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PrettylilTraveler

Pitching Tents in Paradise: A Complete Guide to Camping the Road to Hana Loop

The blog article is in partnership with @crusinmaui. 

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The Road to Hana spans 64 miles linking the towns of Kahalui to the remote coastal town of Hana. While a lot of people rush through the drive in a day, completing the round trip in about 4-6 hours, we took a different approach. We turned it into a full-fledged adventure, camping along the entire coastal loop, starting in Haleakala National Park and following the route clockwise to ensure we didn’t miss a thing.

I’ve crafted an in-depth 5-day itinerary for those eager to explore the stunning beauty of Maui’s eastern shoreline, including the breathtaking Haleakalā National Park. Below, you’ll discover the best campgrounds to stay at, must-see attractions, delectable local eats, prime hiking spots, waterfall adventures, and so much more.

If you’re keen on uncovering all the hidden gems, accessing other incredible destinations across Maui, and having a handy map with all these locations pinned right on your iPhone, check out my Google Map of Maui or you can even opt for all of my Hawaiian Island bundle including all four Hawai’i Islands. 

Transportation & Camping Equipment

Onto the all-important topic of transportation. Lucky for you, there’s no shortage of options, each with its own vibe and flair.

Here are some rental options to consider:

Campervan: If you’re looking for comfort and convenience, consider a campervan. These vehicles typically come equipped with a cozy bed, a compact kitchen, and sometimes even a portable toilet or wash area – perfect for a comfortable journey on the road.

Rooftop Tent: But if you’re craving a bit of off-road thrills, then a rooftop tent might be more your speed. Picture this: a rugged 4×4 vehicle with a cozy sleeping nook perched on top. It’s the perfect setup for tackling Maui’s wild terrain while still catching some Z’s under the stars. 

You can rent both campervans and rooftop tents from either local Maui rental companies, places like Outdoorsy, or even VRBO

Standard Rental + Car Camping: Now, for all you budget-savvy adventurers out there (or maybe you just dig that classic camping vibe), renting a car and pimping it out with camping gear is always an option. Think tents, sleeping bags, and all the other outdoor essentials you need for a great camping trip.

On our recent Maui adventure, we went for the Jeep Gladiator from Crusin’ Maui, and let me tell you, it was a game-changer. Not only did it give us a smooth ride, but we also scored all our camping gear straight from them at an unbeatable price. Talk about convenience – we didn’t have to lug around any of our own stuff, yet still got to experience sleeping under the stars in Maui. 

And hey, supporting local businesses is always a win-win, right? Crusin’ Maui is a top-notch family-owned outfit with pick-up and drop-off services right at Kahului Airport. Plus, their office is conveniently located just a stone’s throw away from Costco – perfect for stocking up on snacks and supplies before hitting the road.

Oh, and did I mention the perks? No pesky driving restrictions, island-wide delivery (yep, even to Hana!), and a whole arsenal of adventure gear available for rent – from surfboards to snorkel equipment and everything in between.

The most important factor to consider when selecting your rental option is whether it can take you where you want to go. The Road to Hana features narrow passages and, in some areas, sandy, rocky, and uneven terrain. I would recommend renting a vehicle with higher clearance that isn’t overly bulky – but hey, that’s just me. 

And if you’re thinking about bringing your own gear instead of renting, I’ve created a little rundown of everything you’ll need to camp your way across the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve included some stuff you might not have even considered, like a coconut spike or the best type of sleeping bag for the trip. It’s totally up to you to decide what’s gonna work best for your comfort and budget!

Day 1 | Gearing Up For The Adventure

So, picture this: you’ve just touched down at Kahului Airport in Maui 🌸, and the excitement is palpable. You can practically taste the adventure in the air!

Now that you’ve got your rental and camping gear sorted, you’re almost good to go – but there are a few more things to check off your list.

First up, swing by Costco: If you’re a member, you’re in luck because it’s super close to most rental spots. And let me tell you, once you are in the Haleakala National Park or on the Road to Hana, your food options are gonna be slim. So, load up on supplies before you hit the road. Did I mention you can even rent a large cooler from Crusin’ Maui? Talk about clutch!

