Heralded as one of Hawaii’s best islands, Maui is a tropics-lover and outdoor-adventurer’s dream.
Known as the Valley Isle for it’s deep, rugged, and lush green topography, the island offers spectacular nature, an array of active sea and land adventures, and a distinct and vibrant culture singular to the Hawaiian islands.
From sun-drenched tropical beaches to must-see points of interest and adventure activities to the best of food and culture, here are the 12 top things to do in Maui.
What to Do on Maui
Maui offers every traveler something – whether it’s relaxing on it’s many beautiful beaches near the tourist hot spots, or seeking out the guarded local haunts and coveted secret treasures of the island.
It’s not unlikely that the island’s sheer beauty, perfect weather, and Aloha culture will leave a profound impact on you, and with each new trip to Maui you will discover something new and exciting. It’s definitely a place worth visiting more than once, and each of the top adventures listed here will never get old no matter how many times you try it.
1. Drive the Road to Hana
Maui’s Road to Hana, or the 77 miles of winding, cliff-hugging route from Ka’anapali on the east coast to Hana on the west coast, is easily the island’s biggest attraction – and rightfully so. The route includes over 600 tight switchbacks and 46 single-lane bridges, where most of the time there are rock walls to your right and frighteningly steep cliff drops into the ocean on your left.
The drive in it’s entirety takes at least 3-4 hours to traverse, but it’s best explored slowly and with plenty of stops along the way to explore local roadside restaurants and shops, beaches, hikes, and more. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart (or the motion sick – thank god for dramamine), but offers some of the best views and experiences on the island.
2. Explore the Bamboo Forest
On your way to Hana, take a break from traversing the harrowing curves to take a zen-filled hike through the bamboo forest. The Pipiwai Trail is an easy walking path through tall, swaying bamboo, across rocky river streams, and ending in a gorgeous waterfall and freshwater pool. It’s well worth the stunning views you can enjoy at a leisurely pace, and taking a dip in the falls at the end is an ultra-refreshing reward.
3. Visit Banyan Tree Park and Lahaina
Lahaina is a small beach town on Maui’s southern coast full of local shops and eateries, as well as the famous Banyan Tree Park. If you’ve never seen a banyan tree before, the enormous, old growth banyan in the center of the park’s courthouse square will awe you. It’s thick, long branches dripping with reddish-green overgrowth reach out from all sides, eventually re-entering the earth, forming multiple trunks that connect to the main trunk. It’s mother nature at her finest, which makes for a relaxing day exploring the local highlights and lunching under the shade of the banyan.
4. Hike into the Haleakala Crater
Located in Haleakala National Park, Maui’s scenic wilderness park spanning more than 33,ooo+ acres, is the massive Haleakala Volcano, a dormant summit volcano that makes up more than 75% of the island. Meaning “House of the Rising Sun” in Hawaiian, Haleakala Volcano is a popular destination for its equally incredible sunrises and sunsets, where visitors witness spectacular colors literally amongst the clouds.
According to Hawaiian legend, the deep crater of the volcano was home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui. Together with his grandmother, Maui imprisoned the sun at Haleakala, and forced it each day to slowly journey across the sky in order to lengthen the day – hence it’s amazing views at sunrise and sunset.
In addition to the awes-inspiring views, the Haleakala summit features an enormous crater measuring nearly 7 miles across and 790 miles deep, which adventurers can journey into on one of two trails (Sliding Sands Trail or Halemauʻu Trail) to hike to it’s center. Two interior of the crater is dotted with volcanic cones and mostly barren and dry, reminiscent of it’s volcanic origins.
The steep drive to the summit is very scenic and offers multiple overlooks. Hikes into the crater can be challenging for some with the elevation, and the summit can get colder than one might expect due to its height, so come prepared (there are no stores, lodging, or gas stations within the park).
5. Trek to Red Sands Beach
Red Sands Beach is a stunning hidden cove and local secret beach located on Kaihalulu Bay in Hana. Finding the beach takes a bit of exploration and precise directions, as one must park near the Hana Community Center, locate the trail’s start, then traverse the short though potentially hazardous path along steep ridges, sea-side cliffs, and wild shoreline to finally reach the beach.
Once you reach the cliff overlooking the beach and the wall of jagged black lava rock that protects the cove from the fierce and wild ocean waves, you are rewarded with the incredible view of stunning blue waters in stark contrast to the deep, rust-colored sand and steep sandy cliffs. It’s an awe-inspiring color palette that makes the hike in 100% worth it.
If you hike all the way down to the beach to dip your toes in the water, you’ll witness the incredibly steep and crumbly cliffs of the Ka’uiki Head cinder cone up close, whose frequent landslides provide the beach with it’s rich red-colored sand.
While Red Sands Beach is truly show-stopping, be cautious: not only is the trail volatile and potentially dangerous for those unaccustomed to slippery rock or uneven trails, but the area is subject to frequent landslides and the waves and currents beyond the small cove are very strong.
6. Swim at Pa’iloa Black Sand Beach and the Freshwater Caves at Wai’napanapa State Park
Wai-napanapa State Park is another must-see stop along the Road to Hana, featuring 120 acres of beautiful views created by the contrast between glistening black lava rock, vibrant green tropical vegetation, and bright blue ocean waters. The park includes two main highlights: Pa’iloa Beach and the legendary freshwater caves.
Pa’iloa translates to “water flashing rainbow hues” in Hawaiian, a lovely sentiment for the pure beauty of the beach. It’s shores are created by mineral-rich black sand and smooth, round black pebbles, massaged by it’s rolling surf. It’s a great spot for a swim or exploring nearby sea caves, and a quick easy climb to the higher cliffs garners dramatic views.
