Maui is one of the most beautiful islands in Hawaii. If you are planning to spend one week in Maui, you will discover no shortage of things to do here. From driving the Road to Hana to watching the sunrise over the Haleakala Volcano, the bucket list experiences on Maui are endless. Pack your bags and grab your camera, because you are about to experience the vacation of a lifetime!
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Where to Stay on Maui
Maui is a big island and choosing where to stay on Maui depends on what you will do on the island. Selecting a Maui resort close to the attractions you want to visit means shorter drives and more time to enjoy Hawaii. As you are reading through the article and figuring out what you want to do on Maui, keep the following in mind:
- Kihei is central and within reasonable driving distance to all the major attractions.
- Lahaina is relatively central but is closer to North West Maui than to Hana Road and to Haleakala National Park.
- If you really want easy access to Hana Road, consider staying in Paia for one night. Do keep in mind, however, that your choices of hotels will be limited.
- Wailea is not close to many major attractions but is within close distance to the piers for Maui whale watching and snorkeling tours, as well as the aquarium.
How do you get around Maui?
The most logical way to get around Maui is in a rental car. You do not need to rent a car for the entire time you are on Maui. You can, if you’d like, rent a car only for the days you’ll need it (your hotel will make the arrangements). However, if you know you’ll be driving a lot, your best bet will be to rent a car for your entire trip. The least expensive way to rent a car on Maui is at the airport. You can compare Maui car rental prices here:
Maui Packing List (1 week)
- Coral safe sunblock
- A hat
- Waterproof phone pouch
- 2 – 3 bathing suits
- 4 – 5 sundresses
- hiking pants (1-2 pairs)
- 1 pair of hiking sandals
- 1 pair of hiking shoes
- 2 – 3 shorts
- 4 – 5 tank tops
- Light dresses for evening
- A blazer
- A sweatshirt
- General travel gear
- Cold weather gear. More info below, under Haleakala volcano sunrise
Maui Itinerary – 7 Days
Welcome to Paradise – Maui Itinerary Day One
Its finally here – your dream vacation. Upon landing, you might quickly discover that the only thing more beautiful than Hawaii, is the warmth of its people. Maui airport is small and organized. Therefore, it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes to pick up your luggage and rental car and drive to your hotel.
Its time to begin to discover Maui, but after a long flight you may not want to venture too far out. No problem – a great way to start the Hawaii 7 day itinerary is in the Maui Ocean Center.
Maui Ocean Center
Maui Ocean Center is an ideal place to start your Hawaii vacation. The large facility features the biggest tropical reef aquarium in the western hemisphere. Additionally here you’ll find an amazing IMAX like theater where you get to experience “swimming” with whales. The center is dedicated to educating visitors to Hawaii about the unique nature and ecology of the islands. This easy stop is a great way to begin discovering all the native plants and animals of Hawaii.
Spend the rest of your first day on Maui relaxing by your hotel pool or discovering some of the hundreds of beaches on the island.
Road To Hana (1) – Maui Itinerary Day Two
One of the most famous road trips in the world, the Road to Hana is an ultimate bucket list experience. Whether you are on Maui for 2 days or two weeks, Road to Hana is likely to be one of the highlights of your trip. Although most people do the Road to Hana in one day, I suggest you try and take two days instead. There is so much to do here, and so much to see, it would be a shame to rush through it. If you are doing the road to Hana in two days you have only a few options for accommodations:
There are so many potential stops on the Road to Hana, you could easily take a week to do them all. Along the way, you’ll come across dozens of waterfalls, swimming holes, picturesque villages, and lookout points. It will be very tempting to stop every few minutes. Unless your time is unlimited (lucky you), try to focus on the stops below. These are the absolute best the Road to Hana has to offer. Otherwise, like so many others, you’ll spend time on the things that are just nice and miss the attractions that are amazing.
