I read a lot about the road to Hana before we left for Hawaii but still, there are things that came up that surprised me. I had my list of places to stop and apps to use for the history and directions back to our hotel but in the end, our trip wasn’t what I had envisioned.
I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, the huge cascading waterfalls, stunning rugged coastline, the exotic flowers, and the remoteness of this road. All that is true. But what other people haven’t written about is what it is truly like to drive this road. So sit back, get a cup of coffee or tea and let me tell you about the stops and fun and not-so-fun things along the road to Hana.
Table of Contents
Important Info for the Road to Hana
You will read that the road winds this way and that and it can be wet and all stuff like that. Well, it’s always wet! Some of the waterfalls run down the mountains onto the road so the first thing to make sure is that your rental car has good tires. Logical, yes but nonetheless still important.
The road to Hana has 59 one-lane bridges and over 600 curves, including some tricky hairpin turns. Our GPS clocked the drive at 3 hours and that is without stops. Now you can understand why this is an all-day event. However, you need to stop and really see the amazing waterfalls and hikes. And the views do not disappoint.
Wifi, what can I say but you won’t have it most of the time. So if you want to use the GyPSy Guide you definitely need to download it to your phone ahead of time. Honestly, we even had trouble after we downloaded stuff. It is that remote.
Something else I’d like to bring up that I hadn’t read about beforehand is that you aren’t supposed to stop and park along the side of the road. In fact, there are signs up at most of the ‘stops along the road to Hana’ stating, NO PARKING. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped tourists and it’s probably the reason why people have gotten hurt on the road. And I’m sure it is also adding to erosion along the side of the road. Hawaii Tourism suggests going with a tour company instead of driving the road yourselves. If you do venture out on your own please, be safe and respect the environment you came so far to see.
Where to Start Your Adventure on the Road to Hana
Paia is the last town before you start your journey. This is your last chance to fill your gas tank. You can also grab breakfast or a take and go lunch for the ride. There are some cute shops in the town if you want to do some shopping.
Oh, and you won’t find any place in Paia to use the bathroom. You need to go back to H.A. Baldwin Beach Park that you just passed. Yes, we walked back knowing it would be a long time before finding another bathroom.
Items to Bring on Your Adventure on the Road to Hana
Some of these items are a must, like cash, bug spray, water shoes, and towels if you want to go swimming, others it’s your discretion. However, I would not start your road trip without the Dramamine. I also brought these very handy items that saved our rental car from a nearly fatal death.
Other times to bring are water, juice boxes, plenty of snacks, wet wipes, and trash bags. We use trash bags for trash but also wet towels and dirty shoes. This will save your rental car too.
Stops Along the Road to Hana
Depending on your level of adventure and the amount of time you have, you can stop at just a few of the amazing places along the road or you can stop at all of them. We stopped at most stops but unfortunately, at one the parking lot was full and the attendant waved us on. I was really sad about this but I understand.
Probably the best tip I can give you for finding some of these stops along the road to Hana is to look for the mile markers along the road. These markers do not start until you connect with Highway 360, at this point set your trip odometer to zero, so you know where you are. Highway 360 doesn’t connect to Hana Highway until after the Ho’okipa Beach, it’s actually where Kaupakalua Road connects to Hana Highway.
Ho’okipa Beach on the Road to Hana – Mile Marker #9 (not a mistake)
This first stop is only a 5-minute drive from the town of Paia. Although you don’t want to go swimming at this beach it is a great beach to watch the surfers. We took photos from the road but you can certainly go down to the beach and see the waves and surfers up close. There are a few porta-potties if you need them.
Twin Falls – Mile Marker #2 on the Road to Hana
This is the first location where there are waterfalls. It is also one of the few places to stop that actually has a parking lot for you. This is where the lot was full and the parking attended waved us on. We couldn’t even wait for a spot to open up. So be aware of this if it is a stop you want to make. There is a second parking lot just up the road but that one was full as well. You will also have to pay for the parking.
