Maui is full of wonders. It’s got a 10,000+ foot peak, wild landscapes of tropical mountains, unique culture, delicious food, and many places of historical significance. There is so much packed into this island. So, it is hard to pick what to do while you are there. But if you are like me, then you are hoping to sample as much as you can across Maui on your visit. If that’s the boat you are in, this guide will point you in the direction of some great spots in Western Maui. You could pick a few of these for a daytrip in Western Maui, or try to see them all over the course of several days.
- 1 Planning Your Daytrip in Western Maui
- 2 Route and Road Considerations
- 3 Maui Ocean Center
- 4 Downtown Lahaina
- 5 The Nakalele Blowhole
- 6 Waihe’e Ridge Trail
- 7 Iao Needle State Monument
- 8 Kepaniwai Park
- 9 Other Tips and Ideas for Maui and Hawai’i
Planning Your Daytrip in Western Maui
For culture, Lahaina and Kepaniwai Park have great options, and the Maui Ocean Center is an awesome spot for environmental education. For high adventure, consider climbing into the mountains at Waihe’e Ridge Trail. And for more relaxed places to experience nature, Iao Needle (advanced reservation needed) has you covered. Whether you are a solo hiker, traveling with friends and family, or looking for accessible options, there are at least a couple spots for you on this list.
Route and Road Considerations
For this driving daytrip in Western Maui, the route itself, if you are starting from Kahului and ending there (without stops), is 2 hours and 40 minutes as estimated by Google. I do tend to find that Google underestimates when you aren’t onsite, often due to changing traffic conditions. I list five different stops along the way, and these are a mix of hiking, nature, and cultural points of interest. That being said, this guide is designed so that you can pick from among some great options, rather than trying to do it all in a day.
I’d suggest selecting your top two or three activities from this list and then planning from there. Alternatively, if you have some more time, you could consider planning to visit the Iao Needle on its own day, or in conjunction with Kahului. Lahaina could also be an entire day of seeing the town, enjoying good food, and visiting cultural sites. So, all together, this could be a 3-4 day chunk of time.
The road along the northern shore of this daytrip in Western Maui is not your average road. I’d even say that it isn’t a road for everyone, and that’s something, considering I’ve driven in the Dominican Republic, through 2-way, 1-lane tunnels in the Faroe Islands, and on some crazy dirt roads in Molokai. The reason I say this is that much of this road is extremely narrow- basically one lane, but cars can travel in two directions.
Additionally, the road follows the mountainous curves of the island, making it a winding route with many blind corners. We were in a small sedan on this route, and had many iffy moments with other drivers. I typically err on the side of caution on these roads and I pulled over right when I saw someone. However, some drivers were not skilled enough and/or had vehicles that were too large to easily maneuver on the road. In one case, I pulled over as far as I could, and stopped my car, but a Suburban driver honked and waved franticly at me from his truck as he struggled to pass. Unfortunately for him and me, there was no other spot for me to pull over. You just have to be a good, patient, and polite driver on this route.
If narrow conditions and cliffs scare you, and/or you are driving a large vehicle that you are not familiar with or cannot maneuver comfortably, I would not take this road. Luckily, you can access all points in this itinerary without it. You just won’t make a loop of your drive.
Maui Ocean Center
The Maui Ocean Center is tucked on the southern coast of Maui between Kahului and Lahaina. And I’d say it’s a world-class aquarium. It’s not the largest marine museum that I’ve ever been to, but almost every time I’ve been to Maui we have visited. And it has reliably been a great visit for me and all the friends and family members we have visited the island with through the years.
If you or anyone in your party is an animal-lover, definitely give the Ocean Center a stop on your daytrip in Western Maui. If you are on a solo trip, you could likely see most of the aquarium in 2.5 hours by rushing a bit. But ideally, you’d like to give yourself 3-4 hours to thoroughly explore and learn here.
Tickets are about $45 dollars (2023) per adult. And you will want to pick the date of your visit ahead of time, online, to make sure you can get in when it works for your itinerary.
Downtown Lahaina has to be one of my favorite urban areas in Hawaii, and a definite must for a daytrip in Western Maui. It’s popular, very popular, but it still maintains its character and charm. You will likely need to pay to park, but once you do, you will have loads of stores and restaurants to enjoy. There is also a little coastal area to enjoy and a massive banyan tree.
If you like walking around town, definitely give yourself 2-3 hours in this area. And actually, if you can find a way to stay here in a local hotel, try to!