Next, pop by Walmart and grab some gas for your cooking stove and few gallons of water. 

Last, but not least, make a pit stop at Food Truck Park and grab some delicious food and experience the food truck culture in Maui. 

Now that you're ready to roll, let the adventure begin!

If you’ve got the days to spare for the full Road to Hana experience, I highly recommend adding a visit to Haleakalā National Park and looping back up towards Paia. We opted for the counter-clockwise loop, starting with the National Park and saving the main 64-mile stretch for our final day.

Haleakalā National Park

Where to sleep: Hosmer Grove Campground

I must say, we were truly impressed by this campground, especially after seeing the photos on the rec.gov page. It offers just six camping spots, all of which are walk-in spots, though thankfully not far from the parking lot. During our stay, we noticed many fellow campers with rooftop tents or vans, opting to use those instead of their designated camping spot. 

*So if you are in a bind and need somewhere to camp, you might be able to sweet-talk a car camper into their camping spot. 

The Hosmer Grove campground is the only drive-up option at the top of the National Park. So, if you’re looking to camp elsewhere within Haleakalā National Park, you’ll need to hike into one of the two primitive wilderness tent camping areas: Hōlua and Palikū. These spots are accessible only by trail, and reservations are required for both campsites through www.recreation.gov. 

I highly suggest camping here if you plan on witnessing sunrise at the summit. Sunrise reservation at the Summit of Haleakala is included with the first morning of your campground dates reserved so you’re automatically in! 

Day 2 | Haleakalā National Park and Driving To The Road to Hana

Haleakalā National Park

What To Do: Sunrise at the Haleakalā Summit

Prepare for an early morning adventure as you set your alarm clock to catch the awe-inspiring sunrise at Haleakalā Summit. Don’t forget to secure your reservations in advance for this unforgettable experience, unless you’re staying at the campground. Permits to witness the event are only $1, but you will need to pay the National Park fee of $30 per vehicle unless you have your National Park Pass

The park opens at 4 AM for permit holders. While you don’t necessarily need to arrive at 4 AM for the sunrise, it’s wise to arrive early to secure a parking spot. Parking is limited at the top lot near the observation tower, and once it’s full, the road closes, and visitors are directed to park in the bottom lot.

Where To Hike: Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) or Silversword Loop Via Halemau’u Trail

There are two insanely beautiful hikes that I would recommend. Warning – they are difficult and should only be attempted by skilled hikers. If you are a photographer or looking for some cool perspectives of ancient volcanoes and sand cliffs, either of these hikes will be a goldmine. 

The Sliding Sands (Keonehe’ehe’e) trail, a difficult 11-mile hike that rewards you with mesmerizing views and an elevation gain of 2,066 feet.

Or if you are up for more adventure, tackle the Silversword Loop Via Halemau’u Trail. This 12.5-mile loop hike offers an elevation gain of 2,995 feet and showcases the unique beauty of the area.

⚠️ When searching for hikes and campgrounds within the National Park, it’s important to know its layout. The park is divided into two distinct areas: the mountain region and the coastline region. Certain sections of the park are accessible only from specific locations, so it’s essential to research the areas and trailhead starting points beforehand.

Where To Sleep: Hosmer Grove Campground or Kipahulu Campground

There are a few options. If you think you are going to be exhausted from exploring the park, you might want to camp once again at the Hosmer Grove Campground. Or you can head to Kipahulu Campground on the coast for a well-deserved rest and some beachy views. 

My suggestion: If you’re not planning to hike and it’s still early, I’d recommend taking a leisurely drive southward to soak in the stunning landscape. If time permits, consider stopping over at Makena Beach for a glimpse of the Molokini Crater.

Allow ample time for the drive to the Kipahulu campground. As you approach (starting about 10 miles out), you’ll encounter perhaps the most challenging section of the Road to Hana road, which can be a bit daunting, especially if it’s your first time navigating it. Expect tight squeezes, sheer cliff walls, and rough patches along the way.

