Maui is one of the most popular vacation destinations for Americans, and for good reason. The island is full of beautiful landscapes, exceptional culture, and delicious food. My last post explored some great places for visitors and residents alike to visit in Western Maui. And this week, I’d like to talk about things to see in eastern Maui, and in particular, the Road to Hana and Haleakala National Park. Both have really good options for folks who are looking for hiking opportunities. They are also great options for people exploring by car only, although both will be most easily accessed either with a rental car or a day tour. Let’s sample some great places in eastern Maui and see what might be for you.
Things to See in Eastern Maui Itinerary
While I am packaging all these things to see in Eastern Maui into one post, these are absolutely not to be done in a day. Yes, you could force it, but you would have to miss out on a lot of quiet moments for organic exploration. It also wouldn’t give you much time to explore the trails. Or just take in the beauty of Maui.
The Road to Hana can be done in a day and there are tours that will take you on this loop if you don’t want to drive it yourself. When I first went to Maui, the rental car companies would not allow you to do this whole drive by yourself, but as of 2018, I was not given this restriction when I rented. If you really want to drink it all in though, you might consider doing it in two days and staying in Hana for a night.
Haleakala National Park is also a whole day trip, and you will want to pick your day based on the weather. It can be impossible to drive up the road to the summit of the mountain if the weather isn’t good. We had to turn around in the past because the fog was so thick we couldn’t navigate all the turns on the mountain roads.
The Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is a pretty famous pilgrimage around the road that loops along the coast of Eastern Maui. It might even be #1 on the list of things to see in Eastern Maui. (As I mention above, if you are planning on doing this with a rental car, make sure you are allowed. If you aren’t, you can drive to Hana and the Pools of ‘Ohe’o and then turn around. I tend to travel this road in a clockwise manner.
The route itself is a narrow, two-lane road that weaves in and out of the mountainous coast of the island. To the north, the coast is tropical, verdant, and full of watery surprises like waterfalls and pools. And as you travel past Hana to the south, you will drive on a more rustic road that explores the arid, wild side of the island. (This is the section we were told not to do in the past).
The whole thing will take the day, at least, and can be very busy. So, plan to either leave early in the morning, or travel with much patience for the other people on the road. And be prepared to search for parking all along the way. If you’d like to avoid both and are open to a less self-curated trip, a tour might be a good option.
If you’d like to see the most comprehensive information on the Road to Hana – check out this website that focuses on the trip.
There are several waterfalls that you can explore on the beginning of the Road to Hana (if traveling clockwise). Some have parking lots where you can pull over and explore, and others are spectacular moments that you have to enjoy from the car.
In both cases, this part of the drive is so magical and a definitely addition to the list of things to see in Eastern Maui. The forest is diverse, vibrant, and everything that you imagine when you envision Maui. Due to the twisting nature of the road, and the quality of the lands surrounding it here, be sure to take your time.
For drivers, don’t get distracted by the scenery. This road is pretty serious and other drivers will appreciate you not stopping and blocking the way. Remember, this island is also people’s home and they have places to be. If you’d like to stop and marvel at some waterfalls, pick one with a parking lot or pause where you can pull out of traffic and take everything in safely.
Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach
One of my favorite spots on the Road to Hana is the Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach. Not only is it a great place for the beach lovers among you, it has a trail too! It’s a must-see among the things to see in Eastern Maui.
It’s important to note that I think you will need a reservation to visit this spot now. Check out the state park website to get some.
From the parking lot, you will navigate down some small, volcanic cliffs to the pebbly, black sand coves and beaches. There are places to sunbath and enjoy the ocean here – sprawl out in the warm sand. Although, if you are planning on swimming, be sure to check out all the warnings. I do recall that this isn’t the safest beach for swimming. (As with all water attractions, practice water safety and keep an eye on your kids).
If you are there to hike, continue along the beach, and follow the trail as it crosses further coves and eventually climbs back up the cliffs to continue along the coast. The further that you hike from the parking lot, the more peace you will find.
The town of Hana is a very small village, tucked away in a relatively remote corner of Maui. (And the namesake of the Road to Hana). With that in mind, if you stop here for food and some shopping, please be sure to respect the local folks. It’s a beautiful little town, but it’s also very easy for places like these to get overwhelmed by visitors. In these cases, our manners mean a lot. Don’t block roads, and park only in designated areas. Also, keep your disappointment in check if things are closed, or food that you were hoping to try isn’t available. People work really hard to make our trips magical, and it’s never ok to take out our disappointment when things don’t work out on others. There are always more things to see in Eastern Maui.
