Lapping this side of the island is a completely different definition of “paradise” than you typically picture when you think of Maui. Driving the back road to Hana is something that few attempt, but all can attest was worth it.
There are no resorts, hotels, or shops. This is a completely different side of Maui that you never knew existed, and will give you a new appreciation for the island and its history. So fasten your seatbelts and hit the road!
The “back” Road to Hana is defined as Highway 31 along the southern and eastern ridge of Haleakalā. This area is also known as Maui’s “Upcountry.” This road is far less traveled and is very remote. You will not find any towns, stores, or gas stations. However, there will be views that make you feel like you’re on the end of the world.
The “typical” road to Hana starts in Paia and is aptly named the Hana Highway (Highway 36). This road is paved the entire way, but there are countless hairpin turns that are often one lane only. No matter which road you choose, drive carefully.
Driving the back road to Hana is certainly more difficult and rugged than the main road. It’s impossible to know how we would have done in another vehicle, but there were many times we were thankful to be in a Jeep! Large potholes are frequent and the shoulders can be deep. Having a vehicle with high clearance is key.
We named our Jeep “Regina” (“Reggie” for short) and she truly was the MVP of the drive. If you are renting a car and plan to drive, try to get one as high off the ground as you can. Make sure you read your rental agreement carefully, as some prohibit driving the back road to Hana. When in doubt, ask the rental counter at pickup or give them a call before you head out.
The absolute best piece of advice I can offer. We decided to wake up with the sunrise and were on our way by 6:00 am. If you notice a long line of cars coming down from watching the sunrise on Haleakalā, you’re right on schedule.
Along the entire drive to Hana, we passed only about a dozen cars (if that). Since the drive can be tricky, there are times where you need to focus on the road rather than worrying about oncoming traffic.
One of the most amazing, and unexpected part of driving the back road to Hana was the wildlife! No, I’m not talking flora and fauna, I’m talking herds of cattle and mountain goats! Did you ever think you could use “Maui” and either of those animals in the same breath? I did a double take the first time we saw them alongside the road, it was surreal. Cattle grates are common, so keep an eye out and drive slow. It’s not uncommon for herds of cows to line the road, or cross it all together. Don’t get out of your car and approach any animal, but admiring from a distance is certainly alright!
Along the 43 mile drive between Keokea and Hana, you will pass exactly zero gas stations. A half a tank of gas should be plenty, but always better to err on the side of caution and fill up when you can.
With safety in mind, this is a drive that needs to be done between sunrise and sunset. There are no streetlights, few lines on the road, and virtually no signs. Besides, it would be a crime to drive this beautiful stretch without being able to admire the views!
It should come as no surprise when I tell you that cell service is virtually non-existent along the back road to Hana. The good news is, it’s pretty difficult to get lost as there are no wrong turns you can make. If you are using Google Maps, program Hana as your destination and “start” your journey while you have service. Even if you lose bars, it will still know your location to give you an estimate of how much further you have to go.
This area of Maui (and Hawaii in general) is known for sudden rain storms that can last for any amount of time. Sometimes they are quick, but if an all-day rainstorm is expected, it’s best to do this drive on another day. Mudslides are common and can make certain areas impassable.
With absolutely zero services along the drive, you’ll want to be prepared. Pack plenty of water and some snacks for the drive. Definitely doesn’t hurt to keep a roll of toilet paper or biodegradable wipes in the car, for when nature calls.
The back road to Hana is certainly all about the experience. Very few get to have the feeling of an open road before you, and the endless ocean to your side. Take it slow, and appreciate it for all it is. If you are behind another car going too slow, take it as an opportunity to pull over, rather than riding their bumper. There are plenty of turnouts to rest, take some pictures, and admire the views. Both roads to Hana are all about the journey, not the destination.
Making the drive along the back road to Hana was not as daunting as we had heard it to be. Yes, there are steep cliffs, one lane roads, and loose gravel. With a little preparation ahead of time, this will be the experience of a lifetime!
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