Maui is undeniably gorgeous, and the Road to Hana is one of the most famous road trip routes in the U.S. Yet the drive itself doesn’t quite live up to its reputation.
The best road trips are those where you can cruise around on the open road at your leisure, playing road trip songs or just enjoying the sounds of nature, stress-free. The Road to Hana is the opposite. It’s crowded, fairly dangerous, and definitely stressful.
The sights along the way were pretty good. But the negatives of the trip outweighed the positives. I’m glad I did it once, to have the experience. But I wouldn’t do it again.
I’m not trying to be a hater. None of these complaints are meant as criticisms of Maui, or this particular part of the island. It is indeed beautiful. I bet living here would be magical.
It’s a great area. It’s just not a great area for a road trip. Slow driving times, heavy traffic, challenging road terrain, one-lane bridges, and a lack of pullouts at scenic points make it a less-than-ideal option for road trip enthusiasts.
I’ve done dozens of road trips around the U.S., in all 50 states. Sorry to say, the Road to Hana was one of my least favorite drives ever. Let’s go over the reasons why.
Is the Road to Hana worth it, or do you think it’s overrated? Feel free to leave a comment supporting or disagreeing with my assessment!
1 Constant switchbacks and dangerous turns
The fact that the Road to Hana exists at all is really impressive. This part of the Maui coast is hilly, rocky, has numerous streams and waterfalls, and passes through thick sections of forest.
Laying an asphalt road here required a lot of creativity and flexibility. Switchbacks and hairpin turns are a major part of the route, since it simply wasn’t possible to build a straight, flat road.
The Road to Hana has 59 bridges and 620 curves. Kudos to the engineers and construction workers who made it happen.
Driving the Road to Hana requires constant focus all the time. No daydreaming or getting distracted by the radio! Because losing your focus might mean driving into a ravine or off a cliff.
And the constant hairpin turns mean you can rarely travel above 25 miles per hour. That means you’ll likely have cars tailgating you the entire way, as other impatient drivers try to navigate the difficult drive as well.
Or you’ll end up being the one tailgating other drivers, if you get stuck behind someone even more cautious and methodical than yourself.
Hawaii Tourism notes, “The road leads you through flourishing rainforests, flowing waterfalls, plunging pools and dramatic seascapes. Please keep in mind that you’ll encounter challenging turns and narrow bridges along the way, so it’s important to exercise caution and take your time.”
It’s also a long drive. Getting to Hana itself from Mile Marker 0 on the Road to Hana takes more than 90 minutes, even though it’s just 34 miles. The entire Hana Highway on routes 36 and 360 covers 64 miles from Kahului to Haleakala National Park and takes a few hours.
In reality, the drive will take most of the day, since you’ll want to make stops along the way.
Because of all these factors, the actual driving – perhaps the most important part of a road trip – just isn’t fun here.
2 One-lane bridges cause traffic jams
It was so difficult to build this road that, in some places, it wasn’t even possible to create two lanes.
That means there are several spots where it turns into a one-lane road and traffic cannot travel in both directions at the same time. Some of these sections include dangerous blind turns.
Drivers are expected to honk their horns when approaching one of these sections so that any drivers coming the other way can hear them and yield the right of way.
If that sounds potentially dangerous and chaotic, it is.
There are some small one-lane bridges at some of the switchbacks. Drivers are expected to take turns crossing these bridges. Long queues of cars can get backed up at these crossings.
The problem is that the etiquette here is not clear at all. The most basic way to do it would be to have a car from one side cross, and then a car going the other way can cross, and so on.
But sometimes 2 or 3 cars going in the same direction will cross at once. This method is more efficient, yes. But it can upset drivers on the other side who are waiting their turn.
If the traffic on your side is moving, nobody wants to be the person who stops it. So sometimes 5+ cars will all cross the one-lane road together, causing people going the other way to start honking and yelling because they want a turn.
More stress. Not a relaxing road trip at all.
3 You can’t see the ocean most of the way
You may look at the map of the Road to Hana and assume you’ll be getting sweet ocean views most of the way, but that is not the case.
It’s not like Highway 101 in California, which hugs the Pacific coast for miles and miles, offering stunning shoreline views.
The Road to Hana passes through a lot of jungle rainforest. That will be the primary scenery for much of the drive.
The lush, green forest is a fun environment. It’s kinda cool to drive through. But it’s not the ocean scenery you may be expecting.
You’ll get a few glimpses of the ocean here and there. But most will be while you’re going around a tight turn. So you can’t truly enjoy those views, since the focus must remain on the road.