Day 3 | Haleakalā National Park (Coastline Adventures)

Where To Hike: Alelele Falls

Begin your day with a moderate hike to Alelele Falls, a short but rewarding 0.3-mile trail with an elevation gain of 252 feet.

Where To Stop: Ono Organic Fruit Stand or any other fruit stand on the way back towards the park.

On your way back into the National Park towards the campground, stop at some of the local fruit stands and grab some fresh exotic Hawaiian fruit. You’ll see the stands on the side of the road, you can’t miss them. Take cash!

Where To Explore: Seven Sacred Pools (‘Ohe’o Pools)

Take your time to explore the enchanting Seven Sacred Pools (‘Ohe’o Pools), a natural wonders that provide a refreshing escape. The pools may be closed for swimming due to current or weather conditions. Stop by the Haleakalā Visitors Center to check the signs or ask one of the rangers. 

Where to Hike: Waimoku Falls hike via Pipiwai Trail

Then embark on the Waimoku Falls hike via Pipiwai Trail, a 3.4-mile hike with a 1,017-foot elevation gain. Prepare to be amazed by the towering waterfall at the end of this trail. On your way, you’ll pass by giant Banyan Trees, the top of the Sacred Pools, and walk through a stunning bamboo forest before reaching the falls. If you are going to do one hike on the Road to Hana, allow it to be this one! 

Where To Sleep: Kipahulu Campground

I recommend spending another night at the Kipahulu Campground. There’s really no downfall to this campground, and you can easily walk to the visitors center, the Seven Sacred Pools (‘Ohe’o Pools), and Waimoku Falls hike via Pipiwai Trail so you can leave your camping stuff set up for a lighter adventure. 

Day 4 | Explore Hana and The Kaihalulu (Red Sand) Beach

Where To Explore: Wailua Falls, Waioka Pond, and the Town of Hana!

When you are driving from the Kipahulu Campground to Hana, you’ll pass a few swimming spots that you might want to take advantage of Wailua Falls and Waioka Pond.  Wailua Falls is a majestic waterfall with a small parking lot and pretty close access to the first falls. While the trail states the falls are closed online, we saw about a dozen people enjoying the falls nearest the road. Please practice caution, be respectful, and do your own research before entering the falls. 

You may also consider taking the challenging Waioka Pond Trail, a 0.3-mile hike with a 75-foot elevation gain. This is a nice little swimming hole to enjoy the day. 

Welcome to Hana

Where To Eat: Hana’s Food Truck Culture

Upon reaching the town of Hana, you’ll find a plethora of dining options, making it an ideal time to replenish groceries, ice, and gas. For food, there are two food truck venues offering a variety of choices ranging from poke and shrimp bowls to smoothies, coffees, tacos, hamburgers, and more. You can’t go wrong with any of these options. Additionally, you can stop on your way up at Huli Huli Chicken or Braddah Hutts BBQ Grill, or continue past town to visit Hāna Farms Roadside Stand, Pizza Oven, and Bakery.

Where To Hike: Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach

One standout destination that left me in awe and that I highly recommend to all visitors is the Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach. The hike to reach it is relatively easy, spanning just 0.5 miles. However, it’s important to note that both the trail and the beach can pose some risks due to cliff edges, water currents, and the potential for falling rocks. Despite these warnings, during my visit, I found the trail and beach to be relatively safe. Many people were enjoying the unique beauty of the Red Sand Beach, and it also proved to be an excellent spot for moderate to advanced snorkelers.

There are a few parking spots across from the Hana Ball Park, otherwise, you are going to need to park towards the main street and walk down. The trail looks like it’s on private property but all beaches in Hawaii are public. Just be respectful of the people and the land. 

Where to Sleep: Waianapanapa Campground

The Waianapanapa Campground, located just 10 minutes north of town, is part of the Waianapanapa State Park, famously known for its Black Sand Beach. Staying at this campground provides convenient access to the beach. If you aim to enjoy the beach for sunrise or sunset, this campground is ideal, as campers have access to the beach after the State Park closes and for a few hours before it reopens the next morning. Due to its popularity, it’s important to book this campground well in advance.

