Best of Maui with Kids: Driving the Road to Hana

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Maui‘s famous Road to Hana is one of the most spectacular places in all of the Hawaiian islands. It’s full of sites that are not to be missed: the Pipiwai Trail, which traverses a bamboo forest in Haleakala National Park; ‘Ohe’o Gulch with its Pools of ‘Ohe’o, a cluster of swimmable natural pools beneath rushing waterfalls; the black sand beach in Wai’anapana State Park.

The Road to Hana (also known as Hana Highway) starts in the village of Paia on the northern coast and winds eastward to the Hana area and beyond. This is an experience to savor slowly with a short stay on this side of the island — unless you have small kids, I think two nights in Hana is a wonderful complement to four or five nights on the west side.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
Wai’anapana State Park is home to one of Maui’s most iconic black sand beaches. Photo by Laura Maestrelli

Tips for Driving the Road to Hana with Kids

Route Highlights

The highlight of the Road to Hana is its location, which offers a great opportunity to take a deep dive into all the gems on Maui’s east side. Getting to Paia from the west side of Maui is a bit arduous, as the roads have only slightly improved in 30 years. The plus is that this deters many people from visiting. To that end, this side of Maui feels very authentic with honor-system roadside stands selling tropical fruit; small operations with fresh, locally sourced delights; painfully slow service; and huge stretches of wilderness with nothing urban at play. It is a stark and welcome contrast from all that happens on Maui’s west side!

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
Up close with a monk seal friend

Hookipa Beach

Rough waves make Hookipa Beach better for surfing than swimming, but kids will love it for the chance to see honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) and monk seals. The turtles tend to appear at sunset, so factor that in when planning your drive time for the day.

Twin Falls

Twin Falls is the first major waterfall and swimming hole you’ll reach along the Road to Hana. It’s part of Wailele Farm, which includes a stand with treats like sugarcane juice, lilikoi (passion fruit), coconut milk ice cream and more. You can reach the Lower Falls easily from the parking lot; reaching the Upper Falls requires a short hike.

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Garden of Eden Arboretum

Even with the astounding natural beauty at every turn of the road, the Garden of Eden is worth a stop. It is a beautifully maintained treasure trove of native flora and has always been dedicated to local conservation, with an eye toward keeping indigenous plant species thriving sans pesticides or other chemicals.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
The 19th-century Wananalua Congregational Church is a Hana Town landmark

Wai’anapanapa State Park

While most visitors here make a beeline to see the small black sand beach, Wai’anapanapa State Park offers so much more, like phenomenal coastal scenery and caves that you can explore (conditions permitting). Facilities such as restrooms and picnic spots make it an ideal stop for families who need a break from driving.

Hana Town

Tiny, sleepy and picturesque, Hana Town embodies Old Hawaii. While it is short on big attractions, it’s long on atmosphere and soaking up the views. The beach at Hana Bay is a great place to splash and snorkel. History buffs should check out the Cultural Center and Museum for a peek into local history and stop by the Wananalua Congregational Church, built in the 1800s.

Hamoa Beach

Hamoa Beach is just 10 minutes or so outside Hana Town. It’s wide and sandy and the water is calm and clear, meaning it’s one of the best spots along the Road to Hana for families to relax and sunbathe.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
One of the many waterfalls with wonderful swimming holes along the route. Photo by Laura Maestrelli

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls on the Road to Hana, and since it’s just off the highway, it’s easy to access. With older kids, you can navigate the somewhat slippery pathway for a dip in the plunge pool at the base of the 80-foot cascade.

‘O’he’o Gulch

Part of Haleakala National Park, ‘O’he’o Gulch is home to the Pools of ‘O’he’o, also dubbed the Seven Sacred Pools. Waterfalls stream from lush cliffsides into a tiered series of pools … truly breathtaking! Note, contrary to popular belief, the pools are not open for swimming.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
Bungalows with incredible views at Hana-Maui Resort

Where to Stay

Hana-Maui Resort in Hana Town is a traditional-style property comprised of bungalows that spill across a grassy bluff overlooking the ocean. The setting is very special — rain or shine, it’s peaceful with a ranch on one side and bluffs on the other, i.e. it’s all nature.

Accommodation options for families include rooms with two queens, suites and one- to two-bedroom residences. Many have ocean views; we stayed in an oceanfront bungalow with two queens and loved the position with the ocean literally right outside our door. Rooms are classic in style and have been kept fairly updated, but the outside of this property, not the inside, is the star of the show.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
The resort’s pool is spacious and tranquil

The main dining venue is the Hana Ranch Restaurant, across the street and down a block from the resort (be sure to make a reservation, as the space is small and there are no other local restaurants open at night). Our favorite alternative for a sit-down lunch or early dinner is Hana Farms, which feels very local and serves fresh fish plates, good wood-fired pizzas on weekends and more. The location — an open-air dining room under a palapa — is charming and there’s a small onsite shop where you can buy four different kinds of homemade banana bread, among other things.

An array of delightful food trucks pulls up within several blocks of the property for lunch and snacks during the day. Otherwise, the town of Hana has very limited amenities, which is part of the appeal. It is remarkably unspoiled.

Hana-Maui Resort also has a pretty pool, a modest fitness room and a spa, which we didn’t have time to try.

Driving the Road to Hana with Kids
Halfway to Hana — an optimal chance for everyone to stretch their legs

Families Should Know

  • Given that the Road to Hana is narrow with 600 curves and becomes dirt instead of pavement in places, there is no way to race through it. The only way to experience it thoughtfully in a relaxing manner is to spend a night or two in Hana. This makes it possible to visit some of the sites on the earlier stretch of the road as an out and back, especially the pools and waterfalls of the ‘O’he’o Gulch.
  • From Hana, you can either return to Paia the way you came, or do the full circuit and keep driving clockwise along the southeast coast. Perhaps the biggest consideration with the full-circuit approach is whether a rental car agency would be able to send roadside support in the event of a breakdown or flat tire. The tradeoff is that the farther you go, the more you feel off the beaten path and away from other tourists (you may even have popular sites like waterfalls entirely to yourself), and you’ll get to see the landscape shift from rainforest to desert within half a day’s drive.
  • Think twice before you do the Road to Hana during the most serious part of the rainy season, typically January and February. This area is thick with rainforests, so it rains all year, but in those months there are real deluges, and hiking is stressful with the threat of dangerous flash floods. Take this seriously — if in doubt, follow cues from the locals.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly accommodations and destinations in Hawaii on Ciao Bambino

See our favorite experiences on Maui with kids

An insider’s guide to visiting Maui with kids

Hawaiian island hopping 101

Editor’s Note: Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy unless otherwise noted.

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