4 The views aren’t actually that great, especially when it rains
It rains a lot here – this is a rainforest, after all. Even though it’s a warm rain, that can affect visibility, making those few glimpses of the ocean even less impressive.
This is the view I got from Wailua Valley State Wayside, one of the few scenic viewpoints on the road with an actual parking lot and walking path where you can get out and pause to take in your surroundings:
The ocean was barely visible due to the rain and fog.
The best view on the Road to Hana actually comes pretty close to the beginning, at Ho’okipa Lookout in Paia. Here, you can watch waves of the deep blue ocean crash against the shore, with mountains in the background.
This is the spectacular view that visitors have in mind when they daydream about driving the Road to Hana:
I’d suggest that tourists might be just as well visiting the Ho’okipa Lookout viewpoint, and the first waterfall at Twin Falls, and then turning around and heading back to Kahului or Kihei, rather than driving the entire Road to Hana.
5 There’s no place to pull over at most waterfalls
You will see tons of Road to Hana waterfalls along the drive. A few, like Twin Falls and Puohokamoa Falls inside the Garden of Eden, are treated like tourist attractions, with admission fees and large parking lots.
But most waterfalls are just right there on the side of the road as you drive past. In most cases, there’s no shoulder or pullout to park for a moment and soak in the waterfall views.
These waterfalls have “no parking” signs everywhere, which makes sense since the road is congested enough already.
Imagine coming around a turn and seeing a gorgeous waterfall up ahead. You’d think, Wow! When we get closer, we need to pull over and see it up close!
But you can’t. There’s simply nowhere to do that. This view as you come around the corner is the best glimpse you’re going to get.
This was one of those waterfalls where I had to snap a quick pic as I drove past without stopping.
Now, I’m not blaming anybody for this. I’m not arguing that the Maui Department of Transportation should start chopping down trees to create parking lots.
They’re doing the right thing by preserving the natural beauty and leaving the land as it is.
I’m merely noting that, from the perspective of the road tripper, encountering a stunning waterfall on the side of the road and getting only 2 seconds to enjoy it because there’s nowhere to pull over… well, that’s just a big tease.
It makes the drive less enjoyable. That’s another reason why the Road to Hana is an overrated road trip.
6 Many locals don’t like the tourist traffic
Tensions between locals and tourists have seemingly been rising across Hawaii, especially post-pandemic, as hordes of travelers began returning to the islands.
That’s understandable, given that tourists can outnumber 10 to 1 during peak seasons. Overtourism has hit Hawaii, but the state gets more than 20% of its revenue from tourism. So what to do?
While most tourists are considerate, it only takes small numbers of poorly-behaved visitors to give tourists a bad name.
You can find plenty of stories of tourists to Hawaii being disrespectful to the land, the people, and/or the wildlife. Leaving garbage and trespassing on private property are some of the main infractions.
That has led some locals to resent the large numbers of tourists.
Just as there are rude tourists, there are some rude locals as well, even if most residents of Maui are friendly and considerate to visitors.
At one of those one-lane bridges I mentioned, where traffic jams build up while drivers on each side take their turn, I witnessd a belligerent local resident berate a driver for no apparent reason.
The driver who was the target of this attack wasn’t doing anything wrong, other than waiting his turn at the one-lane curve. It was almost scary how irate this man was. It seems everyone’s patience is wearing thin on this road.
It’s never a good idea to let one rude person color your entire perspective on a destination. But knowing the way Hawaii is struggling to deal with overtourism, I couldn’t help but think that this guy speaks for a lot of locals. I got the strong feeling that myself and the other tourists on this road weren’t welcome.
One of my friends who used to live on the island told me this sort of thing (locals on this road yelling at tourists) happens fairly regularly, so my experience wasn’t unusual.
As more and more visitors rent cars and drive the Road to Hana, its likely traffic will only increase, and locals will (understandably) get more frustrated with the situation.
Another friend who lives on Maui told me some horror stories about folks who live near the Road to Hana. One time, she said, it took an ambulance two hours to reach a child who needed help because of the difficulty of navigating a windy road with tourist vehicles.
That’s a bad situation. I’m not sure what the solution is, other than encouraging tourists not to drive the Road to Hana.
7 Mile markers are often missing or hard to see
This is a minor complaint compared to the others, but it’s still a drag.
Those of us who love to road trip often prepare detailed itineraries of places to stop on our route. On a drive like to Road to Hana, where several waterfalls are unnamed or unmarked, the best way to make sure we don’t miss any is by using mile markers.