Also Read: California 1 week Road Trip Itinerary
Road to Hana Stop 1: Ho’okipa Lookout and Beach
- 20 to 30 min
The Ho’okipa lookout is a great way to start your day on the Road to Hana. First, stop by the beach to spot nesting sea turtles. Next, make your way to the lookout, a great vantage point to watch surfers conquering giant waves.
Road to Hana Stop 2: Twin Falls
- 45 min to 1 hour
A 10-minute hike leads you to a small waterfall and pond. The clean freshwater pond is a great place to swim. Although you’ll have an option to do a much longer (advanced) hike here, I don’t recommend it. While the long hike is fun, you will have much better hiking opportunities later on the road to Hana.
Road to Hana Stop 3: Garden of Eden Arboretum
- 45 min to 1 hour
The Garden of Eden Arboretum is an uncrowded Botanical Garden set on 26 acres. Here you’ll find thousands of plants, many of which are native to Hawaii. From the vantage point of the garden, you’ll see brilliant views of the waterfall below. Additionally, the arboretum is one of the few places on the island where you can find the Rainbow Eucalyptus Maui Tree. This stop also offers picnic areas, bathrooms, and several dining options.
Road To Hana Stop 4: Keanae Lookout
- 1 hour
The Ke’anae Peninsula is a dramatic, half a mile-long stretch of frozen lava that sits just outside the Highway to Hana. You can only access this area by a dirt road, but the views are worth it. This is not a good area for swimming as the currents are too strong and boulders are everywhere. However, Keanae is a great place to watch nature at its most destructive. If you packed a picnic, this stop should fall around midday and is a good place for lunch.
Road to Hana Stop 5: Hana Lava Tube
- 40 to 50 minutes
A Lava Tube is a large volcanic cave created when lava from an active volcano recedes. Hawaii is full of lava tubes and you can find several on the island. Unlike many caves around the world, you can tour this one independently. Overall, the experience is kind of creepy, very fun and educational.
Road to Hana Stop 6: Black Sand Beach
- 1 hour
You’ll find the Black Sand Beach towards the end of the first day on the road to Hana. This uncrowded volcanic beach is conveniently located just a few minutes from the parking lot of the Waiʻānapanapa State Park. The dark sand retains heat, which makes the water very warm. If you continue on the trail from the beach you can find a great spot to watch the sunset. The beach is also home to several small sea caves.
If you are not lucky enough to score a hotel in Hana, you do have another option. If you don’t mind camping (or staying for two days) you can reserve a spot in the Wai’anapana State Park. If you go this route, you have an option of a camping spot or a bungalow. However, if you want to get a bungalow you must stay for at least two nights. Either way, reserve your spot at least one month in advance – space is very limited.
If you chose to camp, its easier rent equipment in Hawaii then to bring it with you. I had a great experience renting my camping equipment from Maui Vacation Equipment.
Road to Hana (2) – Maui Itinerary Day Three
Road to Hana Stop 7: Ke Ala Loa O Maui / Piilani Trail
- 2 hours
The Piilani trail is easily one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world. It is unfortunate that most people who do the Road to Hana never get to visit. However, if you’ve budget your time wisely, you should have several hours to enjoy this space which is sacred to the Hawaiian people. The trail is easy to access from the Waiʻānapanapa State Park parking lot and is only a few minutes from Black Sand Beach.
Also Read: 7 Days in Las Vegas and Beyond.
Road to Hana Stop 8: Red Sand Beach
- 1 hour
A red sand beach is created when seawater oxidizes mineral-rich lava. Although the hike to Maui’s Red Sand Beach is only ten minutes, the trail is treacherous, and technically closed to visitors. If, however, you do decide to brave the path, you’ll be greeted with brilliant views from the trail and a mostly empty beach.
While the walk to Red Sand Beach is short, it is dangerous, especially when the ground is wet. The passage is very narrow and slippery. This is a “go at your own risk” stop.