The Nakalele Blowhole
The Nakalele Blowhole is nestled in a rocky cliff abutting the ocean. There is a circular hole in the upper part of the rock, with a cavern open to the sea beneath. That way when there is a big enough wave, water blows up out of the hole like a whale’s blowhole. It’s a pretty cool thing to see.
And along with the blowhole, the rocky cliffs are rugged and offer beautiful views of the island and the ocean. This area, at least when I visited, was pretty undeveloped, but popular. So, we had to park on the side of the road in the dirt and squish in among many other cars. Then we had to walk along the road to the trails that spider across the stone.
There are no safety fences in this area, so if you visit, take care of yourself. A fall from the cliffs could cause injury or death, and the same goes for the blowhole itself. Furthermore, if you get there and you can’t park, please just move on to the next attraction and/or come back later. It is important not to block any roads or driveways, or otherwise inconvenience local folks.
We spent about 30 minutes here, and did not approach the blowhole closely for safety reasons. It isn’t a huge area. You could probably spend a bit more time if you enjoyed a picnic or really took in the views. That being said, it is a really unique part of any daytrip in Western Maui.
Important Safety Note
I’ve recently learned that the Nakalele Blowhole is a potentially dangerous destination. People have been sucked into the hole, and/or pulled off the cliffs by waves. When this happens, no one can help you. AKA You will die. If you visit Nakalele Blowhole, please plan on observing the blowhole and the coast from afar. It may look fun to get close to the hole and the edge, but it isn’t worth your life. If you can’t guarantee that you will be able to keep you and your family and/or travel partners away from the hole and cliffs, I would suggest that you avoid this spot.
Waihe’e Ridge Trail
The Waihe’e Ridge Trail is a fairly short but steep trek that heads up into the steep mountains of Maui. Alltrails says that it is 4 miles out and back with over 1,500 feet elevation gain. In particular, the first part of the trail is the steepest, with some rugged switchbacks further along.
The first section of the trail climbs up through the forest, along a wide and sometimes paved path. If you want to make sure that you see the waterfall, keep your eyes peeled while you are hiking up the ridge, beyond the most forested part of the trail. It is quite far down the hill, but still beautiful. At this point, the trail sticks to the ridgeline among the shorter and less thick trees. There are some really beautiful twists and turns in the trail here that follow the contours of the mountain. Overall, it’s a great bit of exercise and challenge, so I think it’s a great addition to a daytrip in Western Maui.
There is a small parking lot at the trailhead, which can get full like everywhere else on Maui. Some AllTrails reviews say the parking lot is hard to find, but Google got me there pretty easy. That being said, if your heart is set on doing this trail, I would suggest trying to come early or in the later part of the day. If you can’t fit, check out some other areas.
Reminders for the Trail
Also, please make sure to stay on the trail. This is important for the local flora and fauna, because otherwise you will be trampling them. But additionally, there is private property along the side of the trail in some spots, and we don’t want to pester people. Our good manners protect the trail for the future, and help ease the burden on local folks.
Iao Needle State Monument
The Iao Needle is an exceptionally beautiful place, and my personal favorite attraction on this daytrip in Western Maui list. The hike there is a very short 0.6 miles and paved, so this isn’t a spot to go for a long and strenuous walk. It’s more the place for enjoying the natural beauty of Maui and learning more about its history.
Along with the walk and the exceptional views, there are also spots here where you can sit by the flowing water of the river. It’s a quiet and wild place to reflect and take in Maui. And it’s somewhere that I highly suggest you try to visit.
For visitors, if you want check out Iao Needle, please be sure to get reservations ahead of time. You can do that here: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks/maui/iao-valley-state-monument/
On the road to the Iao Needle is the Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens. It is 7.6 acres and includes not only beautiful plants but international monuments and installations. Due to that, this is a park unlike any other to explore. In particular, surrounded by the impressive, verdant mountains of the island, it is a unique place to experience the confluence of nature and culture.
This park is also ADA accessible, with an ADA parking lot, picnic pavilions, pathways, and bathrooms. So, this is a great stop on a daytrip in Western Maui for everyone.
Other Tips and Ideas for Maui and Hawai’i
Maui is the second most visited island in Hawaii (after Oahu), so when you visit, please go with this in mind. It is important to stay in lodging options that are responsible and don’t further stress the housing market in Hawaii. My suggestion for this would be to stay in a hotel, not a short-term rental.
Our behavior while we are visiting somewhere is also important, even more so when tourists are so common. Be sure to drive politely, follow local rules, and generally just act like a guest in someone else’s house.
Planning a Trip to Hawaii?
Learn more about our adventures (and plan yours!) in our Guide to Hawaii (Coming soon).
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