A Self-Guided Tour of the Road to Hana

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Massive Waimoku Falls awaits on the Road to Hana.
Massive Waimoku Falls awaits on the Road to Hana. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

The scenic, 55-mile drive to Hana, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, is one of the island's most famous attractions. The winding road covers an astounding 600 hairpin turns and 54 one-lane bridges through coastal rain forest on the northern edge of the island. Driving the road on your own, rather than with a tour company, saves money, and you can make as many or as few stops as you choose.

Before You Go

Most driving trips start in the surfer haven of Paia, on the northern coast of Maui. Fill up your gas tank here since there's no gas along the way except when you reach Hana, where it's marked up significantly. Buy lunch and snacks from Mana Foods, the organic grocery. Paia also is a good place to stretch your legs if you've traveled from another part of the island. Pack sunscreen, sturdy walking or hiking shoes, bug spray, towels and a bathing suit if you plan to take a dip in one of the many inviting pools, and, of course, a camera. You also might want to bring cash to buy produce, ice cream or coffee at one of the many roadside stands on the way to Hana.

Waterfalls

Viewpoints abound on the road to Hana. You'll take in views of the coastline, the enormous Pacific Ocean waves -- and maybe the occasional surfer -- and the lush rain forest. But one of the most common themes on the Road to Hana is the waterfalls. Those 54 bridges cross over turbid streams that often sport stunning cascades. You can stop at a few, but often you have to resort to photographing them through your car window; the roads are narrow and stopping isn't always an option. There is a small parking lot at Pua'a Ka'a State Park, about 22 miles from Paia. Here, a short walk leads to an emerald pool sporting a small waterfall. The water usually is cold, but refreshing, on a hot day.

Waianapanapa State Park

Just 3 miles before you reach Hana, stop for a picnic and a hike at Waianapanapa State Park. Here, you can photograph the volcanic rock-studded coastline, visit a natural blowhole where waves explode through rocks, and hike to a black-sand beach. The turquoise waves are inviting, but be careful if you're swimming here in the afternoon; waves can pick up considerably later in the day, and the water can be dangerously rough. Other trails lead to freshwater caves, which also are great swimming spots if you don't mind chilly water. The park has picnic tables, a campground and restrooms.

Hana

The town of Hana is blink-and-you'll-miss-it small, but it's worth a stop. If you haven't had lunch, check out one of the roadside stands, or stock up at the Hasegawa General Store, which has served Hana since 1910. Walk Hana's quiet streets or stroll the beach at Hana Bay and get a feel for life on this remote part of Maui. Many travelers choose to turn around here, but if you continue your journey, you're in for more fantastic scenery and the most impressive waterfalls of all.

Beyond Hana

Drive another 10 miles on the Hana Highway and you'll reach the coastal swath of Haleakala National Park, on the southern slopes of Maui's massive volcano. Here, in the Kipahulu district of the park, you can swim in the pristine pools of the Ohe'o Gulch, or hike up through a verdant bamboo forest to Waimoku Falls. From the parking lot, take the Pipiwai Trail 2 miles up the gulch until it ends at the 400-foot-tall waterfall. Stand in its spray as you crane your neck to take it all in.

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