Recommended footwear: hiking sneakers
Road to Hana Stop 9: Haleakala National Park, Bamboo Forest, and Waimoku Falls Hike
- 4 hours
When you first enter the Bamboo Forest in Haleakala National Park, you might just think you teleported to South East Asia. However, believe it or not, you are still in the USA! This brilliant walk over moderate terrain leads you through the forest to the large Waimoku Falls. This is a long hike, so do bring a bottle of water (you can refill it next to the parking lot). Hiking sandals are the best choice of footwear if you want to get close to the falls.
Road to Hana Stop 10: Pools of Oheo
- 45 min
The Pools of Oheo are seven swimming holes connected by waterfalls, and you will also find them inside the Haleakala National Park. The pools are sacred to the Hawaiian people, and currently, swimming is forbidden here. The hike to the pools from the parking lot will only take a few minutes. After you observe the pools from above, walk along the easy circular hiking trail to learn about the history of the Hawaiian people.
Backroad to Hana
- 3 hours
Everybody knows that after you hike the Haleakala National Park, on the road to Hana, you turn around and go back the way you came from. Everybody is wrong. You can, indeed, do the road to Hana as a loop but only a few people try.
The backroad to Hana is not for the faint of heart, and not for new drivers. Years ago the backroad was virtually unpassable. Today, you will drive for about one hour on a dirt road. This road involves very tight two-way cliff passages with no guard rails (or scary-looking rusted guard rails, which is actually worse). However, as long as you can survive that painful hour, you will eventually pass onto the beautiful, newly constructed and virtually empty backroad to Hana, where driving is a joy.
Snorkel the Molokini Crater – Maui Itinerary Day Four
The Molokini crater was formed 230,000 years ago when a volcano erupted here. Early Hawaiian fishermen used to come out to the crater for an easy catch. Unfortunately, during WWII this natural wonder was used for target practice. However, much has changed since the 1940s, and today, the Molokini crater is a highly protected environmental reserve.
After spending an entire day (or two) on the road to Hana, today you have an opportunity to relax on the sea. The Molokini crater, protected from winds by a natural wall, is one of the best places to snorkel in all of Hawaii. To plan your tour to Molokini, check out the Pride of Maui tour company. This is one of the oldest snorkeling and whale watching operators on the island. More importantly, the Pride of Maui known for its excellent service, safety, and environmental records. If you’ve never snorkeled before (or need a refresher), the company I recommend also provides a free snorkeling course on board. And if getting in the water is not your cup of tea, consider a Maui whale watching tour instead.
Whatever you decide to do, relax and enjoy the sea, because you about to go very far high on day 5.
Sunrise on the Haleakala Volcano – Maui Itinerary Day Five
In Hawaiian religious traditions, the demigod Maui is responsible for creating the Hawaiian island chain. According to legend, Maui pulled the land from the floor of the ocean with a magic fish hook, and thus Hawaii came into being. Years later, Maui’s mother complained that the days were too short to dry her clothes. So Maui fashioned a rope out of the coconut, jumped on the Haleakala volcano and trapped the sun. He held the sun hostage until it promised to make days longer in the summer. Or so goes the myth.
The rising of the sun over the Haleakala volcano is culturally and religiously significant to the Hawaiian people. It is also one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world. You can experience this phenomenon for yourself on Day 5 of this seven days in Hawaii itinerary.
How to watch the sunrise over the Haleakala Volcano
To attend a Haleakala sunrise, you must make reservations with the National Park Service at least a few weeks in advance.
Before you enter the park, you must pass by the National Park booth, which is open all night. You will then need to show your reservation. In addition, you will have to show your national park pass (or a daily pass) or purchase one at the booth. The rangers will also be checking the cars in the parking lot, so you absolutely must have reservations to do the sunrise. If you do not make a reservation in time, you can join a tour of Haleakala, and the company will take care of the reservation for you.
Whatever time you get there, it will be very cold at 10,000 feet elevation. Dress much warmer than you think you’ll need to and bring a blanket.
If you don’t want to get up so early (or can’t get reservations) check out the sunset over the Haleakala Volcano instead. Another amazing (and a slightly warmer) experience. No reservations are needed.