Unfortunately, on the Road to Hana, mile marker signs are often missing or hidden behind foliage. You expect to see a sign every mile, but here, you may go a few miles between signs, making navigation slightly more difficult.
The markers are also confusing, because they count up from 0 until you get to Hana, and then they start counting down from 51.
8 Businesses and attractions may be closed
There aren’t a ton of businesses along the Road to Hana, but a few stand out, including Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread.
Any Road to Hana itinerary you find online will include a stop at Aunt Sandy’s, an institution for the past 40 years. Gordon Ramsey even visited once and raved about it.
I visited at 9 am on a weekday, when the stand should’ve been open, but it was closed on that day, for no obvious reason.
Now, that’s part of the charm of Hawaii – local businesses run by local people, who can decide to take a day off whenever the mood strikes. They totally have the right to open or close whenever they see fit.
But again, that makes the drive less enjoyable for road trippers. It’s a bummer to read rave reviews from everyone how great Aunt Sandy’s Banana Bread is, and then not be able to try it for yourself because the shop is randomly closed.
The same holds true for plenty of other businesses in Hawaii, which can mysteriously be closed when you show up, even if Google thinks they’re supposed to be open.
9 There’s not much at end of the drive in Hana
Many road trips have an awesome destination at the end to look forward to. This one does not.
Hana is a cute little town with some parks and beaches. But that could describe most towns on Maui. There’s nothing particularly unique about it.
Waiʻanapanapa State Park is worth visiting (make your reservation in advance), but otherwise, Hana is a laid-back residential community with a handful of restaurants and few attractions outside of beaches.
The food truck village was the highlight of my overnight stay in Hana.
A road trip on the Road to Hana is more about the journey than the destination. But this journey involves stressful driving, heavy traffic, and sketchy blind turns. So if neither the journey nor the destination are all that amazing, then why bother?
To me, the biggest reason to drive the Road to Hana is to visit the southeastern corner of Haleakala National Park, which can be reached by continuing another 10 miles (30 minutes) past Hana.
Here, you’ll find an environment that is much more tropical than the high-elevation volcanoes in the heart of the park. You can hike to waterfalls and enjoy coastal views that aren’t found elsewhere in the park.
I definitely do not have a bad word to say about Haleakala NP!
10 You have to go back the same way you came
While the Big Island and Oahu offer the opportunity to do loops around the islands, that’s not really feasible here.
There is a dirt road on the southern end of Maui that you could theoretically use to go back, but rental cars are not permitted there, and it’s very narrow and potentially dangerous.
So tourists will have to drive back to Kahului on the Road to Hana, the same way you came, dealing with those same traffic jams and difficult turns.
Is the Road to Hana worth it?
That’s up to you. It may or may not be. I recommend choosing one of three options:
1. Drive the full Road to Hana. Just be prepared for the challenges you may face along the way, as outlined in this article. If you really want to do the road trip, go for it. Perhaps take the Road to Hana GPS Audio Guide to help you.
2. Don’t drive the full Road to Hana. Just go to the main highlights in the first 10 miles of the road: Ho’okipa Beach Park and Twin Falls. Those spots allow you to see a waterfall and ocean views, then you can turn around and go back.
3. Take a Road to Hana group tour with a driver. Sit back in a minivan as your guide does the driving for the full length of the road trip. It’s so much easier to take pics when you’re not driving!
These tours are costly, but when you factor in the cost of rental car and gas, the tour is actually a pretty good deal.
Recommended Road to Hana Tours:
Small Group Road to Hana Adventure Tour. Breakfast and lunch are included on this small group tour, which hits up all the major attractions and photo opportunities on the Road to Hana.
Road to Hana Waterfalls Tour with Lunch. This tour hits all the highlights as well, while focusing on the many waterfalls along the way. This tour actually returns via the southern route, so it’s a true loop and you’ll get to see a lot more!
Other Hawaii Articles
I have a ton of content from all three Hawaiian islands I’ve visited. Maui’s Haleakala appears on my list of the best U.S. national parks to visit in winter.
If you’re planning a Big Island visit, take a look at my Hilo vs. Kona article to plan your itinerary.
Consider also booking a volcano helicopter tour, or visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the petroglyphs. More unique attractions include the southernmost point in the USA or the Pacific Tsunami Museum.
On Oahu, activities include the Dole Plantation, the Pearl Harbor Memorial, hiking at Koko Crater, shark diving inside a cage, and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. I also have a full list of quirky things to do on Oahu.
Is the Road to Hana worth it for you? Let me know about your experience!