Near the beach is a short loop trail which ends at two gorgeous freshwater caves for a refreshing dip. According to Hawaiian folklore, the caves are the site of the tragic end of Popo’alaea, wife of Chief Ka’akea. In the legend, Popo’alaea and her attendant run away from the Chief, who was incredibly cruel, but the crystal clear waters reflect the runaways and reveal their hiding spot. Then, on the night of Ku every spring, the floor of the caves are filled with red shrimp, creating a blood red hue and marking the anniversary of Popo’alaea’s murder by the Chief.
Folklore is entrenched at Wai-napanapa, as the area was home to the ancient Hawaiians and includes several burial sites, ancient pictographs, and cave shelters.
7. See the Iao Valley Needle
The Iao Valley is a lush, deep green valley cut by a rushing freshwater stream which comprises Iao Valley National Park in West Maui. In Hawaiian, the name means “cloud supreme,” referencing the famous Iao Needle, a daunting, emerald-green lava spire rising 1,200 feet from the valley floor. The landmark (Kūkaemoku in Hawaiian), is actually not a proper spire, but rather a sharp, vegetation-covered lava ridge that appears to be a steep spire, or “needle.” Nonetheless, it’s a stunning natural view.
The park features a short trail through the dense rainforest and along the clear stream that will take you to a windy overlook from which to catch the best views of the natural landmark.
The park is also of historical significance as the Hawaiian king Kapawa is buried there.
8. Cliff Jump Black Rock at Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali Beach is frequently rated one of the best beaches in the world – it’s 3 mile stretch on the west Maui coast features perfect powdery white sand and well-manicured surf with some of the best swimming and snorkeling conditions on the island.
Located in one of the more tourist-heavy areas of the island, the beach is set with a backdrop of great hotels and delicious oceanfront restaurants marked by tiki torches. Whaler’s Village, a cluster of shops and restaurants, is about half way down and accessible from the beach.
On one end of Kaanapali Beach lies Black Rock, a tall outcropping of black lava rock surrounded by deep, crystal blue waters, is perfect for cliff jumping. The waters are so clear and calm at Kaanapali that swimmers frequently catch a glimpse of stingrays or sea turtles gliding across the sandy ocean floor.
Around the other side of Black Rock, away from the beach, is excellent snorkeling conditions where you might also see octopi and tropical fish among the coral.
9. Take a Helicopter Tour of West Maui and Molokai
A number of tour operators offer thrilling helicopter tours of the island and the surrounding smaller islands that make up Maui. Cross that adventure off your bucket-list and be rewarded with breathtaking birds-eye views that few people witness.
Tours range in length and price (starting at around $150 USD to upwards of $350 USD), but flying over the west and Maui’s sister island, Molokai, is a great choice for it’s varied topography made up of deep green valleys and craggy rock ridges. See the water change from turquoise to deep royal blue as it stretches from the island coasts and blends into the horizon.
Air Maui offers a number of tours to choose from, with varied destinations and flight lengths.
10. Snorkel around Molokini Crater
The Molokini Crater is a crescent moon-shaped volcanic atoll that lies off the southern coast of Maui. Heralded as one of the best snorkeling and diving sites in Hawaii, the crater was formed over 230,000 years ago by a volcanic eruption and is now home to hundreds of species of fish and marine life that live within it’s sheltered cove.
Molokini Crater is renowned for it’s exceptional water clarity, with visibility up to 150 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. The area and it’s natural wildlife, including rare nesting seabirds, are protected by the Marine Life Conservation District of Hawaii (after unfortunately being used as for target practice during WWII).
The crater’s unique shape creates a natural barrier from waves, making the conditions inside the crater calm and clear, perfect for beginner and intermediate snorkelers/divers alike. A number of tour operators offer packages that include a boat ride from Maui’s coast to the crater and gear needed to snorkel around the crater.
Some operators also offers snuba diving – a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving, where divers use snorkel masks, weights, fins, and an air regulator attached to the boat above – an intriguing alternative to scuba diving that requires no prior certification.
11. Scuba Dive Lanai Island
Lanai Island is located straight west of Maui, and is known as the Pineapple Island (as the entire island was historically a pineapple plantation). There are less than 5,000 residents on Lanai, which combined with it’s remote location and lack of pollution, is an excellent and sought-after scuba diving destination.
The underwater landscape of Lanai features interesting coral and lava formations including caverns, cathedral tubes, pinnacles, and archways, within which spinner dolphins, sea turtles, and an array of fish can be seen. There are over 25 different dive sites on the south side of the island for certified divers to choose from. Groups like Lahaina Divers offer chartered boat trip to the most exciting dive locales for intermediate and advanced divers.
12. Go Whale Watching
From late December to mid-April, North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate from Alaska through to the warm waters of Hawaii and around Maui to breed during the winter, making this the perfect time of year to go on a tour and catch sight of these magnificent creatures.
It is believed that anywhere from 8,000-10,000 Humpback whales visit the area annually, and conservation efforts have aided in increasing the whale populations over time. There are many operators that offer two hour boat tours to witness a whale breaching out from the water and crashing back to its depths. Pride of Maui offers classic whale watching tours, as well as combo whale watching/snorkeling tours.
For a truly exceptional whale watching experience, take a kayak tour or simply rent kayaks and paddle out, which will let you view the whales in their natural habitat in an intimate setting with less disturbance.
You can often even see the whales from Maui’s shoreline – the most common place to see Humpback whales from the shore is on the stretch of Highway 30 between Ma’alaea and Lahaina, or in South Maui coastal areas (Kihei and Wailea), and off of North Shore beaches (Paia Bay, and Ho’okipa Beach Park).
What are the best things you’ve experienced in beautiful Maui?