If you are interested in stargazing or night photography, the volcano is the home of the Institute of Astronomy and is also an excellent night time environment. Get there at least 4 hours before sunrise for the best stargazing.
What time should you get up for the Haleakala sunrise?
It depends. Sunrise, when I visited, was at 7 am. I got there at 3 am, which was, way too early. Truth is, I could have gotten there at 4, and slept in my car for an hour, and would still have had a spot at the front of the line. If you are a photographer, four is probably the latest you want to get to Haleakala because the first parking lot closes around 4.30. If you are not photographing the sunrise and don’t mind being behind a few folks, you can safely get there 30 minutes before sunrise.
Maui Itinerary, Day Five – Explore the Beaches
After waking up so early to watch the sunrise, you might want to spend the day enjoying Hawaii’s warmth. Fortunately, there is no shortage of beaches in Maui where you can spend the rest of your day. Scroll down to the end of this article for a list of the best beaches on Maui (including a very secret and unusual beach you might want to consider visiting).
Explore North West Maui – Maui Itinerary Day Six
In North West Maui you will find a second road trip opportunity. Here, instead of the crowded Road to Hana, you’ll find the virtually empty Kahekili Highway. Like its more famous cousin, this is a spectacular drive that travels along the shore and offers many things to do. Unlike the road to Hana, the Kakehilli highway is even more narrow and dangerous. If you are very comfortable behind the wheel don’t miss this spectacular road and all it has to offer.
Northwest Maui Stop 1: Iao Valley
Easily accessible from many parts of Maui, the beautiful Iao valley does not require you to drive over the treacherous part of the Kahekili Highway. This easy stop is doable for virtually anyone, even people with limited physical ability. A ten-minute walk from the parking lot (does require stairs), leads you to a viewing platform overlooking the Iao Needle. A second walk down leads you to a peaceful river and rest area. Because of its proximity to the Kahekili Highway, this makes a good first stop on your tour of Northwest Maui.
If you are interested in hiking. you can walk about 2 hours from the viewing platform to the top of the mountain for a different view of the needle. Although the hike was technically closed when I was there, tourists were still doing it.
Northwest Maui Stop 2: Waihee Ridge Trail
The Waihee Ridge Trail is popular with the locals and less popular with tourists. This intense two-hour hike leads you to a platform overlooking the mountains and the sea. While the view from the top was nice, I did not think it was spectacular. However, the hike was a great workout. This is a trail that is ideal for those who love hiking, otherwise, you can safely bypass this one.
Northwest Maui Stop 3: Olivine Pools
To get to the Olivine Pools you’ll have to drive over very narrow portions of the Kahekili Highway, but to me, it was worth it. The pools are a natural wonder, large bodies of water inside lava rock. One of the pools is more than 30 feet deep and filled with life. Even the very shallow pools are full of unusual fish who seem to thrive in this environment.
Northwest Maui Stop 4: Nakalele Blowhole
Nakalele blowhole is a marine geyzer that sits on most Northwest corner of Maui. A blowhole like this is sometimes formed when a lava tube creates an empty space in the rock that “sucks” in the water. Nakalele is one of the most powerful blowholes in the world and is very dangerous. In spite of the inherent danger, you can safely approach this area as long as you comply with the signs posted. The show is spectacular, as the water erupts from a rock at regular intervals, forming a reverse waterfall of stunning beauty. This is one stop on the Kahekili Highway that is likely to leave you very impressed.
Northwest Maui Stop 5: Kapalua Beach and Coastal Trail
You’ll find the beautiful Kapalua beach in a protected cove on the Northwestern shore of Maui. Although surrounded by hotels, the beach is large and the native environment here is well preserved. This is a great place for snorkeling, and beachgoers regularly spot sea turtles here. The picturesque two mile Kapalua Coastal Trail features spectacular rugged scenery and green enclaves.
