Highway 36 is one of the most famous highways in the country, but most know it by a different name: the Road to Hana. The trip is 52 miles of winding roads with 1-lane bridges, hairpin turns and stunning landscapes of rocky cliffs, plunging waterfalls and rolling valleys. The ride takes about 3 hours, but you'll want the whole day to linger.
You'll likely start your trip in the small town of Paia, but it's a good idea to start planning before you even arrive here. If you're coming from the other side of the island, fill up your tank first as gas prices along the way are notably higher.
Plan for plenty of pit stops along the way to appreciate the stunning landscape and take advantage of the myriad of photo opportunities. If you come prepared with a picnic, you can stop at your leisure to enjoy a roadside feast. However, there's no need to pack your own lunch as area restaurants can take care of this for you. In Paia, Anthony's Coffee Company prepares a Hana Picnic Lunch that includes a cold sandwich, drink, cookies and chips and even includes a cooler for a refundable deposit.
If eating on the road is not your thing, you can fill your belly in Paia before you get on your way. The casual Paia Fish Market opens for lunch at 11 a.m. and is known for its charbroiled fish burgers made with ono or mahimahi. Tucked into a coconut grove on a lovely stretch of beach, Mama's Fish House embodies old-school Polynesian hospitality with tasty food in a fine-dining setting. Lunch in the dining room is served beginning at 11 a.m. with Hawaiian flair like blue prawns in Tahitian vanilla bean and coconut milk sauce, Macadamia nut crab cakes, Maui onion soup and plenty of island fish grilled and served with tangy fruit salsa.
A final word of caution when planning your trip, there's no doubt you'll encounter slow-moving traffic along the way. Add in hairpin turns and 1-lane bridges, and this can quickly become a harrowing trip without patience and good road manners. The earlier you start your trip, the less traffic you're likely to find along the way. Come nightfall, the roads can be treacherous for visitors who aren't familiar with the twists and turns, so plan to head back well before sundown.
On the Way
Once you leave Paia, you're officially on your way to Hana. Look for mile markers along the way to monitor how far you've traveled. There are countless places to stop and enjoy the scenery. Here are some of our picks for must-see stops during your Hana road trip.
Near mile marker 8 on Highway 36, you'll find one of the best beaches along Maui's famed North Shore. The winning combination of great waves and steady wind make Hookipa Beach Park one of the best beaches for windsurfing in the world. Secure a spot at the Hookipa Lookout, and watch masters honing their art in the waves.
Farther down the road, the highway name changes to Highway 360. As you drive past mile marker 6, look out the window for Painted Bark Eucalyptus trees along the left side of the road. These colorful trees get their name from the hand-painted look of the bark in bright reds, purples and greens. Just past mile marker 9, you'll come to the Waikamoi Ridge Forest Trail and Overlook. Set off from the picnic area where a short and easy trail loops through trees and bamboo with overlook outposts along the way.
Past mile marker 10 is the Garden of Eden Botanical Garden and Arboretum. Fans of Jurassic Park may recognize the scenery from the film's opening sequence. There are 26 acres of nature trails with over 500 unique plants. Stop in the Enchanted Forest, and see the birds at the Exotic House of Birds. Picnic tables throughout the garden provide a scenic background for lunch or a snack.
After passing waterfalls you'll see Kaumahina State Wayside Park just past mile marker 12. There are nearly 8 acres of forest at this stop, but the main attraction is the sweeping view of Maui's coastline. You'll find more picnic tables here, too. If you want to reach the shore, drive farther ahead to mile marker 13, and check out the black-sand beach at Honomanu Bay.
You are nearly halfway to Hana by the time you reach the Keanae Peninsula around marker 16. The road splits here, and a detour off the highway to the peninsula offers more great views of Maui's famed lava beaches.
One of the loveliest and most mysterious sights along the way is at mile marker 32 at Waianapanapa State Wayside Park. The park is made up of 122 acres of dramatic black-sand beaches and large sea caves and volcanic tubes.
Once you return to Highway 360, it's just a few miles to Hana, a relatively isolated town with some shops and art galleries. Hana Bay is a good stop for families because the protected waters off this black-sand beach are safe for swimming, unlike those off other beaches in the area. Another beach in town is the Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach, which is more suited to adults as its isolation makes it a popular spot for nude sunbathers. It's not a great swimming beach, but the unusual red sands and turquoise sea, all framed by vibrant green ironwood trees, make a lovely sight.
There's no reason for your trip to end once you reach Hana. Continue on Highway 31 to explore the hot spots beyond the town. Hamoa Beach is a favorite public beach on Maui's North Shore. Head down the carved lava steps, and relax on the wide stretch of sand under the towering cliffs.
Haleakala National Park has a unique mix of volcanic landscape and subtropical rain forest and a strong link to Hawaiian culture. At the top of the volcano, the Summit area promises hikes through the cinder desert land and the chance to witness some of the state's endangered seabirds thriving in the wild. The trails in the park's coastal Kipahulu area are more easily accessible, just 10 miles from Hana.
Learn more about Hawaiian culture and tradition during a horseback-riding trip with locals at Maui Stables. You'll see extraordinary sites as you journey up the back of the volcano and hear magical stories and chants of the area's rich history.
Just west of Kipahulu, celebrate a travel icon at the Palapala Hoomau Church. Famous Atlantic pilot Charles Lindbergh was buried here at his request in 1974 at a gravesite overlooking the Pacific.