana but ended up being too tired after being in the car all day.
This makes for a fun first stop! You’ll be driving for about 30-40 minutes without any good stops and I was itching to start exploring.The Twin Falls are really pretty and a short walk from the parking lot. It takes just about 20 minutes of time and is a fun way to start the trip. Sometimes there will be a food truck outside the falls which you can grab a snack at if you didn’t stop in Paia.
Even though it started pouring rain when we were on Honomanu Beach, I found it so beautiful! Park at the top of the road and walk down (the road it too bumpy for rental cars) and watch the surfers ride those huge waves. It takes a bit more work to get to and that 10-minute walk off puts a lot of visitors so it’ll be pretty empty.
Not to be confused with the Garden of Eden, which is a ticketed garden, this cute 6-acre arboretum is free! Inside you’ll get to see rubber trees up close and personal (their rainbow trunks are so pretty!)
Parking is really hard to snag and if the small lot is all full, don’t worry! You can explore the town of Ke’anae down the road first and come back later. Worse case, stop on your drive back from Hana.
Town of Ke’anae
Down a small road you’ll find the town of Ke’anae, which still houses some locals! There’s Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread stand, a popular spot to grab a bite to eat, public restrooms if you gotta got, a few cool rocky beaches and my favorite – a historic church! The Lanakila Ihiihi O Iehowa Ona Kava Church was fun to walk around (and find shelter from the rain!) It has a sad history that the Gypsy App guy will tell you about so I’ll skip over it here.
Mile Marker 10 Waterfall
I believe this is the first tall waterfall you’ll pass on your drive! There isn’t a lot of room for cars (maybe 2-3 tops) so if space is available, grab it! The waterfall is just RIGHT THERE and really fun to visit. But, as you talked about in my little story at the beginning, there are a lot of waterfalls on this drive so it’s crowded, don’t worry, you’ll find another waterfall soon.
Halfway To Hana Stop
You’ll see the big signs for this stop and I recommend pulling over for a quick picnic lunch here! It’ll be busy during the lunch hour but 100% worth it. If you didn’t try banana bread at Aunt Sandy’s, grab a loaf here (it’s hot!).
But what makes them stand out to me is their life-changing pineapple smoothies. Like omg, I’m drooling just thinking about them. Would 10/10 drive back to Halfway to Hana just for another one. I *almost* bought a second smoothie on our way back from Hana.
Pua’a Ka’a Falls / State Wayside
This waterfall and pool is a popular rest stop that most travelers swing by before moving on. But, this is a local’s favorite swimming hole spot and I was so SO EXCITED to finally swim … only to find they were also too flooded and a bit scary to dive into, even though some women were taking a dip. If it’s not flooded with crazy rapids, I recommend swimming in here!
The Nahiku Marketplace is a little row of shops and restaurants that are fun to stop at, especailly if you are still hungry after the Halfway to Hana pitstop. Sadly, even though we drove on a weekend day, more than half the shops were closed when we visited, so keep in mind some of the places the App Guy will tell you about may not be open. That being said, you can find tasty smoked fish, barbecue, coconuts, jewelry and so much more here. It’s a must-stop!
Waianapanapa State Park
This is where the famous black sand beach is! We didn’t have time to stop by here, but it’s one of the major Road to Hana sites that most people love to see. Honestly, at this point, I felt like we did a good job at seeing beaches and waterfalls, so I was tired and I wanted to get to the Seven Sacred Pools before it got too late (as we know, they ended up being closed!) If the Seven Sacred Pools are closed, skip Ohe’o Gulch and visit this state park instead! Next time we visit Maui, I’d love to spend a night in Hana and have more time to explore this park.
Ono Farm Fruit Stand
On the edge of Hana is a fruit stand that sells an amazing array of exotic fruits. I HIGHLY recommend stopping here if it’s open (it’s not open every day, so if it is, it’s your lucky day!) I bought a whole Maui Gold Pineapple here for just $7 — for comparison, stores in Lahaina were selling Maui Golde Pineapples for upwards of $30 each!! Yikes. But you can also try fruits I’ve never even heard of before and won’t be able to repeat because I just happily shoved the fruit samples in my mouth without listening to what they were. It’s cash only, so make sure you save some cash for here!
Make sure to take the Haneoo Road loop past Hana. It’s short but oh so cute and it’s here you’ll find Hamoa Beach, which is hands down one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. It’s also a local favorite, you can tell! Even if you don’t plan on swimming or staying long, make sure to pull over and spend a few minutes here.
This was my favorite waterfall during our entire drive! It’s just so pretty and I loved that you could take a little trail beyond the bridge to get up close and personal to the falls (but at a safe lookout point.) The parking lot here can be packed, but it’s worth it. Just make sure not to block the bridge with your car or stand on it in the way of cars.
Seven Sacred Pools / Ohe’o Gulch
After visiting Wild Willy’s Hot Springs in California, I fell in love with natural swimming pools (hot or cold) and have been on a personal mission to swim in as many as I can. I REALLY wanted to swim at the base of a waterfall on the Road to Hana drive, but each waterfall we stopped at was too flooded to swim in. We drove all the way down to the Seven Sacred Pools and it turns out there were also too flooded and closed.
>> Here’s the thing: Ohe’o Gulch has hiking trails but I’m pretty sure most people visiting are coming for the pools before completing their Raod to Hana guided tour, not to do a half day hike. It’s a beautiful park, don’t get me wrong, but it easily adds on 2 hours of your trip to drive there and back as it’s past the town of Hana. I recommend Googling and checking if the pools are opened BEFORE you start your trip. If they are open, visit Ohe’o Gulch, but if not, skip it and stop in Hana.
WHAT TO WEAR ON ROAD TO HANA TOUR
As I mentioned, the Road to Hana is in the rain forest side of the island and it will probably rain during your trip! Combined with the fact you’ll probably want to take a dip in a swimming hole, it’s safe to assume that at some point you’ll get wet. That’s why I recommend wearing a swimsuit and something that’s easy to take off, like a shirt or a dress. Also, sturdy shoes for all the short hikes you’ll be taking!
These are some cute outfit ideas!
Lastly, you want to bring along some other things to help you comfortable. A water bottle, sunglasses, sunscreen and bug spray are all handy things to keep in your car. I also suggest hand sanitizer for all those bathroom stops.
I hope these reviews of Hana stops help you plan your trip! Leave a comment below if I missed your favorite stop, there are just so many great gems on that highway! Is the Road to Hana tour worth it? I should have convinced you it is worth it, and worth it to drive yourself!
Make sure to check out my other Maui blog posts to help you have an amazing vacation on the island. If you drive the Road to Hana, use #whimsysoul + tag @whimsysoul on Instagram so I can see your photos. I love when readers do that!