Where to Sleep: Resorts and Rentals

If you need a break from camping, Hana offers various options ranging from VRBO rentals to upscale resorts, albeit at a higher cost. Due to the limited options and high demand, book well in advance. Hana is a popular stop for travelers along the Road to Hana, often attracting visitors seeking solitude and the island’s serene isolation for a night’s stay.

Day 5 | The Road to Hana Adventure

Waiʻānapanapa State Park

Where To Relax: Honokalani Beach 

Don’t forget to take some time to relax and enjoy the beauty of Honokalani Beach, where you can discover sea arches and sea caves.

To access Honokalani, you’ll first need to enter Waianapananapa State Park, spanning 122 acres of natural wonder. However, due to increased visitor numbers, access to the park, including Black Sand Beach, now requires reservations. 

The striking black hue of Honokalani’s sand is a testament to its volcanic origins. Formed centuries ago from lava that flowed from nearby tubes, the hardened rocks gradually eroded into fine grains by the relentless ocean waves.

While the surf conditions at Honokalani are often too rough for swimming, there are still plenty of beauty to enjoy. 

Take shoes and a good beach towel or chair because the black pebbles can be hard to walk on. 

Driving the 64-mile stretch Road to Hana

Where To Stop: Upper Waikani Falls also known as Three-Bears Falls, Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread, and the town of Paia.

As you drive up the coast on the 64-mile stretch from Hana back to Kahului, you’ll be cutting through rural mountain passes, right up next to towering waterfalls and winding through 620 curves and 59 bridges. Along this picturesque route, you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints, hiking trails, and photo opportunities, but here are a few must-visit stops I recommend:

Located just beyond mile marker #19 on the mountainside of Hana Highway, Upper Waikani Falls is one of Maui’s finest. To access the falls, you’ll find a parking lot situated just behind them, about 1/10 mile past the falls themselves.

When Upper Waikani Falls is flowing safely, you can embark on a short hike down to the waterfall and enjoy a refreshing swim. Be cautious as you descend to the trail, as it involves a slightly steep jump from the bridge down to the pool area.

Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread is a classic and a great place to stop and try some warm Hawaiian Banana Bread. 

And finally, leave time to stop in the town of Paia. This cute little beach town is the perfect cherry on top with tons of cute local shops, great beaches, and restaurants.

Remember to always check trail conditions and accessibility, especially for any areas that may be on private property. Respect the natural beauty of Maui and leave only footprints behind as you enjoy this incredible adventure.

Downloadable Google Maps of The Hawaiian Islands

Let’s face it, nobody has time to sift through endless blogs and Instagram posts to discover these hidden gems. Skip the scrolling and start living.

🌺 Oahu: Access the best hikes, including the legal Stairway to Heaven, chill at pristine beaches, savor shrimp delights at top North Shore food trucks, and explore my preferred photography spots.

🏞️ Kauai: Enjoy the best hikes like Awa’awapuhi Trail, snorkel at breathtaking beaches, discover secret waterfalls, explore photography hotspots, and venture into places you never knew existed – all at your fingertips.

🌋 Big Island: Immerse yourself in the mesmerizing blend of natural wonders and cultural richness. From the fiery spectacle of active volcanoes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to lush rainforests, PrettylilBigIsland has it all. The Big Island beckons adventure with snorkeling, hiking, stargazing, and more, making it a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts and cultural explorers.

🌴 Maui: Known as the ‘Valley Isle,’ Maui is a tropical paradise offering natural beauty and outdoor adventures. From the famed Road to Hana with cascading waterfalls to the sun-drenched beaches of Wailea and Ka’anapali, Maui boasts diverse landscapes. Dive into crystal-clear waters for snorkeling and whale-watching, hike bamboo forests and dormant volcanoes, and savor local cuisine. 

Or grab all my Hawaii Google Maps in my Hawaiian Island bundle.

I’ve dedicated countless hours researching and tracking all my stops around Hawaii during our last trip. These are the maps I use for all my trip planning, vetting the best destinations and most Instagrammable photo ops. Take them with you on your travels and let the islands enchant you!

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