If you are lucky enough to get a parking spot, you can hike to the lower or upper falls, approx. 1.8 miles to the second waterfall. The first waterfall is not far from the parking lot. You can swim in the pools at the base of the falls. There is a farm stand where you can get some fruit smoothies.
Huelo Lookout Fruit Stand – Between Mile Markers #4 & #5
The reviews say “be on island time” if you do stop. This is a one-man show and they only take cash. We stopped because our kids were already getting antsy. Not a good place to be and I thought, stupidly thought it would settle them. It didn’t. This took longer than I wanted and we were only just starting our journey. I wasn’t happy and never got out of the car so no photo here. What a shame since I should have indulged and gotten myself one. Read on.
Na’ili’ili-haele Stream & Waterfall Along The Bamboo Forest Hike – Mile Marker #7
We didn’t see this hike or waterfall listed on any website or post we read. Of course, there are ‘No Parking’ signs all along the highway but there were also tons of cars parked. This really was a fun hike though. Very muddy, stupidly we didn’t wear our water shoes for it. So muddy that we had to hold onto the bamboo trees for support.
We had to cross two rivers to get to these falls. So again either wear hiking sandals or good grip water shoes. Even though we were muddy and wet in the end, the waterfall was really gorgeous. Again go back to my list of must-haves for this trip, they will save you.
The rainbow eucalyptus tree forest is on the opposite side of the road. It is private property so please don’t go on. If you have a telephoto lens you should be able to get a few good photos.
Ko’olau Ka’aina o ka wai a Kane – Mile Marker #9
This is a state wayside area where you can take a short hike, go to the bathroom, a BBQ area with picnic tables. The views are quite lovely and it’s a good place to stop for the bathroom. We stopped so one of our kids could clean up. Yes, the fun was starting and we were only on mile marker #9!!
Garden of Eden Arboretum – Mile Marker #10.5
This 25-acre arboretum has over 500 species of plants, flowers, and trees for you to explore. If you are a Jurassic Park fan, then this is a must-stop. The garden is where the opening sequence of the movie was filmed. There are also some chickens, ducks, peafowl, geese, a peacock, and even a few horses. Expect to spend an hour or so exploring here. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for 5-16-year-olds, and under 5 are free.
We drove up and were prepared to enjoy the grounds when my kids announced they didn’t want to get out, even when they saw the peacock. I imagine they were thinking “it’ll be over sooner if we stay in the car.” Little did they know. We drove on.
Haipua’ena Falls – Mile Marker #11
The first falls aren’t too big but it does have a very nice pool to swim in. There isn’t a lot of pull-off the road parking here. We barely had enough room to get our Jeep out of the line of traffic. So instead of staying at this waterfall, we sent my husband to take photos.
If you are lucky enough to get a decent spot for your car enjoy a swim but don’t bother to venture to the second waterfall. The path isn’t stable or really wide enough to use. One wrong move and you could get seriously hurt. There are many more falls up the road. Enjoy a quick dip and continue on your way.
Kaumahina Wayside State Park – Mile Marker #12
The spot boasts a few picnic tables by the parking spots along with bathrooms. The area was under construction with tape and barricades up when we went but you could still see a nice view out to the ocean.
For more waterfall fun you can explore these 7 Waterfalls in Vermont
Honomanu Bay – Between Mile Marker #13 & #14 on the Road to Hana
Unless you have a 4×4 vehicle don’t even try to go down to the edge of the water. The road past the river I’ve been told is the one to take. This spot is mostly frequented by locals and fishermen.
Although you can ‘pull off’ the road to take pictures, this road was never designed or built for that. While we wanted to stop and get a view of the bay from the roadside we just couldn’t stop due to the traffic on the road. However, this is a picture back toward Honomanu Bay from up the road a bit.
For us, it was a necessary stop as this is where things really went downhill for us. Thankfully the girls were still in a good mood, for now.
