For most visitors on the Road to Hāna, 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 back from Hana through the dryer desolate cattle country and leads up the slopes of the south side of Haleakalā Crater, and down Haleakalā Highway to the resort areas. 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. Although it is somewhat rough in places, it is by no means a daunting or particularly dangerous road if taken slowly. Leave your windows down, turn your stereo off and listen for oncoming car horn honks around blind corners.
There is controversy over where the “Backside” officially starts. Some think it starts as you leave the town of Hāna at mile marker 51 on the Pi’ilani Highway, but I believe it starts at the end of the Hāna Belt Road and Historic District just as you leave ‘Ohe’o Gulch (7 sacred pools) in the Kīpahulu section of Haleakalā National Park heading south along State Route 31 (Pi’ilani Highway) at MM 42.
As the mile markers continue to count down, there are some sections of road that are narrow and require very cautious driving while dealing with oncoming traffic. Between MM 40 & 38, the road is a single lane hugging the side of the cliffs with steep drop offs. It is not for the faint of heart, but is highly over exaggerated. If you can drive down your suburban street and not hit parked cars, you can easily navigate this road. On some rare occasions, either you or an oncoming car may be required to reverse along this road to find a pullout and enough room to let vehicles pass.
From MMs 38-33 there is an approximately 5 mile (8KM) unpaved section of dirt road with some potholes. This section is extremely well graded for a dirt road and is better than the ‘paved’ road up ahead which is patch job on top of patch job. Honk your horn around blind corners. There is not much traffic along this section of road and accidents are rare.
Immediately thereafter, between MMs 33-25 there is an approximately 8 mile (13KM) section of road, while paved is very bumpy with poor patch jobs. This portion is deemed prohibited by most car rental agencies except if you rent a Jeep from Kihei Rent A Car. Kihei Rent A Car will even rescue you on the ‘Backside’ if you breakdown on the highway.
After MM 25, the road continues as a modern, smooth, 2-way road complete with double yellow line.
The Backside is best travelled in daylight, and some lucky visitors time it just right to see a beautiful sunset while overlooking Maui’s south shore and smaller islands. Beware of the possibility of cows or other livestock on the road. Contrary to popular rumors, road washouts and closures are uncommon. Check the Road Closure Board posted at the Visitor Center of Haleakalā National Park in Kīpahulu or the Maui County website for road closures or call (808) 986-1200 before you leave.