The Pools of ʻOheʻo
Onwards, past Hana, there is an amazing district of Haleakala National Park called The Pools of ʻOheʻo. Much like the black sand beach, there are things to see near the parking lot, and a longer hike to explore here. It’s a spot that is high up on my list of favorite things to see in Eastern Maui. But actually have yet to thoroughly hike in this area, despite driving the Road to Hana multiple times.
The lower pools are pretty easy to get to and the walk is only about 0.6 miles roundtrip. Lots of residents also like to swim here. It is a beautiful spot, and a great place to get in the water. That being said, be sure to share the space respectful of others and of the place itself. Stay safe and heed any posted warnings or warnings from rangers. Please practice Leave No Trace while here and exploring the rest of the island.
I have never been able to do the hike up back the lower pools, due to my travel companions or being on a tour. But I think it is well worth doing if you are a hiker. The area is so exceptionally beautiful, and much with the black sand beach, I think you will find more peace the further down the trail you make it. Ask the rangers in the parking area about this trail to learn more.
Arid Lands and Canyons
Past the park, you will transition out of the rainforest and into the more arid part of Maui. There’s nothing established out here to add to a list of things to see in Eastern Maui, but I include it here, because I really love this part of the island. These are rolling grasslands, and craggy canyons that come down from Haleakala. There aren’t any established areas to stop along this side of the island, as far as I know. But I find that there are some great options to pull off the road, and snap some photos of the landscape.
I have a particular affinity for arid places (which I think are really undervalued by many of us). But the sweeping views out here really are inspirational. And the canyons just beg to be explored (although I haven’t, as I don’t know of established trails out here).
It’s also one of the few places on the island where you really won’t see other people (besides other drivers), and you won’t see another village until you start easing back into town on the other side of the island.
Enjoy the quiet and wide open spaces out here on this tail end of the loop Road to Hana route.
Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park protects the upper reaches (and then some) of the mountain for which it is named. This mountain is the highest point in Maui, and it is so high, in fact, that you will need to prepare for some serious winter weather in order to fully enjoy it.
Whether you are planning on mostly exploring from the car, or you want to get out on foot, drive to the very top of the mountain and pop into the visitor center. Learn more about the mountain and take in the views from here. If you are hiking, stop by with the rangers to check on conditions on the trail. There are some short hikes and long circuits. And you will want to make sure that you pick your route with the help of a ranger to make a safe decision.
I would also note that hiking up here is difficult in ways that you might not be expecting. It is very cold at the top of the mountain. Like, winter gear cold. And you are hiking at altitude up here, so expect it to be more difficult than your average hike (unless you hike at altitude often). Many of the trails are also made of really loose, volcanic stones.
Point being, if you are planning on hiking up here, come prepared. It is one of the more wild and difficult spots on my list of things to see in Eastern Maui.
Furthermore, know that driving up the mountain can be difficult. If you start up the road and the conditions aren’t safe, turn around.
Little Town of Makawao
I would highly suggest stopping by the little town of Makawao on the slopes of Haleakala. It’s a great stop after exploring the mountain, but even if you don’t go up there, it’s worth stopping by. The town itself is beautiful and feels so… “small town Hawaii” (at least so far as a non-resident would imagine). There are great little restaurants to grab good, coffee, and more. And there are some really unique shops as well.
Not only is this a great place to take in, but it’s also a place to support small, local businesses.
Notes on Safety
Of course, with all trips that involve hiking (and all travel in general) your safety is your responsibility. This guide doesn’t guarantee your safety while checking out anything among the things to see in Eastern Maui.
Some things to keep in mind, along with the typical safety tips. If you are hiking in the rainforest, it is really easy to become dehydrated because of the heat and humidity. The trails can also be very slippery and muddy. You will also want to be aware of the weather higher up in the mountains, because flooding can happen when the coast is sunny and clear.
On Haleakala, you will be facing intense winter conditions and strong sun. Keep yourself warm and covered. Consult with the rangers before setting out.
When exploring anywhere with water, do not ignore any posted or verbal warnings. Keep a VERY close eye on your children.
Finally, all of these places require driving on windy mountain roads. These aren’t to be taken lightly. Do not drive distracted, even though this is a beautiful place. If you feel that you can’t manage to focus on driving, take a tour. If the weather is not good, save the drive for another day.
Planning a Trip to Hawaii?
I recently finished a guide to Western Maui, that you can combine with this one for a full itinerary.
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