Ke’anae Arboretum – Mile Marker #16.7
This small arboretum, which is free of charge, is a great stop along the road to Hana especially if you love flora. This is a great photo opt with rainbow eucalyptus trees. You really can’t miss these trees and I have to say they are stunning. Although you can also see these trees along the roadside if you don’t want to stop here. Expect to spend an hour or so exploring. I didn’t get an hour to explore since my kids wouldn’t come in. However, I really enjoyed seeing the flora and capturing this rainbow eucalyptus tree.
These rainbow eucalyptus trees are sometimes referred to as Mindanao gum or rainbow gum trees. The multi-colored lines on their trunks come from patches of shedding bark. When the outer bark sheds, it reveals bright green inner bark. This young bark subsequently darkens and matures into various shades of pink, orange, yellow and purple. As you can see this tree is quite young. Mature trees display a rainbow of colors because the layers of bark peel at different times.
Ke’anae Peninsula – Just past Mile Marker #16.8
If you have the time and would like to check out a traditional Hawaiian village, make a left on Keanae Rd, which is just past the arboretum. You will be driving down toward the water to this village. Even though you can not swim at this location, the coastline is spectacular.
Half Way To Hana – Mile Marker #17
A godsend for us. We were really thrilled for hot food but also a chance to get out of the car for a bit. The food is great and the people are very helpful. They had no issues accommodating Evelyn with a GF bun for her hamburger. We, of course, had to get their banana bread, which we enjoyed for breakfast the next day.
They also have shaved ice, a must-treat while in Hawaii, cameras, batteries, and chips. They make their own coconut candy as well as beef jerky which are both delicious. We also bought some ginger candies since they are known to help settle stomachs. Unfortunately, they didn’t help my kids.
Wailua Valley State Wayside – Mile Marker #18 on the Road to Hana
My kids wouldn’t get out of the car here, a pity since it was so beautiful. This is a quick stop if you don’t hike. The small turnoff only has about 4 car spots but an unforgettable view of Ke’anae Valley. Looking into the valley you can view waterfalls, the Ko’olau Gap, Wailua Peninsula, and the rim of Haleakala Crater. However, go up the set of stairs to admire a commanding view of the coastline on the other side.
Upper Waikani Falls – Mile Marker #19
Beautiful, these falls are also referred to as the 3 Bears but this is a tough stop. It’s really only a pull-off just before the bridge, not really much of a parking spot. However, you can cross the bridge and drive up a bit for a better spot to park. Be very careful as there isn’t a path to walk on to get back to the falls. Instead, I took a picture as we slowly drove over the bridge.
Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park – Mile Marker #22
Definitely stop here!! There is a small parking lot with bathrooms across the street. Be very careful crossing the road. You have an upper and lower waterfall and pools to swim in. Yes, here is a very good spot to swim.
You need to walk across the bridge at the road to get to the lower pool and waterfall. To get to the upper waterfall, walk up the stairs or ramp and into the pool of water. We actually found it easier to cross the river on the stones than get into the pool on the near side. The entrance was much easier.
Don’t kid yourselves, this water is freezing. We saw a few kids jump off the top of the waterfall. I was super surprised since there are signs not to jump everywhere. However, their mom said they were with a tour guide and he had done it before. Afterward, the younger of the 2 boys said it hurt his back as a bellyflop does into a pool. Honestly, don’t do this. You don’t want to get hurt and need help.
Hanawi Falls – Mile Marker #24
The best view of these falls, the upper falls, is from the bridge that crosses over the Hanawi stream. These falls are quite beautiful but the real beauty, which is super difficult to see, lies with the lower falls. Since the trail to get to the lower falls is off private land you can not actually hike there.
However, if no one is behind you and you are driving north, you can have your driver slow down and you can get a glimpse of them as you approach the bridge. If you have your camera on video, you might get a good shot. These lower falls have a 200-foot cascade whereas the upper falls are a mere 30 feet.
