“Is the Road to Hāna dangerous?” The road to Hāna is a combination of paved State and County Highways and contrary to popular belief, well maintained. The State maintains the portion of road (route 360) up and to the town of Hāna and has modern guardrails and road striping. After Hāna, the road (route 31) is maintained by the County of Maui and historic lava rock retaining walls with guardwalls above line portions of the road and protect motorists along the narrow thoroughfare to Kīpahulu. Both routes have some narrow one lane bridges and sections of road that you will be sharing with oncoming traffic along the way. Some sections of road cling to the side of cliffs with sheer drops to the water below; however, there are either modern guardrails, lava rock walls or dirt berms between you and the edge. These sections may not be for the “weak-at-heart” motorists but at slow speeds they are easy to navigate. In my opinion, if you can drive down your street without hitting parked cars back home, you’ll be fine.
The road’s overhyped reputation for danger was valid many years ago when the entire road was unpaved and had no guard rails, hence the “I survived the Road to Hāna tee-shirts. Although the road now has modern improvements, it is still susceptible to the occasional rock or mudslide as well as trees and branches blocking the roadway after heavy rains. Drivers of the optional “Backside” section should beware of the possibility of cows and horses blocking the road.
Please be advised, once you leave the safety of your vehicle to tour the sites, there are different dangers to worry about like falling, flash floods and strong ocean currents. Please visit our safety page for more information.
What is ‘The Backside’ and is it safe to drive? For most visitors, the Kīpahulu section of Haleakalā National Park and ‘Ohe’o Gulch is the end of their journey and they return by backtracking the way they came. However, some continue south around the base of Haleakalā, on a section of road called the “Backside“.
The backside is the shorter, less windy, yet rougher road through the dryer desolate cattle country and leads up the slopes of the south side of Haleakalā Crater, and down Haleakalā Highway to your hotel. The backside has a 13 mile portion of unpaved and roughly paved road. Any modern car can make it; however, please be advised that your car rental policy most likely deems this portion of road prohibited and will hold you responsible for any repairs or rescues. Make sure you have plenty of daylight left if you plan to take this road. In my opinion, the ‘Backside’ is perfectly safe to drive, just be cautious, don’t speed, honk around blind corners and watch for cows and livestock on the road.
“Do we need to rent a jeep?” There is no need to rent a jeep; however, if you plan to travel the “backside” of the Road to Hāna, please be advised that your car rental policy most likely deems a 13 mile portion of the “backside” prohibited, no matter if you rent a jeep or not. Why? There is a possibility of undercarriage damage to low suspension vehicles.
What is the ‘reverse route’?” Most visitors start their trip on the Road to Hāna from the east side at Paia Town and go clockwise around the south side of the island. After reaching the Kīpahulu section of Haleakalā National Park and ‘Ohe’o Gulch most turn around and go back the way they came. Some visitors continue around the ‘Backside’.
The reverse route is just what it sounds like. Start your trip from the “Backside” from Kula and travel counterclockwise. So it is advisable? It depends. Why? One thing to consider is that you will be traveling on the right hand side of the road on some of the most scariest sections of the ‘backside’. While traveling the regular route, you will be hugging the mountain side of the road on the one-lane blind corners. On the reverse route, you will be hugging the side of the road closest to the cliff. The other thing to consider is that you will be traveling against the majority of traffic. You will reach the Kīpahulu section of Haleakalā National Park before the tour vans, busses and visitors who take the traditional clockwise route and thus, avoid the crowds during peak hours.
Sidenote: You can not reach the ‘backside’ directly from Wailea. Even though State Route 31 (Pi’ilani Hwy) is the same highway in Wailea as the ‘Backside’, there is a closed section. You will need to drive back towards Kahului and take (Route 37 Haleakalā Highway) to reach Kula and the ‘Backside’.
“Should we take a guided tour?” For some, guided van tours can be a great way to enjoy your journey. You can leave the drive to a friendly guide familiar with the sites and have food provided for you. However, you are on their time schedule. You might not have enough time to do all the exploring you want by the time you need to board the van and leave for the next site.
“Should we spend the night in Hāna?” Absolutely! You won’t have to leave so early on the first day and you will have more time to see the sites at ‘non’ peak hours. Finish your first day off at Wai’anapapnapa State Park and have dinner in Hāna. The next morning explore Hāna and the Kīpahulu section of Haleakalā National Park’s O’heo Gulch (a.k.a. 7 Sacred Pools) before the tour vans and everyone else arrive.
“Will we have cell phone/WiFi reception?” Depending upon your cell phone service provider, there is little or no cell phone reception along the Road to Hana with the exception of Hāna Town and Ke’anae Peninsula.
“How many bridges are there?” It all depends on if you count the culverts and if you count the historic bridges (and culverts) after passing Hāna. There is a good article in the blog section of this website titled “How Many Bridges Are There?” to help answer the question.
“Should we buy a CD or a SmartPhone App?” There are several CD’s to choose from however using a CD makes it hard to plan your day. You don’t know what is up ahead until you get there (or listen to the whole CD before your trip). “Should we eat at this roadside stand/stay longer at this site or is something better just up ahead?” Remember, time flies and this is a long trip. With the iPhone App the ability to see what is up ahead and plan your trip accordingly is at your fingertips. The iPhone App also has photos of each site and food stops with menus & prices.