Northwestern Maui Stop 6: Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali beach too is surrounded by hotels. However, unlike the Kapalua beach, the environment here seems less native and more created for tourists. The manicured area is a favorite of the visitors who are staying in the hotels in this area. The beach is also frequented by turtles (I saw several). Although Kaanapaliis nice, in my opinion, it is not as interesting as some of the other beaches I recommend at the bottom of this article.
Leave for home – Maui Itinerary Day Seven
Well, this is it. Your time in paradise is coming to a close. If you have a few more hours in Hawaii, perhaps you have time to check out more of Maui’s best beaches (a comprehensive list below). I hope you have enjoyed this itinerary – keep reading for frequently asked questions about Maui.
How Can You Do The Road to Hana in Just 1 Day?
If you don’t have two days in Hana, here is an abbreviated version of my Road to Hana itinerary. This includes all the major attractions, but it will make for a long day. To shorten it further you could bypass Garden of Eden or the Red Sand Beach.
- Hookipa Lookout
- Garden of Eden
- Black Sand Beach
- Piilani Trail
- Red Sand Beach
- Bamboo Forest and Waterfall in Haleakala National Park
- Back road to Hana
What Are the Best Beaches on Maui?
In addition to beaches I already covered, such as Hookipa Beach, Black Sand Beach, Red Sand Beach and Kapalua Beach, here are a few other best beaches in Maui.
Kamaole Beach Park
This large public beach has excellent facilities and includes a large green park. Kamaole is ideal if you want to stay next to the surf but not on the sand. The beach is insanely popular with both tourists and whales, the latter of whom frequent the waters during whale watching season (December through March). The large parking lot fills up quickly, so get here early.
You’ll find the Wailea Beach inside a luxury huge resort complex on Hawaii’s south shore. Although not truly wild the resort maintains local vegetation and a native bird sanctuary area. This is a good beach to visit if you love running because here you’ll find a large concrete walkway along the shore.
Makena Beach and State Park
A completely wild beach on the islands south shore, this area is renowned for great snorkeling. The beach is not maintained or lifeguarded but, like every beach on Hawaii is pristine. Basic facilities are available.
This enormous uncrowded beach remains virtually empty even on the busiest weekends. Plentiful parking means this is a great choice for an all-day outing. Lifeguards are stationed here, so this is a good option if you are nervous about going in the water.
Hidden Beach (Maui’s Nude Beach)
Walk over the large rock wall on the right side of the Big Beach and you’ll find the Hidden Beach, a very unusual cove. This nude beach (you can stay fully clothed if you wish) erupts into a wild party on Sunday afternoon, complete with a drumline, dancers and firebreathers. The environment is “everything goes” but the beach remains family-friendly, as long as you are comfortable with nudity.
Due to ethical restrictions, I was unable to take almost any pictures or video on this beach (in order to help maintain the privacy of beachgoers) so a stock photo will have to do for this one.
Do you need an SUV on Maui?
In short, you do not. You can easily get around the island in a sedan or a convertible. The only time you’ll regret not having an SUV is when you do the back of the road to Hana (if you chose to do that part). Here, you’ll struggle with a dirt road for about one hour – an SUV would come in handy. However, as long as it’s dry you should be OK in a sedan or a convertible, that is how I did the back road to Hana.
What is the best time to visit Maui?
Maui is always a paradise! The most popular time to visit Maui is winter, as this is when it is cold on much of the mainland. If you are looking to do whale watching, visit in January or February – this is when the whales are hanging out everywhere. Keep in mind that winter is also the rainy season, so you might get a bit more rain and windy. The least expensive (and busy) time to visit Maui is in the spring and fall.
How long does it take to drive around Maui?
If you really want to drive around Maui, you can do so in one day. That would allow almost no time for stops. To comfortably drive around Maui, with stops, allow yourself three days or more. Utilizing my one-week itinerary you will have the opportunity to see the best of Maui and plenty of downtime too.
Want to explore more of Hawaii? Don’t forget to also check out Kauaii Itinerary and Travel Tips.