A Day on the Road to Hana (with Kids!)

Before last May, I’d only been to Hawai’i once, back when I was 9. I remembered warm beaches and had a vague recollection of Pearl Harbor, but that was about it. My husband had never been before, and since we were both close to visiting all 50 states (we’re now both at 49!), we knew we wanted to make Hawai’i happen soon.
Since we live relatively close in California, we felt confident that we’d be making several return trips. Because of that, we decided we wanted to do an initial “overview” trip, in which we visited several islands. It was nice to get a taste for what the three islands we visited (Oahu, Hawai’i, and Maui) had to offer and make plans to come back!
One of our favorite days on the trip (despite a couple of us being pretty sick) was exploring the Road to Hana on Maui. It was beautiful, but also had a rich natural and historical heritage that we loved. For this visit, we were staying on the other side of the island (we stayed on the northwestern coast) so we only visited the Road to Hana as a day trip, but in the future, we’d love to stay close to there for a few nights as there is tons to explore.
We’d especially love more time to spend in Haleakala National Park, and possibly see the famous sunrise there. Still, a day felt wonderful in order to explore some of the highlights. There’s so much to do on Maui (here are some of the best things to do with toddlers in Maui), so we can’t wait to go back to dig a bit deeper!
This is what felt doable in a day for our family of then-5 (and with me being pregnant with baby #4):
1. Keanae Point. As you’re driving east toward Hana from the west (e.g., from Kahului airport), this will be on the left, just past mile marker 16. It’s a gorgeous lookout on a peninsula with views of rugged lava rocks and crashing waves.
2. Halfway to Hana. Roadside stand with famous banana bread and delicious shave ice. I’m not even particularly a frozen icy treat person (I much prefer ice cream to sno cones and the like), but this was fantastic. And I even managed to hold it down, thankfully. 😉
3. Wainapanapa State Park. This was just a quick stop with gorgeous black sand beaches. We could’ve spent much longer hanging out here, and would like to in the future. You can find it between mile markers 33 & 32.
4. From there, we headed onward to Haleakala National Park. SO gorgeous. There were a few other stops we’d planned earlier, but decided to hit them on the way back instead, as we wanted to ensure we had several hours in the park. We headed to the Kipahulu Visitors’ Center first, and the rangers there were terrific. They did an excellent job of explaining the importance of the park, its main features, and what made them significant. We spent a little bit of time learning from the some of the small displays they had there. And they even gave each of the kids a stuffed animal for completing the Junior Ranger booklets! We’ve done a LOT of Junior Ranger, and that’s never happened before. The kids were over the moon.
After that, we then headed off on the trail that goes over to the Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o. This was, by far, the highlight of the day. We passed by ocean views to get to the spectacular pools. The pools were closed for swimming when we were there (and, I believe, are closed indefinitely due to danger of rockslides), but it was truly incredible viewing them from above. It felt like a magical fairyland from a movie, except it was a real-life natural creation. We spent some peaceful time reflecting on the beauty there and the wonder of God’s creation.
We had considered heading up the Pipiwai Trail to see the bamboo forest, but were told we’d have to hike uphill a decent ways to see anything, and since several of us still were feeling pretty terrible, we opted to head back to the car.
5. Wailua Falls. These falls had been buzzing with activity when we drove by before, but by late afternoon, had gotten quiet and peaceful, and we were the only ones there for a bit. We all put on our swimsuits and water shoes and climbed down. The water was pretty chilly, but we managed to get in and wade around for a bit, and managed to make our way over to several falls to go under. It was a pretty thrilling experience. This is about at mile marker 44, just before Hana as you are headed back west.
6. Bioluminescence. It was dark for most of our drive back, but the advantage of that was we saw some bioluminescent creatures washing up with the ocean waves. It was like a giant, underwater glow stick was moving along. It was remarkable.
On that note, it was only a bit nerve-wracking driving back in the dark with all the windy roads, but mostly because of other drivers who were clearly a lot more familiar with the roads than we were, and wanted to go faster than we were comfortable. So we just slowed down or pulled over and let them pass most of the time, and it worked out fine. The way in was less scary as we weren’t on the cliff side of the road, so we took it especially slowly on the way back.
Some stops we missed:
– Twin Falls. We’d wanted to stop here on the way in, but it was already packed in the morning. I’m glad we skipped it so we could get ahead of some of the crowds to some of the other stops, but it was too dark to stop by the time we were headed back. The falls there are supposed to be really fun, and there are several sets of them. I’d love to stop here on another trip!
– Garden of Eden. Beautiful botanical gardens. Would’ve taken longer than we had to explore the whole thing.
– Hana. This was a cute little town in which we grabbed gas and a quick snack, but I think it’d be a fun place to spend the night and have easy access to a lot of these wonders.
– Homoa Beach. Near Hana and supposedly super gorgeous. We thought of stopping for a minute, but it was raining for a bit when we were near there, so we skipped it. More reasons to go back!
Overall, the Road to Hana in a day felt quick, but absolutely worth it. It was one of our favorite days of the trip, with gorgeous views and diverse ecosystems. Our kids LOVED seeing all the various waterfalls (we saw TONS more off the side of the road that either weren’t marked or we didn’t note), and we stopped more times than we could count for breathtaking photo opportunities.
Our kids also loved learning more about the natural habitats of the animals and the native peoples when we were at the National Park visitors’ center, and enjoyed working on Junior Ranger books in the car a bit (we printed them out ahead of time so the kids could learn about the park and flora and fauna before we arrived). It was an amazing day and just whetted our appetites to go back!

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