Nahiku Marketplace – Mile Marker #29 on the Road to Hana
If you are hungry this is a good spot for some local food. There are also porta-potties, local artists, and merchants selling various Maui souvenirs. This stop is 6 miles from the town of Hana. My kids just wanted to keep going so we didn’t stop.
Hana Lava Tube – Mile Marker #31
This is a left-hand turn off Hana Highway onto ‘Ula’ino Road. The lava tube is the largest in the world so I was excited to see it. However, the cost is $15 per person so weigh your options on this attraction. Since we arrived 10 minutes past closing time and the staff said we would have to rush, we opted to skip it this time.
Kahanu Garden – Mile Marker #31
At the end of ‘Ula’ino Road is the National Tropical Botanical Gardens. This is a very, very long road that it’s paved far past the Lava Tubes so be wary. I was excited about visiting here since they have the largest Temple in Hawaii, sadly, it was closed when we visited.
Wai’ānapanapa State Park – Mile Marker #32 on the Road to Hana
This is the black sand beach everyone wants to see. This area has lots of history and legends told about it. There are also freshwater caves and campsites for those who want to stay overnight.
To enter this state park you will need to make reservations though. You can book up to 14 days in advance which I highly recommend doing so. The beach is very popular and reservations are generally fully booked if you try to get in within a day or two. The fee is $10 for parking and $5 per person in the car.
However, do not fear if you can’t get reservations. Read on and I will tell you what to do.
The Town Hana – Mile Marker #34
The town of Hana is a small secluded town with a cattle ranch and a resort. The people of Hana have kept their sleepy little town the same since about 1974. I guess this is really the appeal of Hana, quaint, and quiet. And of course, the black sand beaches.
When you get to Hana you might be surprised that there really isn’t a little downtown to explore or anything like that. But that is how the residents like it. Instead of being disappointed head over to the Hana Beach Park in Hana Bay. Here you can relax with the locals on a true black sand beach without having to make reservations or paying to enter.
As you can see by the sky in this photo it was getting late by the time we reached Hana. Unfortunately, instead of relaxing by the beach we drove down the main street, got some more snacks at the various huts, and headed back to our hotel. Luckily the girls only got sick once on the drive back north.
The Road Beyond Hana
If you still have energy for more by all means continue on Rt 360, there are some impressive waterfalls farther along the road. If you can it would be awesome to spend a night in Hana and continue on the following day. Then you will have enough time to hike to the impressive waterfalls after the town of Hana.
Notable stops after Hana are 7 Sacred pools and Pipiwai Trail, Charles Lindbergh Grave, Alelele Falls, and Huakini Beach. These two waterfalls are pretty unique and worth the effort if you have the time. Unfortunately for us we just drove to Hana and back since driving the full circle would have taken even longer.
Also, Haleakaia National Park is accessed beyond Hana and is well worth a visit. Here you not only have lush tropical gardens but you can also see the history of volcanic activity. What a unique park this is.
Driving the Road to Hana with Kids – What it’s really like
I still can’t totally pinpoint the reason we started off late this morning but we did and that wasn’t good. We had to stop at the supermarket before heading out another setback. However, in the end, that was very useful as we picked up some provisions. I honestly should have known what was to come by this time in the morning.
My family had the nonchalant attitude of when we get there, we get there. However, this trip isn’t about that, it’s about the journey. Actually, enjoying the car ride. However, it didn’t exactly happen that way for us.
Be advised if you have kids that don’t do well in the car your day will go as ours did. Many stops to clean up after an episode of someone not feeling well. And for us, it didn’t matter if said child sat in the front seat or not. The only time they were feeling well was when they were out of the car. Needless to say, they wanted the next day to be a day by the pool. I obliged.
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Take Away’s from Driving the Road To Hana
Set everyone’s expectations for what the day is about. Get them excited to hike and visit waterfalls. Of course, I thought I had done this but to no avail. Oh, well, maybe next time.
Let me know if you’ve ever driven the Road to Hana and what you thought about it. I’d love to hear about your adventure.