Views of West Maui mountains from Ulupalakua in upcountry Maui
When it comes to the Road to Hana, everyone who has made the journey seems to think they know the best way to do it. Many will even tell you that you should go “the back way” first. This argument makes sense for certain situations but if this is a once in a lifetime trip to Maui, you want to do it right the first time.
Kaupo in East Maui
The “back way” simply refers to traveling upcountry through Kulu and Ulupalakua Ranch first and counter-clockwise around Haleakala. The main advantage to this route is that you will arrive at ‘Ohe’o Gulch (AKA the 7 Sacred Pools, AKA Haleakala National Park) before the droves of tourists traveling the “normal” route. The “normal” route takes you through Paia and Huelo first and continues clockwise around Haleakala. Going the back way will also allow you to avoid long lines of traffic and possibly not being able to make some stops because there is no parking. However, those are probably the only advantages and you can avoid most of that by simply leaving super early, say 5:00-6:00am.
Newly paved roads off the backside in East Maui, road eventually turns to dirt
One negative on driving the back way is that when you do come across the traffic heading the opposite direction, you will be in the outside lane. This means that every tight turn or close call, you will be traveling close to some edges where there are cliffs and no guard rails. Don’t let this scare you because as long as you’re paying close attention and drive slowly, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. For some, these situations can be a little nerve-racking.
Another reason not to drive the back way is that the trip through up country and through Kaupo to Oheo Gulch will take you 2-3 hours with just a few stops to get out and see the beautiful vast scenery of the rolling hills of Kaupo. After you visit the 7 Sacred Pools, hike the Pipiwai Trail, hit up Venus Pools and reach Hana town for Red Sands beach, you will be exhausted. I’ve made this trip many times and every time I rarely stopped after Wai’anapanapa State Park and there is so much lush jungle to see beyond that point. You’ll be fighting oncoming traffic as well which will deter you from stopping even more. When you travel the normal, clockwise, road to Hana route you make all these small stops to see at least a half a dozen more waterfalls and trails before you hit the major stops: Wai’anapanapa and Oheo Gulch.
Black Sands beach in Hana town
Lastly…….Sunset!!! After a long day with many stops, amazing hikes, and hopefully a swim under a water fall or two, you make the long drive around the backside and through up country. The sun is setting in front of you and shades the rippling mountainside so beautifully. When you come through the Ulupalakua Forest you will find the best spot to pull over and watch an amazing Maui sunset from Kula. There’s no better way to end a road to Hana adventure of a lifetime.