Scenic Drives: Road to Hana, Maui

The 45 mi. trip from Paia to Hana is one of the world’s most impressive coastal drives. With more than 600 turns and over 50 single-lane bridges, the “Road to Heaven” offers incredible views of Maui’s rainforests and waterfalls, most of which are visible from the driver’s seat. While it takes about 2hr. to make the journey itself, the experience is much more rewarding if you stop along the way. Highlights of the drive are outlined below; however, there’s always more to explore. If you only have a day for the road to Hana and back, then consider skipping some of these sites to leave time for the Pools of Oheo and the hikes near Hana. Fill up on gas in Paia (there are no gas stations along the way), pack a cooler with snacks and aqua, and go!

1. TWIN FALLS. If you want to make this a worthwhile excursion, go at 7am. If you beat the crowds, you will enjoy a lovely private swim beneath the falls—just you and the mosquitoes. Otherwise, you’re taking your chances—by 8:15am, the parking lot is full and the narrow trail to the falls is swarming with tourists. This is the first waterfall stop along Hana Rd., but by no means the most impressive—Twin Falls can be easily bypassed. To get to the falls, pull over and park when you see the fruit stand past mi. marker 2. Pass through the gate onto the dirt road; after 2min., a few small trails branch off to the left to a rope swing and small pool. After 10min. and a crossing of the Hoolawanui Stream, the trail forks at a small rock bearing a hand-painted arrow. The path to the left leads to the most popular waterfall, a lovely pool, and another rope swing. There’s a little hurdle before getting there in the form of a concrete aqueduct; though you should plan on getting wet, it’s easy to overcome. The path to the right includes a makeshift bridge over an irrigation canal and continues to a concrete step where the path splits. Going uphill to the left leads you through a forest where you can find the 150 ft. top of the falls on the left. Stay right at the concrete block to continue through a cove that will bring you to a less populated, but nonetheless rewarding, waterfall and pool. Porta-potties are available at the entrance to the trail. Small driveways to private residences dapple the hike to the falls; always be courteous.

2. WAIKAMOI NATURE TRAIL. On the mauka (mountain) side, between mi. markers 9 and 10, there is an excellent short hike among native ferns, bamboo, eucalyptus, mango, and strawberry guava. Just above the parking area, the pathway, one of few public trails on Maui, forks into 2 nested loop trails. To take the longer one (about 1 mi. total), bear left and then left again past the second bench. The trail climbs a bit past strawberry guava trees before leveling out and making a switchback to another bench. The right fork continues through a stand of bamboo and paper bark trunks. It ends under mango trees in a quiet, grassy clearing, with a picnic shelter overlooking the ocean. To loop back down to the parking lot, either backtrack down the trail or walk down the old road, bearing right when it splits. The ride from here to the next stop offers some of the most gorgeous views of the coast as the road winds in and out in large curves.

3. PUOHOKAMOA STREAM. A trail right next to the bridge at mi. marker 11 leads through the forest and down to a pool at the base of a 20 ft. waterfall. A sheltered picnic ground stands beside the oft-rainy area; and about 10min. upstream, the main fall (Lower Puohokamoa Falls) drops dramatically over a 200 ft. cliff. However, the trail up to this waterfall is slippery and unstable; the falls can be just as well viewed from the nearby Puohokamoa Falls Lookout.

4. KEANAE ARBORETUM. Right after the YMCA Camp Keanae, about 0.2 mi. past mi. marker 16, the Keanae Arboretum offers another chance to stretch your legs. A corridor of flowers and trees leads to the main park, a garden of labeled timber and native flowers that include taro, breadfruit, and sugarcane. The 6 acre park is pleasant, but extremely damp in the wet season, and the mosquitoes can be worse here than in other areas. Don’t park in front of the aluminum gate and be careful—flash-flooding occurs spontaneously. Open 7am-7pm daily.

5. KEANAE PENINSULA. The taro farming village of Keanae lies on a wave-thrashed coast, a left turn off Hana Hwy. shortly after the arboretum. Here you’ll find a peaceful Hawaiian town, centered on the Keanae Congregational Church, built in 1860. Before you reach the church, you’ll see a snack shop on the right that sells Aunt Sandy’s delicious banana bread as well as fruit and smoothies. At the end of the road is a ball park with restrooms. Picnic tables overlook the rocky beach, where waves crash against the shoreline.

6. WAILUA. Just past mi. marker 19, the Wailua Lookout offers views of the tiny village of Wailua. The prides of the town are the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine, built in 1860, and the bougainvillea gardens maintained by its residents. For a more secluded picnic spot, head to the Wailua Valley State Wayside, just before mi. marker 19. There, a set of stone steps to the right will take you up to a grassy perch.

7. PUAA KAA. Between mi. markers 22 and 23 are the freshwater pools of Puaa Kaa State Park. The 2 swimmable pools connected by a small waterfall make for a refreshing dip; but since they are less than a 2min. walk from the car, they are frequently crowded. The park also has shaded picnic tables and restrooms (the last you’ll find until you reach Hana). Parking is available on the makai side of the highway.

8. NAHIKU. Between mi. markers 25 and 26, a road leads seaward to Nahiku, a small village that is home to a Christian church, built in 1867. Nahiku is East Maui’s wettest town, getting more than 300 in. of rain per year. The real draw here is the road—about 2½ mi. one way—it winds through lush rainforest growth and is particularly beautiful in the wet season. After the church, it becomes a private road, but if you don’t mind the risk of seeing it through, you will be greeted with a spectacular ocean view.

9. VENUS POOL. Waikoa Pond, or, more amorously, Venus Pool, is one of the largest freshwater pools on the island; although it may be less famous than the Oheo pools, it is not any less replenishing or exquisite. Lava formations offer plenty of places to climb and to jump into the water, and a tidal wall creates a natural barrier to the salty ocean swells. The trail to the pool is easily missed by the crowds rushing to Kipahulu. Park at mi. marker 48, just before the bridge. On the other side of the fence, follow the footpath, and turn right toward the stream.

Time: 2-4hr.

Distance: 45 mi.

Season: Any

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